Whereas for St. Augustine the intellectus, the seeing with reason and with the heart, is the ultimate category of knowledge, Pseudo-Dionysius takes still another step: in the ascent to God one can come to a point when reason no longer sees.
But in the night of the intellect, love still sees – it sees what remains inaccessible to reason. Love goes beyond reason, sees more, enters more profoundly into the mystery of God.
St. Bonaventure was fascinated by this vision, which met with his Franciscan spirituality. Precisely in the dark night of the cross appears all the grandeur of divine love; where reason no longer sees, love sees.
The conclusive words of his Journey of the Mind to God in a superficial reading, might seem an exaggerated expression of a devotion devoid of content; read, instead, in the light of the theology of the cross of St. Bonaventure, they are a clear and realistic expression of Franciscan spirituality:
“If now you yearn to know how that happens (that is, the ascent to God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groan of prayer, not the study of the letter; … not light, but the fire that inflames everything and transports to God” (VII, 6).
All this is not anti-intellectual and anti-rational: it implies the way of reason but transcends it in the love of the crucified Christ.
With this transformation of the mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bonaventure is placed at the beginning of a great mystical current, which greatly raised and purified the human mind: it is a summit in the history of the human spirit.
Hence, for St. Bonaventure, all our life is a “journey”, a pilgrimage – an ascent to God.
But with our own strength we cannot ascend to the loftiness of God. God himself must help us, must “pull” us on high.
That is why prayer is necessary. Prayer – so says the saint – is the mother and origin of the ascent – sursum actio, action that takes us on high, Bonaventure says.
Because of this, I conclude with the prayer, with which he begins his Journey: “Let us pray, therefore and say to our Lord God: ‘Lead me, Lord, on your way and I will walk in your truth. My heart rejoices in fearing your name’” (I,1).
Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On Theology According To Thomas And Bonaventure (translation by Zenit).