Monday, 1 December 2014

Saint Bonaventure, The Seraphic Doctor by Rev. Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. Part 12.

Before we pass on to St. Bonaventure's elevation to the Cardinalate it will be worth while to gather under one heading such scattered memories of him as have been preserved, and which shed additional light on his life and character. These are associated chiefly with the French King St. Louis IX., and St. Thomas Aquinas. As the sainted Franciscan General lived almost thirty-two years at the University of Paris, it was but natural he should come into close relationship with the equally sainted King of France. King Louis died 25 August, 1270, and at the second chapter of Pisa, held in 1272, St. Bonaventure introduced into the Order the solemn annual celebration of the day of his death. Mindful of his old-time friendship, our Saint secured this favour from Gregory X, as the first act of grace on the occasion of his coronation.
The following incident reveals the unreserve {89} with which Louis IX. confided in his Franciscan friend. On the death of his eldest son, the French King, in spite of the great love he had ever borne him, was thoroughly resigned to what he recognized as the will of God. He told St. Bonaventure that since God had willed the heir apparent should die he himself would not, even if he could, have his son live. "Sire," our Saint made answer, "how can that be?" St. Louis replied, "I believe and I know that such was the will of God. Seeing that it is God's will, on no account ought I to will the contrary; rather ought I cheerfully to accept God's good pleasure and not prove disloyal to His supreme will." "How much I suffer," he continued, "you can scarcely credit. Yet though I feel this loss so keenly, I must force myself not to manifest it." As he said, so he did, as the whole nation was witness.
On another occasion the King told St. Bonaventure that someone had approached him saying, "The Lord our God has three crowns, one of gold, one of thorns and the other incorruptible--the crown of Eternal Life. Two of these He has bestowed on you. I earnestly recommend you, however, that after the example of Jesus Christ, you strive to acquire by your good works the crown of Eternal Life. What will the two crowns you have avail you, if you secure not the third?" "Now it seems to me," was the pious King's comment, "that he spoke with very much wisdom. {90} His words entered my very heart." This lesson, our Saint adds, he also impressed on his court.
St. Louis once sought St. Bonaventure's opinion on an abstruse philosophic-theological question. "May a man," queried the King, "choose rather to be annihilated than to remain in everlasting torments? or ought he to prefer eternal torture to non-existence?" "Sire," answered Bonaventure, "endless torments presuppose sin and God's undying wrath against sin; and as no one may choose to remain for ever at enmity with God, non-existence is to be preferred to endless suffering." "I hold with Brother Bonaventure," the pious King exclaimed. Then turning to his courtiers he continued, "I assure you I would far rather cease to exist; I would far rather suffer annihilation, than live for ever, even in this world, reigning even as I now reign, and yet withal remain in perpetual enmity with my God."
A further incident reveals a still more intimate interchange of ideas. The King once came to Bonaventure and said to him: "The Queen is greatly disturbed because she hears that our son Peter wishes to join the Franciscan Order. I said to her, 'Do not trouble and do not allow the affair to weigh on your mind. Besides, you may mention the matter so often that the youth may come by the desire of joining the Order. Personally I feel assured that the love Brother Bonaventure, their General, bears me will not allow him {91} to receive our son without my being forewarned.' Did I not speak the truth, Brother Bonaventure?" To this our Saint made answer, "Sire, if your son comes to me on this matter, I shall refer to you and lay the responsibility on your shoulders". "No, Brother Bonaventure," replied King Louis, "that would not do. I should not like to have it on my conscience that I stood in the way of my son's following the voice of God." "Pious and holy King!" the narrative concludes, "his soul was so holy and so given to God, he preferred to be deprived of his son's society rather than withdraw that son from the service of God."
In the fourteenth century MSS. from which the previous incidents are drawn, and which are preserved in the Vatican Library, the following episode is found. We insert it, though historically it is not beyond question. The brother of St. Bonaventure once besought our Saint to use his influence with St. Louis on his behalf. "Do you wish me to speak to the King for you?" asked our Saint. "How could I exhort and induce others to the contempt of the world and the embracing of the Religious Life, if I interested myself on your worldly behalf: if, by procuring you what you desire, I afforded you the occasion of remaining in the lay state and of loving the world?"
In the course of this biography we have alluded casually to the intimate friendship which existed between St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas. {92} There is an account of a holy rivalry of modest courtesy which took place between them when they were both to receive the degree of Doctor at the Paris University. St. Thomas could not be brought to take precedence of our Saint: whilst Bonaventure, true to the name of Friar Minor, shrank from the thought of anticipating St. Thomas. What they were unable to arrange between themselves was settled for them by their friends. It was thus finally determined that Bonaventure, as being somewhat older, should be the first to occupy the place of honour. When our Saint had been adorned with the insignia of his new degree, he was conducted to his place amongst the Masters of Divinity, whence he witnessed St. Thomas passing triumphantly through the ordeal from which he himself had just emerged with credit.
On a subsequent occasion, however, it was St. Thomas' turn to be worsted in a similar contest of holy humility. There is a tradition to the effect that when Pope Urban IV. was contemplating to extend to the whole Church the Feast of Corpus Christi he commissioned St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to compose separately a suitable Office and Mass for the feast. While the work was being done, St. Bonaventure called upon his friend, and during the course of the conversation took up and read that antiphon for the Magnificat beginning with the words, O Sacrum Convivium!--"O Sacred Banquet!" So overcome was he by its depth and {93} sweetness that he returned home and cast into the fire the work he himself had been preparing. Whatever the authenticity of these two episodes, they certainly breathe the spirit of love and of courteous esteem with which these two Saints--representatives of two kindred Orders--were actuated towards each other.
This is another episode of the same holy friendship, which Wadding [Footnote 39] recounts on the testimony of Mark of Lisbon. As St. Thomas Aquinas was once wondering at the varied learning and depth of insight displayed in his friend's writings, he asked St. Bonaventure to show him the books from which he had drawn. Thereupon the humble Franciscan General showed St. Thomas a Crucifix, and pointing to it exclaimed: "It is from this well-spring of light and love that I have drawn whatever is to be found in my lectures or writings".

