Posts Tagged ‘papers’

Voluntary poverty and political theology

May 18, 2010 3 comments

The most recent thing keeping me from this blog was a paper for the medieval studies conference at Kalamazoo last weekend. It was another small step in my still-undefined quest to work through various theories of property and its relations—this time, a paper on Bonaventure’s theology of evangelical poverty. I called it “Voluntary Poverty and Political Theology: The Case of Bonaventure.” If anyone’s interested in seeing a copy, email me.

The paper’s central argument is exegetical: that Bonaventure’s thought on poverty pulls in opposing directions, that it’s marked by equally profound but contradictory logics. On the one side, Bonaventure tries to resist the idea that the Franciscan commitment to absolute poverty has any of the political implications it’s sometimes accused of. It implies no superiority to the church qua institution, no condemnation of the new economy, no intrinsic problem with ownership. He develops a fairly sophisticated theological rationale to deal with those objections—what I call in the paper the logic of conciliation. On the other side, when Bonaventure sets in to advocate evangelical poverty, to say why it’s integral to perfection, he roots his defense in a theological anthropology and ontology that does tend towards the universalization of poverty, and hints at some structural moral defect in the very institution of private property—what I call the logic of perfection. This tension within Bonaventure’s thought reflects the tension seen to exist in the Franciscan Order as a whole, and specifies it intellectually.

One of the most enjoyable things about Bonaventure, for me, is his speculative tendency, his impulse to reduce everything to first philosophy. When questions with obvious political bearing—like the relation between states of life in the church, or the ethical status of ownership—get answered metaphysically, as these do, you get some fascinating examples of other forms political theology might take.