29 October 2008

St. Bonaventure on the Consuming Fire

What will happen at the end of the earth? Everyone wants to know and some even claim to know. I think Saint Bonaventure might just be one person who does know.

After considering the suffrages of the Church offered on behalf of the souls in Purgatory, Saint Bonaventure returns to the Last Judgment noting two events that will accompany the judgment: "the consuming of all worldly things, and the resurrection of the dead."

Today we shall consider this consuming fire, and tomorrow we shall consider the resurrection of the dead.

Fire will go before the Lord and Judge of all, he says, by which "the face of the earth shall be burned, and the world as we see it shall perish in the devouring conflagration of worldly things, as it did in the waters of the flood."

This is to say that all animals and plants shall be consumed by the fire; the natural elements - dirt, minerals, air and such - "will be cleansed and renewed," and "the just will be purified and wicked suffer in flame."

Once this is complete, Bonaventure says "the motion of the heavens shall cease" and "the bodies of the universe also shall, in a sense, be renewed and rewarded."

Whereas previously the Seraphic Doctor founded his teachings in the Goodness of God, he now begins from the Wisdom of God. The Lord, "being supremely wise, observing as He does the order of wisdom in all His deeds, must necessarily and more particularly do so in all matters related to their end." In this way, by keeping the order of all things, the "wisdom, the goodness, and the loftiness" of God will be manifest.

The material world, he says, was made for man, who is placed between the creator world and the Creator. In the beginning, like man,
the world fittingly existed in a state of goodness and peace. But as man fell, this world also was damaged; and as he was disordered, it became disordered; and with his cleansing, it must be cleansed, with his renewal, renewed, and with his consummation, set at rest.
But why is that fire will precede the Lord? Bonaventure says that because the world is disordered, "all creation should submit to divine zeal, conforming both to the Maker of the world and to him who dwells in it." To achieve this, the world must be "shaken to inspire utmost terror," and nothing inspires greater fear than fire. Therefore, he says,

fire must precede the face of the Judge, not only from one direction, but from all. There will be here a concourse of fires - first of the elements and of earth, of purgatory, and even of hell. Thus the reprobate shall be tormented by the infernal flames, the just cleansed by the purgatorial, animals and plants consumed by those of the earth, the elements refined by those of elemental fires; and, together with this, all other things shall be shaken, making not only men and demons but even angels tremble at the sight.
I am reminded here of Psalm 97.

Saint Bonaventure also makes a fascinating comparison of this consuming fire to the waters of the flood as he considers the cleansing of the world. He says,

Therefore, as in the beginning the world had been swept and cleansed in a way by the element of water, which is cold and thus opposed to the fire and filth of lust, so in the end it is to be swept and cleansed by fire because of the cooling of charity and the frigidity of malice and avarice which shall reign as in the world's old age. And because such vices adhere to man so strongly, the cleansing agent must be interior, strong, and swift; action found nowhere in the elements except in fire.
This fire must also come to renew the earth because "a thing cannot be recast into a new form unless is has lost the old, and is, in a certain way, prepared through receiving a new disposition." Fire, having as it does the greatest power to destroy a form also cleanses and renovates. Of this "twin power, one aspect precedes and the other follows the coming of the Judge."

The renovation brought this fire will not be subject to change because it will be a true renovation.

Concluding his teaching on the consuming fire, Bonaventure notes that the consummation of man will take place "when the number of the elect is completed in glory."

Once this consummation occurs the movement of the heavenly bodies - the sun, moon, stars, etc. - must cease and "attain repose and the fullness of luminosity."

Now, some will undoubtedly ask why the animals and plants are completely consumed and not renewed or recreated (Sr. Mary Martha will like this part.)

They will not be renewed

because vegetative and sensitive beings do not have the virtue of perpetual life and eternal duration which is reserved to the higher state, their whole substance is consumed; yet they are in such a way that they are preserved as ideas; and in a certain manner they survive also in their image, man, who is akin to every species.
Fido won't be joining you in heaven. Sorry.

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