July 14, 2018: ST. BONAVENTURE
July 14, 2018: ST. BONAVENTURE, BISHOP, CONFESSOR, AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
“He opened his mouth in the midst of the assembly, and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom; he hath clothed him with a robe of glory.”
O God, who didst give to thy people blessed Bonaventure for a minister of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech thee, that he, who was the instructor of our life here one earth, may in heaven become our intercessor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Four months after the Angel of the Schools [St. Thomas Aquinas], the Seraphic Doctor appears in the heavens. Bound by the ties of love when on earth, the two [St. Thomas Aquinas & St. Bonaventure] are now united for ever before the Throne of God. Bonaventure's own words will show us how great a right they both had to the heavenly titles bestowed upon them by the admiring gratitude of men.
As there are three hierarchies of Angels in heaven, so on earth there are three classes of the elect. The Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, who form the first hierarchy, represent those who approach nearest to God by contemplation, and who differ among themselves according to the intensity of their love, the plenitude of their science, and the steadfastness of their justice; to the Dominations, Virtues, and Powers, correspond the prelates and princes; and lastly, the lowest choirs signify the various ranks of the faithful engaged in the active life. This is the triple division of men, which, according to St. Luke, will be made at the last day: Two shall be in the bed, two in the field, two at the mill; (St. Luke, xvii. 34-35) that is to say, in the repose of divine delights, in the field of government, at the mill of this life's toil. As regards the two mentioned in each place, we may remark that in Isaias, the Seraphim, who are more closely united to God than the rest, perform two together their ministry of sacrifice and praise; for it is with the Angel as with man: the fulness of love, which belongs especially to the Seraphim, can-not be without the fulfilment of the double precept of charity towards God and one's neighbour. Again our Lord sent His disciples two and two before His, face; and in Genesis we find God sending two Angels where one would have sufficed. (Gen, xix. 1) It is better therefore, says Ecclesiastes, that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society. (Eccles, iv. 9)
Such is the teaching of Bonaventure in his book of the Hierarchy, wherein he shows us the secret workings of Eternal Wisdom for the salvation of the world and the sanctification of the elect. It would be impossible to understand aright the history of the thirteenth century, were we to forget the prophetic vision, wherein our Lady was seen presenting to her offended Son His two servants Dominic and Francis, that they might, by their powerful union, bring back to Him the wandering human race. What a spectacle for Angels when, on the morrow of the apparition, the two saints met and embraced: “Thou art my companion, we will run side by side,” said the descendant of the Gusmans [St. Dominic] to the poor man of Assisi [St. Francis]; “let us keep together, and no man will be able to prevail against us.” These words might well have been the motto of their noble sons, Thomas and Bonaventure. The star which shone over the head of St. Dominic, shed its bright rays on Thomas [Aquinas]; the Seraph who imprinted the stigmata in the flesh of St. Francis, touched with his fiery wing the soul of Bonaventure; yet both, like their incomparable fathers, had but one end in view: to draw men by science and love to that eternal life which consists in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
Both were burning and shining lamps, blending their flames in the heavens, in proportions which no mortal eye could distinguish here below; nevertheless, Eternal Wisdom has willed that the Church on earth should borrow more especially light from Thomas [Aquinas] and fire from Bonaventure. Would that we might here show in each of them the workings of Wisdom, the one bond even on earth of their union of thoughts,—that Wisdom, who, ever unchangeable in her adorable unity, never repeats herself in the souls she chooses from among the nations to become the prophets and the friends of God. But to-day we must speak only of Bonaventure.
When quite a child, he was saved by St. Francis from imminent death; whereupon his pious mother offered him by vow to the Saint, promising that he should enter the Order of Friars Minor. Thus, in the likeness of holy poverty, that beloved companion of the Seraphic Patriarch, did Eternal Wisdom prevent our Saint from his very cradle, showing herself first unto him. At the earliest awakening of his faculties he found her seated at the entrance of his soul, awaiting the opening of its gates, which are, he tells us, intelligence and love. Having received a good soul in an undefiled body, he preferred Wisdom before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison with the august friend, who offered herself to him in the glory of her nobility and beauty. From that first moment, without ever waning, she was his light. Peacefully as a sunbeam glancing through a hitherto closed window, Wisdom filled this dwelling, now become her own, as the bride on the nuptial day takes possession of the bridegroom's house, filling it with joy, in community of goods, and above all of love.
For her contribution to the nuptial banquet, she brought the substantial brightness of heaven; Bonaventure on his part offered her the lilies of purity, so desired by her as her choicest food. Henceforth the feast in his soul was to be continual; and the light and the perfumes, breaking forth, were shed around, attracting, enlightening, and nourishing all. While still very young, he was, according to custom, sent, after the first years of his religious life, to the celebrated University of Paris, where he soon won all hearts by his angelic manners; and the great Alexander of Hales, struck with admiration at the union of so many qualities, said of him that it seemed as if in him Adam had not sinned. As a lofty mountain whose head is lost in the clouds, and from whose foot run fertilizing waters far and wide, Brother Alexander himself, according to the expression of the Sovereign Pontiff, seemed at that time to contain within himself the living fountain of Paradise, whence the river of science and salvation flowed over the earth. Nevertheless not only would he, the irrefragable Doctor, and the Doctor of doctors, give up his chair in a short time to the new-comer, but he would hereafter derive his greatest glory from being called father and master by that illustrious disciple. Placed in such a position at so early an age, Bonaventure could say of Divine Wisdom, even more truly than of the great master who had had little to do but admire the prodigious development of his soul: “It is she that has taught me all things; she taught me the knowledge of God and of His works, justice and virtues, the subtleties of speeches and the solutions of arguments.”
