PARISH OF ST. BONAVENTURE
He was born at Cività di Bagnoregio, most probably in A. D. 1217: the son of Giovanni Fidanza and Maria di Ritello. At the beginning he bore the Christian name of his father, who was perhaps a doctor, and later on there was either added to this, or substituted, the name “Bonaventure” (which means “Welcome”)
Of his infancy little is known. He himself recounts that, while still a little boy, he was cured of a very dangerous illness through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi. In the Bull of his Canonization, Superna coelestis patria, April 14, 1482, Pope Sixtus IV recalls the presence of the young saint among the Friars of the “Old” Convent of St. Francis, which is found halfway between Cività di Bagnoregio and Bagnogregio itself (not to be confused with the “New” Convent of St. Francis, which is found to the west of town). Today the only thing that remains of the old Convent of St. Francis is the so-called “Grotto di San Bonaventura”, perhaps a nook where the friars went in search of solitude and where perhaps our Saint, either as a student, or in one of his probably visits to Bagnoregio, stopped. At Cività, nothing has remained of the house of St. Bonaventure, except a grotto, accessible solely through an iron stairway, suspended from a cliff-face. Its rocks, gathered and transported to the “New” Convent of St. Francis, served to build the new, little shrine, which still exists.
On March 14, 1490, following the examination and the translation of the body of the Saint to Lyons, France, the right-arm of the Saint was removed, and placed in a precious, silver reliquary in the shape of an arm, and brought back to Bagnoregio the following year by Friar Francesco Sansone, the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Today the Holy Arm is kept in the Cathedral of Bagnoregio. In remembrance of its translation, a feast is celebrated on March 14, in addition to that of the Saint’s on July 15.
We do not know when St. Bonaventure left Bagnoregio to study at the University of Parish, nor do we know the role played by his parents or by the friars of the local convent in this decision, but it can be easily guessed that he received support from the Friars Minor, who were well established in France by this time, as one of their students of theology, even if, when he did depart, he may not have yet decided to become a friar. He studied at the Sorbonne, where in 1243, he earned the degree Master of Arts (the medieval equivalent of a Doctorate of Theology). Having by that time already become a son of St. Francis, he had studied theology under Alexander of Hales, who convinced him “to love rather the life of St. Francis”.
This esteemed Master of medieval thought would say of St. Bonaventure: “It seems that in him Adam did not sin.” On October 23, 1257, when the Saint had already become Minister General of the Order, he was admitted to the faculty of of the University of Paris, as a professor. Some months before in the Convent of Ara Coeli, in Rome, on February 2, 1257, he had been elected by the General Chapter as Minister General, even though at the time he was at Paris. As the seventh successor of St. Francis in the Generalship, he bore this duty for 17 years. His fame, doctrine, meekness, clarity of ideas and his energy had convinced the fathers of the Chapter, presided over by Pope Alexander IV, to elect him. It was a very delicate moment in the history of St. Francis’ Order, and St. Bonaventure was judged to have the necessary qualities. In fact, he never let himself be turned aside by the “sinistra cura”, as Dante would put it, letting himself be guided by anything other than the truth. Notwithstanding the heavy burden of office, he continued to preach, to teach, to give conferences, and to direct souls and counsel Kings and Popes.
In 1273 he was made a Cardinal of the Roman Church, and Bishop of Albano, Italy; in 1274 he participated in the Second Council of Lyons, where he was its soul and spokesman. Either on account of the excessive fatigue of its proceedings, or of his fragile health, he died on the night between the 14th and 154th of July, in the year of Our Lord 1274. At his funeral all the fathers of the Council participated. He was canonized on April 14th, 1482 by the Conventual Franciscan Friar, Pope Sixtus IV. In 1588, another Conventual, Pope Sixtus V, declared him the co-quel of St. Thomas Aquinas, and bestowed on him the title, “Seraphic Doctor”.
In 1643 Bagnoregio proclaimed him the principle Patron of the City, together with St. Hildebrand, and in 1986 he was proclaimed the Co-protector of the restructured Diocese of Viterbo, together with Sts. Rosa d’Cascia and Lucia Filippini, with the principle Patron of the Diocese being Our Lady of the Oak. At the same time there was entrusted to him the principle parish of the city of Bagnoregio, which until that time had been known as the “Parish of St. Nicholas”.
His numerous works, illumine the mind and warm the heart so much, that Pope Leo XII is said to have remarked: “from reading them we are rapt into ecstasy and conducted to God.”
Among the exegetical, mystical, ascetical, philosophical, theological and oratorical works, stand out the Itinerarium mentis in Deum, (the Journey of the Mind into God) )which together with his other writings, seems written rather with the heart, than with a pen.
A perfect follower of St. Francis, he assimilated his teachings and transmitted them with his life and teaching. Enamored with Sacred Scripture, he read it and rewrote it in its entirety several times to impart it to memory.
But the preferred book of our Saint was the Crucifix, before which he stopped in devout adoration and meditation for long hours. For him the Cross was the staff dividing the sea and opening the path to liberty, and thus he who loved not the Cross, remained a slave. As St. Francis, St. Bonaventure loved all creatures, in which he saw impressed the footsteps of God so much that in his Itinerarium he wrote: “open your eyes, bend your ear, stop up your mouth, and stir up your heart, to see, understand, praise, love and glorify God in all things, if you do not wish the whole universe to rise up against you.”
How beautiful would it be if men today succeeded in recognizing God in His creatures and in the historic events, putting themselves in harmony with the canticle of the starts, oceans, mountains, valleys, rivers, birds, flowers and fruits, which is unceasingly raised up to God.
St. Bonaventure asks men of every age to recognize the presence of God in his own earthly existence, because only from this vantage point can the temptations of hedonism, desacralization and secularism be conquered.
Without God the words “liberty and progress” remain but dreams.
St. Bonaventure, like St. Francis, understood the unique value of God, who loves His creatures and in loving them created them In their turn, creatures, recognizing the life they have received from Him, are put in motion towards an exchange of love with Him that shall never end. The more one knows God, the more one can love Him. For this St. Bonaventure studied God in His creatures, in the Scriptures, on the Cross, in the life of St. Francis and in his own; and he did this not for love of knowledge, but to put into practice into his own life, his motto: “I do not with to know Thee, except to love Thee:” and “I shall study Thee solely to love Thee!”
If St. Bonaventure is a Saint, it is because he completed achieved that goal.