Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Saint Bonaventure, The Seraphic Doctor by Rev. Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. Part 7.

Bonaventure's life, for the ensuing years, is a record of fast-succeeding events centring mainly round the work of his personal sanctification and his exertions for the welfare of the Order. On {46} 23 October, 1257, our Saint received the degree of Doctor of Theology. The differences between the University and the Mendicant Friars had gradually passed away and a better spirit, prevailed. Still, the favour bestowed upon our Saint is to be attributed principally to the letter of the Sovereign Pontiff commanding the University to extend, all its privileges to the Friars Thomas of Aquin and Bonaventure.
During the Pentecost of 1281 [Footnote 20] we find him assisting at the foundation of a hospital at Pisa. In the official record of this institution we read how "Friar Bonaventure, the Minister-General of the whole Order of Friars Minor, was, at the command of Pope Alexander, present at the afore-mentioned foundation; at the command of the same Holy Father he made each and every benefactor of the hospital a sharer in the prayers said and good works performed by all the members of the Order".

[Footnote 20: Cf. "Opera Omnia," Tom. X, p. 52.]

Bonaventure celebrated five General Chapters--that of Narbonne in 1260; of Pisa in 1263; of Paris in 1266; of Assisi in 1269; of Lyons in 1274. These Chapters are the most convincing proofs of his indefatigable activity. In each of them, apart from the general efforts made to further regular observance, some special ordination of a remarkable kind was enacted. Thus, in the Chapter of Pisa, the suffrages for the dead were regulated, and amongst the Masses and prayers appointed to {47} be said for deceased benefactors we find the Solemn Requiem for the parents of the Brethren. In the Chapter of Assisi in 1269 the recital of the Angelus and the celebration of a Mass every Saturday in honour of our Lady were prescribed. In the Chapter of Paris, by the tact and prudence of Bonaventure, a somewhat serious difference which had arisen between the Franciscans and Dominicans was amicably settled. The disagreement arose concerning the respective spheres of the Inquisitors of the two Orders. The office of Inquisitor, already held by the Dominicans, was assigned to the Franciscans by Innocent IV. in the year 1254. The settlement of this dispute became the occasion of the consolidation of that spirit of fraternity and friendship that has ever since existed between the two Orders, and which, as is commonly known, originated in the reciprocal brotherly love of Francis and Dominic.
It is asserted that it was at the Chapter of Narbonne that the Franciscan habit received its present shape. Up to that time it appears to have been more or less identical with the dress worn by the Umbrian shepherds--a simple tunic with a girdle, and a hood to protect the head. It is not, however, easy to determine the precise nature of the alteration effected.
There is one incident of Bonaventure's administration which calls for special attention; an incident which has deeply influenced the historical estimate formed of him by certain writers. This is his action {48} with regard to John of Parma--his predecessor in the Generalship of the Order. The upholders of the rigorous observance of the Rule pretend to see in it evidence of harshness, injustice, nay, even of duplicity. This assumption, needless to say, is utterly devoid of solid foundation.
Owing to the peculiar temperament of the times and some untoward circumstances, John of Parma fell under the suspicion of heresy, and at the request of the Sovereign Pontiff it became necessary for Bonaventure to investigate the charge. The biographers of our Saint are at variance in determining the year in which this trial was held. Wadding [Footnote 21] and the editors of our Saint's works [Footnote 22] place it under the year 1257, but as Father Livarius Oliger, O.F.M., points out in a review [Footnote 23] of Father Lemmens' recent "Life of St. Bonaventure," the investigation is known to have been proceeded with before Cardinal John Cajetan, who at the time was the Protector of the Order. Cardinal Cajetan, however, was nominated Protector of the Order "shortly after the assumption of Pope Urban," who was elected Pope, 29 August, 1261. This is a typical instance of the chronological difficulties and uncertainties which are associated with the life of our Saint.

[Footnote 21: Tom. IV, Anno 1256. Nos. 5 and 6.]

[Footnote 22: II Tom. X, p. 48. No.4.]

[Footnote 23: "Archivium Franciscanum Historicum," Annus III, Fasc. II, p. 346.]