Such indeed is the object of those Commentaries on the four Books of Sentences, first delivered as lectures from the chair of Paris, where he held the noblest intellects spell-bound by his graceful and inspired language. This masterpiece, while it is an inexhaustible mine of treasures to the Franciscan family, bears so great testimony to the science of this doctor of twenty-seven years of age, that, though so soon called from his chair to the government of a great Order, he was worthy on account of this single work to share with his friend Thomas of Aquin, who was fortunately freer to pursue his studies, the honourable title of prince of Sacred Theology.
The young master already merited his name of Seraphic Doctor, by regarding science as merely a means to love, and declaring that the light which illuminates the mind is barren and useless unless it penetrates to the heart, where alone wisdom rests and feasts. St. Antoninus tells us also, that in him every truth grasped by the intellect, passed through the affections, and thus became prayer and divine praise. “His aim,” says another historian, “was to burn with love, to kindle himself first at the divine fire, and afterwards to inflame others. Careless of praise or renown, anxious only to regulate his life and actions, he would fain burn and not only shine; he would be fire, in order to approach nearer to God by becoming more like to Him who is fire. Albeit, as fire is not without light, so was he also at the same time a shining torch in the House of God; but his special claim to our praise is, that all the light at his command he gathered to feed the flame of divine love.”
The bent of his mind was clearly indicated when, at the beginning of his public teaching, he was called upon to give his decision on the question then dividing the Schools: to some theology was a speculative, to others a practical science, according as they were more struck by the theoretical or the moral side of its teaching. Bonaventure, uniting the two opinions in the principle which he considered the one universal law, concluded that “Theology is an affective science, the knowledge of which proceeds by speculative contemplation, but aims principally at making us good.” For the wisdom of doctrine, he said, must be according to her name, (Eccli, vi. 23) something that can be relished by the soul; and he added, not without that gentle touch of irony which the saints know how to use: “There is a difference, I suppose, in the impressions produced by the proposition, Christ died for us, or the like, and by such as this: the diagonal and the side of a square cannot be equal to one another.” The graceful speech and profound science of our saint were enhanced by a beautiful modesty. He would conclude a difficult question thus: “This is said without prejudice to the opinions of others. If anyone think otherwise, or better, as he may well do on this point as on all others, I bear him no ill-will; but if, in this little work, he find any thing deserving approval, let him give thanks to God, the Author of all good. Whatever, in any part, be found false, doubtful or obscure, let the kind reader forgive the incompetence of the writer, whose conscience bears him unimpeachable testimony that he has wished to say nothing but what is true, clear, and commonly received.” On one occasion, however, Bonaventure’s unswerving devotion to the Queen of Virgins modified with a gentle force his expression of humility: “If anyone,” he says, “prefers otherwise, I will not contend with him, provided he say nothing to the detriment of the Venerable Virgin, for we must take the very greatest care, even should it cost us our life, that no one lessen in any way the honour of our Lady.” Lastly, at the end of the third book of this admirable Exposition of the Sentences, he declares that charity is worth more than all science. It is enough, in doubtful questions, to know what the wise have taught; disputation is to little purpose. We talk much, and our words fail us. Infinite thanks be to the perfecter of all discourse, our Lord Jesus Christ, who taking pity on my poverty of knowledge and of genius, has enabled me to complete this moderate work. I beg of Him that it may procure me the merit of obedience, and may be of profit to my brethren: the twofold purpose for which the task was undertaken.”
But the time had come when obedience was to give place to another kind of merit, less pleasing to himself, but not less profitable to the brethren. At thirty-five years of age, he was elected Minister General. Obliged thus to quit the field of scholastic teaching, he entrusted it to his friend, Thomas of Aquin, who, younger by several years, was to cultivate it longer and more completely than he himself had been suffered. The Church would lose nothing by the change; for, Eternal Wisdom, who ordereth all things with strength and sweetness, thus disposed that these two incomparable geniuses, completing one another, should give us the fulness of that true science which not only reveals God, but leads to Him.
Give an occasion to the wise man, and wisdom shall be added to him. (Prov, ix. 9) This sentence was placed by Bonaventure at the head of his treatise on “the Six Wings of the Seraphim,” wherein he sets forth the qualifications necessary for one called to the cure of souls; and well did he fulfil it himself in the government of his immense Order, scattered by its missions throughout the whole Church. The treatise itself, which Father Claud Aquaviva held in such high estimation as to oblige the Superiors of the Society of Jesus to use it as a guide, furnishes us with a portrait of our Saint at this period. He had reached the summit of the spiritual life, where the inward peace of the soul is undisturbed by the most violent agitations from without; where the closeness of their union with God produces in the saints a mysterious fecundity, displayed to the world, when God wills, by a multiplicity of perfect works incomprehensible to the profane. Let us listen to Bonaventure's own words: “The Seraphim exercise an influence over the lower orders, to draw them upwards; so the love of the spiritual man tends both to his neighbour and to God; to God that he may rest in Him; to his neighbour to draw him thither with himself. Not only then do they burn; they also give the form of perfect love, driving away darkness and showing how to rise by degrees, and to go to God by the highest paths.”
