Most Catholics who have a decent acquaintance with theology will be familiar with the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) — at least, with questions from his Summa theologiae. Apart from Franciscans who are devoted to their own tradition, however, it is rarer to find an appreciation of or familiarity with St. Thomas’s exact contemporary and colleague at the University of Paris, St. Bonaventure (1221–1274; feastday July 14 on the traditional calendar, July 15 on the modern one). Although their theological approaches differ in interesting ways, the Angelic Doctor and the Seraphic Doctor are complementary more often than not and are always beneficial to study together.
St. Bonaventure excelled in discussions of the virtue of art (in Latin, ars; in Greek, technē), in the broad sense used by the ancients and medievals: the making of anything into what reason discerns it should be. In his little work On the Tracing Back of the Arts to Theology, Bonaventure takes as his theme the nature of art and the activity of the artisan to see what we can learn about God and ourselves. Looking at the effect intended by the artificer in his work of art, he says:
If we consider the effect, we shall see therein the pattern of human life; for every artificer aims to produce a work that is beautiful, useful, and enduring, and only when it possesses these three qualities is the work highly valued and acceptable. Corresponding to the above-mentioned qualities, in the pattern of life there must be found three elements: “knowledge, will, and unfaltering and persevering toil.” Knowledge renders the work beautiful; the will renders it useful; perseverance renders it lasting. The first resides in the rational, the second in the concupiscible, and the third in the irascible appetite. [i]