Thursday, 4 December 2014

Saint Bonaventure, The Seraphic Doctor by Rev. Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. Part 15.


From all that has hitherto been said it is evident that Bonaventure was eminent amongst his contemporaries. He excelled in holiness and learning. His greatness was religious. The service of God, the sanctification of his soul and the welfare of the Church were the sole ends to which his life was devoted. He achieved them with remarkable success. His contemporaries perceived it and they regarded him as a saint. A saint is a man whose life is virtuous in a heroic degree--whose spiritual excellence is indisputable. Such excellence is worthy of recognition, and the Catholic Church, with its true appreciation of what is right, has adopted suitable means of expressing it. These are embodied in the process of canonization. In the early ages of the Church there was no special form of canonization. It appears to have consisted in the unanimous belief of the Faithful--at first merely tolerated, but in time positively approved of by ecclesiastical authority. In the eighth century we come across the liturgical ceremony of solemnly enrolling the Saint amongst the number of the Blessed in Heaven.
This is not the place to discuss the dogmatic significance of such procedure. Suffice it to say, {116} it would be rash to imagine that the Church could err in so important and truly religious a matter.
Although the holiness of the Saints was recognized by their contemporaries, and continued to be the object of devout veneration by succeeding generations, still the Church's authentic recognition of it has sometimes been postponed for long centuries. The Church moves slowly in such matters. She is guided by the attitude of the Faithful. If these, through successive generations, maintain a traditional cultus of the Servant of God and eventually demand his canonization, the process is usually entered upon. The utmost caution is observed in the procedure. A most careful study is made of the life of the individual. The heroic nature of his virtues, the constant devotion of the Faithful towards him, the miracles attributed to him must be judicially proven. All evidence is carefully sifted by expert canonists. Every fact calculated to benefit or to prejudice the cause of the Saint is skilfully adduced. All human means likely to ensure the truth of the Church's judgment are employed.
In the Middle Ages, even as at the present day, it was the custom to demand from the Supreme Pontiff the favour of canonization. The cause had to be put forward, and the Church's definitive sentence formally solicited. In the case of our Saint the petition was presented by the Minister-General of the Franciscan Order, Fr. Francis Samson. It was {117} supported by the following powerful monarchs and nobles: the Emperor Frederick III, King Louis of France, Ferdinand King of Sicily, Matthias King of Hungary; the Dukes of Calabria, Venice, Milan, and Bourbon; also the Municipalities of Florence, Siena, Lyons, Perugia and Balneumregis.
It is somewhat strange to observe that this petition was not presented earlier. It was now some one hundred and eighty years since Bonaventure's death. But, as the Pontiff declared, the delay only added to the glory of the event. It is a prerogative of the greatness of the Saints that it appeals so powerfully to the minds of men long after their death. Herein it contrasts strikingly with worldly greatness which vanishes so quickly as scarcely to survive the death of those who possessed it.
When our Saint's canonization was mooted Sixtus IV. occupied the Papal Chair. He had been a Franciscan, and this circumstance operated in favour of the undertaking. To the Pontiff the enrolment of a brother Friar in the Calendar of the Saints was peculiarly agreeable. He refers to the fact in the Bull of canonization, and he is careful at the same time to guard against the impression that his judgment might be influenced by undue partiality. "We have read most diligently," he writes, "the divine writings of the aforesaid holy man, and from the time we were capable of understanding them they have been our chief delight. From the older and more trustworthy Brethren of the Order, who in {118} their youth had learnt it from their elders, we have heard of the fame of his sanctity and miracles, and we felt that whilst he triumphed in Heaven he ought to be venerated on earth. Moreover, we remembered that, by choice, we had embraced the same Order and therein by the Divine assistance made some progress in learning and in the spiritual life--that we had fulfilled the same ministerial office and had been raised to the dignity of the Cardinalate and finally to the summit of the Pontificate. So that we feel we have been raised to those eminences in the Church Militant through which Bonaventure attained to the glory of the Church Triumphant. But lest we should appear to be influenced by any personal motive in this process we have been careful to employ all the diligence and caution which the importance of the matter demands."
He points out the measures taken to accomplish this. A Commission of Cardinals was appointed to examine the life and miracles of the Saint. Their report in the first instance did not satisfy the Pope. It was not drawn up with sufficient solemnity and it had to be repeated. A fuller investigation was made, additional witnesses were examined and new miracles investigated. The result this time was satisfactory, and the Pontiff felt himself bound to proceed with the canonization. "Lest," he says, "we should appear to resist the Holy Ghost, who through the mouth of His Prophet commands us to praise God in His Saints, we have taken counsel {119} with our venerable Brethren the Cardinals concerning this canonization and they have approved of it unanimously." A public Consistory was then held and the Pope enjoined upon the clergy and Faithful of Rome the observance of three days prayer and fasting--"so that God might enlighten us as to the correct course to pursue, and preserve His Church from falling into error". After this the opinion of the Cardinals was sought once more--it was entirely favourable.
Thus assured, the Pope proceeded to the canonization. The solemn act took place in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles on 14 April, 1482. In the course of the ceremony a very remarkable oration on the Saint was delivered by the great ecclesiastical orator, Octavianus de Martinis. [Footnote 49] He insisted particularly on the miracles attributed to the Saint, of which he enumerated something like twenty-one different species. In the following singularly eloquent passage he summarizes the Saint's claims to canonization:--

