Saint Bonaventure

Saint Bonaventure

Saint Bonaventure


Today, we want to share the life of St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church - Seraphic Doctor and Second Founder of the Franciscan Order.  It is said of St. Francis of Assisi, that he didn't trust books, and never wanted his Friars to get distracted and influenced by the words of authors, whose works he also didn't trust.  He trusted the Bible, but not certain people's interpretations of it.  He was finally willing to bend in his staunch stand against book learning on the advice of St. Anthony of Padua, who was not only brilliant, but who St. Francis trusted.

We preface this story on St. Bonaventure with this insight into the philosophy of St. Francis, because had St. Anthony not convinced the Seraphic Father to relent where it came to teaching the friars, we may never have had St. Bonaventure, or at least the Franciscans would not have had him.  Because if there was one thing that Bonaventure was, it was brilliant.  That being said, he was also one of the humblest, purest, most precious and innocent men the world has known, in that, he followed very closely the characteristics and traits of his mentor, St. Francis. 

St. Bonaventure was born in Viterbo, only about 60 miles from Assisi, in 1221, just five years before the death of St. Francis.  There is a tradition that he was re-named by St. Francis when he was healed of a serious illness by the little Poverello, or poor one. His birth name was John, but the tradition, or Fioretti, tells us that when St. Francis healed him, he proclaimed "O buona ventura" or good fortune.  There's nothing to base that on, other than tradition, but St. Bonaventure himself, tells us that he was spared from death by the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi. 

He was destined to be clothed in the tunic of St. Francis and the friars all his life.  He loved Francis and everything Franciscan, except the bitter infighting in the Franciscan community that had been going on for as long as he could remember, actually since before the death of St. Francis.  One of his greatest ambitions in life was to bring the dissident factors of the Franciscan community, which had grown so far apart, together as a family.  But his attempt to unite the Franciscans didn't happen until later on in his life.

Bonaventure’s superiors in the Franciscan community could see early on that as well as being extremely spiritual, Bonaventure was also very intelligent, and so he was sent to the University of Paris to complete his studies.  An English professor, Alexander of Hales, who founded the Franciscan school at the University of Paris, took Bonaventure under his wing.  It was he who said of Bonaventure, "It would seem as if he had never been affected by the sin of Adam."  This gives us just a small inkling of how spiritual, and also how well-respected Bonaventure was.  He was very cheerful, and pleasant.  Even when he had to be firm in his dealings with the Franciscan community, or during his years of teaching at the University of Paris, or any of the many tasks he had to perform for the various Popes who reigned during his lifetime, he projected humility and the love of Jesus in everything he did.

Bonaventure took after St. Francis in another aspect, that of considering himself the worst sinner in the world, which contrasts greatly to the opinion of most other people, especially his professor, Alexander of Hales.  But Bonaventure was so serious in his belief that he was guilty of flaws and failings, he would deny himself the gift of Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.  Bonaventure suffered scrupulosity long before it became prevalent in the Church.  However, the Lord took care of that.  At a given time when Bonaventure had absented himself from the Eucharist for a number of days, the Lord decided He had had enough of this behavior.  During the celebration of the Mass, Bonaventure was deep in prayer, meditating.  During the Consecration of the Mass, when the priest went to break a particle of the Consecrated Host to drop It into the Chalice, the Host left his hands and drifted slowly, by the help of an Angel, into the mouth of St. Bonaventure.  From this time on, he was cured of his scruples, and was free to receive Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with great joy.

After Bonaventure’s time of study at the University of Paris, was completed, he was given his teaching credentials. This would allow him to spread the word of Jesus through his teaching of Philosophy and Theology at the University.  He became well-known, and wrote one of his most famous commentaries on the writings of Peter Lombard, regarding the entire span and scope of scholastic theology.  However, his fame also caused him a great deal of trouble, not just him, but all those who bore the title of Mendicant Friars.  The attacks at this time were against St. Bonaventure, who became the Seraphic Doctor, and St. Thomas Aquinas, later known as the Angelic Doctor.  Strangely enough, the vicious assault was waged upon the Franciscans and Dominicans largely because of their success!  They were living proof that the worldly life enjoyed by all those at the University was not necessary, and the simple lives that the friars lived, were a contradiction to many of the values taught and practiced by the professors at the university.  And maybe worst of all, the teachings of the Mendicant Friars were brilliant, and they were Christ-centered. 

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