A LETTER FROM THE GENERAL MINISTERS OF THE FIRST ORDER AND THE THIRD ORDER
to the Franciscan Family on the 750th anniversary of the Death of St. Bonaventure.
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2nd February 2024
The 750th anniversary of the death of the Seraphic Doctor (d. July 15, 1274), gives us an opportunity not only to remember and celebrate the service he rendered to the Order and the entire Church, but also to repropose him as a gift that is still valid for our time.
It is not easy to reproduce in a few lines the theological and Franciscan richness contained in the nine volumes of the Opera omnia of Saint Bonaventure. We have chosen, therefore, to highlight some aspects of the three main areas of his activity in chronological order of their development.
First, Bonaventure was a theology master at the University of Paris until 1257, when he left the position after being elected general minister of the Order, a position which he held continuously until the end of his life. During the time he embraced these two commitments he also revealed himself as a mystic – the third area of his activity which benefited the Order and the Church. Through this, he was able to place his experience of God at the service of
others especially through spiritual direction. This letter also affords us the opportunity to express our gratitude to the many scholars, friars and lay people who, with passion and perseverance, have dedicated themselves over the last fifty years to this great and complex figure of a theologian, friar and mystic, thereby keeping his memory alive and demonstrating the richness and relevance of his thought.
Master of theology: with his mind on its journey toward God
Bonaventure was born in 1217 in Bagnoregio, a small and very quaint town in central Italy, not far from Viterbo. In the year 1235, thanks to his father’s financial situation, he was sent to Paris to study the liberal arts. There, he came to know the Order of Friars Minor, which he decided to join in 1243. He was asked to continue in Paris with a full academic course of studies in theology, where in the year 1252/53 he obtained the degree of magister theologiae in the study of the friars of Francis.
His productivity in theology was prolific. To recall just a few titles: the four large volumes of the Commentary on the Sentences, the Theological Questions together with the Theological
Sermons, the famous 1259 pamphlet of the Journey of the Mind into God, and finally the three series of university lectures (Collationes) held in Paris in the last years of his life, of which the most famous is certainly the Hexaemeron.
All Good, True and Supreme Good
However, the most interesting work that retraces his theology is surely the Breviloquium, composed around 1257 as a theological synthesis offered to his students and to all the friars.
In this work, Bonaventure attempts to “abbreviate” and make more easily accessible the description of the plan of Only through Christ can one reach the intelligent wonder of God!
In Bonaventure’s theology we can ultimately hear the sentiments of Francis of Assisi who exclaimed: “Therefore we must desire nothing else other than the only true God, who is the full good, every good, all the good, true and supreme good, which alone is good!” (Rnb 23:9, FF70).
An Infinite Mystery of Goodness
As a true son of the poverello, Bonaventure contemplated the Most High as an infinite mystery of goodness, which gives itself through Christ in every circumstance. The Father, the great source of goodness, communicates totally and infinitely his divine nature to his beloved Son, the “median person” of the Trinity. In their mutual breath of Love, they are united in the bond of the Spirit, the “gift from which all other gifts have been given.”
The expressive and productive moment of Good is the creative act of the cosmos that remains in continuous expansion, not only in terms of nature but also of knowledge. Both being and knowing reveal the same origin and the same purpose: the fullness and expansion of the Good. Both are written in the “Book of Creation” and can be read by the intelligence and love of man, called to recognize and love the Triune God in everything.
This is precisely what Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si’, explicitly reproposing Bonaventure: “the Trinity has left its mark on all creation […] each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure” (No. 239) from this - again appealing to the Saint of Bagnoregio - should result a “universal reconciliation with every creature” (No. 66). And this is possible because as Bonaventure says, “The divine Word is in every creature and therefore every creature speaks of God” (Commentary on Ecclesiastes, c. 1 ad resp.).
Human Person and the Trinity
The human person is a privileged reflection of the relationship within the Trinity, who, with the infused gift of the Holy Spirit, brings to perfection the mystery as it is manifested in the entire universe. It is in this anthropological context that Bonaventure qualifies the human person as a “microcosm”, not only because it is comparable to the “macrocosm” but also because it is its fulfillment or, vice versa, its destruction: the quality of human life conditions the quality of the environment in which he lives.
Pope Francis continually reminds us of this, calling everyone to hear the cry that rises up from the earth and from the poor. Whenever we foster “fraternity and social friendships”
among peoples, we also foster environmental quality on the earth, defending it from our rivalry and greed. In short, according to Bonaventure, theological intelligence must become an experience of God and a passion for this world, allowing us to discover in it a clear sign of divine love.