Such is the secret of that admirable series of opuscula, composed, as he owned to St. Thomas, without the aid of any book but his crucifix, without any preconceived plan, but simply as occasion required, at the request, or to satisfy the needs of the brethren and sisters of his large family, or again when he felt a desire of pouring out his soul. In these works Bonaventure has treated alike of the first elements of asceticism and of the sublimest subjects of the mystic life, with such fulness, certainty, clearness, and persuasive force, that Sixtus IV declared the Holy Spirit seemed to speak in him. On reading the Itinerary of the soul to God, which was written on the height of Alvernia, as it were under the immediate influence of the Seraphim, the Chancellor Gerson exclaimed: “This opusculum, or rather this immense work, is beyond the praise of a mortal mouth.” And he wished it, together with that wonderful compendium of sacred science, the Breviloquium, to be imposed upon theologians as a necessary manual. “By his words,” says the great Abbot Trithemius in the name of the Benedictine Order, “the author of all these learned and devout works inflames the will of the reader no less than he enlightens his mind. Note the spirit of divine love and Christian devotion in his writings, and you will easily see that he surpasses all the doctors of his time in the usefulness of his works. Many expound doctrine, many preach devotion, few teach the two together; Bonaventure surpasses both the many and the few, because he trains to devotion by science, and to science by devotion. If then you would be both learned and devout, you must put his teaching in practice.”
But Bonaventure himself will tell us best the proper dispositions for reading him with profit. At the beginning of his Incendium amoris, wherein he teaches the three ways, purgative, illuminative, and unitive, which lead to true wisdom, he says: “I offer this book not to philosophers, not to the worldly-wise, not to great theologians perplexed with endless questions, but to the simple and ignorant who strive rather to love God than to know much. It is not by disputing, but by activity, that we learn to love. As to these men full of questions, superior in every science, but inferior in the love of Christ, I consider them incapable of understanding the contents of this book; unless putting away all vain show of learning, they strive, by humble self-renunciation, prayer, and meditation, to kindle within them the divine spark, which, inflaming their hearts and dispelling all darkness, will lead them beyond the concerns of time even to the throne of peace. Indeed by the very fact of their knowing more, they are better disposed to love, or at least they would be, if they truly despised themselves and could rejoice to be despised by others.”
Although these pages are already too long, we cannot resist quoting the last words left us by St. Bonaventure. As the Angel of the School [St. Thomas Aquinas] was soon, at Fossa Nova, to close his labours and his life with the explanation of the Canticle of Canticles, so his seraphic rival and brother tuned his last notes to these words of the sacred Nuptial Song: “King Solomon has made him a litter of the wood of Libanus: The pillars thereof he made of silver, the seat of gold, the going-up of purple.” (Cant, iii. 9, 10) “The seat of gold,” added our Saint, “is contemplative wisdom; it belongs to those alone who possess the column of silver, i.e. the virtues which strengthen the soul; the going-up of purple is the charity whereby we ascend to the heights and descend to the valleys.”
It is a conclusion worthy of Bonaventure, the close of a sublime but incomplete work, which he had not even time to put together himself. “Alas! alas! alas!” cries out with tears the loving disciple to whom we owe this last treasure, “a higher dignity, and then the death of our lord and master prevented the continuation of this work.” And then showing us, in a touching manner, the precautions taken by the sons lest they should lose anything of their father's conferences: “What I here give,” he says, “is what I could snatch by writing rapidly while he was speaking. Two others took notes at the same time, but their papers are scarcely legible; whereas several of the audience were able to read my copy, and the master himself and many others made use of it; a fact for which I deserve some gratitude. And now at length, permission and time having been given to me, I have revised these notes, with the voice and gestures of the master ever in my ear and before my eyes; I have arranged them in order, with-out adding anything to what he said, except the indication of certain authorities.”
The dignity mentioned by the faithful secretary is that of Cardinal Bishop of Albano. After the death of Clement IV, and the succeeding three years of widowhood for the Church, our Saint, by his influence with the Sacred College, had obtained the election of Gregory X, who now imposed upon him in virtue of obedience the honour of the Cardinalate. Having been entrusted with the work of preparation for the Council of Lyons, convened for the Spring of 1274, Bonaventure had the joy of assisting at the re-union of the Latin and Greek Churches, which he, more than anyone else, had been instrumental in obtaining. But God spared him the bitterness of seeing how short-lived the re-union was to be: a union which would have been the salvation of that East which he loved, and where his name, translated into Eutychius, was still in veneration two centuries later at the time of the Council of Florence. On the 15th of July of that year, 1274, in the midst of the Council, and presided at by the Sovereign Pontiff himself, took place the most solemn funeral the world has ever witnessed. “I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan,” cried out before that mourning assembly gathered from East and West, the Dominican Cardinal Peter of Tarentaise. After fifty-three years spent in this world, the Seraph had cast off his robe of flesh, and spreading his wings had gone to join Thomas of Aquin, who had by a very short time preceded him to heaven.
There are only two proper lessons consecrated to St. Bonaventure, but the elegant conciseness with which much is said in few words somewhat compensates for their shortness.
