Claudio Attardi


The gift of theHoly Spirit


Two theologians in comparison: St. Bonaventura e S. Thomas Aquinas





The  object of this essay is to define some fundamental concepts  concerning the gift of Holy Spirit in the life of  believers, according to two medieval theologians ,who represented, in the XIIIth century, two antithetical thought schools: St. Bonaventura from Bagnoregio (VT) and S. Thomas Aquinas (Roccasecca- LT). Two italians therefore, both at the Sorbonne, at Paris, who occupied  respectively  the Franciscan   and  Dominican  chairs of theology . Two different schools, one nearer to  platonic thought ,the other to  aristotelian thought, but also two life styles manifesting in fulness the mystery of the Spirit, so that  the  Christian Church has made them saints, pointing to them as paragons of Christian life and of theological wisdom. By a curious coincidence of history they were almost exact coeval (Bonaventura was  3-4 years older) and died in the same year,  1274. We'll try to broach in a simple way, insofar as that is possible, what they say about the gift of the Holy Spirit and about his action in the christian life. This subject is  a matter of great importance to understand and to live  life in the Spirit , we'll confine ourselves to the fundamental concepts, those can always  be resumed, investigated, brought to conclusion. We must always   keep in mind that the great results attained by medieval theologians were possible  precisely because they lived within a community or a spiritual school. That allowed them  not to reject the innovations coming from culture and contemporary science development , but to know how to insert  them in the christian life, in the theological and in the mystical contemplation of the mystery, that  confronted them, transforming  them with the power of the Spirit.And also we, today,  are called to have the same attitude towards the people we meet, towards the places we go to, towards the society and the environment surrounding us: living  our life, in all its complexity, allowing that the Spirit of God to transform it, trough also our  person.




The gift of the Spirit in St. Bonaventura theology


It's difficult to condense the theology of  this spirituality master, because his thought has not  followed exactly the lines of scholasticism, therefore appears often greatly simbolic, allusive, full of references, and sometimes it suffers for lack of  method,  that which we are used for our Enlightenment mentality. Therefore we will try to explain in a modern way this author, to make him  more understandable to us, trough two moments: the definition of Holy Spirit within the Trinity , and its action in the christian life.


The person of Holy Spirit


Bonaventura held a series of conferences about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Paris from 26 February to8 april 1268, and this seven conferences, or collationes bear the title of Collationes de septem donis Spiritus sancti. They become part of the context of the controversy against Sigieri of Brabante (Belgium). He applied to the christian theology someconcepts of Arabic Muslim philosopy  Averroé, and he put in a difficult position some  foundaments of Christian faith, also if in good faith.

For Bonaventura  God  the Father is  the supreme Good, who wants to extend this good to all  the created universe, especially to  man. Now  the good can spread by  nature or  by  will. In the Holy Trinity,   the Father’s love  spreads by nature with the generation of the Son , while it also spreads by will, and therefore by liberality  [1], in the procession of the Holy Spirit. Therefore St. Bonaventura wants at first to underline the full freedom of the donation of the Father towards the Son and of the Son towards the Father. This gift produces a Person, who proceeds from this freedom, the person of  the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit can be  defined at the first as a gift. This person - gift comes from this donation freedom of Father and Son.

Therefore the Holy Spirit can be defined as the first gift, a gift within  the Holy Trinity, but, with the Pentecost,  it becomes gift for  Man, who becomes son of God by baptism, and trough the death and Resurrection of the Only-Begotten Son 2. So it can be said that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given from the Father, by the Son, in the sense of and within the contest of Salvation history, because only after Christ’s Easter and His glorification  is the Holy Spirit  given to  Man. So  St. Bonaventura follows and interprets positively the reflection of  The Oriental Church (Greek-Orthodox). He also follows  St. Augustine, on whom he is the greatest commentator in the 13th century. Certainly they are very complex concepts, in need of demanding reflection, above all our Bonaventura wants underline the absolute gratuitousness of this divine gift, which changes Man, rendering him like Jesus, son infinitely  loved by the Father. For further discussion of  the concepts of gift, the giving, and the person-gift of the Holy Spirit, see Renzo Lavatori books 3.


