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St. Bonaventure 1221-1274

In 13 History on 2011/07/06 at 7:10 PM

Little is known of Bonaventure’s early life.  He was quite young when he entered the Franciscans.  He studied in Paris under the famous Alexander of Hales who founded the renowned Franciscan School.

In 1248 Bonaventure was already a Master teacher, and he lectured at the university with great success for many years.  However, jealous secular professors campaigned against religious teachers like the Dominicans and Franciscans and for years academia in Paris was in turmoil.  Rome reestablished both religious orders right to teach and both Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas received doctoral degrees.

At age 36 Bonaventure, who had been elected Minister General of the Friars Minor, was having to deal vigorously with internal dissensions between the Spiritual and the Relaxed factions among the Friars, striking at both extremes.  While the Spiritual demanded a literal observance of the original Rule, especially in regard to poverty, the Relaxed were introducing innovations and relaxing the rule in general.With great devotion to the Virgin Mary, he began the practice of singing a Mass every Saturday throughout the order in honor of the Blessed Virgin.

Acceding to requests, Bonaventure composed his “Office of the Passion” during the early steps of the canonizing of King St. Louis, who had been his good friend.The humble Bonaventure was created Cardinal in 1273 despite his protests.   When the papal messengers brought him his cardinal’s hat they found Bonaventure washing dishes.  Bonaventure asked them to hang it on a nearby tree until his hands were free pick it up!

The Pope commissioned Bonaventure to prepare the questions for discussion for the Fourteenth Ecumenical Council which opened at Lyons the following year.  Although the Pope presided at the council, he left deliberation direction to Bonaventure. While this council was still in session, both Bonaventure and Thomas died.Bonaventure  was revered by all who knew him because of his pure character.

Alexander of Hales said that Bonaventure appeared to have escaped the curse of Adam’s sin. The people of Lyons chose Bonaventure as their special patron. A unique tribute had already been given to him by Dante in his “Divina Comedia” where Dante placed him in Paradise.Bonaventure was fusion of piety and deep learning amply reflected in all his writings.  A prolific writer on a great variety of religious topics, particularly philosophy and theology, both of which show him a faithful disciple of St. Augustine.  His influence carried to subsequent councils of the Church: Vienna (1311), Constance (1417), Basle (1435), Florence (1438) and Trent (1546).

Bonaventure’s influence in the Church continued into modern times.  In his Apologia, John Henry Newman states that his works had a critical effect on some of the definitions of dogma and at the Vatican Council (1870), entire sentences from his writings were included in the decrees concerning papal supremacy and infallibility.

Bonaventure’s exegetical works are considered a reservoir of thoughts, particularly his commentaries on the Books of Ecclesiastes and Wisdom and on the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John.  Nearly five hundred of his sermons are available today.  Most of them were taken down by his listeners to whom we are grateful for having preserved them for us.

In addition to all his philosophical and theological writings, Bonaventure wrote many inspirational works for the development of the spiritual life.

Thomas Aquinas, his good friend, and Bonaventure were two luminaries of their times; Bonaventure being a prolific writer while overwhelmed with other numerous duties unlike his friend, Aquinas, who was able to dedicate his entire life of scholarship.

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