Bonaventure was born at Bagnorea, in Tuscany. During his childhood his life was once endangered, and his mother vowed that if her son survived she would consecrate him to God in the Order of Blessed Francis. On this account, while still a youth, Bonaventure begged to be admitted among the Friars Minors. He had for master Alexander Hales, and became in a short time so eminent in learning that at the end of seven years he publicly, in Paris, explained the books of the Sentences, with great applause. Later on he published also excellent commentaries on the same book. After the lapse of six years, he was elected Minister General of his Order, at Rome, and he became the object of universal praise and admiration by the prudence and sanctity he displayed in the fulfilment of this office.
He wrote many works which, combining the greatest learning with the most ardent piety, at once instruct and move the reader. Urged by the renown of his sanctity and wisdom, Gregory X made him Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was, while still living, called a Saint by Blessed Thomas of Aqnin, who, finding him one day writing the life of St. Francis, said: “Let us allow one saint to labour for another.” Bonaventure departed this life on the day before the Ides of July, at the Council of Lyons, being fifty-three years of age. He performed many miracles, and was added to the number of the saints by the Sovereign Pontiff, Sixtus IV.
Another account of St. Bonaventure
St. Bonaventure, the great light and ornament of the holy Order of St. Francis, for his extraordinary devotion, ardent charity, and eminent skill in sacred learning, is surnamed the Seraphic Doctor. He was born at Bagnarea, in Tuscany, in the year 1221, of pious parents, named John of Fidenza and Mary Ritelli. He was christened by the name of John, but afterwards received that of Bonaventure on the following occasion. In the fourth year of his age he fell so dangerously sick that his life was despaired of by the physicians. The mother, in excessive grief, had recourse to the almighty Physician by earnest prayer, and going into Umbria, cast herself at the feet of St. Francis of Assisium, with many tears begging his intercession with God for the life of her son. Would Christians address themselves to God with an humble confidence in all their corporal necessities, their afflictions would never fail to be turned into divine blessings. But their neglect of this duty deserves to be chastised by spiritual misfortunes, and often also by temporal disappointments without comfort or remedy. St. Francis was moved to compassion by the tears of the mother, and at his prayer the child recovered so perfect a state of health that he was never known to be sick from that time till the illness of which he died. The glorious saint, at whose petition God granted this favour, saw himself near the end of his mortal course, and foretelling the graces which the divine goodness prepared for this child, cried out in prophetic rapture, “O buona ventura,” that is, in Italian, “good luck.” Whence the name of Bonaventura was given our saint. The devout mother in gratitude consecrated her son to God by a vow, and was careful to inspire into him from the cradle the most ardent sentiments of piety, and to inure him betimes to assiduous practices of self-denial, humility, obedience, and devotion. Bonaventure from his infancy entered upon a religious course, and appeared inflamed with the love of God as soon as he was capable of knowing him. His progress in his studies surprised his masters, but that which he made in the science of the saints, and in the practice of every virtue was far more extraordinary. It was his highest pleasure and joy to hear by how many titles he belonged to God, and he made it his most earnest study and endeavour to devote his heart with his whole strength to the divine service.
In 1243, being twenty-two years of age, he entered into the Order of St. Francis, and received the habit in the province of Rome from the hands of Haymo, an Englishman, at that time general of the Order. St. Bonaventure mentions in his prologue to the life of St. Francis, that he entered this state, and made his vows with extraordinary sentiments of gratitude for the preservation of his life through the intercession of St. Francis, resolving with the greatest ardour to serve God with his whole heart. Shortly after, he was sent to Paris to complete his studies under the celebrated Alexander of Hales, surnamed the Irrefragable Doctor. After his death in 1215, St. Bonaventure continued his course under his successor, John of Rochelle. His penetrating genius was poised by the most exquisite judgment, by which, while he easily dived to the bottom of every subtle inquiry, he cut off whatever was superfluous, dwelling only on that knowledge which is useful and solid, or at least was then necessary to unravel the false principles and artful sophistry of the adversaries of truth. Thus he became a masterly proficient in the scholastic philosophy, and in the most sublime parts of theology. Whilst he referred all his studies to the divine honour and his own sanctification, he was most careful not to lose the end in the means, and suffer his application to degenerate into a dissipation of mind and a vicious idle curiosity. This opens an avenue into the heart for self-conceit, jealousy, envy, and a total extinction of the spirit of prayer, with a numberless train of other spiritual evils, which lay waste the affections of the soul, and banish thence the precious fruits of the Holy Ghost. To shun those rocks often fatal to piety, he seemed never to turn his attention from God, and by the earnest invocation of the divine light in the beginning of every action, and holy aspirations with which he accompanied all his studies, he may be said to have made them a continued prayer. When he turned his eyes to his book, they were swimming with tears of love and devotion excited by his assiduous meditation on the wounds of Christ, and his heart still continued to inflame its affections from that its beloved object, which he seemed to read in every line. St. Thomas Aquinas coming one day to pay a visit to our saint, asked him in what books he had learned his sacred science. St. Bonaventure, pointing to his crucifix before him, said, “This is the source of all my knowledge. I study only Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
Not content to make his studies in some sort a continuation of prayer, he devoted entirely to that heavenly exercise the greater part of his time, knowing this to be the key of divine graces and of a spiritual life. For only the Spirit of God, as St. Paul teaches, can lead us into the secrets and designs of God, and engrave his holy maxims on our hearts. He alone can make himself known, as no other light can discover the sun to us but its own; and it is in prayer that God communicates himself to us. He here enlightens the souls of his servants, and is their interior instructor. But as St. Austin says, honey cannot be poured into a vessel that is full of wormwood; neither can this excellent grace or gift of prayer find place in a soul which is not first prepared to receive the sensible presence of the Holy Ghost by holy compunction, and by the practice of penance, humility, and self-denial. These virtues fitted the soul of our saint to be admitted to the chaste embraces of the heavenly bridegroom. Such was the innocence and purity in which he lived, and so perfect a mastery he had obtained over his passions, that Alexander of Hales used to say of him, that he seemed not to have sinned in Adam. An eminent spirit of penance was the principal guardian of this grace of innocence. The austerities of St. Bonaventure were excessive; yet, amidst his penitential tears, a remarkable cheerfulness appeared always in his countenance, which resulted from the inward peace of his soul. Himself lays down this maxim: “A spiritual joy is the greatest sign of the divine grace dwelling in a soul.”