The Holy Spirit ‘s action in Man.


Man, a being loved by God, who he had created in the likeness of himself , has deliberately ruined his divine impression  through  sin. We all carry this weight, and its consequences. Therefore the Holy Spirit is given to  man, so that he can open himself to the Holy Spirit’s action, to re-create the soul, so as to bring about a  spiritual creation. This re-formatio therefore implies the infusion by the Holy Spirit so as to create a new form of Man’s heart. This new form, this new way to be Grace, and it makes Man fit  to begin his path towards God: “Gratia est forma a Deo gratis data sine meritis, gratum faciens habentem et opus eius bonum reddens ( Grace is the free gift given by God without merit, making grateful  he who  has it and  making his actions good)4 .

We can define this first moment at the beginning of Man’s life, or at least at the moment of his conversion as enlightenment, illumiatio, to resume St. Bonaventura ’s words. This is the essential moment to begin the path towards God, in the St. Bonaventura ‘s view of  the Christian life, and it’s a unforeseeable gift of the divine liberality, as we have said, the moment of the new creation of man5. This gift can only be given by  God, because Man  cannot by his own  efforts achieve this reality. It is a true change from Sin to Grace , from a state of distance from God to  the state of viator, who walks  to God. In this new creation Man has  seven virtues and seven gifts of the Holy Spirit . The seven virtues (theological and cardinal) have the power to guide  and  rectify  the Christian path, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit have the function to make this path easier, expedire, as Bonaventura says 6. This is the second moment, the purification, because the gifts of the Holy Spirit are also used to  remove the obstacles  which make our faculties dull, and to assist us towards communion with God 7. These gifts would not be essential to Man for eternal salvation, as the virtues are, but  they  still attest the divine liberality, and  so they are called  gifts of the Holy Spirit, the First gift 8.

The third moment, that always belongs to this spiritual path is  perfection.  We will have always have this in the eternal communion with God,  but only through the action of the Holy Spirit,  we can attain this perfect communion in specific moments , when we are open and accessible to the inspirations given by the Holy Spirit, through prayer, through everyday relationships within the Christian community, through  listening to the Word. These three moments are always  present in the spiritual path and they are often repeated. But if we look at the story of every man thereis an enlightenment moment, a purification moment, and a perfection moment , when we will be in  mystical communion with God. So St. Bonaventura ’s  theology of the Holy Spirit can be seen as on the Man’s side, because this theology is as a mystical path, and her aim is the contemplation of the Holy Trinity who is love and  eternal bliss:  indeed “it is necessary that, where bliss is , there also is the highest love ... With this the father loves the Son; and it is a unlimited ardour, expressed ... as “ex-fluentes” and “ex-fluxus” in the Son,  and as  “ri-fluxus” in the Holy Spirit”9.





  The gift of the Holy Spirit in St. Thomas Aquinas theology.



Unlike St. Bonaventura, St. Thomas’s thinking  can seen almost as if it si formed  from his first expressions, even if today  scholars concede the Theory of Evolution. St. Thomas will  always  be superior to St.Bonaventura  for precision and  speculative technique. The St. Thomas’s greatness is in the innovation of his teaching, fully  integrated  into the biblical tradition, patristic, ecclesiastical,  but  also able to exploit the innovations brought by  Aristotelian philosophy. Guglielmo of Tocco shows this innovation well, in his account of the  life  of St. Thomas:

“In his lessons he introduced news articles, solving the questions  in a new  and clearer way, with new arguments. Consequently, those who listened to him  teaching these new propositions, handling them with a new method, could not doubt that  God had enlightened him with a new light: indeed  can one teach or write new opinions, if one doesn’t receive a new inspiration from God?10.

What is this great innovation, that has made become St. Thomas the General  Doctor of the Church, so that he is still today one of the greatest theologians and philosophers of all time? Wewill discover  it together , and we will study   his thinking about the gift of the Holy Spirit.



