St Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church (1221-1274)

St Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church (1221-1274)

Of the youth of this greatest successor of St Francis of Assisi nothing is known beyond the facts that he was born at Bagnorea, near Viterbo, in the year 1221, the son of John Fidanza and Mary Ritella. He was clothed in the order of Friars Minor and studied at the University of Paris under an Englishman, Alexander of Hales. St Bonaventure, who was to become known as the Seraphic Doctor, taught theology and Holy Scripture at Paris from 1248 to 1257.


Bonaventure was called by his priestly obligations to labor for the salvation of his neighbor, and to this he devoted himself with enthusiasm. He preached to the people with an energy which kindled a flame in the hearts of those who heard him. While at the University of Paris he produced one of the best-known of his written works, the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which covers the whole field of scholastic theology.


In 1257 Bonaventure was chosen minister general of the Friars Minor. However, his order was torn by dissensions, some of the friars being for an inflexible severity, others demanding certain mitigations of the rule. St Bonaventure governed his order for seventeen years and has been justly called its second founder.


In 1265 Pope Clement VI nominated St Bonaventure to be archbishop of York in succession to Geoffrey of Ludham; he induced the pose to accept his refusal, but in 1273 Gregory X created him cardinal-bishop of Albano. Saint Bonaventure died on July 14, 1274. He was declared a doctor of the Church in 1588, having been canonized in 1482.


Adapted from Butler's LIVES OF THE SAINTS, HarperOne, 1956, pp. 216-217 originally published in 1756-9)