Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/722

This page needs to be proofread.


BONAVENTURE


652


BONAVENTURE


tlie Holy Eucharist. He rejects the doctrine of pliysical, and admits only a moral, efficacy in the sacraments. It is much to be regretted that Bona- venture's views on this and other controverted questions should be so often misrepresented, even by recent wxiters. For example, at least three of the latest and best known manuals of dogma in treating of such questions as "De angelorum natura", "De scientia Cliristi", "De natura distinctionis inter caritatem et gratiam sanctifioantem", "De causalitate sacramentorum", and "De statu par- vulorum sine baptismo morientiimi", gratuitously attribute opinions to Bonaventure which are entirely at variance with his real teaching. To be siu'e Bona- venture, like all the Scholastics, occasionally put forward opinions not strictly correct in regard to questions not yet defined or clearly settled, but even here his teaching represents the most profound and acceptable ideas of his age and marks a notable stage in the evolution of knowledge. Bonaventure's authority has always been very great in the Church. Apart from his personal influence at Lyons (1274). his WTitings carried great weight at the subsequent councils at Vienne (1311), Constance (1417), Basle (1431), and Florence (1438). At Trent (1546) his \iTitings, as NewTiian remarks (Apologia, ch. v) had a critical effect on some of the definitions of dogma, and at the Vatican Council (1870), sentences from them were embodied in the decrees concerning papal supremacy and infallibility.

Only a small part of Bonaventure's WTitings is properly mystical. These are characterized by brevity and by a faithful adiierence to the teaching of the Gospel. The perfecting of the soul by the uprooting of vice and the implanting of virtue is his chief concern. There is a degree of prayer in which ecstasy occiu-s. AVhen it is attained, God is sincerely to be thanked. It must, however, he re- garded only as incidental. It is by no means essential to the possession of perfection in the highest degree. Such is the general outline of Bonaventure's mys- ticism which is largely a continuation and develop- ment of what the St. Victors had already laid do«Ti. The shortest and most complete summary of it is found in his "De Triplici Via", often erroneously entitled the "Incendium Amoris", in which he dis- tinguishes the different stages or degrees of perfect charity. What the " Breviloquium " is to Scholas- ticism, the "De Triplici Via" is to mysticism — a per- fect compendium of all that is best in it. Savonarola made a pious and learned commentary upon it. Perhaps the best known of Bonaventure's other mystical and ascetical WTitingsare the "Soliloquium", a sort of dialogue containing a rich collection of passages from the Fathers on spiritual questions; the "Lignum vitae", a series of forty-eight devout meditations on the life of Christ, the "De sex alls seraphim.", a precious opuscule on the \nrtues of superiors, which Father Claudius Acqua\'iva caused to be printed separately and circulated throughout the Society of Jesus; the "Vitis mystica", a work on the Passion, which was for a long time erroneously ascrib)ed to St. Bernard, and "De Perfectione vitce", a treatise which depicts the virtues that make for religious perfection, and which appears to have been written for the use of Blessed Isabella of France, who had founded a monasterj- of Poor Clares at Longchamps.

Bonaventure's exegetical works were highly es- teemed in the Middle Ages and still remain a treasure house of thoughts and treatises. They include commentaries on the Books of Ecclesiastes and Wisdom and on the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John. In addition to his commentarj' on the Fourth Gospel, Bonaventure composed "Collationes in Joannem", ninety-one conferences on subjects relating to it. His "Collationes in He.xameron" is a work of the


same kind, but its title, which did not originate with Bonaventure, is somewhat misleading. It consists of an unfinished course of instructions delivered at Paris in 1273. Bonaventure did not intend in these twenty-one discourses to e.xplain the work of the six days, but rather to draw some analogous instructions from the first chapter of Genesis, as a warning to his auditors against some errors of the day. It is an exaggeration to say that Bonaventure had regard only to the mystical sense of Scripture. In such of his wTitings as are properly exegetical he follows the text, though he also develops the practical conclusions deduced from it, for in the composition of these works he had the advantage of the preacher mainly in view. Bonaventure had conceived the most sublime idea of the ministry of preaching, and notwithstanding his manifold labours in other fields, this ministry ever held an especial place among his labours. He neglected no opportunity of preaching, whether to the clergy, the people, or his own Friars, and Bl. Francis of Fabriano (d. 1322), his contemporary and auditor, bears witness that Bonaventure's renown as a preacher almost surpassed his fame as a teacher. He preached before popes and kings, in Spain and Germany, as well as in France and Italy. Nearly five hundred authentic sermons of Bonaventure have come do\^'n to us; the greater part of them were delivered in Paris be- fore the university while Bonaventure was professor there, or after he had become minister general. Most of them were taken down by some of his audit- ors and thus preserved to posterit}-. In his ser- mons he follows the Scholastic method of putting forth the divisions of his subject and then expound- ing each division according to the different senses.

Besides his philosophical and theological writings, Bonaventure left a number of works referring to the religious life, but more especially to the Fran- ciscan Order. Among the latter is his well-known ex)>lanation of the Rule of the Friars Minor; in this work, WTitten at a time when the dissensions ivithin the order as to the observance of the Rule were so painfully marked, he adopted a concilia- tory attitude, approving neither the interpretation of the Zelanti nor that of the Rclaxti. His aim was to promote harmony in essentials. With this end in view, he had chosen a middle course at the outset and firmly adhered to it during the seventeen years of his generalship. If anyone could have succeeded in uniting the order, it would have been Bonaventure; but the rm media proved impracticable, and Bona- venture's personality only served to hold in check the elements of discord, subsequently represented by the Conventuals and the Fraticelli. Following upon his explanation of the Rule comes Bonaventure's important treatise emlx)ciying the Constitutions of Narbonne already referred to. There is also an answer by Bonaventure to some questions concern- ing the Rule, a treatise on the guidance of no\'ices, and an opuscule in which Bonaventure states why the Friars Minor preach and hear confessions, be- sides a number of letters which give us a special insight into the saint's character. These include official letters wTitten by Bonaventure as general to the superiors of the order, as well as personal letters addressed like that "Ad innominatum magis- trum" to private individuals. Bonaventure's beautiful "Legend" or life of St. Francis completes the WTitings in which he strove to promote the spiritual welfare of his brethren. This well-known work is composed of two parts of very unequal value. In the first Bonaventure publishes the un- edited facts that he had been able to gather at Assisi and elsewhere; in the other he merely abridges and repeats what others, and especially Celano, had already recorded. As a whole, it is essentially a Icgenda pocis, compiled mainly with a view to pacifying