Friday, July 15, 2011

St. Bonaventure

   I celebrated Mass this morning at St. Peter the Fisherman  in Eagle River, WI.  Today is the feast of a great Franciscan saint, St. Bonaventure.  I asked the 20 or so people who were there if they knew anything about Bonaventure.  Only three raised a hand.  That experience reminded me that this great man and doctor of the Church is so well known in Franciscan circles, but not outside of it, so I thought that I would present a little about him on this blog.

   St. Bonaventure hails from a small town in Italy called Bagnoreggio in 1221. he died in 1274.  After entering the Franciscans around 1240 he was eventually ordained, became a professor of theology at the University of Paris and was a contemporary of Thomas Aquinas.  He became Minister General of the Franciscans and eventually was ordained a bishop and became a cardinal.

   It is a difficult challenge to sum up his great theological work in a few paragraphs, but I will try.  The life of Francis of Assisi was the source of his theological reflection.   Basically he looked at Francis and developed a systematic theology based on his understanding of the great saints' life.  He developed what is called a Christocentric view of the universe.  This term means much more though than Christ-centered in the sense that any Christian theology or spirituality must be that.  On a deeper level he gives emphasis to what is pointed out in the prologue of John's Gospel (Jn 1, 1-5)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
 The same thought is expressed in the letter to the Collosians (See Col, 1, 15-16).
Basically what this tells us is that in the mind of God Christ is the first creation in the mind of God and that Christ was ordained to become human right from the beginning, even if humans had not sinned.  How different this is from the thought the Jesus was a type of divine intervention made necessary by sin.  Bonaventure and later Franciscan theologians like Scotus don't deny sin and the need for redemption.  They stress that the coming of Christ is the center and high point of human history, the punctuation mark on it that God planned from the beginning. These thoughts are rooted in Scripture and also in several theologian of the early Church such is Iranaeus of Lyon.  In this theology Jesus was not sent to get crucified. he was sent to proclaim the reign of God and to love us unconditionally.  When that love met sin the cross resulted.  Bonaventure sees the Cross as central and as the ultimate expression of God's unconditional love. Creation itself reflects Christ in whom all is created and the cross in which all discord and opposition are overcome. 
   Another aspect of Bonaventure's thought is being looked at today in light of our ever growing understanding of the universe.  He stresses not only that all is created in Christ, but that all will return to Christ, very much in line with our sense of the expanding and contracting universe.

   This theological vision is what animates all of us Franciscans.  Francis lived it.  Bonaventure reflected on it and today I am grateful to God for both of them.  I rejoice with my brother friars at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY and with Franciscan theologians all over the world.  I pray that any readers who are not Franciscan will have been enriched by this reflection,

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