The person of the Holy Spirit

Replying ( but always without dispute) to the Augustinian concept of St. Bonaventura, St. Thomas see first of all God  as “subjectum” i.e.  as basis for the study of theology:  this study  is possible both  in terms of creatural relation and  in terms of history of the Salvation.  So Man in his essence is able to know God, and this his  ontological knowledge can have  some truth, as the researches of  the pagan philosophers, Plato, Aristotle or Plotinus  show. This is possible also for the structure  of the Salvation story , from which surely we can know God, because he reveals himself to us. Now the story of Salvation is one of  circular movement, one that has at the beginning the love of the Father, from which comes everything by creation, and at the end eternal beatitude and the return to the Father, made possible by the Christ’s Easter and by the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit. The pattern of emanation- return is taken from ancient philosophers ( such as Plotinus) and referred to  the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, not to mention in the famous  Summa Theologiae, because this pattern, before it is philosophical or theological,  is a biblical pattern, as it corresponds to the DivineRevelation. The greatest novelty is that the circular movement present in the creation (at the  natural level) corresponds to and is the image of the life of the Holy Trinity (at the supernatural level). TheCreation , the pattern of emanation, corresponds to the eternal Son’s  generation, while the return to the Father corresponds to the  Procession of the Holy Spirit .

So for St. Thomas  the Son’s generation is an act concerning the divine intellect , and it corresponds to the wisdom shining in the creation, the creative Word. The spiration of the Holy Spirit is an act concerning the reciprocal love of the Father  and the Son, and it corresponds to the movement that all the creatures, and especially Man, have towards God , because in them there is a spur, also unconscious ,but real, towards the eternal love who is the Father. With  Christ’s  Easter, the Holy Spirit is given to everybody as a gift, and the love towards the Father, image of the eternal love of the Son Jesus  towards the Father, becomes the conscious spur of the return. Therefore the Holy Spirit is the Person – Love that,  placed  in  Man’s heart, makes it fully able to discover and to receive the love of the Father, to relax itself and to return this love as a son. The divine nature and the divine will, for St. Thomas, can therefore to be identified as  love, according to  John’s words, “God is love”.




The action of the Holy Spirit  in the man


The first action attributed by St. Thomas to the Holy Spirit as person - love is the knowledge of God. Indeed “it cannot love a thing  if it doesn’t know her" 11 , therefore it can love God only knowing him. Now there are three ways to know the reality: sensible, rational, spiritual. The one sensible concerns the physical world and the man as creature. Instead, as for  God this is the negative moment  of the knowledge, because we cannot see or touch God. The one  rational concerns the knowledge of the sensible reality, as in the natural sciences, or, as for the man, the sciences concerning his immaterial part : sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy.  As for God,  there is the possibility of a rational knowledge, by the philosophy, which who we know God as the cause and the end of everything  : this is the first positive moment. And now there is a knowledge still more deep, that spiritual. It has between two persons when one shows to the other all his being,  his thinking,  his projects, his communion of love and friendship. This knowledge is possible between the men, if there is  the free will to give to  the other, without fears or patterns, and the free will to accept, to love the other as a gift, without prejudices or patterns. Now this knowledge is typical of the three divine persons. The Father knows the Son in the Holy Spirit, and he give himself all to him, the Son knows the Father in the Holy Spirit, and he also give himself to the Father. In the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, a person, acts a s an intermediary, if we can say so Now  the new  is that also Man  can have, in an still  incomplete way in this world a knowledge of God whom is over  the first two levels, and she becomes  a spiritual knowledge. This is possible only  through  the fine and delicate action of the Holy Spirit, who, spread in the Man’s hearth, makes it able to receive the divine self –Revelation.  And so God will not be known simply as a being, transcending  our senses, or as the cause and the end of everything, but as a Father, who wants to communicate  us, his sons, his love. But to know this wonderful reality it must necessarily the Holy Spirit’s action, because with only our human power we could have only a confused and incomplete God’ s knowledge. So the Holy Spirit  is a gift that opens to the knowledge of the mystery of God, who is for the first a person, and of men’s mystery,  which can welcome or refuse this knowledge.