To his mortifications he added the practice of the greatest humiliations. In attending the sick he was particularly ambitious to serve them in the lowest and most humbling offices. In this charitable duty he seemed prodigal of his own life and health, and chose always to be about those whose distempers were most loathsome or contagious and dangerous. He had no eyes to see any thing in himself but faults and imperfections, and wonderful was the care with which he endeavoured to conceal from others his extraordinary practices of virtue. When their rays broke through the veil of his humility, and shone forth to others, the saint, in order to cast a shade over them before men, or at least to strengthen his own heart against the danger, and to indulge his love of abjection, embraced the greatest humiliations. He always regarded himself as the most ungrateful and the basest of sinners, unworthy to walk upon the earth, or to breathe the air; and these humble sentiments were accompanied with the deepest compunction, and abundant tears. This humility sometimes with held him from the holy table, notwithstanding the burning desires of his soul to be united daily afresh to the object of his love, and to approach the fountain of grace. But God was pleased by a miracle to overcome his fears, and to recompense his humility. “Several days had passed,” say the acts of his canonization, “nor durst he yet presume to present himself at the heavenly banquet. But whilst he was hearing mass, and meditating on the passion of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, to crown his humility and love, put into his mouth, by the ministry of an angel, part of the consecrated host, taken from the hand of the priest.” By this precious favour his soul was drowned in a torrent of pure delights; and from that time he was encouraged to approach with an humble confidence to the bread of angels, which gives life and strength.
From this time his communions were accompanied with overflowing sweetness and consolations, and with raptures of divine joy and love. If in our communions we seem to receive, instead of torrents, scarce a small portion of heavenly grace, the reason is, because our hearts are too narrow. The vessel which we bring is too small. If we diluted our soul by humility, burning desires, and love, we should receive, like the saints, an abundant supply of these living waters. St. Bonaventure prepared himself to receive the holy order of priesthood by long fasts, humiliations, and fervent prayer, that he might obtain in it an abundant measure of graces proportioned to so high a function. He considered that sacred dignity with fear and trembling, and the higher and more incomprehensible it appeared to him, so much the more did he humble himself when he saw himself invested with it. As often as he approached the altar, the profound annihilation of himself, and the tender love with which he offered, beheld in his hands, and received into his breast, the Lamb without spot, appeared by his tears, and his whole exterior. A devout prayer which he composed for his own use after mass, beginning with these words, Transfige dulcissime domine, is recommended by the church to all priests on that most solemn occasion.
Bonaventure looked upon himself as called by the obligations of his priestly character to labour for the salvation of his neighbour, and to this he devoted himself with extraordinary zeal. He announced the word of God to the people with an energy and unction which kindled a flame in the hearts of those that heard him; everything was inflamed that came from his mouth. For an assistance to himself in this function he compiled his treatise called Pharetra, consisting of animated sentiments gathered from the writings of the fathers. In the mean time, he was employed in teaching privately in his own convent, till he succeeded his late master, John of Rochelle, in a public chair of the university. The age required by the statutes for this professorship was thirty-five, whereas the saint was only thirty-three years old; but his abilities amply supplied that defect, and on this literary theatre he soon displayed them to the admiration of the whole church. He continued always to study at the foot of the crucifix. The disagreement between the university and the regulars being terminated by Pope Alexander IV in 1256, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure were invited to take the doctor's cap together. As others contend for precedence, the two saints had a vehement contest of humility, each endeavouring to yield the first place to the other. They knew no pretexts of the interest of their Orders, nor were they sensible of any prerogatives but those of humility. St. Bonaventure prayed and entreated him with so much earnestness, that at length St. Thomas acquiesced to receive the degree first, and our saint triumphed over both his friend and himself. The holy king St. Lewis honoured St. Bonaventure with his particular esteem, invited him often to his own table, and consulted him in his most intricate concerns, placing an entire confidence in his advice. He engaged him to compile an office of the passion of Christ for his use. St. Bonaventure drew up a rule for St. Isabella, the king's sister, and for her nunnery of mitigated Clares at Long-Champs. His book, On the Government of the Soul, his Meditations for every day in the week, and most of his other lesser tracts, were written to satisfy the requests of several devout persons of the court. The unction which every word breathes in the writings of this holy doctor pierces the heart, and his concise expression is an abyss, or rather a treasure of most profound sentiments of humility, compunction, love, and devotion, the riches of which a pious heart finds everywhere boundless. Especially his tender sentiments of the love of God, and on the sacred passion of Christ, exceedingly recommend to all devout persons his meditations on this latter subject, and express the burning affections with which his pure soul glowed towards that stupendous mystery of infinite love, goodness, and mercy, that perfect model of all virtue and sanctity, and source of all our good.
