July 15th, Feast of St. Bonaventure
On 3 May 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the legacy of St. Bonaventure at his customary Wednesday Audience (this was the first of three audiences which would be dedicated to the Seraphic Doctor). The Holy Father recalled the memory of the disciple of St. Francis with great tenderness: “Today I would like to talk about St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. I confide to you that in broaching this subject I feel a certain nostalgia, for I am thinking back to my research as a young scholar on this author who was particularly dear to me. My knowledge of him had quite an impact on my formation.” (See the whole text here)
Together with St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure has come to symbolize the Scholastic period of theology. Sadly, Scholasticism has come under no small amount of ridicule in recent days. Some Catholic theologians have gone so far as to claim that the Church has moved past the “old theology” of the medieval schools and has adopted a “new theology” for the present day. The proponents of this “new theology” have the intention of “razing the bastions” – that is, destroying (rather, dismissing) the traditional distinctions developed by the Scholastic doctors.
Certainly, any true Bonaventurian (as well as any true Thomist; indeed, any true Catholic) would abhor such a notion. Below, we reproduce selections from the Bull Triumphantis Hierusalem (from 1588) of Pope Sixtus V, in which St. Bonaventure is officially elevated as a Doctor of the Church. In his praise of the Seraphic Doctor, Pope Sixtux V also promotes the Scholastic theology which St. Bonaventure so well personified.
[The text below is entirely from Pope Sixtus V. We apologize for the rather difficult wording which was common to that age. We have tried to bring attention to certain points with our emphases.]
St. Bonaventure declared a Doctor of the Church
Truly among those most blessed choirs of Saints, whose memory is celebrated by all the faithful with a merited religious cult, there shines forth in distinguished splendor the order of holy Doctors eloquently. […] Truly already among these [doctors], whom the great Lord willed to fill with a spirit of intelligence, and whom each one has sent forth the utterance of his wisdom like a shower upon the Church of God, is St. Bonaventure numbered, as a Confessor, a Pontiff, and a exceptional Doctor in the same Catholic Church.
Inflamed in such great sweetness and fervor of divine love, his spirit was so rapt in God, that already as one introduced into the wine cellar of the Spouse and drunk with the best wine of charity, he seemed to gaze everywhere upon Jesus Christ Crucified and Suffering, and to dwell in His wounds. Truly to this exceptional holiness of life did this man of God join the great praise of outstanding doctrine, with God so disposing, so that for His glory and the utility of the Church, he would not only make very great progress in example, but in word and erudition.
A disciple and teacher of Scholastic theology
When, in the study of the Sacred Letters, the reading of the holy Fathers and in the very necessary discipline of Scholastic theology, having been employed most diligently by Alexander of Hales, the distinguished theologian of that era, for a brief space of time, with the goodness of surpassing genius, by assiduous labor, and what is chief of all, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who molded him on all sides as a golden vessel for a chosen honor, he made such progress and arrived at such perfection of doctrine, that decorated in solemn custom with the distinctions of a Master in Theology in the frequented lecture hall of Paris, he taught sacred theology publicly in the same place.
Truly did he attain such great praise in the gift of interpreting and in the science of all theology, that the most learned men admired his doctrine and erudition. And indeed there are extant many, moving and very bright writings of this holy man, which still are of great utility to the Church and are not mediocre, by the benefice of God, everyone of which both erudite men, of Our age and ages past, have read with much fruit and very entirely approved, so great was he in theology, that they declare him sufficient. For he left those monuments of his divine genius to those who would come after him, by which questions, very difficult and involuted with many obscurities, are explained methodically and in order, straightforwardly and lucidly, with a great bounty of the best arguments, the truth of the Catholic Faith is illustrated, pernicious errors and profane heresies are overthrown, and the pious minds of the faithful are admirably inflamed to the love of God and the desire of the celestial fatherland.
For there was in St. Bonaventure something preeminent and unique, so that he stood out not only in subtlety of arguing, in facility of teaching, in cleverness of defining, but he excelled in a certain divine strength of thoroughly stirring up souls. For in writing with the greatest erudition he so conjoined an equal ardor of piety, that he would move the reader by teaching and it would sink into the recesses of the soul, and then he would prick the heart with certain seraphic stings and it would pour forth with a wonderful sweetness of devotion.
The need for Scholastic theology in times of doctrinal confusion
The utility of the universal Church moves Us, which can be always more and more richly captivated by the erudition of such a Doctor, especially when the ambushes and the diabolical machinations of heretics, by which they oppose most vehemently in this sad age that sacred theology, which is called Scholastic, admonish Us greatly, that We should retain, explain, and propagate this same [Scholastic] theology, as something which nothing can be more fruitful for the Church of God.
For with the divine gift of Him, who alone gives the spirit of knowledge (scientia) and wisdom and understanding, and who furnishes His Church throughout the lifetimes of generations, as is needed, with new benifits, and who provides Her with new supports, there has been discovered by Our ancestors, most wise men, Scholastic theology, which by two Doctors glorious above all, the angelic Saint Thomas, and the seraphic Saint Bonaventure, the most brilliant professors in this capacity, and first among those, who have been registered among the number of the Saints, with excellent genius, assiduous study, great labors and vigils have refined and decorated it, and have passed it on, to those who would come after, optimally arranged and in many ways very clearly explained.
Truly in these last days, in which already there has come those dangerous times described by the Apostle, and the blasphemous, proud, seductive men who advance to what is worse still, erring and sending others into error, this [Scholastic theology] is necessary to sensibly confirm the dogmas of the Catholic Faith and confute heresies.
And the state of affairs is such, that the judges are the very enemies themselves of the truth, by whom Scholastic theology has become dreadful to the greatest degree, who scarcely understand, by that apt and inner connected coherence of things and causes, in that order and arrangement, as by the training of soldiers in fighting, with those lucid definitions and distinctions, by that firmness of arguments and the sharpest disputations, that light is distinguished from shadows, and the true from the false, and their mendacity, involuted with many deceptions and fallacies, like a vestment borne away, is brought to light and stripped bare.
In as much as therefore as these men [i.e. the heretics] begin to fight and overturn this most fortified citadel of Scholastic theology, so much more does it befit us to defend this unconquered defense of the Faith, and both to conserve and keep safe the inheritance of Our fathers, and to embellish, as much as we can, the keenest defenders of the truth with merited honors.