Tag Archives: St Bonaventure

Saint Bonaventure

St Bonaventure cardSaint Bonaventure, today’s saint, is not as known among Catholics as his contemporary Aquinas is. Yet, he is a theologian and Doctor of the Church of some consequence. A Franciscan, priest and cardinal of the Roman Church, Bonaventure requires our attention. Below is a paragraph from the Divine Office today.

The saint taught:

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love. The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardour of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: “My soul chose hanging and my bones death.” Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: “No man can look upon me and live.”

Saint Bonaventure

San Bonaventura da BagnoregioToday’s feast of the great Franciscan friar, theologian, bishop and Doctor of the Church, Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (1221-1274), ought to be key on anyone’s radar screen is styles him or herself as well-read in theology. Famously he was cured of illness through the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi. He was well-educated at the University of Paris where he became a popular preacher and teacher of theology and Scripture. For 17 years he guided the Franciscan fraternity and is known as a “second founder” of the Franciscans.

The pope nominated Bonaventure a bishop which he declined only to accept the papal honor of cardinal-bishop of Albano.

Dale M. Coulter wrote a very good appreciative of essay on Bonaventure: “On the Feast Day of St Bonaventure” (First Things online, July 15, 2014). I recommend it if you are serious about the study of sacred theology.

Saint Bonaventure on mystical prayer

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One of the famous works of Saint Bonaventure’s is his Journey of the Mind to God. You see it in many places for those wanting a glimpse into this significant medieval thinker. It was in the Roman Divine Office of Readings. We always need an insight or two into contemplation, what it means, how it exists, and so forth. There is no exhausting one’s search into understanding mystical prayer.

I want you to listen to Veronica Scarisbrick’s interview with Franciscan Father Rick S. Martignetti who works in Rome and has authored of Saint Bonaventure’s Tree of Life: Theology of the Mystical Journey (Grottaferrata, 2004). It is a study of Bonaventure’s understanding on prayer and life in the paschal mystery. I found Scarisbrick’s interview both delightful and helpful.

Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in paradise.

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love. The fir is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardour of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death. Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.

Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!

(Cap. 7,1 2.4.6: Opera Omnia, 5, 312-313)

Saint Bonaventure

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Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, just as we celebrate the heavenly birthday of the bishop Saint Bonaventure, we may benefit from his great learning and constantly imitate the ardor of his charity.

Ask my parents about the number of books I have. They’d say, “Too many.” But they also say that I don’t easily with them. However, I do weed out some of the books I deem useless to me and donate them to a monastery or a group of Benedictine sisters in outside of Pittsburgh who collect books for new monasteries in the developing world. I do try to act charitably.

A Capuchin friar friend of mine wrote a piece on his blog about his reluctance to lend books. I can relate. He found this paragraph of Saint Bonaventure’s that seems to capture the feelings of anyone who has ever been reluctant to lend a book:

[T]hose who are most importunate in asking for them are the slowest to return them; books return torn and dirty; he to whom they are lent, lends them to another without your permission, and this other sometimes to a third, and this third not knowing by now who owns the book is not in a position to give it back; sometimes again he to whom a book is lent leaves the place and is then too far away to bring it back; and if he manages to find someone to bring it back for him, this someone wants to read it before giving it back, or lends it, and ends up by denying that he ever had it; finally if a book is lent to one man others are angry that it is not lent to them too, so that one is forced to do without it oneself while waiting for it to come back dirty, or be lost altogether.

There’s still much to learn in the spiritual life when you take seriously the prayer of the Church (noted above), especially regarding the charity one ought to have. I fail at being charitable, a sin I confess often; but I keep trying to learn from the saints like Friar Bonaventure.

Some prior posts on Saint Bonaventure may be found herehere and here.

(Bonaventure, Determinationes quaestionum, II, 21, as quoted in Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure, trans. Dom Illtyd Trethowan, 61-62.)

Saint Bonaventure


St Bonaventure.JPGGrant, we pray, almighty God, that, just as we celebrate the heavenly birthday of the Bishop Saint Bonaventure, we may benefit from his great learning and constantly imitate the ardor of his charity.

Pope Benedict gave these 3 addresses on March 3March 10,  and March 17. Read these Wednesday audience addresses if you are serious about Saint Bonaventure!

My friend Father Charles at A Minor Friar has a brief thought on this great Franciscan friar, doctor, bishop of the Church.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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