A Theology of Knitting? Bonaventure, the Common Arts, and the Human Good

Phil Donnelly July 21, 2017

Presented at:
SCL Summer Conference 2017


One of the most remarkable features of contemporary culture is that many of the "common" (mechanical) arts of tangible making that were once understood to be practical, now seem useless. The practitioners of almost any common art today, whether black-smithing or bread baking, now find that they can no longer earn a living through these arts because they cannot compete with the economics of scale that industrial production makes possible. Nowhere is this more apparent than the art of knitting: why spend hours knitting a pair of socks when you can buy several pairs for a few dollars? Nevertheless, people do still knit, even if not for obvious economic advantage. What are the human benefits that come only through the practice of such common arts? Do the common arts contribute to the human good? If they do, what does the loss of these arts imply for post-industrial life and education? This workshop considers such questions by drawing on the account of the common arts offered by the 13th-century Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure, in his text "Retracing the Arts to Theology" (De reductione artium ad theologiam).


bonaventure common arts human good Theology


Phil Donnelly
Phillip J. Donnelly serves as Director of the Great Texts Program in the Honors College at Baylor University. His research focuses on the historical interaction between philosophy, theology, and imaginative literature, with particular attention to Renaissance literature and the reception of Classical educational traditions. He is the author of Milton’s Scriptural Reasoning (Cambridge University Press, 2009). His recent essays include: “Latin Pedagogy and Ethical Ends in the Royal Grammar (1542),” in Transformations in Biblical Literary Traditions, edited by D.H. Williams and Phillip J. Donnelly (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), and “Historical Appearance in Areopagitica,” in Milton and Questions of History, edited by Feisal Mohamed and Mary Nyquist (University of Toronto Press, 2012).

Other Contributions by Phil Donnelly

Recommended Resources

Web Tools for Schools
Article by Mark Palmer in - SCL Conference 2014
Standards and Accountability for Christian Schools
Article by Timothy Wiens in - SCL Conference 2011
Common Core, AdvancED, and Changes in the Works
Article by David Goodwin in - SCL Conference 2015