Friday, July 15, 2011
July 15 -- Feast of Saint Bonaventure
Little Giovanni di Fidanza, only four years old, was deathly ill. His parents brought him to a famous holy man, Francis of Assisi. Francis prayed and the wee and recovered. The parents attributed the recovery to Francis' great powers, but the monk humbly said it was "Bona Ventura" -- Good Fortune. Thus, Little Giovanni got a nickname that stuck with him until he entered the Franciscan Order eighteen years later.
The Franciscans were a mess following the death of St. Francis. One group, the Conventuals, argued that traditional organizations (e.g. monasteries, rules, leaders, income streams and ledgers, etc) were required if Saint Francis' ideas were to be propagated on a large scale. They even wanted to have representation on university campuses, which meant living among and cooperating with brothers from other Orders (at this point, you GASP! in horror). The Spirituals, on the other hand, insisted that not only the individual friars had to live in absolute poverty, but that the Order could own absolutely nothing -- no land, no buildings, no books. It was probably not an idea to last the ages, but it had the advantage of being pure -- philosophically, theologically, spiritually pure. The debate itself became so bitter that it was damaging the Order.
Bonaventure is known as the second founder of the Franciscans because he waded into the middle of that fight, took over the Order, and charted a middle path. He seems to have created the role of Specialist Friars who would have houses (mmm-hmmm) in university towns (ummm) where they could teach St. Francis' ideas. Distinguished Franciscans would be permitted to hold offices within the Church, working with clergy from other orders, even though that meant compromise with the corrupt, self-serving structures (and some individuals) that Francis had criticized. How else could they steer the decisions their way? However, mendicant friars were still free to be as poor and hungry as they wanted to be, saving their souls by denying their flesh and recruiting others to join them.
Bonaventure wrote a life of St. Francis, the Legenda Maior, which became the Order's official guide to all things Francis. He then ordered all other lives of Francis destroyed and every Franciscan to be given with a copy of the Legenda Maior. Not every monk agreed with Bonaventure's interpretation of Francis' work and ideas, and of course some of them had known him well and worked closely with him. However, although he was only five when the great saint had died, Bonaventure was the big-head monk in charge, so the Legenda Maior became the Little Gray Handbook.
Bonaventure was offered the archbishopic of York, but he was permitted to decline. He was ordered to take the cardinal's hat and bishop's staff of Albano -- no givesies backsies.
In 1588, one hundred six years after his canonization, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church; in fact, he's the Seraphic Doctor, which is nice.
Posted by Tom Major at 7:30 AM