Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Saint Bonaventure, The Seraphic Doctor by Rev. Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. Part 13.

Soon after his election to the Papacy, Gregory X. decided to hold a General Council at Lyons. He directed Bonaventure to undertake the preparation of the various matters to be discussed. Amongst all those who might co-operate for the success of the Council, the Pope perceived that there was no one more capable than our Saint. His, authority was great and his influence was widespread, In the preceding chapter we have dwelt upon his familiar friendship with King Louis of France, With Charles I. of Anjou he was likewise on intimate terms. After his elevation to the Cardinalate the prince gave orders for his suitable conveyance to the Papal Court. Another somewhat curious {98} instance of Bonaventure's widespread influence is seen in a letter written to him by the Secretary of Otto Carus, King of Bohemia. He asks our Saint to intercede for him with his royal master so that he might receive from him some office which he coveted. As General of the Franciscan Order his power was very considerable, but it was greatly increased by his reputation for learning and profound piety. The Order had already spread into almost every country of the Old World. In the East and West it possessed thirty-three Provinces and four Vicariates. It had penetrated into Egypt, Palestine, and Syria; and was firmly established all over Europe including the British Isles.
The supreme ruler of so vast and powerful an organization is necessarily a noteworthy personage in the life of the Church. And it is not to be wondered at that Gregory X. fixed his eyes upon Bonaventure, and with a view to enhancing his authority and extending his sphere of action determined to raise him to the cardinalate. Accordingly, on 23 June, 1273, he made him Bishop of Albano and Cardinal of the Roman Church. Bonaventure's secretary, Bernard of Besse, viewing the procedure from the standpoint of the humble Friar and with apparently little approval, refers briefly to the fact in these words: "The aforesaid Lord Gregory X. forced him to become a Cardinal". We can imagine how strenuously Bonaventure refused the honour, but the Pope was inflexible and even peremptory. {99} He commanded Bonaventure to submit to his appointment and in a spirit of humility to place no obstacle in the way. He furthermore ordered him to repair to the Papal Court without any unreasonable delay or hesitation. Our Saint received the Brief at Paris and he set out at once for Florence where the Pope happened to be residing. Having reached the vicinity of the town he took up his abode in a small convent of the Order. Thither came the Pope's envoys with the Cardinal's insignia. As has already been said they found the Bishop and Cardinal-elect washing the plates of the monastery, and tradition has it that he ordered them to hang the hat on a branch of a tree close by until he had finished.
After a brief stay at Florence, at the Pope's command our Saint set out for Lyons, where the General Council was to be held. The assembly began its sessions in May, 1274. The importance of the part which Bonaventure played in this Council is admitted by all. His secretary and biographer, Bernard of Besse, says: "By command of our Lord the Pope he conducted the principal affairs of the Council". Pope Sixtus IV. affirms that Bonaventure "presided at the Council of Lyons and directed everything to the praise and glory of God; so that having suppressed discords and overcome difficulties, he was a source of honour and utility to the Church". It is, however, hardly credible that Bonaventure really presided over the Council, for {100} the Pope himself was present. Most likely he presided over the private sessions and prepared and directed the business to be publicly transacted.
The union of the Greek Church with the Latin, the deliverance of the Holy Land from Mohammedan rule, and the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline were the chief matters discussed by the Council.
In the work of reuniting the Greek and Latin Churches the Friars Minor played a very conspicuous part. Through them the negotiations with the Emperor Paleologus, and the Greek Church had been carried on. Their efforts seemed for a time to be crowned with complete success. The Emperor sent civil and ecclesiastical representatives to the Council of Lyons to express the adherence of himself and the entire Greek Church to all the tenets of the Church of Rome. In presence of the assembled Council and amid great solemnity the envoys made a public profession of Faith, and the great Eastern schism seemed to be healed. Unfortunately the result was of very brief duration. In the course of a few years the Greeks had once more returned to their old condition of schism and heresy. Still, even for this temporary success great credit is due to Bonaventure, for to his personal influence it must in no small degree be attributed. His learning, his eloquence, his affability and his piety deeply impressed the Greeks. They marked their appreciation of his great ability by bestowing on him {101} the name of "Eutychius". He surpassed the high opinion which Pope Gregory had formed of him. His extraordinary gifts filled the whole Council with admiration. The facility and precision of his diction, the prudence and moderation of his counsel, the breadth and depth of his learning, his skill in controversy and his wonderful power of dispatching most weighty matters made him the most prominent figure in the whole of the assembly. At the same time, his humility and meekness and the cheerful sweetness of his disposition won all hearts. His words were listened to with sympathetic attention and never failed to produce the desired effect. It is recorded that he preached twice during the Council: first when it was officially announced that the Greeks were sending representatives to Lyons, and, secondly, when the reunion had been accomplished. A large number of his sermons are extant, but amongst them is not found either of these discourses.
Whilst our gaze is fixed on Bonaventure as the central figure in that grand assembly of the Christian Church we can read with interest the pen-portrait of him left to us by an old chronicler. This writer, [Footnote 43] after insisting at much length on the spiritual endowments of the Saint, continues thus:--

[Footnote 43: Peter Rodulph, fol. 92. Cf. Wadding, Tom. IV, Anno 1274. No. 20.]

"Such beauty of soul was matched by exterior {102} comeliness; of imposing appearance, tall in stature, and with a certain nobility of bearing. His features were handsome and of serious expression. His words were calm and his conversation kind and gentle. He rarely suffered from ill health. His disposition was more than admirable. His appearance cannot be described other than like that of an angel sent from Heaven, for in his day there was no one more beautiful, holier, or more wise. Such affability and grace shone forth in his countenance that he was to all not only an object of love but of admiration. Those who once beheld him felt themselves drawn instinctively to admire and venerate him as one especially designed to further the interests of religion."
The description is evidently that of an ardent admirer of Bonaventure, but making all due allowance for its palpable exaggerations we are justified in believing that the personal appearance of the Saint must have been impressive and attractive in no ordinary degree. This seems to have been a characteristic of many of the saints, although their biographers, imbued with the peculiar ascetical notion that unsightliness of body is somehow necessarily associated with beauty and excellence of soul, usually discard all reference to bodily endowments.
In his labours at the Council our Saint was ably seconded by two other Franciscans--Rigaldi, Archbishop of Rouen, and Paul, Bishop of Tripolis. Their prominence and the authority they wielded {103} seem to have excited a certain amount of jealousy among their contemporaries. Thus we find them referred to in the following satirical triplet:--
Bonaventure, Rouen and Tripolitane
Dispense papal laws and unmindful remain
Of their Order which scorns all honours as vain.
This suggests the question: "How can we reconcile the acceptance of ecclesiastical dignities with the Spirit of St. Francis and the profession of his Rule?" Many answers might be given, but I believe the following to be the most satisfactory. The leading principle of the Franciscan Rule is obedience to the Pope, the supreme authority in all things spiritual. Hence, submission to what he commands cannot be a violation of the Franciscan spirit. Like every other religious development of human origin the Order of St. Francis is entirely subject to the authority of the Head of the Church. He can modify it in its constitution and in its members as circumstances may demand. Non-Catholic writers, and even Catholics, sometimes lose sight of this. They seem to think that the Rule of Francis possesses some species of supreme and absolute authority which no power on earth can, or ought to, interfere with. This assumption is utterly false. None would have more emphatically rejected it than St. Francis himself. Hence, when the Vicar of Christ, for the welfare of the Church, calls upon a child of St. Francis to accept some office to {104} which attaches dignity or honour he may humbly refuse, but a persistent and obstinate refusal would find no justification in the profession he has made.