How to See God: According to Bonaventure

Bonaventure (d. 1274) was an influential Franciscan theologian and leader in the medieval times, shortly after the death of St. Francis of Assisi. In his short book, The Soul’s Journey into God, he presents a manual for how to experience God through contemplation. The last two chapters are the most clear and straightforward. In the first few chapters of the book, he leads the Christian to meditate about plants, animals, and creation in order to see them as prophetic symbols of God’s character. Although this is central to Franciscan spirituality, I don’t think it agrees with Romans 1:22-23, in which Paul speaks of the pagans worshiping animals and the natural world, as a form of idolatry instead of contemplating the incorruptible God. He even goes so far to say that such nature worship leads to homosexuality (v. 26-27). So, for these reasons, I have skipped over his meditations on the natural world, and jumped ahead to his insights into contemplating God. In a sort of progression by steps, I will give a summary of Bonaventure’s contemplative Christian wisdom, culminating in chapter seven, entitled: “On Spiritual and Mystical Ecstasy, in Which Rest is Given to Our Intellect, When Through Ecstasy, Our Affection Passes Over Entirely into God.” In a short and to-the-point way, gleaning from Bonaventure, I would say that this is his essential advice on contemplative prayer, resulting in actually seeing God through visions (Matt. 5:8)–

1. “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18).

2. Go to a place of solitude–a prayer room (Matt. 6:6), a mountaintop, a desert place where you can’t be distracted by anyone or anything.

3. Don’t bother with TM, Yoga, Zen, or any kind of non-Christian meditation. You will only do well to practice Christian contemplation on Jesus. “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Jesus is the gate to Heaven (v. 9).

4. “Be still, and know” (Ps. 46:10) that you must close your physical eyes, in order to see with the eyes of your mind–to visualize the face of our Lord Jesus, who is “the Image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). This method of mental concentration is a form of work; but your ability to stay concentrated with your mind will grow in time, the more you practice. The more you contemplate Jesus, the more prophetic visions you will see!

5. Like the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant (Exod. 25:20), we too must have our faces towards the mercy seat of Jesus’ face, and contemplate Him in His presence. If we contemplate the Trinity with the eyes of our mind, then we will subjectively experience deep revelations into the nature of the Trinity as Three-in-One.

6. If we mentally visualize Jesus with our eyes closed, then we will receive random visions of Jesus into our minds. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).

7. In general, contemplation and visualization of God, while diligently pushing out all mental distractions–will lead to sleep paralysis, and the ecstasy of God’s presence in love, peace, and joy. Resulting in perfect concentration on God–the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–as well as dreams and visions of God, and feeling the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in your bosom! “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You” (Isa. 26:3, NKJV). This is such a feeling of overwhelming comfort, that it can be called “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Php. 4:7).

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