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Divine Remaking: St Bonaventure and the Gospel of Luke, by Douglas Dales 

20 July 2018

John Arnold considers Franciscan insights

ST BONAVENTURE (1217-74) is surely one of the most attractive of theologians for his personality, his manner of life, and his writings. A brilliant scholar during the golden age of the University of Paris, he took upon himself two unwanted tasks: first, that of the leadership of the Franciscan movement in a time of turmoil, and then a bishopric and cardinalate. He had turned down the archbishopric of York; and we can only wonder what Ecclesia Anglicana lost thereby.

Douglas Dales’s excellent book makes a good introduction to a typical work, the commentary on the Gospel of St Luke. Bonaventure is writing to help preachers enter into the meaning of the actions and teaching of Jesus and expound their significance for their own day. He draws heavily on his extensive knowledge of patristic commentaries, especially Bede; but many of his best insights are his own, especially those that relate to apostolic and evangelical poverty, and to the intra-Franciscan controversies of the time.

Some of the allegorical (and, indeed, arithmetical) exegesis may seem fanciful to us now, but it stands in a great tradition that goes back via St Gregory and St Augustine to Origen; and it stimulates both thought and prayer. He elaborates symbolic details, but always in homiletic perspective and with missionary intention; so he still speaks to us today.

I frequently found myself challenged and encouraged by what I read to turn to the Gospel and see it through fresh eyes. The original commentary runs to a daunting 2000 folio pages in Latin, but it would be a manageable and fruitful exercise to re-read Luke with Dale’s fluent summary of Bonaventure as guide. I commend this admirable work of piety and scholarship to all who care for godliness and good learning.

The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former Dean of Durham.

Divine Remaking: St Bonaventure and the Gospel of Luke
Douglas Dales
James Clarke £25

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