Faith and inspiration: Encyclopedia of saints for today

Saint Bonaventure, Bishop-Cardinal & Doctor of the Church (1221-1274). Feast Day: 15Jul.

A Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure was born Giovanno di Fidanza, in Bagnorea, Italy, the son of a physician of noble birth. St. Francis cured him of an illness and reportedly renamed him Bonaventure. He became a Franciscan and studied in Paris, France, becoming the disciple of Alexander of Hales.

As a theologian, Bonaventure was more Augustinian and less Aristotelian than his contemporary Thomas Aquinas was; he stressed the importance of an affective, rather than a purely rational approach to the divine mysteries. Bonaventure taught theology and Scripture at Paris and was eventually granted his doctorate on the same day as Thomas Aquinas.

At a general chapter of the Franciscans in 1260, at Narbonne, France, Bonaventure promulgated the constitutions of the Franciscan Order and was made minister-general. Bonaventure proved a brilliant general, working tirelessly to restore the Franciscans to a united, dynamic order, by ending the factious controversies among members caused by the desires of some to adhere to strict poverty in keeping with the example of St. Francis and the call by others for less stringent standards. His labors were codified in 1260 and proved so remarkable that he was given the title Second Founder. In 1263, he wrote a new life of St. Francis. This became the approved, official biography of the great saint and was declared to replace all previous biographies.

Blessed Pope Gregory X made Bonaventure a cardinal in 1273, sending several legates to him with the red hat. When they arrived with the symbol of great honor, they found him washing dishes. He asked them to hang the red hat on a nearby tree, since his hands were wet and dirty. The hat subsequently became his symbol.

Summoned to the Council of Lyons in 1274, Bonaventure took an active part in the negotiations with the Eastern Church on reunion. He died during the proceedings.

Called “the Seraphic Doctor,” Bonaventure is considered one of the great intellects of his era. He is remembered for treatises and theological tracts. He is also revered for his spiritual writings: “Perfection of Life,” “Soliloquy,” and the “Threefold Way.” Bonaventure wrote five hundred sermons and the biography of St. Francis of Assisi, which has been called beautiful and touching. He was canonized by Pope Sixtus IV in 1482 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588.

“No one can be made happy unless he rise above himself,

not by an ascent of the body,

but of the heart.

But we cannot rise above ourselves

unless a higher power lifts us up.

And divine aid is available

to those who seek it from their hearts,

humbly and devoutly.”

—Bonaventure

Bibliography:

Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.

Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.

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