[Footnote 39: Tom. IV, Anno 1260. No. 20.]

The following incident in connexion with St. Antony of Padua gives us an insight into St. Bonaventure's unctuous devotion. When our Saint was in Italy in the year 1263, he presided over the translation of St. Antony's relics, which were then removed on 8 April from the humble Church where they had reposed since 1232 to the noble Basilica where they still remain. When the lid of the coffin was removed and all pressed eagerly forward to gaze, it was seen that though the flesh had long since returned to dust, and even the bones {94} were fast crumbling away, the tongue, "which for 32 years had lain under the earth, was found as fresh and ruddy as though the Most Blessed Father had died that self-same hour". [Footnote 40] With the tact and eloquence which were so peculiarly his own, Bonaventure turned this extraordinary happening to devout account. Reverently taking the relic into his hands and kissing it with tender devotion, he exclaimed, "O Blessed Tongue, which in life didst ever bless the Lord and lead others to bless Him, now doth it manifestly appear in what high honour thou wast held by God Himself". He then directed that it be preserved in a costly reliquary, as a special object of veneration, rather than remain with the rest of the body.

[Footnote 40: Cf. "Analecta Franciscana," Tom. III, pp. 328 and 157.]

There is also recorded a quaint and interesting dialogue which took place between our Saint and Brother Giles. "On one occasion," we read [Footnote 41] in the Life of Brother Giles commonly attributed to Brother Leo, "Brother Giles said to Friar Bonaventure, the Minister-General, 'Father, God has laden you with many graces. But we uneducated and unlearned men who have not received of this fullness, what shall we do to be saved?' The General made answer, 'Did God confer on man no other grace save only the power to love Him, that surely would suffice'. Then asked Brother Giles, 'Can an ignorant man love God even as can a scholar?' {95} 'A poor, little, aged peasant woman,' the General made answer, 'can love God even more than a Master in Theology.' Then arose Brother Giles in the fervour of his soul, and running towards that part of the garden nearest the highway, cried aloud, 'Poor little peasant woman love the Lord thy God, and foolish and ignorant as thou art, thou mayest be greater in His sight even than Friar Bonaventure'. And as he thus cried aloud he was rapt in ecstasy and remained immovable for the space of three hours."

[Footnote 41: Ibid. p. 101.]

There is one of our Saint's works which we must not omit to mention, for through it he is closely connected with an important present-day feature of the Church's life. Some authors tell us that it is to St. Bonaventure that we are indebted for our numerous modern confraternities; either, as some say, because he originated the idea of these pious societies, or, as others hold, because he prescribed for them a definite form of prayer. It is certain that our Saint founded the "Confraternity of the Holy Standard," and did so probably about the year 1264. [Footnote 42] The root idea of a Confraternity, however, existed before the time of St. Bonaventure; these pious societies, in fact, seem but to be the counterpart of those local guilds which were early established over Europe. Then anent specific rules and prayers, etc., there are the religious {96} prescriptions which Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, drew up for his guild, not to mention the Confraternity organized by Odo, Bishop of Paris, who died in 1208. This "Confraternity of the Standard," however, would seem to have been the first introduced into Rome; and its immediate and extensive adoption throughout Italy may possibly explain how it came to pass that upon St. Bonaventure was fathered an idea that, probably, was merely borrowed from Bishop Odo.

[Footnote 42: Bull of Pope Gregory XIII. "Pastoris AEterni," 23 October, 1576.]

This "Confraternity of the Holy Standard" took its name from the banner which was borne at the head of the Society's processions and on which was wrought the likeness of the Blessed Virgin. It was also known as the "Society of the Protégés of Our Blessed Lady," for among their insignia was a representation of the mother of God shielding her clients with her mantle. At first the Society embraced only twelve members, all of noble birth, the number, it is said, shown to our Saint in a vision; soon, however, it grew into a large and public body. The distinctive dress of the association was a white habit, to the right shoulder of which was attached a blue badge on which a cross was traced in red and white. This was the period when the Crusades were kindling the West with religious enthusiasm, and it seemed appropriate that in spiritual as in temporal warfare, soldiers should bear an their person the insignia of the King under whose banner they were fighting. {97} The whiteness of the Cross recalled the purity of Our Lady; its deep red colour symbolized the love with which Our Lord purchased our redemption, and the heart-felt loyalty we should manifest in return. The aims of this Confraternity were prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds: the promotion of peace and harmony among citizens--then so fiercely given to feuds of civic politics; the procuring of dowries for destitute girls; voluntary service to hospitals; and, perhaps, chiefly, the ransom of captives from the tyranny of the Saracens.