ON THE 14TH OF March, in 1588, Pope Sixtus V declared Saint Bonaventure to be a Doctor of the Church, commonly known as the “Seraphic Doctor.”
Saint Bonaventure (1221 – 15 July 1274), was the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans), a university professor, a theologian, a philosopher, a mystic, a bishop and cardinal, and could claim some credit for the brief reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. For such an admirable Saint, his patronage is limited mainly to those suffering from intestinal problems, for it seems that the humility of the Franciscans often extends beyond this life into the next. Ventura County, California, gets its name from Saint Bonaventure.
The world of the intellect, following the age of Bonaventure, could be likened to an angry, bitter divorce. Faith versus reason, science versus religion, Church versus state, man versus nature, body versus soul, liberty versus governance, aesthetics versus utility, and men versus women: these all have been opposed against each other, where “things fall apart” and “the centre cannot hold.” Modern man, trying to solve these problems, unwisely chooses solutions that makes things worse, leading to and not avoiding what has been called the “war of all against all.” It cannot be denied that the foundation of the modern Western world was set by the intellectual work of the Franciscans and the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, but where did things go wrong?
Saint Bonaventure the Franciscan, in his intellectual approach, could hardly be more different from his contemporary, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican. The intellectual approach of the Dominicans, based on logic, is seen to be highly rationalistic and systematic, while the earthy Franciscan approach is thought to be more mystical, closer to nature, and more open to divine inspiration. The supposed tension between these two intellectual approaches leads to much discord even today. But both men were close friends, as were the founders of their religious orders, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic. Saints Thomas and Bonaventure even earned their doctorates at the University of Paris on the same day.
Both Saints were rational and mystical; both were close to nature and close to God, both were open to Divine inspiration and to the findings of science. The supposed opposition between the intellectual approaches of these men, depicted by the modern era, ignores the fact that both were good children of Holy Mother Church, obedient to the divinely revealed Faith, to the Rules of their order, and to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. We shouldn’t forget that both men lived lives of deep prayer and exemplary virtue. Moderns get into trouble when they try to be more Franciscan than Francis or more Thomisic than Thomas, and most especially when they oppose the Church and the Pope and attempt to subvert the moral law.
One of Saint Bonaventure’s major works is “Itinerarium Mentis in Deum,” (Journey of the Mind into God). In the prologue, he reminds us that the intellectual life without a holy life is dead:
Therefore to the cry of prayer through Christ crucified,This work describes the ascent of the human being from the world of matter to God, as kind of Jacob’s Ladder that we climb with Christ. Not only is this a mystical, theological, and philosophical work, but it has served as an inspiration to artists:
by Whose blood we are purged of the filth of vice,
do I first invite the reader,
lest perchance he should believe that it suffices
to read without unction,
speculate without devotion,
investigate without wonder,
examine without exultation,
work without piety,
know without love,
understand without humility,
be zealous without divine grace,
see without wisdom divinely inspired.
Therefore to those predisposed by divine grace,
to the humble and the pious,
to those filled with compunction and devotion,
anointed with the oil of gladness,
to the lovers of divine wisdom,
inflamed with desire for it,
to those wishing to give themselves over to praising God,
to wondering over Him and to delighting in Him,
do I propose the following reflections,
hinting that little or nothing is the outer mirror
unless the mirror of the mind be clear and polished.
Sense, however, takes delight in an object perceived through an abstracted similitude either by reason of its beauty, as in sight; or by reason of its agreeableness, as in odor and hearing; or by reason of wholesomeness, as in taste and touch, speaking with appropriation. All delight, however, is by reason of proportion. But since a species is form, power, and operation, according to whether it is thought of as related to the principle from which it comes, to the medium through which it passes, or to the end for which it acts, therefore proportion may be considered in similitude, inasmuch as it is a species or form and thus is called "speciositas" [beauty], because beauty is nothing other than numerical equality or a certain relation of parts with agreeable color. Or else proportion may be considered as potency or power, and thus it is called "suavity," for active power does not exceed immoderately the powers of the recipient, since the senses are pained by extremes and delight in the mean. Or it may be considered, by thinking of species, as efficacy and impression, which is proportional when the agent by impression supplies what the recipient lacks; and this is to save and nourish it, which appears especially in taste and touch. And thus through delight the external pleasures enter into the soul by similitudes in a triple mode of delighting.Saint Bonaventure tells of the itinerary from material things, through our physical senses, through our apprehension of what we sense, our ordering of our thoughts and association with what we remember, through our judgement, which eventually can lead to the contemplation of divine things.
Oddly enough, Bonaventure is read and is admired by many Muslims, who consider him to be a profound theologian. I think this work, and others like it, can also serve to evangelize neo-pagans, who have a spiritual yearning but are repulsed by the media depiction of the Church and modernist catechesis.