Saturday, 22 November 2014

Saint Bonaventure, The Seraphic Doctor by Rev. Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. Part 3.

From 1248 to 1255 Bonaventure taught publicly at Paris with great distinction. About this time, however, owing to a violent outburst of opposition to the Mendicant Friars on the part of the secular professors of the University, he was compelled to suspend his lectures. This occurrence affords us a valuable insight into the condition of the Friars at that epoch. It shows us how they were regarded by their friends and by their enemies, and it enables us to form a better estimate of their merits. Their lives and actions were openly and unsparingly impeached. They were put on their trial before the entire Church, and their very existence depended on the issue. Every weak spot in their constitution was laid bare--their faults and failings were proclaimed with emphasis: Their adversaries were men of repute and learning--doctors and professors of the most renowned Theological School of Christendom. Thoroughly versed in all the {18} wiles of controversy, and apparently animated by religious zeal, they were unscrupulous in their methods, and frequently had recourse to slander and falsehood. The conflict was thorough and decisive. Issuing triumphant from such an ordeal the Mendicant Orders proved once and for all that their position in the Church of Christ is impregnable. So important an incident ought not to be lightly dismissed.
Various causes tended to create a spirit of opposition to the Friars. Jealousy at their success, and a spirit of worldliness to which their lives was a constant reproach, appear to be the chief. The Friars succeeded in attracting universal admiration. Their professors were the most brilliant in the University; their lecture halls the best appointed; their audience the most enthusiastic. They enjoyed the favour of the Pope and of the King, both of whom conferred many privileges on them. They possessed neither money nor lands, yet they stood in need of nothing. They had renounced the pomp and glory of the world, but the world ran eagerly after them. Their preaching attracted immense crowds and their confessionals were thronged. They were the least by profession but the greatest by repute. To some extent they supplanted the secular clergy. The bishops and the Faithful found themselves less dependent upon the latter, for the Friars formed willing and efficient substitutes for them in almost every capacity. The spirit of {19} the secular clergy of Paris at that period was not such as to enable them to view this new development without hostility. An indevout and worldly spirit reigned amongst them, and they were profoundly indifferent to the highest maxims of the Gospel. This we learn from the strain in which Pope Alexander [Footnote 9] writes to the Bishop of Paris in the year 1256: "Concerning certain masters and scholars of Paris it is notorious that they glory not in being considered the children of peace but rather in being the authors of scandal; they glory not in being called the sons of God, but of Satan. So great is their disorder that they hinder piety not only in themselves but also in others, and impede the salvation of souls which we so greatly desire."

[Footnote 9: Cf. "Wadding," Tom. IV, Anno 1256. No. 23.]

The smouldering elements of discord were fanned into flame in the year 1254, and the secular and regular professors came to an open rupture. The matter arose thus. A noisy brawl occurred amongst the students. The civil guard intervened; a riot ensued, and one student was killed and several were wounded. Such encounters were not infrequent, and they resulted in creating a bad spirit between the magistrates and the authorities of the University. The latter sought to exempt the students from civil jurisdiction, whilst the former, in the interests of public order, insisted on subjecting them to it. The occurrence just recorded brought matters to a {20} climax. The University demanded the punishment of the civil guard, the magistrates refused compliance. Thereupon the entire staff of secular professors suspended their lectures and withdrew from the city. The Regulars kept their halls open and continued to teach. This gave great offence to the secular professors, and when the difference between them and the municipal authorities was eventually settled, and they had once more resumed their duties, they did not forget it. Determined to prevent its recurrence, they framed a statute binding the Regulars to act in accordance with the majority of the professors. To this they refused to submit, and in consequence they were forced to abandon their Chairs. They appealed to the Pope who eventually reinstated them and revoked the obnoxious statute.
Meantime the agitation against them was vigorously carried on. Its leading spirit was William of St. Amour, a doctor and professor of the University. Prominently associated with him were Odo of Douay, Christian, Canon of Beauvais, John Belin and John of Gectville, an Englishman and Rector of the University--all men of consequence and possessing considerable influence. William of St. Amour was a type of the worldly-wise Christian, and he represented a large and powerful element at Paris. He was a man of undoubted ability and learning, but wanting in moderation and soundness of judgment. Possibly he may have meant well, {21} but blinded by prejudice he did not see the injustice of his conduct, nor the falseness of his views. He aimed at expelling the Regulars from the University and eventually obtaining their suppression. He wrote and preached, against them. His book on the "Perils of the Last Times," his sermon on the "Publican and the Pharisee," his pamphlet on the "Robust Beggar," were violent onslaughts upon them. They were based on false principles and teemed with slander and invective. William endeavoured to show that the mendicant form of life was unchristian and pernicious, and that those who professed it were outside the pale of salvation. Mendicancy, preaching, hearing confessions, and teaching publicly were the capital sins that consigned the Friars to reprobation.
He speaks thus of mendicancy: "There is a great danger attendant upon begging. Those who live by it become flatterers, liars, detractors, thieves and unjust. To leave all things for Christ and to follow Christ begging is not an act of perfection. Regulars may not beg even though the Church permits it. Whoever begs whilst in good health sins grievously. Hence, whoever places himself in the necessity of doing so is not within the pale of salvation."
To preach and hear confessions was also on the part of the Friars wrong and unjustifiable: "All though authorized by the Pope or the bishop they may not preach unless invited by the parish priest. {22} They may not live by the Gospel. Those who preach to the Faithful who have their own pastors, viz. bishops and priests, are not true but false Apostles. It is greatly to be feared that such as these will grievously injure the Church unless they are expelled from it. Confession to Mendicants, approved of by the Pope, does not satisfy the Easter Precept."
To become professors and teach publicly was another grievous transgression: "The office of master is an honour, and Religious should not aspire to honours. Seeing that they belong to a state of perfection, they should observe the Gospel Counsels, one of which is: 'Wish not to be called master'. Aspiring to the dignity of master they transgress this counsel and thereby sin publicly, scandalize the Faithful and deserve to be shunned."
Such were the opinions proclaimed by William, and the effect they produced was deplorable. A species of universal boycott was instituted against the Mendicants. Students were dissuaded from attending their lectures; they were excluded from the University, and the people were exhorted to refuse them alms. Matters reached such a crisis that the Dominicans were way-laid and beaten in the streets so that they were afraid to leave their convent. The opposition to the latter seems to have been much keener than to the Franciscans, and it would appear that they were forced to quit the University earlier. It is certain that {23} St. Bonaventure lectured publicly on the question in dispute. His treatise on "Evangelical Perfection" is a reply to the utterances of William of St. Amour. It is recorded that the latter, hearing of the Saint's action, sent one of his adherents to report the substance of his lectures--to which he wrote a rejoinder. As we intend to treat in detail of Bonaventure's apology for the Franciscan Order, we shall make no further reference to it here. Lest, however, a false impression concerning the merits of this controversy should remain on the minds of my readers, I consider it expedient to point out, in the next chapter, how it was regarded by the Holy See.