How a man so remarkable for learning and virtue as the ex-General should have provoked such an accusation demands some further explanation.
In the first place, it must be borne in mind that this was the period when the Inquisition reigned in all the fervent zeal of its recent institution. Whatever savoured in the least of heterodoxy, either in theory or in practice, aroused its vigilance. It was closely investigated and its author, no matter what admirable qualities he might otherwise display, was regarded with suspicion and distrust. This attitude of the ecclesiastical authorities was fully justified by the prevalence of false mysticism, under the guise of which the Waldenses and Albigenses were just then putting forth the most pernicious and subversive doctrines.
True mysticism is the perfection of Christianity. Its essence is union with God. The more perfectly it accomplishes this union, the more thoroughly it achieves its end. It is the noblest and most exalted aspect of religion, but, at the same time, it is attended by very grave dangers. The mystic sees only God and his own soul--or rather he has no direct consciousness of anything but God alone. He converses with God and is guided directly by him--anything else is to a large extent ignored.
The danger of this state is apparent. The mystic is at the mercy of his imagination and of a thousand natural influences which he is liable to {50} mistake for the voice of God. And when he thinks that God speaks, no matter to what folly or extravagance the imagined voice may urge him, nor how clearly it may oppose the dictates of obedience, he considers himself bound to obey it; for is he not sure, even as St. Peter, that he "must obey God rather than man!" Unless he possess a sound judgment and a thorough grasp of Catholic doctrine, or, failing these, unless he be humbly submissive to the teaching of some competent spiritual guide, he needs must go astray. This danger, Francis, who was a mystic in the truest sense of the word, avoided perfectly, but as much cannot be said of some of his earlier followers. For notwithstanding Pontifical utterances and the enactments of General Chapters, they persisted in maintaining that their particular views concerning the observance of the Rule were the only permissible ones. A mild form of fanaticism seems to have laid hold of them. Their immoderate regard for the Rule and its observance led them to extremes. They were convinced that it was inspired by our Lord Himself and they attributed to it an authority equal to that of the Gospels. Contending that it was perfectly clear and intelligible, they denied that any authority on earth had the power to explain or interpret it. In these ideas they were strengthened by the writings of Joachim, Abbot of Flora.
This remarkable man flourished about the latter {51} portion of the twelfth century. He was deeply imbued with the spirit of mysticism, and its dangers were only too fully realized in his case. In treating of the Blessed Trinity he erred seriously, and his doctrine was condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council. He seems to have considered himself inspired, and he gave utterance to a long series of prophecies concerning the Church's future. He declaimed vehemently against all ranks of the clergy--denouncing Popes, Cardinals and Bishops for their indifference and corruption, and predicting for them the most terrible punishments. Turning to the relations between mankind and God he proceeded to divide Revelation into three epochs: that of the Father, or the Old Testament; that of the Son, or the New Testament; and that of the Holy Ghost--a period which was to come and which would be much more perfect than the preceding two. It was to be characterized by the most powerful and universal sway of Divine Love, a clear vision of the eternal truths, and the rise of a contemplative monachism.
Notwithstanding these peculiar tenets, Joachim was a man of rare virtue and piety and he died in full union with the Church. He was regarded by many as a saint and a prophet, and his writings were thought to be divinely inspired. John of Parma, indeed, held him in high esteem, but some of the Brethren with whom he was intimately associated, and to some extent identified, exceeded {52} the bounds of all moderation in their ardent advocacy of him. Inflamed as they were with intense religious fervour and deeply penetrated with a spirit of penance and self-sacrifice, the teaching of Joachim appealed most forcibly to them. His denunciation of the worldliness of the age, his contempt for all things temporal, his love of contemplation, and above all, his vivid prophecy about the institution of a new Religious Order in which the light and love of God would govern all, filled them with unbounded admiration. They pretended to see in Joachim the precursor of St. Francis and the realization of his prophecy in the Order he established. Amongst the most extreme partisans of Joachim were two intimate friends of John of Parma--Friars Gerard and Leonard. Upon these principally rested the suspicion of heresy. They were tried, found guilty, and condemned to perpetual confinement.
The trial of Blessed John of Parma then came on. He was accused of leaning to the views of Abbot Joachim and of wavering in his belief in the Trinity. The ex-General, perhaps, inclined somewhat to certain of the Abbot's views; in any case the suspicion that such was the fact had subjected him to many and great persecutions. The public character of John, the immense influence he wielded over a great part of the Order, rendered it imperative that the case should be thoroughly investigated and a definite issue come to at a public trial. Were {53} John guilty of heresy--the stern measure would be more than justified; were he innocent--his name would gain lustre from the ordeal, and malicious tongues be silenced.
The details of the trial have not come down to us. Wadding [Footnote 24] merely gives us the result, stating "that iniquity was not found in him ". He admits, however, that John was too favourably inclined to the mysticism of Joachim, and that he submissively retracted in the presence of the Cardinal and assembled Fathers. A few details we have, but it is impossible to determine how far they are coloured with partisan prejudice. One historian states that the suavity of John's answers so wrought on his opponents that they openly declared that as a heretic he should be sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. To be stigmatized as a heretic was more than John could bear in patience. Drawing himself to his full height and looking up to heaven he professed clearly and with ardent zeal his adherence to all the articles contained in the Apostles' Creed. "He assumed the role of an innocent follower of Christ," writes Angelo Clarenus, "and averred that he did believe as he ever had believed on that question as on all other questions what the Church holds and the Saints teach." This further incensed his accusers; and they determined to imprison for life their late Minister-General. That he was finally {54} acquitted must be attributed to the intervention of Cardinal Otto Boni--then one of the most influential members of the Sacred College and afterwards Pope Adrian V. He dispatched two letters, one to the Cardinal President, the other to Bonaventure, in which, among other things, he wrote: "It is with the deepest regret I have learned of the process instituted against John of Parma, and that party strife has led to his arraignment on a charge of heresy. For many years--even before my elevation to the Cardinalate--I have had personal warrant both as to the orthodoxy of his doctrine and the holiness of his life; nor have I yet found anyone more loyal to his creed or more faithful to his ideals. So firmly am I persuaded of this, that I have no hesitation in saying that his faith is my faith. Let me then most earnestly beseech you that this trial be not conducted recklessly nor with partisan bias. He and I are one: injustice towards him will redound on me; the verdict you pass on him you pass also on me; his sentence, too, is mine--and my sincerest wish is to be fully associated with him."