The celebrated Gerson, the most learned and devout chancellor of Paris, writes of the works of St Bonavcnture: “Among all the Catholic doctors, Eustachius (for so we may translate his name of Bonaventure) seems to me the most proper for conveying light to the understanding, and at the same time warming the heart. In particular his Brevioloquium and Itinerarium are written with so much force, art, and conciseness, that nothing can be beyond them.” In another book he says: “St. Bonaventure's works seem to me the most proper for the instruction of the faithful. They are solid, safe, pious, and devout; and he keeps as far as he can from niceties; not meddling with logical or physical questions, which are foreign to the matter in hand. Nor is there any doctrine more sublime, more divine, or more conducive to piety.” Trithemius recommends this doctor's writings in the following words: “His expressions are full of fire, they no less warm with divine love the hearts of those who read them, than they till their understanding with the most holy light. His works surpass those of all the doctors of his time, if we consider the spirit of divine love, and of Christian devotion that speaks in him. He is profound in few words, penetrating without curiosity, eloquent without vanity; his discourse is inflamed without being bloated.—Whoever would be both learned and devout, let him read the works of St. Bonaventure.”
This is chiefly to be understood of his spiritual tracts. In these the author discovers every where a most profound spirit of humility and holy poverty, with a heart perfectly disengaged from all earthly things, and full of the most ardent love of God, and the most tender devotion to the sacred passion of our Divine Redeemer. The eternal joys of heaven were the frequent entertainment of his pious soul, and he seems never to have interrupted his ardent sighs after them. He endeavoured by his writings to excite in all others the same fervent desires of our heavenly country. He writes that “God himself, all the glorious spirits, and the whole family of the eternal King wait for us, and desire that we should be associated to them; and shall not we pant above all things to be admitted into their happy company? He would appear amongst them with great confusion, who had not in this valley of tears continually raised his soul above all things visible to become already, in ardent desire, an inhabitant of those blessed regions.” He clearly shows that he was not able to express the transports of holy joy that overflowed his soul, as often as he contemplated its future union with God in immortal bliss and uninterrupted love and praise. He revolved in mind the raptures of gratitude and joy in which the blessed spirits behold themselves in the state of security for ever, whilst they see so many souls on earth every day overthrown by their spiritual enemies, and so many others lost in hell. He was strongly affected with the thought of the glorious company of millions of angels and saints, all most holy, loving, and glorious, adorned each with their distinguishing trophies and graces; in which every one will possess in others every gift which he hath not, and all those gifts which himself hath, doubled so many times as he hath partners in bliss. For loving every companion as himself, he will rejoice for the felicity of each no less than for his own. Whereupon, with St. Anselm, he often asked his own heart, here so poor, so weak, and overwhelmed with miseries, if then it would be able, without being strengthened and raised above itself by an extraordinary grace, to contain its joy for its own felicity; how it could be able to contain so many and such excess of joys. But this saint's sublime sentiments of piety and devotion are best learned from his own works. His love of an interior life did not hinder his application to promote the divine honour in others by various exterior employments; but these he animated and sanctified by a constant spirit of recollection and prayer.
Whilst he continued to teach at Paris he was chosen general of his Order in a chapter held in the convent called AraCœli, at Rome, in 1256. The saint was only thirty-five years old. Nevertheless Pope Alexander IV confirmed the election. St. Bonaventure was thunderstruck at this news, and prostrating himself on the ground, he with many tears implored the divine light and direction; after which he set out immediately for Rome. The Franciscan Order was at that time divided by intestine dissensions, some of the friars being for an inflexible severity, others demanding certain mitigations of the letter of the rule. The young general no sooner appealed among them, but by the force of his exhortations, which he tempered with mildness and charity, he restored a perfect calm; and all the brethren marched under this new Josue with one heart, in the same spirit, and in the same path. William of Saint-Amour, a member of the university of Paris, having published a bitter invective against the Mendicant Orders, entitled, “On the Dangers of the Latter Times,” St. Thomas answered it. St. Bonaventure also confuted it by a book, which he called “On the Poverty of the Lord Jesus,” in which his mildness in handling the controversy against a most virulent adversary reflected a double advantage on his victory.
