St. Bonaventure: Seraphic Doctor
By Jean M. Heimann
July 15 is the memorial of St. Bonaventure, O.F.M., who is known as “Seraphic Doctor” because of his burning love for God and his great zeal to do God’s work. Born Giovanni di Fidanza, he was an Italian medieval Franciscan, a scholastic theologian, and a philosopher. He was appointed as Cardinal and Bishop of Albano by Pope Gregory X.
St. Bonaventure was born in the small town of Bagnoregio, Tuscany, Italy in 1221 and received the baptismal name of John. An event that occurred when he was a boy profoundly influenced his life. He had a serious illness and not even his father, who was a physician, believed that he would survive. His mother prayed for the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, who had been canonized a short time earlier. And John was cured.
He went to the University of Paris when he was 14, where he studied theology under the English Franciscan, Alexander of Hales. After he had received the diploma of Master of Arts, John asked himself an important question: “What must I do with my life?” Captivated by the witness of the zeal of the Friars Minor in Paris, John asked to be received into the family of the followers of St. Francis.
At the age of twenty-two, John entered the Franciscan Order and was named Bonaventure. After he made his vows, he was sent to Paris to continue his studies in theology and philosophy. In Paris he became a close friend of St. Thomas Aquinas and received his Doctor of theology degree, together with St. Thomas Aquinas. Like St. Thomas Aquinas, he enjoyed the friendship of the holy King, St. Louis IX.
Bonaventure taught at the University of Paris for several years and was known as both a brilliant teacher and a powerful preacher. At the age of thirty-five he was chosen Minister General of his Order and became known as its “second founder.” He restored a perfect calm to the Order where peace had been disturbed by internal disagreements. He did much for his Order. He wrote 500 sermons, created a commentary on the Rule, and composed The Life of St. Francis.
He was nominated Archbishop of York by Pope Clement IV, but refused the honor. Pope Gregory X appointed him as Cardinal and Bishop of Albano and, in that position, he was asked to draw up the agenda for the 14th General Council of Lyons in 1274. However, he died while the Council was still in session on July 15, 1274, and was buried at the Franciscan church in Lyons, France. Bonaventure was canonized in 1482 by the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor (the “Seraphic Doctor”) of the Church in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V.
St. Bonaventure’s theology is always written with holy fervor and consistently focused on increasing the depth and intensity of the spiritual life. Some of his written works include: The Mind’s Road to God, Psalter of the blessed Virgin Mary, Journey of the Mind to God, Perfection of Life, Soliloquy, and The Threefold Way.
Patron: Bowel disorders.
Symbols: Cardinal’s hat; ciborium; Communion. Often portrayed as: Cardinal in Franciscan robes, usually reading or writing.
“When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than that proceeding from the mouth. “
“Mary seeks for those who approach her devoutly and with reverence, for such she loves, nourishes, and adopts as her children.”
“Suffering is like a kiss that Jesus hanging from the cross bestows on persons whom He loves in a special way. Because of this love He wants to associate them in the work of the redemption.”
“Meditation on Christ in His humanity is corporeal in deed, in fact, but spiritual in mind. . . . By adopting this habit, you will steady your mind, be trained to virtues, and receive strength of soul….Let meditation of Christ’s life be your one and only aim, your rest, your food, your desire, your study.”
~ St. Bonaventure
Prayer of St. Bonaventure to the Holy Spirit
Lord Jesus, as God’s Spirit came down and rested upon you,
May the same Spirit rest on us,
Bestowing his seven-fold gifts.
First, grant us the gift of understanding,
By which your precepts may enlighten our minds.
Second, grant us counsel, by which we may follow
in your footsteps on the path of righteousness.
Third, grant us courage,
by which we may ward off the enemy’s attacks.
Fourth, grant us knowledge,
by which we can distinguish good from evil.
Fifth, grant us piety,
by which we may acquire compassionate hearts.
Sixth, grant us fear,
by which we may draw back from evil
and submit to what is good.
Seventh, grant us wisdom,
that we may taste fully the life-giving sweetness of your love.