St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Cardinal
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
The Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure, was born in 1221,at Balneoregio, in the State of Tuscany. His parents were very distinguished people, not only on account of their nobility and great riches, but still more for their piety and virtues. When scarcely four years old, Bonaventure became dangerously sick and the physicians despaired of his life. His mother appealed to St. Francis of Assisium, who was still living at that period, begging him to obtain, by his prayers, her son's life from God. She promised to bring him up to the honor of the Almighty, and in the course of time to consecrate him entirely to His divine service in the Order founded by St. Francis. The latter prayed for the sick child and the malady was subdued. In regard to this miracle the holy man cried: "O Buona Ventura! " which means, "Oh happy event!" and from that time they called the child, so miraculously cured, Bonaventure, although at the baptismal font it had received the name of John.
Arrived at the period when reason awakens, Bonaventure heard of the promise his mother had made in regard to him and fulfilled it by entering joyfully into the Order of St. Francis. After having finished his probation, he went to Paris to devote himself to study, and his progress in learning was as great as his advancement in virtue, especially in humility, constant selfdenial, perfect obedience, great love of his crucified Lord, and ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He meditated daily on the passion and death of Christ, and spent as much time as he could in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He seldom received Holy Communion, especially when he himself said Mass, without shedding many tears. His innocence he preserved inviolate. The celebrated Doctor Alexander of Hales, under whom Bonaventure studied, used to say, that it seemed to him that he had not committed any sin in Adam; so strictly did he control his inclinations, so great were his virtue and his piety.
Before he was thirty years old, his superiors appointed him to teach theology in the University of Paris, which he did with immense success. There he and St. Thomas of Aquin received the title of "Doctor," the highest dignity conferred upon Theologians. At the age of 35 years, he was elected General of the whole Seraphic Order, and his election was confirmed by Pope Alexander, who had presided over the assembly. When once installed in his new functions, he was as zealous to preserve the rule of the holy Founder, as he had previously been earnest in declining the dignity. He made the most wholesome regulations, and led all those under him by word and example to great sanctity. During eighteen years he administered his office, with so much wisdom, mildness and strength of character, that he was loved and esteemed by all, and venerated as the second Founder of the Order.
Although occupied with such constant and important labors, he never neglected his devotional exercises or his studies. We possess this day a great many theological works of great learning written by this holy man. Among others, he wrote a book to refute those who slandered the Mendicant Orders, which he entitled: "A Defense of the Poor." He proves in this book the temporal as well as spiritual benefits of such orders. He also wrote several most learned and eloquent books in praise of the Blessed Virgin, whose honor he desired to further to the best of his ability, and whom, from childhood, he had greatly venerated. There is also extant from his pen, the life of St. Francis, Founder of the Seraphic Order. Whilst he was writing this work, St. Thomas Aquinas came to pay him a visit. Hearing in what Bonaventure was occupied, he declined disturbing him, and left with the words: "Let us leave one Saint to work for another."
St. Thomas so highly esteemed Bonaventure, that he did not hesitate to call him a Saint while he was still alive. This holy man was greatly astonished that Bonaventure, being so much occupied with his duties, yet found time to write so many books of such profound learning, and one day asked him where his library was. Bonaventure pointing to a crucifix, said: "This is the library, wherein I find all that I teach to others." Before he began to study, or whenever a doubt or a difficulty during study embarrassed him, he fell down before the Crucifix and humbly prayed for Divine assistance. He said more than once, that by this means, he had obtained more knowledge and wisdom than by all his industry. Not content with all this, the holy man preached publicly in all the places which he visited in the exercise of his functions, exhorting sinners to repentance and the pious to be constant in good works; by which he converted, in a most remarkable manner, the most hardened sinners.
The fame of his great knowledge and holiness, which spread all over the country, was of great benefit to him in his missionary work; whence he received the title of Seraphic Doctor, by which he is still known in our days. Bishops and prelates of the Church honored the Saint still more than other people of a lower degree. Clement IV, desired to reward him for his many services to the Church with the Archbishopric of York; but the holy man throwing himself at his feet, begged so earnestly to be spared the burden of this honor, that the Holy Father acceded to his request. After the death of this Pope, the Cardinals, assembled at Viterbo, could not agree in the election of a new head of the Church, and they at last determined to leave the choice to Bonaventure, promising to accept as Pope, whomsoever he thought deserving to receive the highest of earthly dignities. This was surely the greatest sign of honor which they could confer upon the Saint.