Our saint in his return to the schools at Paris, visited several of his convents in the way, in which he showed every where that he was only become superior to be the most humble, the most charitable, and the most compassionate of all his brethren, and the servant of his whole Order. Notwithstanding his great employments, he never omitted his usual exercises of devotion, but laid out his time and regulated his functions with such wonderful prudence as to find leisure for every thing. He composed several works at Paris, but often retired to Mante for greater solitude. A stone, which he used for his pillar, is shown to this day in that convent. In 1260 the saint held a general chapter at Narbonne, and in concert with the definitors, gave a new form to the old Constitutions, added certain new rules, and reduced them all into twelve chapters. At the request of the friars assembled in this chapter, he undertook to write the life of St. Francis; but went first from Narbonne to Mount Alverno, and there assisted at the dedication of a great church. In a little oratory, built upon the very place where St. Francis had received the miraculous marks of the wounds of our Saviour, St. Bonaventure continued a long while abstracted, and in an ecstasy, in holy meditation. He there wrote his incomparable treatise, called Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, or the Way of the Soul to God, showing that all her comfort and riches are to be found in God alone, and tracing out the sure way that leads to him. Whilst he was in Italy he gathered the most authentic memoirs for the life of St. Francis, which he compiled with a spirit which shows him to have been filled with all the heroic virtues of his founder, whose life he wrote. St. Thomas Aquinas coming one day to pay him a visit whilst he was employed in this work, saw him through the door of his cell, raised in contemplation above the ground, and going away, said, “Let us leave a saint to write for a saint.” In 1230 St. Bonaventure assisted at the translation of the relics of St. Antony, which was performed at Padua. From that city he went to hold a general chapter at Pisa, in which, by words and example, he exhorted his brethren to a great love of holy solitude. He gave on that and every other occasion proofs of his tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. When he was first made general he put his Order under her special patronage. He regulated many pious exercises of devotion to her, composed his Mirrour of the Virgin, setting forth her graces, virtues, and prerogatives, with many prayers, which are tender and respectful effusions of the heart, to implore her intercession. He wrote a pathetic paraphrase in verse of the anthem Salve Regina. He published the praises of the Mother out of devotion to the Son, and to extend his glory. To propagate his honour and saving faith he sent, by the pope's authority, preachers into many barbarous nations, and lamented his situation that he could not go himself, and expose his life among the infidels.
The venerable Brother Giles, the third companion of St. Francis at Assisio, said one day to St. Bonaventure, “Father, God has shown us great mercy, and bestowed on us many graces. But we who are poor and ignorant idiots, what can we do to correspond to his immense goodness, and to be saved?” St. Bonaventure answered, “If God were to bestow on any one no other talents besides the grace of loving him, this alone suffices, and is every spiritual treasure.” Brother Giles said, “Can a dull idiot love God as perfectly as a great scholar?” St. Bonaventure replied, “A poor old woman may love him more than the most learned master and doctor in theology.” At this, Brother Giles, in a sudden fervour and jubilation of spirit, went into a garden, and standing at a gate toward the city (of Rome), he looked that way, and cried out with a loud voice, “Come, the poorest, most simple, and most illiterate old woman, love the Lord our God, and you may attain to a higher degree of eminence and happiness than Brother Bonaventure, with all his learning.” After this he fell into an ecstacy, in which he continued in sweet contemplation without motion for the space of three hours.
Pope Clement IV, in 1265, nominated St. Bonaventure Archbishop of York, being assured how agreeable he would be to that church, to the King of England, and his whole kingdom. But, St. Bonaventure, having first by earnest prayer begged that God would preserve him from so great a danger, went and cast himself at the feet of his holiness, and by tears and entreaties extorted from him a discharge from that burden. He held a General Chapter at Paris, in 1266; and in the next, which he assembled at Assisium, he ordered the triple salutation of the Blessed Virgin, called the Angelus Domini, to be recited every evening at six o'clock, to honour the incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation, which ought to be the object of our perpetual praises and thanksgiving.
In 1272, Theobald, the holy Archdeacon of Liege, a native of Placentia, then absent in the Holy Land, was chosen pope, and took the name of Gregory X; a person of such eminent sanctity, that a process has been set on foot for his canonization; and Benedict XIV, in 1745, ordered his name to be inserted in the Roman Martyrology. He was a man of an extraordinary reputation throughout all his life for prudence in the conduct of his affairs; for courage, greatness of mind, and contempt of money; for devotion, clemency, and charily to the poor. He died on the 10th of January, 1276, on his return from the Council at Abruzzo, in Tuscany, of which city he is the tutelar patron. Miracles have rendered his name illustrious. Bonaventure, fearing this holy pope would compel him to accept of some ecclesiastical dignity, left Italy, and went to Paris, where he wrote his Hexaëmeron, or pious exposition of the creation, or work of six days. He had scarce finished it, when, at Whitsuntide, he received from the pope a brief by which he was nominated cardinal, and Bishop of Albano, one of the six suffragans of Rome. His holiness added a precept to him to accept that double charge without alleging any pretext against it, and immediately to repair to Rome. He sent two nuncios to meet him on the road with the hut, and other ensigns of his dignities. They found the saint reposing on his journey in a convent of his order at Migel, four leagues from Florence, and employed in washing the dishes. He desired them to hang the cardinal’s hat on the bough of a tree, because he could not decently take it in his hands, and left them to walk in the garden till he had finished his work. Then, taking up the hat, he went to the nuncios, and paid them the respect due to their character. Gregory X came from Orvietto to Florence, and there, meeting Bonaventure, ordained him bishop with his own hands; then ordered him to prepare himself to speak in the general council which he had called to meet at Lyons for the reunion of the Greeks.