[Footnote 24: Tom. IV, Anno 1256. No.6.]

These letters produced the desired effect. John left the Assembly fully acquitted, and availing himself of the choice of residence that Bonaventure courteously extended to him, withdrew to the friary at Greccio. There he spent many years in the practice of every virtue and finally expired in the odour of sanctity.
Angelo Clarenus, [Footnote 25] condemns the part played by Bonaventure in this inquiry. "Bonaventure," he states, "on the testimony of John of Parma himself, acted wrongly in no slight degree; for whilst discussing the question in dispute privately with John of Parma in his cell he agreed with him, affirming that he thought as he did, but publicly in presence of the Brethren he showed that he held the contrary." And again he says: "Brother John enters; as one suspect of heresy he is forced to take an oath; a wise man is cross-examined by those less wise, an aged man by youths; one full of the Holy Ghost is searched into by the indevout, and by those who follow the desires of their heart. Then the wisdom and holiness of Bonaventure were obscured and vanished, and his mildness by the agitation of his soul was changed into violent anger. To such an extent was he carried away that he exclaimed: 'If it were not for the honour of the Order I should have him publicly punished as a heretic'."

[Footnote 25: Cf. "Opera Omnia," Tom. X, p. 49.]

To preside at this trial was one of the painful duties which his position placed upon Bonaventure. At the instance of the Brethren and the Sovereign Pontiff he was bound to undertake it. John of Parma had acquired a great reputation for holiness, and his indefatigable labours on behalf of the Order and of the Church had made his name famous throughout Europe. Furthermore, he was a {56} personal friend of Bonaventure, for was it not he who recommended him for the office of General! In the face of these considerations it is incredible that he should have been guilty of injustice or duplicity towards him. It is much easier to believe that Angelo Clarenus, carried away by party spirit, gave ready credence to the exaggerated reports circulated by the admirers of John of Parma, who were bitterly, though unreasonably, indignant that Bonaventure should have listened to the accusation of heresy and lent his authority to the investigation that followed.