July 15, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Bonaventure

John F. FinkSt. Bonaventure, whose feast is on July 15, developed a close friendship with St. Thomas Aquinas while they were students at the University of Paris. They both received the degree of Doctor of Theology on Oct. 23, 1257. They also both died in 1274, Thomas while on his way to the Second Council of Lyons and Bonaventure while the council was in session.

Bonaventure is a Doctor of the Church because his theology both enlightened the mind and inflamed the heart. Scholars who compare St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas are fond of saying that in Thomas we behold sublime love of theology while in Bonaventure a sublime theology of love.

Bonaventure was a Franciscan who eventually became general of the order, brought it back to St. Francis’s ideals, and wrote a biography of St. Francis.

When Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, had to write a dissertation in order to teach in a German university, he chose to write about the theology of Bonaventure, specifically his concept of revelation. That concept, for both St. Bonaventure and Pope Benedict, includes both Scripture and Tradition.

In one of Bonaventure’s discourses, he said, “The source of sacred Scripture was not human research but divine revelation.” That revelation, he said, came from God the Father.

From God the Father and through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters into us, Bonaventure said. “Then, through the Holy Spirit, who allots and apportions his gifts to each person as he wishes, we receive the gift of faith.”

In this way, we come to know Christ, and “this knowledge becomes the main source of a firm understanding of the truth of all sacred Scripture,” he said.

He continued, “It is impossible, therefore, for anyone to achieve this understanding unless he first receives the gift of faith in Christ. This faith is the foundation of the whole Bible, a lamp and a key to its understanding.”

The outcome or the fruit of reading Scripture, Bonaventure said, “is the fullness of eternal happiness. For these are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written not only that we might believe but also that we might have everlasting life.”

The purpose of the Scriptures, he said, “which come to us from God, is to lead us to this fullness according to the truths contained in the sayings of the Apostles.” In order to achieve this, he said, we must study Scripture carefully.

If we are to attain the ultimate goal of eternal happiness, Bonaventure said, “we must come with a pure faith to the Father of Light and acknowledge him in our hearts. We must ask him to give us, through his Son and in the Holy Spirit, a true knowledge of Jesus Christ, and along with that knowledge a love of him.”

He concluded, “Through that knowledge we can come at last to know perfectly and love completely the most blessed Trinity, whom the saints desire and love and in whom all that is good and true finds its meaning and fulfillment.” †

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