Bonaventure, after having prayed to God, said that, in his opinion, Theobald, archdeacon of Liege, who was not even present, was most worthy to be raised to the Pontifical Throne. The cardinals received his decision and Theobald became the head of Christ's Church. This Pope, who took the name of Gregory X, sent afterwards the hat and insignia of a Cardinal to Bonaventure, nominating him Bishop of Albano, and commanding him at the same time, to obey without any opposition. The papal Nuncios who were to convey this news to the Saint, found him occupied in washing the dishes in the kitchen. He listened with unfeigned surprise to their message, and as he saw that, this time, there was no escape left, he obediently submitted, but nevertheless he finished his humble occupation. The Pope, calling him to Rome, took him to Lyons where a general Council was held, during which he gave new proofs of his great learning, and of his unwearied zeal in promoting the welfare of the holy Church.
It pleased the Almighty, to call His faithful servant, in the midst of his pious labor, and after a short illness, to receive his eternal reward. He died in 1274, only fifty-three years of age. The Pope and all the bishops deeply lamented his early death, but God immediately honored him by many miracles. One hundred and sixty years later, when on account of the erection of a new Church, the relics of the Saint were exhumed, it was found that the flesh of the body was entirely consumed, the head excepted, of which the hair, teeth, tongue, eyes and ears, lips and cheeks, were as perfect as though he had still been living. The head, therefore, was preserved in a rich shrine, and the rest of the body laid into a coffin. After many years, when the Huguenots or Calvinists took possession of Lyons, they publicly burned the body of the Saint and threw the ashes into the river. The holy head, however, was saved from their rage by the care of a priest, who, though most cruelly tortured, to make him confess where the relic was kept, preferred to bear the suffering rather than reveal where the precious treasure was concealed.
Communion Prayer of St. Bonaventure
O Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ, pierce, I beseech thee, the inmost marrow of my soul with the tender and life-giving wound of thy love, with true, and calm, and holy apostolical charity, so that my whole soul may ever languish and faint for love of thee, and for desire of thee alone. May it long for Thee and pine for Thee in the threshold of Thy house; may it desire to be dissolved and to be with Thee. Grant that my soul may hunger for Thee, Thou Bread of Angels, Thou refreshment of holy souls, our daily super-substantial Bread, having all manner of sweetness and delights. May my heart ever hunger for Thee and feed on Thee, on whom angels long to look; and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of the taste of Thee. May it ever thirst for Thee, Thou well of life, Thou fountain of wisdom and knowledge, Thou source of everlasting light, Thou torrent of pleasures, Thou fatness and abundance of the house of God; may it ever yearn towards Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, tend towards Thee, attain to Thee, meditate ever on Thee, speak of Thee, and work all things to the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ready care and glad affection, with perseverance even unto the end; and do Thou be alone and evermore my hope, my whole trust, my riches, my delight, my gladness and my joy, my rest and my calm repose, my peace and my sweet content, my fragrance and my sweetness, my food and my refreshment, my refuge and my help, my wisdom, my portion, my own possession and my treasure, in whom my mind and my heart are fixed and rooted firmly and immovably for evermore. Amen.
I humbly implore Thine ineffable mercy, O my Lord Jesus Christ, that this Sacrament of thy Body and Blood, which I unworthy have received, may be to me the cleansing of all my sins, the strengthening of what is weak within me, and my sure defence against all the perils of the world. May it bestow on me Thy forgiveness and establish me in grace; may it be to me the medicine of life, the abiding memory of Thy Passion, my stay in weakness, the Viaticum and sure support of my pilgrimage. May it lead me as I go, bring me back when I wander, receive me when I return, uphold me when I stumble, raise me again when I fall, strengthen me to persevere, even unto the end, and bring me to Thy glory. O most high God, may the blissful presence of Thy Body and Blood so change the taste of my heart, that it may find no sweetness in aught besides thee alone, may love no other beauty, seek no unpermitted love, desire no consolation, admit no other delight, care for no honour but Thine, stand in fear of no enemy or suffering for Thy sake, who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.