Saint Bonaventure, whom we celebrate today, the day of his death in 1274 while attend the Second Council of Lyons – a few months after his contemporary, Saint Thomas Aquinas, who had died on March 7th on his way to the council. Both have been proclaimed Doctors of the Church – an elite company, with but 36 members – and both wrote ‘Summas’, or compendia, of theology, even if, for various reasons, it was Thomas’ – the Common Doctor – that the Church officially adopted in her teaching. But Bonaventure, the ‘Seraphic Doctor’, has much to teach us also, in his doctrine on God, His providence, the salvific purpose of all history and creation.
Born in 1221 Giovanni di Fidanza, almost nothing is known of his childhood (except the name of his parents). His birthplace at Bagnoregio, an hour’s drive northwest of Rome, is still commemorated with a simple plaque, evincing his simple beginnings, which he never really left behind. Young Giovanni was apparently miraculously cured by the prayers of Saint Francis (who died in 1226, so was still alive in the lad’s first years). With an a already instilled devotion to the Order, Giovanni joined the newly-founded Franciscans, his piety and genius recognized early – he helped reform them, galvanizing what might have been a rag-tag group of wandering mendicants (not that there’s anything wrong with that) into a spiritual and intellectually rigorous band of brothers – even though they would have their travails, as the more ‘spiritual’ elements always strove to go back to their original wandering roots. The Franciscans would be the largest Order in the Church if it were not for the fact they are so fissiparous.
But Bonaventure, who helped found and define the Order, writing much of the original Rule, and, through his own studies and works, became one of the greatest lights of his age – one filled with ‘great lights’, not least his friend and contemporary, Thomas Aquinas (a member of the also-newly-founded Dominicans, who had a more stable beginning and rule). Bonaventure was eventually elected Superior, then made a Cardinal, but always retained his humble ways – when someone came to the convent to find the great Cardinal and Doctor, they had trouble finding him amongst his brethren, washing dishes.