July 15th is the feast day of one of the most well-praised Franciscan friars and Doctor of Theology, St. Bonaventure. St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) was an Italian medieval scholastic theologian and philosopher, known as “the Seraphic Doctor”.
His Life Story
St. Bonaventure was born in 1221 in the Tuscany region of Italy. As a child he was healed from serious disease by the prayers of the great St. Francis of Assisi, and this is how he got his name. St. Francis, in response to the pleading of the child’s mother, and foreseeing the child’s future greatness, cried out, “O Buona ventura!” (O good fortune!).
Inspired by this noble saint, at the age of 22 Bonaventure joined the new religious order established by St. Francis of Assisi and went on to study theology and philosophy at the prestigious University of Paris.
Saint Bonaventure displayed a brilliant mind, writing numerous works as a theologian and philosopher throughout his life. He was greatly influenced by Aristotle, Plato, and St. Augustine. He is often over shadowed by his contemporary and fellow student, St. Thomas Aquinas, who together with St. Bonaventure is a Doctor of the Church.
St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas were great friends and even received their doctorate degrees on the same day. Both joined Mendicant orders which were innovations in the Church at the time. St. Thomas joined the Friars Preachers (the Dominicans) while St. Bonaventure joined the Friars Minor (the Franciscans).
Saint Bonaventure loved the Franciscan Order, even writing a book on The Life of St. Francis of Assisi. He became General of the Franciscan Order and worked diligently to restore peace within the Order, which had become strife-ridden in the years following the death of St. Francis. He was an ardent defender of the maligned Mendicant Orders and their controversial life of extreme poverty, which insisted on begging for the material assistance they received.
What St. Bonaventure Teaches Us Today
St. Bonaventure is clearly a marvelous saint, but what makes him relevant today?
St. Bonaventure taught a very important lesson during his life which must continue to be taught. He proposed that theology can only be done rightly with a strong love of God and deep desire for union with him.
Essentially what this means is that theology ought to be a practical science. Theology cannot or should not simply be thinking about God and who or what he is in a detached way. Theology done rightly will lead one to a deeper piety and love of God. Theology is ultimately to be lived, and lived in the heart.
I think that today many do not engage theology in the practical way for which St. Bonaventure advocates. I find that this results in some off-the-wall theological ideas and arguments. St. Bonaventure’s ideas still need to be remembered for anyone who seeks to learn more about who God is, or other lofty theological inquiries.
St. Bonaventure is a saint who has stood the test of time and is greatly loved to this day.
This article has been updated and was originally published in July 2012. © The Catholic Company