Saint of the Day – 15 July – St Bonaventure – Seraphic Doctor – Friar, Bishop, Theologian, Philosopher, Writer, Mystic, Preacher, Teacher – (1221 at Bagnoregio, Tuscany, Italy – 15 July 1274 at Lyon, France of natural causes). He was Canonised on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV. He was born Giovanni di Fidanza and was the seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonised on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church in the year 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. He is known as the “Seraphic Doctor” (Latin: Doctor Seraphicus).
St Bonaventure was born at Bagnorea in Umbria, not far from Viterbo, then part of the Papal States. Almost nothing is known of his childhood, other than the names of his parents, Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria Ritella.
He entered the Franciscan Order in 1243 and studied at the University of Paris, possibly under Alexander of Hales and certainly under Alexander’s successor, John of Rochelle. In 1253 he held the Franciscan chair at Paris. A dispute between seculars and mendicants delayed his reception as Master until 1257, where his degree was taken in company with Thomas Aquinas. Three years earlier his fame had earned him the position of lecturer on The Four Books of Sentences—a book of theology written by Peter Lombard in the twelfth century—and in 1255 he received the degree of master, the medieval equivalent of doctor.
After having successfully defended his order against the reproaches of the anti-mendicant party, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order. On 24 November 1265, he was selected for the post of Archbishop of York; however, he was never consecrated and resigned the appointment in October 1266.
Bonaventure was instrumental in procuring the election of Pope Gregory X, who rewarded him with the title of Cardinal Bishop of Albano and insisted on his presence at the great Second Council of Lyon in 1274. There, after his significant contributions led to a union of the Greek and Latin churches, Bonaventure died suddenly and in suspicious circumstances. The 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia has citations that suggest he was poisoned but no mention is made of this in the 2003 second edition of the New Catholic Encyclopedia. The only extant relic of the saint is the arm and hand with which he wrote his Commentary on the Sentences, which is now conserved at Bagnoregio, in the parish church of St. Nicholas.
He steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He thought of Christ as the “one true master” who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding and is perfected by mystical union with God.
Bonaventure’s feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar immediately upon his canonisation in 1482. In 1969 it was classified as an obligatory memorial and assigned to the date of his death, 15 July.