Sunday, 30 November 2014

Saint Bonaventure, The Seraphic Doctor by Rev. Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. Part 11.

In a previous chapter reference was made to St. Bonaventure's appointment to the Archiepiscopal See of York. It occurred in the year 1265. The See of York had been rendered vacant by the death of Bishop Godfrey de Kinton, or William Ludham--it is not certain which of these two prelates immediately preceded Bonaventure's appointment. The English chroniclers do not refer to our Saint's nomination. The fact may never have come to their knowledge, or their silence may be accounted for by their opposition to foreign appointments. The epoch was one of the most troublous in the history of England. The country was in the throes of the civil war kindled by the revolt of the Earl of Leicester against Henry III. The partial success of the Earl and the captivity of Henry moved Pope Urban to intervene. He despatched Cardinal Guido to England as his legate, but the latter having been threatened with death if he dared to set foot in the country, remained in France. His mission was a failure. After a short delay, and some ineffectual negotiations, he returned to Rome, where shortly afterwards he was raised to the Papacy. It was this Pontiff who appointed Bonaventure to the See of York. He was thoroughly acquainted with the disturbed state of the country {83} and knew full well the manifold and serious difficulties which would beset the occupant of so important a See. In the Bull of appointment he makes particular reference to this. He beseeches the Saint to attend diligently to the needs of the Church and to work for the peace and welfare of the Kingdom "sorely disturbed and convulsed by the storms of civil strife".
The condition of the Church in England was not more satisfactory than that of the State. It was deprived of the liberty necessary for its genuine welfare. In the year 1261, we hear the Bishops of England, in Council at Lambeth, bewailing the violation of the Church's rights which they asserted were trampled under foot. They enumerated the following abuses which commonly prevailed: the undue interference of the civil power in ecclesiastical matters; the intrusion by secular authority of incumbents into benefices; the unjust and violent seizure of Church property and the goods of the clergy; the pretension of the Crown to the right of patronage in all the more important benefices; finally, the plurality of benefices, and the tenure of benefices by foreign ecclesiastics.
No sooner was the Papal Bull delivered to Bonaventure than he hastened to Perugia, where the Pope was residing, and besought him not to impose upon him so weighty a responsibility. We know not what reasons he adduced, but they must have been very powerful to overcome the Pope's {84} resolution and turn him from his purpose, for he seems to have chosen Bonaventure after the fullest deliberation and to have been very intent upon his accepting the dignity. It appears that the Chapter of York had chosen its Dean as Archbishop, but the Pope refused to ratify the election, declaring that on the present occasion he reserved to himself the right of appointment. In the Bull which he issued to our Saint, [Footnote 37] he says:--

[Footnote 37: Cf. Wadding, Anno 1265. No. 14.]

"We have long considered this appointment. We have given it our profound and careful attention. Our mind has long been occupied with it in all its bearings. The welfare of a Church so great and honourable, of a daughter so noble and so devoted to the Apostolic See, of a Catholic Kingdom so renowned as England and so dear to the Roman See--the welfare of a Church so amply endowed and enjoying Archiepiscopal dignity fills us with deepest solicitude. It has aroused our anxiety, increased our vigilance and intensified our deliberation. We have studied more intimately, and considered more carefully, all that in this election might make for the greater welfare of the Church, of the Apostolic See, and of the entire Kingdom. We have striven by every means in our power to find a worthy man--one devoted to the Apostolic See and suited to the wants of the aforesaid Church and zealous for the peace and welfare of the Kingdom--a man conspicuous for virtue, renowned for {85} learning, remarkable for foresight--a man whom the Lord might love, in whose goodness He might dwell--a man whose good deeds render him worthy of imitation, by whom the Catholic flock as by a shining light may be led to salvation. Seeking for such an one we have fixed our choice on thee--our mind has rested upon thee with entire satisfaction. For we behold in thee religious fervour, candour of life, irreproachable conduct, renowned learning, prudent foresight, serious gravity. We see that thou hast so long and so laudably presided over thine Order, and fulfilled so faithfully the office of Minister-General--exercising it prudently and profitably for the greater honour and welfare of the Order, striving to live innocently under regular observance, showing thyself peaceful and lovable to all. Wherefore, we are fully convinced that we see in thee what we desire for the welfare of the said Church, the Apostolic See and the entire Kingdom. By our Apostolic authority, therefore, we make provision for the aforesaid Church through thee, and constitute thee its Archbishop and Pastor, absolving thee from the office of Minister-General and transferring thee to the said Church, granting thee free licence to go thither. Therefore we exhort, admonish, affectionately entreat, and strictly command thee by virtue of holy obedience not to resist the Divine Will, nor to oppose any obstacle nor delay to our command, but humbly to submit to the call of Heaven and accept the burden placed upon thee by God."
Undoubtedly, only the gravest reasons could have induced Bonaventure to resist so urgent an appeal of the Vicar of Christ. What they were we do not know, and it is useless to enter upon conjectures. The incident shows us the extraordinary esteem in which our Saint was held, and it also gives us an insight into the deep solicitude with which the Popes in the thirteenth century watched over the interests of the Church in England. The action of the Roman Pontiffs in appointing foreign ecclesiastics to English Sees has been severely condemned by Protestant historians, but anyone reading the Bull of Bonaventure's appointment must confess that they took the greatest care to select worthy and suitable candidates.
Having succeeded in obtaining the revocation of his appointment, our Saint went to Paris, where he remained teaching and attending to the affairs of the Order until the year 1269, when he celebrated the General Chapter at Assisi. Returning again to Paris he devoted himself to his writings, lectures, sermons and ministerial duties, until 1271, when at Viterbo he played a most important part in a very memorable event. On the death of Clement IV. (1268), the Cardinals were so hopelessly divided in their opinions that for nearly three years they were unable to agree in the choice of a successor. In the year just mentioned they were assembled at Viterbo. Six candidates were, before them for election and there seemed but little chance {87} of arriving at any decision. Bonaventure's reputation was so great that the Cardinals sought his services, and, according to one chronicler, [Footnote 38] empowered him to nominate himself or any other to the Papal See, promising at the same time to ratify his selection. He nominated Theobald of Piacenza, a most worthy man who was at that time Legate in Syria. The Cardinals acquiesced in his choice and the new Pope took the name of Gregory X. This incident must be regarded as quite authentic, for reference is made to it in the process of our Saint's canonization. That the Cardinals seriously authorized him to nominate himself is the only item concerning which a doubt may be raised. To some writers it seems too improbable on the face of it, and they refuse to admit it.

[Footnote 38: Bartholomew of Pisa, "Conformities," Lib. I. Conform. 8. Pars. 2.]

The election of Gregory exercised an unforeseen influence on Bonaventure's career. The new Pope arrived at Viterbo in 1272, and proceeded to Rome, where he was solemnly crowned in the year 1273. Full of admiration for our Saint and reposing the greatest confidence in his wisdom, he desired to avail himself of his counsel in the government of the Church. Accordingly he summoned him to Rome and confided to him the transaction of many important matters. Amongst these was the selection of Legates to undertake the reconciliation {88} of the Greeks and Tartars to the Latin Church. However, his stay in Rome was not of long duration, for in the same year, 1273, he was back again in Paris attending to his ministerial duties and working for the fulfilment of a very important commission entrusted to him by the Pope.