A second  aspect of the Holy Spirit’s action in Man, in accordance with the Thomist perspective , is this. It is who helps Man in his return’s path to the Father. Man, as a creature, is still  predisposed to this path, but the Holy Spirit pushes us, through his suggestions,  not to mistrake path,  and it gives us the power to make this path faster. It is, a bit, as the difference  between  a rowing boat and a sailing boat. This spiritual breath pushes  our little boat towards the sure destination, the communion with the Father.  It is not necessary to strain oneself to row, or to try the right streams , it is sufficient to surrender to the Holy Spirit’s breath. It   fills our soul and it makes her to sail towards the Father’s house. Many philosophers of the ancient times, and also many today men search day by day, with much effort and not much to show for it, to try a way that comes up to their need  of love and peace. Now the Holy Spirit’s action, if we follow Him, can  make easier  and can lighten this effort , lighting our path as a compass, and pushing us towards  our destination, the God’s communion, his friendship, because  it is peculiar for the friends to seek  the communion12 .

The last aspect, to those related, is the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are various, given to anyone for the personal good ( the seven gifts, the virtues, the personal powers or means) or for Church’s good (charisms). Now the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not fit  to stay locked in a strongbox. They come from the Holy Spirit , who  puts in communion the Father and the Son.  So the gifts of the Holy Spirit  make the same with the persons, puting them in communion . In this way everyone can be helped, encouraged, pushed to walk together  towards the Father’s house. Therefore they involve everybody we know, but with a peculiar character: indeed they show they self , as Jesus, in the weakness of the human nature. Only the faith can show the renewing action of the Holy Spirit in the persons. The gifts are essential to show to men their last transcendental objective, that they could not know only with  the human powers as St. Thomas says 13.

St. Thomas considers the gift of the Holy Spirit in the objective dimension, and his theology about the Holy Spirit can be definite as seen on the God’s side. He was capable, with the knowledge of his own time, to balance natural and supernatural dimension, historical e metaphysics dimension. Therefore he has exceeded, in  mystical sense, St. Bonaventura’ s theology . The Divine Revelation is not only extrinsic to Man, but she implies all his being, as a God’s  creature, and therefore  good fundamentally, also if he is a  sinner. The most amazing thing  is this: St.Thomas uses,  to propose his great theological intuitions, the scientific  and philosophical language of the “heathen” philosophers . He recognized  them as capable to say the  truth, without to have known the Divine Revelation.





We have maked a most  brief survay about some aspects of the St. Bonaventura and St Thomas theological thinking. We can see the two different theologies by two attached patterns, that show two different thinking. They are useful to understand the proposed comparison. I don’t pretend to say everything: indeed  the mystery that we have in front of us is great, and the reflection that these two theologians maked about the mystery was great. I hope, for me and for who will read this  little writing, to welcome always the Holy Spirit as a God’s gift, given plenty in our hearths. I hope also that these little reflections could arrive to many people, if they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The unlimited  power of the Holy Spirit could hear my prayer.











[1] I Sent. d.10, a.1, q. 1, f.5

2 I Sent, d.18, q.3, f.3

3 LAVATORI R. , Lo Spirito santo dono del Padre e del Figlio; Il dono di Dio, tutti editi dalle Ed. Dehoniane, Bologna.

4 II Sent, d.26, db.2

5 Questo termini sono desunti dal trattato di spiritualitŕ De triplici via, mentre il concetto di vita cristiana come cammino č espresso magistralmente nel celeberrimo “Itinerarium mentis in Deum”.

6 Coll. 1, n.17

7 BIGI C. V., Studi sul pensiero di  S. Bonaventura, ed. Porziuncola, S. Maria del Fiore, Assisi 1988

8 III Sent., d.34, p.1, a.1, q.1.

9 BIGI C.V. ( a cura di), San Bonaventura, La sapienza cristiana; Collationes in Hexaemeron, tr. it., ed. Jaca Book, Milano 1985

10 DI TOCCO G., Vita S. Thomae Aquinatis auctore Guillelmo di Tocco, in Fontes Vitae S. Thomae Aquinatis notis historicis et criticis illustri, ed D. Prummer e M. H. Laurent,  Tolosa 1911- 1937.

11 Cont. Gent. L. IV, c. 19, a cura di T. S. CENTI, ed UTET,  Torino 1984.

12 ibid.,  c.19.

13 Summa Theol., I-II, q. 68, aa. 1-2.


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