[Footnote 49: Cf. Wadding, "Annals," Tom. XIV, Anno 1482. No 3.]

"If, therefore, it appear that the Blessed Bonaventure was miraculous in his works; if his Divine Commentaries show that he possessed the gift of infused knowledge; if the assiduous fulfilment of the humblest offices prove that he despised worldly honours, and shook off all earthly affections; if it appear that he was patient in trials, steadfast in persecution, that he was profitable to the Order of {120} St. Francis and that, like St. Paul, he was miraculously called to the service of religion; if it appear that his future sanctity was foretold by St. Francis and affirmed by Alexander of Hales, the Irrefragable Doctor; if it appear that the Sons of St. Francis, themselves remarkable for holiness but considering him holier still, made him their chief Superior, and that the Holy See on account of his renowned merits called him to the administration of the Universal Church; if, finally, it appear that by the common consent of the Faithful he is regarded, invoked and worshipped as a Saint and that he daily succours those who have recourse to him, then your Holiness without further request might decree him those public honours which alone he lacks. How much more readily ought you not to do this at the earnest prayer of so many powerful princes."
At the conclusion of this discourse Peter Rodulph, the Procurator-General of the Franciscan Order, arose, and addressing the Sovereign Pontiff, formally besought [Footnote 50] him in the name of the Most Holy Trinity to enrol Bonaventure in the Calendar of the Saints. The Pope's reply is embodied in the Bull already mentioned, from which we quote the following important passage:--

[Footnote 50: Cf. Wadding, "Annals," Tom. XIV, Anno 1482. No.4.]

"Confident that God will not allow us to fall into error in the canonization of this Saint, by His Divine Authority and that of His Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, we decree that Bonaventure of {121} Balneumregis, of blessed memory, Professor of Theology, of the Order of Friars Minor, who was raised from the office of Minister-General to that of Bishop and Cardinal, is a Saint, and is to be inscribed in the Catalogue of the Saints and joined and associated with them. By these letters present we insert him amongst the number of those who are to be venerated by the Church."
Thus was Bonaventure glorified. But further honours were in store for him. A hundred years later 14 March, 1582, he was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church by Sixtus V. This was an authoritative pronouncement that our Saint was to be regarded as one of the foremost expounders of the Catholic Faith. He was placed on a level with Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory. These are the words of the Pontiff: [Footnote 51] "After mature deliberation with our venerable Brothers the Cardinals, with their counsel and unanimous consent, and by our own certain knowledge . . . we inscribe by right the aforesaid St. Bonaventure amongst the number of Holy Doctors, and we declare and decree that he is to be regarded and venerated as amongst the chief and foremost of those who have excelled in the Sacred Science of Theology."

[Footnote 51: Bull "Triumphantis Jerusalem".]

After more than seven hundred years Bonaventure's greatness is undiminished and his glory is undimmed. His memory is fragrant in the Church of God, and those "Divine Commentaries" {122} and other treasures of Christian thought which he left behind him are still with us. In the depth and clearness of his dogmatic teaching, but especially in the ardent outpourings of his seraphic soul in his devotional works, we are brought into intimate contact with his marvellous life. From these, rather than from the records of biographers, we learn its true beauty and holiness. The latter offer us a portrait of the exterior man, but the former reveal to us the secret workings of the soul. From his writings we gather what Bonaventure really was--what he thought, what he aspired to, what he sought to accomplish. It is in them we may hope to discover the real man, and to obtain a clearer grasp of that particular development of the Franciscan spirit with which he is so intimately associated.