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.
St. Bonaventure's Biography
The man the world came to know as Bonaventure was born in Bagnoregio, a small town about sixty miles north of Rome. He was baptized John di Fidensa, named after his father. His father was a man of some means and was the local physician. Of course, the practice of medicine in those days was nothing like we have today. There were no vaccinations, no serum, no x-rays. His mother was Maria di Ritello. Both his parents were devout, his mother especially so.
Young John had the usual childhood and was growing into a healthy young man, when, at the age of eleven, in the year 1228 he was struck by a terrible illness. In those days, there was little that parents could do but watch and pray as their child slowly weekend and died.
Maria must have met Francis when he visited in her area some years before. Francis had died in 1226 and word of his great holiness and favor with God had spread widely. He was in fact canonized by Pope Gregory IX only two years after his death. Maria made a vow to Saint Francis. We do not know what that vow was. She vowed to do something special if Francis would intercede with God to spare her son's life. Her prayers were answered. Young John was cured. Later John would write: "I was saved from the jaws of death by Francis' intercession."
Years of study and entry into the Franciscans: John then continued to grow into a healthy teenager. He attended school at the local Franciscan friary where it soon became evident that he had a very brilliant mind. Then at the age of seventeen, the time came for him to pursue higher studies. His father sent him to study at the University of Paris. We do not know how seventeen-year-old John traveled from central Italy to Paris. He could have sailed from Ostia, the port of Rome, to Nice in southern France, then overland up the Loire valley to Paris. Or he could have gone overland up the length of Italy, then north to a pass through the Alps then west to Paris. However he went, it must have been a hard and hazardous journey. But as John's life turned out, it was a trip he would make many times.
John settled into his new surroundings without delay. His fellow students and teachers quickly become aware of his brilliance. This was a teenager who knew he did not know all the answers, who always wanted to learn more. And his classmates and teachers began to notice something else about John - here was a very humble person. Honors of any kind were not for him. And as John continued his studies, the Franciscan Order continued to grow, now numbering in the thousands. Then, not too long after John's arrival in Paris, the most renowned professor at the University, the famous Englishman Alexander of Hales, joined the Franciscan Order. This was very important for the Order, for it established them officially as part of the university. As a side effect, it also gave further impetus to a growing rift within the Order itself between those who wanted to follow the simplicity of Francis and those who wanted to add intellectual efforts. In later years, this rift between the two sides would play an important role in John's life. Then, in 1243, John himself joined the Franciscan Order. He took the name Bonaventure, from the Italian expression "Bona Ventura" or Happy Voyage. By this name, he was known for the rest of his life, and now down through the ages.
He continued his studies at the University and five years later was licensed to teach there. At this time, the first of his writing began to appear. He would continue to produce these writings for the rest of his life. His great writings were important, analyzing as they did great theological questions. For example, he wrote about the role of Christ in God's overall plan for the world. It is hard for us here in Plymouth to grasp the magnitude of his mind. His writings filled nine volumes, each page with double column. His writings are still studied and treasured today. Minister General of the order and Cardinal: But Bonaventure did not live in a cloud. He went about his daily tasks as always with his deep sense of humility. Still another side of Bonaventure's character was becoming evident to all, especially the Pope. Because of his great personal holiness and the great respect he commanded, plus his ability to see both sides of an issue, more and more often he was called upon to arbitrate whenever arguments arose.
For the next six years he continued his teaching and writing and personal study. Then, in 1254, he was made a Master of Theology and took over the leadership of the Franciscan School in Paris. In 1256, a serious dispute broke out at the University over the role of religious orders including the Franciscans, who wanted strick simplicity as a way of life. Although he presented a stirring defense of their ideal. One year later, in 1257, the long simmering dispute within the Order was getting out of hand. Pope Alexander IV stepped in. He secretly ordered the then Minister General of the Order to resign. This General, John of Palma, recommended Bonaventure as his successor... the Pope agreed. Bonaventure was officially confirmed as Minister General at a General Chapter meeting held in Rome. He would have been just 40 years old.
As Minister General, Bonaventure was a very busy man. He wanted to make Paris the center of the Order, but he travelled to Rome every year in support of those in the Order who preferred the simple ideal of poverty and missionary work among the people. While in Rome, he would confer with the Pope on matters of interest to Bonaventure and on matters of interest to the Pope. We do not know if, during any of these visits, he was able to see his parents. It is doubtful since at least 23 years had passed since he left them as a teenager of seventeen. We hope he did. How proud they would have been. When he took over leadership of the Franciscans, one of the first things he wanted to do was to reunite this great Order. This he did. In 1260, the Order adopted a new constitution written by Bonaventure. A new biography of Francis, also written by Bonaventure, was adopted as the official biography, and all other versions were destroyed. To some, Bonaventure became known as the second founder of the Order. During these years, while administering an order which spread all over Europe and beyond, numbering in the many thousands, he somehow found the time to continue his writing. He also produced an extended series of sermons and, of course, continued his annual trips to Rome. In 1273, in recognition of his accomplishments, Pope Gregory X, appointed him a Cardinal. We do not know what his reaction was to this high honor.
The Crowning of his life: The following year, Bonaventure assisted the Pope in the preparations for the Second Council of Lyons. He also played a major role in the Council, especially in its various reforms and reconciliation movements. Then, while the Council was still in session, God called Bonaventure home. Bonaventure died suddenly on July 15, 1274. He was buried the same day in the presence of the Pope, the Cardinals and Prelates of the Council. The scene has been described as follows... Greeks and Latins, clergy and laity, followed his bier lamenting with bitter tears over the loss of so great a person. Bonaventure was canonized on April 14, 1482, and on March 14, 1588, this most humble of men was given one of the highest honors the Church could bestow. He was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope Sixtus V. Today, Catholics all over the world celebrate his Feast Day on July 15.
There is no definitive biography of Saint Bonaventure. There are, however, bits and pieces to be found here and there, such as in the Classics of Western Spirituality put out by the Paulist Press, and in McGraw-Hill's Encyclopedia of World Biographies. Our sincere thanks to all, in and out of the Parish, who assisted in putting this summary together, especially to Frederick Griffin, and members of the Griffin family.