Introduction by Wendy Boring
Four Rivers of Eden
Medieval writings on the four rivers of Creation were a case in which biblical authority met shaky geography. In Bonaventure's day, medieval thinkers following Genesis 2:8, 10-14, described the four great rivers of their world - the Tigris, Euphrates, Gihon (Nile), Phison (usually identified with the Ganges) - as having their source in the Garden of Eden.
Although the actual, physical location of Eden was debated, or confessed as a mystery, tradition had it that the four rivers could run underground from wherever Eden might be, and emerge in different locations around the world.
Four Symbols of Faith
Bonaventure gives a metaphorical reading of the Genesis text that allows him to mine the suggestive nature of the water metaphors. The four rivers of Creation are symbolic of the mysteries of faith.
Here Bonaventure equates the water of the fourth river with the blood of Christ. He draws on both the life-giving and the flowing nature of water and blood: "the water of life, clear as crystal, that went forth from the throne of God and of the Lamb," for "from the side of Christ as he slept flowed out the sacraments, as water and blood streamed out."
Four Hidden Things of Revelation
Bonaventure's proemium to the Commentary on the Sentences emphasizes the depth of the mysteries of Scripture, which are as unfathomable as the sea. The Commentary, he says, will deal with the revelatio quattuor absconditorum, the four hidden things of revelation:
The metaphors of water capture beautifully the paradox of revelation: it is hidden yet revealed, with a depth like the ocean, never plumbed, yet crystal clear.
As Bonaventure will go on to assert in a later text, our rational investigations can never plumb the depths of the mysteries of God: “Like a drop that one takes from the sea, so are all the theoriae that are produced when compared with those that could be produced” (Hexaermeon, 13, 1-6; V 388ab).