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Bonaventure’s polemical zeal

Some of my favorite bits of scholastic writing come when these ordinarily stoic and irenic men lose their temper and let fly a bit of sarcastic rhetoric. It doesn’t happen often, but both Thomas and Bonaventure understandably succumb to the temptation while responding to those questioning the whole mendicant way of life, the life of voluntary poverty and begging. Here’s an example from Bonaventure’s Disputed questions on evangelical perfection (II.2, reply to objections 14).

Begging, per se, does not pertain to perfection unless perfection presupposes the total renunciation of everything—which is indeed in accord with God’s counsel, in which the Lord told the young man that if he would fulfill that counsel, by that very fact he would come to the pinnacle of perfection. For he said: “If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything.” He does not add: Hand it over to me, so that I may put it into my money box and all things may be held in common. Rather he says: “Give it to the poor.” He does not add: Go and buy your food through the work of your hands, but rather: “Come follow me.”

Or even better, from his direct replies to William of St Amour’s criticisms in the same question:

You say that he was begging out of politeness? Christ didn’t accept poverty to teach manners, did he? Did he choose to become needy and poor in order to teach social manners? Did he call himself a teacher of etiquette rather than a teacher of humility?

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