Monday
July 14, 2008
vol 19, no. 196

Saint Bonaventure


The Seraphic Doctor

    Saint Bonaventure was a man who was full of good fortune from his earliest years. Humility was his virtue and his role model was the holy founder who named him. He followed this man and continued the ideals of the Franciscans, guiding them during turbulent times when growing pains created problems in the ranks and with various ecclesial authorities opposed to the Friars Minor. This Universal Doctor was one of the first saintly Cardinals of the Church. He was close friends with "The Angelic Doctor" and the saintly king of France. He was the architect of the Second Council of Lyons and, fittingly, was called home by God immediately following completion of the Council. His work done on earth but continued through his writings and example; so much so that he is known as "The Seraphic Doctor."

    St. Bonaventure was born into the Fidanza family near Viterbo in Tuscany, Italy in 1221 five years before Saint Francis of Assisi died. He was given the name Giovanni at his baptism. As a child Bonaventure had contracted a mortal sickness and became so ill that his cure was despaired of, and his sorrowing mother had recourse to Saint Francis recognized everywhere in Italy as a Saint. She promised God she would endeavor to have the child take the habit of the Franciscan Order, if he were cured. Her prayer was granted for Francis came to his deathbead. There little Bonaventure was miraculously cured. So overcome was Francis with thankfulness to God for this wondrous event that he proclaimed "O buona ventura!" - Italian for "goodness goes with you wherever you go." From that moment on the child became Bonaventure. Saint Francis died a few months later, not without foreseeing the future of this little one, destined to be a seraph of love like himself. Saint Bonaventure is titled “the Seraphic Doctor,” from the fervor of divine love which breathes in his writings.The fruits of Francis' zeal touched Bonaventure so much he entered the Franciscans in 1240 and was assigned to the University of Paris.

    After graduating and being ordained, he became a professor there where he teamed with the great Saint Thomas Aquinas to defend the Franciscan friars who were being pressured to resign from teaching by the Diocesan priests. Bonaventure had the full support of his friend who he advised - the king - the holy Saint Louis IX.

    Sanctity and learning raised Bonaventure to the Church’s highest honors, yet at heart he was ever the poor Franciscan friar, who practiced and taught humility and mortification. He was the friend of Saint Thomas Aquinas; they received the Doctor’s cap together in Paris. Saint Thomas asked him one day from what source he drew his great learning; he replied by pointing to his crucifix. Another time Saint Thomas found him in ecstasy while writing the life of Saint Francis. The Angelic Doctor said, while retiring quietly, “Let us leave a Saint in peace, to write of a Saint!”

    At the age of thirty-six Saint Bonaventure was made General of his Order. In 1265 he only escaped another dignity, the Archbishopric of York, by true humility of tears and entreaties to the Holy Father Pope Clement IV. When Bonaventure learned of Pope Gregory X’s resolve to elevate him to the Cardinalate, he quietly made his escape from Italy, and in France began to compose a book. But Gregory sent him a summons to return to Rome. On his way, he stopped to rest at a convent of his Order near Florence; and there two Papal messengers, sent to meet him with the Cardinal’s hat, found him washing the dishes. The Saint asked them to hang the hat on a nearby bush, and take a walk in the garden until he had finished what he had begun. Then taking up the hat with unfeigned sorrow, he joined the messengers, and paid them the respect due to their character.

    Besides being a guest and adviser of Saint Louis, and the spiritual director of Saint Isabella, the king’s sister. He sat at the right hand of Pope Gregory X who commissioned Cardinal Bonaventure to prepare everything for the Second Council of Lyons where he also spoke and presided at all sessions of the Second Council of Lyons. This 14th Major Ecumenical Council had been assembled to provide for the reform of morals and the needs of the Holy Land, and to cement the union of the Greeks with the Roman Church. The piety and eloquence of Saint Bonaventure won over the Greeks to Catholic union, but his strength failed suddenly, the day after its closure. He died on the 15th of July, 1274, and was buried by the assembly of the Council members, still in Lyons; he was mourned by the entire Christian world. The Pope himself was at Bonaventure's bedside when the Seraphic Doctor was called to his eternal home.

    He was an outstanding philosopher and theologian; one of the greatest of medieval times. His most notable works included the Official Biography of Saint Francis, his "Perfection of Life, Soliloquy, and The Threefold Way. He was also renowned for his treatises and theological tracts, specifically Breviloquium, Itinerarium mentis in Deum, De reductione artium ad theologium, and his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. In addition he wrote over five-hundred sermons. Eight years after his death, Pope Martin IV canonized St. Bonaventura and he was decared a Doctor of the Church in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V, the same Sovereign Pontiff who completed the work on the magnificent Dome of St. Peter's conceived by the Master Michelangelo.


Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis] Some of the sources taken from: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894; Saints of the Roman Calendar, Enzo Lodi).


      Doctors of the Church
      St. Bonaventure