[4.10.1] St Bonaventure on Creatures as God’s Signs

St Bonaventure (1217 – 1274 AD), in the work Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard, writes about the ways how all created things signifies God:

  • God created all things, so the whole universe existentially depends on God.
  • All creatures act in the role of signs which point to God; these signs can be of four types.
  • Based on their properties, all creatures signify God as shadows and vestiges; more than that, rational creatures signify it as images and similitudes.
  • Rational creatures (humans, angels) have the power to look to these signs, which leads them to God. This way rational creatures “have God as their ultimate object, whereas all creatures have God as their Cause”.

Bonaventure’s model of creatures as God’s signs is pictured in the following OntoUML diagram:

Bonaventure on creations as signs of God

ClassRationalCreatureClassDescriptionRelations
GodGod creates the creatures whose existence depends on him.creates Creature; provides divine grace to RationalCreature
Creature“All creatures, from rocks to angels, are signs in the sense of shadows and traces of God, for they all bear a relation of causal dependency upon God as their source; but only rational creatures can have the divine as an object of their activities and, for that reason, can conform themselves to the divine will and become likenesses of God.”
PropertyCreatures can be vestiges or shadows based on properties which point to God.characterizes Creature
Shadow“a creature is called a shadow based on its properties which point to God in some type of causality in an indeterminate way.”role of Creature; is Sign
Vestige“a creature is called a vestige based on properties which point to God as triple cause–efficient, formal, and final cause; for example, the properties: one, true, and good.”role of Creature; is Sign
RationalCreature“[…] only rational creatures can have the divine as an object of their activities and, for that reason, can conform themselves to the divine will and become likenesses of God.”subkind of Creature; observes Sign
RationalPowerRational powercharacterizes RationalCreature; subkind of Property
Image“Bonaventure posits […] higher types of semiosis pertinent solely to rational creatures, which are ‘images’ (imago) pointing to the First Principle through its properly rational powers which have their source and highest object in God”role of RationalCreature; is Sign
Likeness“In addition, Bonaventure posits […] higher types of semiosis pertinent solely to rational creatures, which are […] ‘likenesses’ (similitudo) of God to the extent that they are recipients of divine grace and conform themselves to the divine will.” role of RationalCreature; is Sign
Sign“Bonaventure’s semiotics distinguishes four sorts of signs [wich are shadow, vestige, image, similitude...]
All creatures, from rocks to angels, are signs in the sense of shadows and traces of God, for they all bear a relation of causal dependency upon God as their source; but only rational creatures can have the divine as an object of their activities and, for that reason, can conform themselves to the divine will and become likenesses of God.”
points to God

Sources

  • All citations from: Noone, Tim and R. E. Houser, “Saint Bonaventure“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 10/12/2020

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