Review by Aaron Canty
Douglas Dales wrote Divine Remaking to mark the 800th anniversary of St. Bonaventure’s birth, generally thought to be in 1217. The book explores some of the most important themes in Bonaventure’s massive commentary on the Gospel of Luke.
Given that the commentary is over 2,200 pages in the three-volume English translation of Robert J. Karris, OFM, published by Franciscan Institute Press, Dales distills the major themes of the work into a very accessible volume. The book begins with a chapter about Bonaventure’s life and career and another chapter on scriptural exegesis in monastic life and at the University of Paris in the 13th century. Dales subsequently dedicates chapters to the Lukan infancy narrative, John the Baptist, discipleship, parables, and Jesus’ transfiguration, healing ministry, Passion, death, and resurrection.
Dales shows how Bonaventure’s commentary is indebted to both the Franciscan tradition and patristic exegesis. Although Dales occasionally admits to speculating about what Bonaventure might have had in mind when composing the commentary, he strives repeatedly to show the Franciscan aspects of Bonaventure’s exegesis, highlighting especially the saint’s comments about poverty and humility.
Regarding patristic influences on Bonaventure, Dales observes that Bonaventure’s commentary is traditional in the sense that it draws on authorities commonly cited in the Middle Ages, such as Augustine, Gregory the Great, and Bede. Dales also notes that Bonaventure borrowed much material from the Postilla super totam Bibliam of the Dominican Hugh of St. Cher.
Setting aside some imprecise historical statements in the first couple of chapters (regarding such things as the composition of the commentary, the origins of Hugh’s exegesis, and the influence of St. Francis on Joachim of Fiore and his followers), the reader can admire this sympathetic reading of Bonaventure.
Dales nicely situates scriptural pericopes in their literary context and within the division of the text that Bonaventure applies in his commentary. Frequently he highlights Bonaventure’s spiritual interpretations, which often emphasize poverty and humility and criticize the worldly customs and aspirations of 13th-century clergy.
Dales also tries to diminish the force of some of Bonaventure’s anti-Judaic comments with insights from other passages of Scripture or from modern biblical commentaries, although more references to these latter sources might have been welcome. Any reader interested in Bonaventure’s exegesis or medieval exegesis in general will benefit from this lucid reflection on one of his enduring masterpieces.
Aaron Canty is professor of religious studies and theology at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.