On the Necessity of Being
Introduction by Wendy Boring
To Be, or Not to Be
Why is there something rather than nothing? What is nothing? What is Being Itself?
The twentieth-century philosopher Martin Heidegger quoted the passage above from Bonaventure’s Itinerarium in Mentis Deum [Soul's Journey into the Mind of God] in the forward to his Vom Sein: Abriss der Ontologie [On Being]. This suggests that Bonaventure's medieval text stands in a millennia-long conversation about the nature of Being.
Heidegger was drawn to two seemingly paradoxical assertions in Bonaventure’s argument: the necessity of Being Itself to thought, and fact that we are blind to Being Itself. Drawing on Platonic and Augustinian textual traditions, Bonaventure argues that just as light is necessary to sight, so is Being Itself to the operation of our intellect.
Being Itself, ipsum esse, is so absolutely certain, that it cannot be thought not to be. It is beyond all categories. It is that which comes first to the mind. It is the very foundation of all thought. It is these thoughts that Heidegger wove into his notion of the “pre-ontological awareness” of Being.
On Being "Blind to Being"
How, odd, then, that we are as "blind as bats" to its presence, as Bonaventure comments in this excerpt. Bonaventure finds confirmation of our blindnesss that which is most evident and necessary from a passage in Aristotle’s Metaphysics: “as the eye of the bat is disposed towards the light, so the eye of the mind is disposed towards the most evident things in nature.”
Bonaventure notes that we concentrate on particular beings – trees, cows, spiders – and thus miss the Being that is beyond every genus. Being Itself is like the light that makes the colors of the prism. We are so drawn to the colors, we forget the light upon which they depend.
Being and the Soul's Journey Into the Mind of God
Bonaventure puts philosophical reflections regarding Being Itself smack dab in the midst of an itinerary of the soul’s journey to God. The Itinerarium mentis in Deum, Bonaventure’s well-known mystical text, is designed to be a guide for pilgrims on a spiritual journey into God. The itinerary follows the Augustinian triad:
In the context of this journey, Bonaventure urges the pilgrim to note that Being Itself contains footprints of the divine essence which aid the soul in contemplation of God.
The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity
From the necessity of Being Itself, Bonaventure derives the essential attributes of God. This is often called the “doctrine of divine simplicity:”