Seasonal Reflection: St. Bonaventure

HNP Communications Features

The feast of St. Bonaventure is celebrated on July 15. Because Bonaventure is very important to both the Order and the Province, earlier this month the Province’s Communications Office contacted friars, asking them to provide reflections on the saint. Called the second founder of the Franciscans, he is the one for whom a Province university and several churches are named. He is also known in history as one of the great philosophers and theologians of all time.

The following are friars’ personal recollections and reflections on St. Bonaventure.

Mathias Doyle, OFM

St. Bernardine of Siena Friary, Loudonville, N.Y.; former president of St. Bonaventure University

I had the opportunity, while attending the Franciscan Challenge Program in Rome a few years ago, to pay a visit to St. Bonaventure’s home in Bagnoregio in the vicinity of Viterbo, Italy. It is a very small village that sits high up on a hill and is approachable only by a long hike up a steep and narrow incline.

I could not help but think how unusual it had to be that Bonaventure was sent from here to the University of Paris at a very early age, no more than 19 or 20, to study under Alexander of Hales, the great founder of the Franciscan School. He quickly became a magister regens and lectured at the university with great success. He defended the Franciscans and the mendicant orders. The degree of doctor was solemnly bestowed on St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris in 1257.

Renowned as he was at the university, it was only when he reflected on the love that St. Francis had for the crucified Christ that he found the true meaning of his life as both scholar and Franciscan. In prayer before a crucifix, Bonaventure came to realize the great love of Christ in his sacrifice.

He worked tirelessly to restore the Order to the original fervor of St. Francis and is often referred to as the second founder. His joining together of the simplicity and joy of Francis with the depth of knowledge and spirituality of his own writings became his legacy to the Franciscan Order. When these two elements of Franciscanism are mutually respected, the Order has always flourished.

Roy Gasnick, OFM

St. Anthony’s Friary, St. Petersburg, Fla.; SBU alumnus

I have a grievance with St. Bonaventure.

No doubt he stands tall in the Franciscan hall of fame: one of the truly great philosophers and theologians of all time, the solidifier of the Franciscan school of theology, the major force at the Second General Council of the Church at Lyons who worked to reconcile the Roman and Orthodox Churches, a doctor of the Church, a General Minister of the Order whom historians have dubbed as its second founder, a biographer who produced two lives of St. Francis, a cardinal of the Roman Church (he was washing dishes in the friary when he received the red hat) and finally and triumphantly, a saint.

My grievance is this: While he was General Minister, the General Chapter of Narbonne commissioned Bonaventure to write a life of St. Francis eliminating those viewpoints which were causing so many problems in a divided Order. Three years later at the next General Chapter in Pisa, he presented his Legenda Major. It was the work of a theologian writing in a mystical theological framework; “while admirable, it is not adequately faithful,” according to Franciscan scholar Raphael Brown. The next Chapter, in Paris, took the drastic step of suppressing all other lives of Francis, especially the now revered first and second lives by Thomas of Celano.

This step had Bonaventure’s approval as part of his plan to refound the Order. I believe that step diminishes Bonaventure. To silence the voices of some of Francis’ earliest followers for such a purpose was totally contrary to the very mind, heart and spirit of Francis himself.

Yet Bonaventure, under the pressure of the times, felt the need to do so. Raphael Brown notes that it took more than six centuries for hidden copies of these other biographical sources to surface. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the great rebirth of biographical interest in Francis and Franciscan studies took place. In our times, at least five new books about Francis are published every year — no thanks to Bonaventure.

Richard Husted, OFM
Pastor, St. Bonaventure Church, Allegany, N.Y.

St. Bonaventure is often referred to as the second founder of the Franciscan Order. In his many writings, we are reminded very clearly that the love of God is always at the center of everything we do. For Bonaventure, God does everything out of love. He saw evidences of that love everywhere.

That approach becomes the unique vision of a Franciscan way of living. God sees all creation as good. Jesus did not come into this world to pay a debt for sin, but as an expression of the love that is God. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus is simply the most perfect expression of the love of God.

From this way of thinking, it is natural for a Franciscan to see everything that surrounds us as an expression of God’s goodness and as a participation in God’s gift of creation. Look in the faces of your brothers and sisters and see the goodness and generosity that are amazing signs of God’s loving kindness. Look within yourself and marvel at the ways God has blessed you on your journey and promised to be yours forever.

God continues to love us and bless us with the goodness of creation, the generosity of our brothers and sisters, and the opportunities that each one has to praise his love.

Stephen Lynch, OFM
St. Anthony Friary, Butler, N.J.

St. Bonaventure was not only a giant in the Order, but also an intellectual giant. I would suggest that Bonaventure’s philosophy was strongly influenced by Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory, and also by St. Augustine’s view of spiritual reality.

Aristotle applies his theory of hylomorphism to living things. He speculates that a soul is related to its body as form to matter. He defines a soul as that which makes a living thing alive. Aristotle bases his ethical theory on his teleological worldview. He sees the universe as inherently purposeful. Because of their form, human beings have certain abilities. Hence, the human purpose in life is to exercise those abilities as well and as fully as possible. Now, the most characteristic human ability, which is not included in the form of any other organism, is the ability to think. Therefore, Aristotle concluded that the best human life is a life lived rationally. St. Bonaventure would also insist that a human life be lived spiritually. Right-heartedness and right-headedness go together in Bonaventure’s view of reality.

Bonaventure also took the position that creation is reflectively self-conscious in human beings, and in an imperfect way, humans reflect God’s being in a heightened manner because of their spiritual faculties of memory, intellect and free will, which are signs of God’s indwelling presence.

The Commentary on the Sentences remains Bonaventure’s greatest work. All his other writings are in some way subservient to it. While the Breviloquium derives all things from God, the Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (The Journey of the Soul into God) proceeds in the opposite direction, bringing all things, both matter and spirit, visible and invisible, back to their supreme end, which centuries later Teilhard de Chardin called the omega point.

Bonaventure was undoubtedly one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages. He always remained a faithful disciple of Augustine and always defended the teaching of that doctor; yet, he by no means repudiated the teaching of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.

Ronald Pecci, OFM
Guardian of St. Paul Friary, Wilmington, Del., director, Holy Name Province Novitiate; SBU alumnus

Back in my undergraduate days (fall 1971) at SBU, I had no idea who or what St. Bonaventure was. Nor did I care.

As a senior, I took a course in my major and felt that I had been blown out of the water by the mid-term exam. The professor never returned the exams or posted grades, but I felt awful about it. When the final came, I had the same feeling. Right after the final, I went to the friary chapel and prayed to this saint who surrounded me in the images of the stained glass windows. I suggested to him that it would be an embarrassment to him, as well as to me, if I did poorly in that class, after all, in those days we were told that we represented the university.

So, a little divine intervention would help both of us. When the grades came later that month, I received a B in the class. Was I not as poorly prepared as I thought? Was it an error by the professor? Dumb luck? Bonaventure’s intervention? In any event, he became my patron for educational, intellectual and academic intentions ever since.

Editor’s note: Friars are welcome to contact the Communications Office with submissions of reflections for future issues of HNP Today. Some themes being considered for seasonal reflections include the feasts of St. John Vianney (Aug. 4), St. Dominic (Aug. 8), St. Clare (Aug.11), St. Stephen of Hungary and  religious holy days and national holidays such as Labor Day and Veterans Day.