Monday, July 14, 2008

Saint Bonaventure's Day

Today is the traditional feast of St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscan theologian of the thirteenth century whom Pope Sixtus V named Doctor Seraphicus. His life coincided with that of another great theologian, the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. Both studied at the University of Paris, and they received the doctoral degree together there on 23 October, 1257.

Bonaventure was known for his holy life, being a man of great humility, and deeply devoted to our Lord's Passion. One story that has come down to us illustrates his down to earth humility. In June of 1273 Pope Gregory X elevated Bonaventure to the rank of cardinal when he named him Cardinal Bishop of Albano, despite the theologian's protests. When the pope's emissaries arrived at Bonaventure's house with the cardinal's hat, they found him outside washing his dishes. Being in no great hurry to take hold of the hat, he told them to hang it on a tree until he could take it.

Bonaventure was also known for his aptitude for teaching the faith, having attained at a young age (1248 at the age of 27) the licentiate. He became a master instructor on Peter Lombard's Four Books, and went on to write many of his own works, including a commentary on Luke's Gospel.

He was also a blessing to the Church, and his order in particular, as an administrator. At the age of 35, he was elevated to the post of minister general of the Friars Minor, which involved navigating the order through the storms of division and controversy with which it was afflicted at the time. One of his literary achievements which no doubt helped unify the Franciscans of his time was the biography of St. Francis, which remains a classic.

In his effort to work for the good of the greater Church he attended the Council of Lyon in 1274. He worked hard at healing the division in the Church between East and West, and had gained much ground in that regard, though ultimately, as we all know, the wound has yet to be healed. That Council did in fact cement the placement of the filioque in the Latin Church's use of the Nicene Creed.

Saint Thomas died on his way to the Council, and Saint Bonaventure died at the Council. The cause of Bonaventure's death has never been established, though some sources argue that he was poisoned. Both of these great men of the Church were honored by the Council.

Let us pray that the Lord will raise up another Bonaventure for us today, a saintly theologian to help Shepherd the Church through the terrible storms of division and controversy by which we are sorely oppressed.

Iustum deduxit Dominus per vias rectas, et ostendit illi regnum Dei.

The Lord led the just man in right paths, and showed him the kingdom of God.

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