The Negotiator: St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Due to his love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Bonaventure established an ordinance, in 1263, for a bell to be rung each evening honoring the Annunciation throughout the whole of the Franciscan Order.

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By Kimberly Bruce

Saint Bonaventure (1217-1274) is the “negotiator” saint. Responsible for reforming the Franciscan Order, he is also one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages. Famed for his preaching, intelligence, and theological writings, he was nicknamed the “Seraphic Doctor” for his love of Christ.

Born c. 1217 in Bagnoregio, Italy, St. Bonaventure was saved from dying from illness as a child through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi. He entered the Order of Friars Minor in his 20s and was sent to the University of Paris to complete his studies. He later taught at the university, receiving his doctoral degree, along with St. Thomas Aquinas, in 1257. During that same year, he was also elected minister general of the Franciscan Order.

Divine writings
It was said by his contemporaries that to have known St. Bonaventure was to love him. Saint Bonaventure’s writings were admired for being imbued with the presence of God, especially his most renowned, The Soul’s (or Mind’s) Journey into God; and The Hexameron, the final and culminating work of his life. Among his other works is his Commentary on the Sentences, written at age 27. At more than 4,000 pages, his Sentences addresses God; the Trinity; the creation and fall of man; the Incarnation; redemption; grace; the Sacraments; and the Last Judgment.

During the middle of the 13th century, when dissenting factions arose within the Franciscan Order, St. Bonaventure developed reforms, called the Constitutiones Narbonenses, that grew out of St. Francis’ original Rule. In 1260, at the General Chapter of Narbonne, he was asked to write about the life of St. Francis. He declared, in 1266, that the biography he had penned was to supersede all other accounts of the life of St. Francis. This was because much of what had been circulating about St. Francis at the time had been based upon legend.

Love for Mary
Due to his love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Bonaventure established an ordinance, in 1263, for a bell to be rung each evening honoring the Annunciation throughout the whole of the Franciscan Order. In 1264, he founded the Confraternity of the Gonfalone honoring the Blessed Mother, and in 1269, he established a Mass to be sung honoring the Virgin Mary each Saturday.

In 1265, Pope Clement IV nominated St. Bonaventure to be archbishop of York, but he refused this appointment in all humility. After the Pope’s death, he was instrumental in reconciling the cardinals who, after three years, still had not selected the next pontiff! Thanks to St. Bonaventure’s negotiating skills, they unanimously elected Gregory X in 1271.

Pope Gregory appointed St. Bonaventure cardinal-bishop of Albano in 1273, much against the latter’s will. The story is told that a group of papal envoys brought a cardinal’s hat to St. Bonaventure while he was busy washing dishes outside a convent. The saint told the envoys to hang the cap upon a tree until he was finished.

Papal advisor
Saint Bonaventure remained head of the Franciscans until 1274, when Jerome of Ascoli (future Pope Nicholas IV) was elected to succeed him. Pope Gregory X continued to make use of St. Bonaventure, however, charging him with devising the list of questions for discussion at the 14th Ecumenical Council of Lyons later that year. Even though Pope Gregory presided over the council, he left the deliberations to the able care of St. Bonaventure. It is because of St. Bonaventure and some other friars that the schism between the Greek and Roman Churches was temporarily rectified in 1274, to the great happiness of Pope Gregory.

Before the Council of Lyons was out, however, St. Bonaventure died suddenly on July 15, 1274. His secretary, Peregrinus of Bologna, in a chronicle found in 1905, claimed that St. Bonaventure had been poisoned. His remarkable funeral took place the next day. In attendance were the Pope, the King of Aragon, the cardinals, and council members. Pope Gregory related what a loss Bonaventure’s death was to the entire Church.

In 1434, when St. Bonaventure’s remains were moved to a new church, his head was found incorrupt, and his tongue was said to be as red as during his lifetime. He was canonized in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Sixtus V in 1557.

Saint Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church, pray for us!


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