Feast of St. Bonaventure, July 15, 2013

St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure

July is a great month for Saints as many intellectual and spiritual giants of the Church have their Feast days this month.  Today we honor St. Bonaventure, another Doctor of the Church.  

St. Bonaventure was born at Bagnoregio in Latium, not far from Viterbo, then part of the Papal States. Almost nothing is known of his childhood, other than the names of his parents, Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria Ritella.

He entered the Franciscan Order in 1243 and studied at the University of Paris, possibly under Alexander of Hales, and certainly under Alexander’s successor, John of Rochelle. In 1253 he held the Franciscan chair at Paris. Unfortunately for Bonaventure, a dispute between seculars and mendicants delayed his reception as Master until 1257, where his degree was taken in company with Thomas Aquinas. Three years earlier his fame had earned him the position of lecturer on the The Four Books of Sentences—a book of theology written by Peter Lombard in the twelfth century—and in 1255 he received the degree of master, the medieval equivalent of doctor.

As a theologian he is regarded as being more in the line of St Augustine in contrast to his more Aristotelian contemporary, the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. He emphasized a more wholistic approach than a purely rational one in speaking of divine mysteries. His main theological teaching is contained in his commentary on the Sententiae of Peter the Lombard. One point on which he differed with Aquinas was his assertion that the creation of the world in time could be shown by human reason. He also wrote important treatises on mystical theology. His Itinerarium mentis ad Deum (The journey of the mind to God) became an enduring classic.

In 1257, after having successfully defended his order against the reproaches of the anti-mendicant party, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order at the age of 36.  He has been called, with some justice, its second founder. The Franciscans were coming under criticism at the time as a result of a huge increase in numbers, poor organisation attributed to Francis of Assisi with the resulting divisions into factions, with each one claiming to be faithful to the Founder. While strongly defending the ideals of Francis, Bonaventure insisted on the need for study and an intellectual path to God. He approved of the Friars studying and teaching in universities. He saw the Franciscan role as complementing the work of the diocesan clergy through preaching and spiritual direction. The clergy of the day were often poorly educated and lacking in spirituality.  In November 1265, he was selected for the post of Archbishop of York; however, he was never consecrated and resigned the appointment in October 1266. 

Bonaventure was instrumental in procuring the election of Pope Gregory X.  In 1273 he was made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano.  When the papal messengers called on him, he was washing dishes in the Mugello friary (near Florence). He asked them to wait until he had finished.

Bonaventure attended the Council of Lyon in 1274. There, after his significant contributions led to a temporary union of the Greek and Latin churches, Bonaventure died suddenly and in suspicious circumstances at the age of 52. The Catholic Encyclopedia has citations which suggest he was poisoned.

Bonaventure steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He thought of Christ as the “one true master” who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God. His achievements in theology and administration should not allow one to forget dominant traits noted by his contemporaries: a gentle courtesy, compassion, and accessibility.

Bonaventure was canonised by Pope Sixtus IV in 1482 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588. He is often called the Seraphic Doctor.

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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4 Responses to Feast of St. Bonaventure, July 15, 2013

  1. Francis was the heart and Bonaventure the brains—or that’s how I often like to think of it :)—dear poor Francis needed the steady thoughts of Bonaventure as he, Bonaventure, knew that Francis’ heart and end goal were just and pure…it was just a matter of getting others on the same ship—emotion vs a bit of reason—why I love them both so much–as I tend to identify more with Francis being lead more by the heart than sound reason—thank goodness for the Bonaventures among us heart filled folks 🙂

    • Hi Julie:

      That you for your comment. That is a very good description of St. Francis and St. Bonaventure, although especially in comparison to his contemporary St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure strikes me as a deep mystic as well as a brilliant theologian.

      I was introduced to St. Bonaventure through Sr. Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister. Sr. Delio is a devotee of both St. Bonaventure and Teilhard de Chardin so I am struck by the parallels of their writings. Both were priests of outstanding intellect but their best writings are deeply mystical. For example, the quote below from St. Bonaventure’s Journey of the Mind to God (courtesy of Creighton’s on-line ministries http://tinyurl.com/o84cpof) sounds very much like Teilhard de Chardin with the surrendering of the self and imagery of fire and love:

      “We must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

      If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love. The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardor of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death. Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.

      Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination.”

      • Thank you so much William!! And if you don’t mind I just copied the quote, giving your blog and St Bonaventure all of the credit. I had just finished an update to my post from last week about my Dad–the Happy Father’s day post–dreading tomorrow’s visit and simply dreading where all of this is going….the quote was a balm to my soul—I am drawn to the mystics of the Church—they have that inside scoop you know 😉 more so than I—the quote reminded me of how big God truly is—Big enough for all of my troubles!!!
        Thank you!!

      • Julie, thank you for the kind words! I am honored as you have a wonderful blog with some amazing stories and photographs. I strongly encourage others to visit it. http://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/

        I agree with you on the mystics, which is part of the reason I am drawn to Teilhard de Chardin :-). He was not a systematic theologian, but he was a world-renown scientist and an insightful mystic who had a deep relationship with Christ.

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