The Emperor Michael Pulӕologus had made proposals to Pope Clement IV for a union. Pope Gregory X zealously pursued this affair. Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople, made a violent opposition, but was obliged by the emperor to retire into a monastery. To bring this affair to a happy conclusion, Gregory X invited the Greeks to come to the general council which he assembled at Lyons for this very purpose, and also to concert measures for pushing on a war for the recovery of the Holy Land, which the pope promoted with all his might. This was the fourteenth general council, and the second of Lyons. At it were present five hundred bishops, seventy abbots, James, King of Arragon, and the ambassadors of the Emperor Michael, and of other Christian princes. St. Thomas, of Aquin, died on the road to this synod. St. Bonaventure accompanied the pope through Milan to it, and arrived at Lyons in November, though the council was only opened on the 7th of May, 1274. Bonaventure sat on the pope's right hand, and first harangued the assembly. Between the second and third sessions he held his last general chapter of his Order, in which he abdicated the office of general. He found leisure to preach, and he established at Lyons a pious confraternity called Del Gonfalone, which he had formerly instituted at Rome. In it, pious persons associated themselves in certain daily devotions, under the patronage of the mother of God. The deputies of the Greeks being arrived at Lyons, St. Bonaventure was ordered by the pope to confer with them. They were charmed with his sweetness, and convinced by his reasoning, and they acquiesced in every point. In thanksgiving, the pope sung mass on the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, and the gospel was sung first in Latin, then in Greek. After this, St. Bonaventure preached on the unity of faith. Then the creed was sung, first in Latin, then in Greek, and as a seal of the reunion of the two churches, those words were thrice repeated: “Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son.” In memory of this solemn function two crosses are placed on the high altar of the metropolitan Church of St. John, at Lyons. St. Bonaventure was taken ill after this session; nevertheless, he assisted at the fourth, in which the Logothete, or High Chancellor of Constantinople, abjured the schism. But the next day the saint's strength began entirely to fail him, insomuch that he was no longer able to attend business. From that time he gave himself up entirely to his private devotions, and the constant amiable serenity of his countenance demonstrated the holy peace and joy of his soul in those most awful moments. The pope himself gave him extreme unction, as is attested by an inscription which hath been preserved in the same chamber in which he died to our times. The saint kept his eyes constantly fixed on a crucifix, and expired in great tranquillity on the 14th of July, in the year 1274, of his age the fifty-third. The pope and the whole council solemnized his obsequies on the same day in the Church of the Franciscans at Lyons. Peter of Tarentaise, a Dominican friar, Cardinal and Bishop of Ostia, afterwards pope under the name of Innocent V, preached his funeral panegyric, in which he said, “No one ever beheld him who did not conceive a great esteem and affection for him; and even strangers, by hearing him speak, were desirous to follow his counsel and advice; for he was gentle, affable, humble, pleasing to all, compassionate, prudent, chaste, and adorned with all virtues.”
The body of St. Bonaventure was translated into the new Church of the Franciscans on the 14th of March, 1434. King Charles VIII founded their new convent at Lyons at the foot of the castle of Pierre Incise, in 1494, with a rich chapel, in which the saint's remains were enshrined, except a part of the lower jaw, which that king caused to be conveyed to Fontainebleau, and it is now in the Church of the Cordeliers, in Paris: the bones of an arm are kept at Bagnarea, and a little bone at Venice. In 1562, the Calvinists plundered his shrine, burned his relics in the market-place, and scattered the ashes in the river Saone, as is related by the learned Jesuit Possevinus, who was then at Lyons. They stabbed to death the guardian, with a Catholic captain whom they had made prisoner; they burned the archives of the library, and set fire to the convent. The saint's head and some other relics escaped the fury of the rebels by having been concealed. St. Bonaventure was canonized by Sixtus IV in 1482. Sixtus V enrolled his name among the doctors of the church in the same manner as Pius V had done that of St. Thomas Aquinas. The acts of his canonization record several approved miracles wrought by his intercession. The city of Lyons, in 1628, being grievously afflicted with the plague, the raging distemper began to cease from the time in which certain relies of our saint were devoutly carried to procession. That and other cities have experienced the divine mercy in like manner, in several other public calamities, by invoking St. Bonaventure's intercession. Charles of Orleans, lather of Lewis XII, King of France, was taken prisoner by the English in the battle of Agincourt, in 1425. During his captivity, he fell ill of a fever, under which no human remedies gave him any relief. The more desperate his situation appeared, with the more earnestness he set himself to implore the patronage of St. Bonaventure, and a perfect recovery was the recompense of his devotion. In gratitude, as soon as he was set at liberty, he went to Lyons to offer up his thanksgivings and prayers at the tomb of the saint, on which he bestowed magnificent presents.
St. Bonaventure, this great master of a spiritual life, places not the perfection of Christian virtue so much in the more heroic exercises of a religious state as in the performing well our ordinary actions. “The best perfection of a religious man,” says he, “is to do common things in a perfect manner. A constant fidelity in small things is a great and heroic virtue.” It is a continual crucifixion of self-love and all the passions; a complete sacrifice of all our actions, moments, and affections, and the entire reign of God's grace throughout our whole lives. Quintilian lays it down for the great rule in forming an orator, that he accustom himself never to write or speak carelessly even on the most trifling subject, or in common conversation, but that he study always to express himself in the most proper manner possible: with far greater diligence ought every one to strive to perform all, even the meanest of his actions, in the most perfect manner, and to improve every grace, every moment of time, to advance in virtue.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
O excellent Doctor, light of the holy Church, blessed Bonaventure, lover of the divine law, pray to the Son of God for us.