Home  »  Volume VII: July  »  St. Bonaventure, Cardinal, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

July 14

St. Bonaventure, Cardinal, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church

        From his works, Wadding’s Annals of the Friar Minors, the discourse of Octavian de Marinis for his canonization, and from his Life, written by Peter Galesini, by order of Sixtus V. See also Boule, Raynaud, de Colonia, and the Bollandists.

A.D. 1274.

ST. BONAVENTURE, the great light and ornament of the holy Order of St. Francis, for his extraordinary devotion, ardent charity, and eminent skill in sacred learning, is surnamed the Seraphic Doctor. He was born at Bagnarea in Tuscany, in the year 1221, of pious parents, named John of Fidenza and Mary Ritelli. He was christened by the name of John, but afterwards received that of Bonaventure, on the following occasion. In the fourth year of his age he fell so dangerously sick that his life was despaired of by the physicians. The mother in excessive grief had recourse to the Almighty physician by earnest prayer, and going into Umbria cast herself at the feet of St. Francis of Assisium, with many tears begging his intercession with God for the life of her son. Would Christians address themselves to God with an humble confidence in all their corporal necessities, their afflictions would never fail to be turned into divine blessings. But their neglect of this duty deserves to be chastised by spiritual misfortunes, and often also by temporal disappointments without comfort or remedy. St. Francis was moved to compassion by the tears of the mother, and at his prayer the child recovered so perfect a state of health that he was never known to be sick from that time till the illness of which he died. 1 The glorious saint, at whose petition God granted this favour, saw himself near the end of his mortal course, and foretelling the graces which the divine goodness prepared for this child, cried out in prophetic rapture; O buona ventura, that is, in Italian, Good luck. Whence the name of Bonaventura was given our saint. The devout mother in gratitude consecrated her son to God by a vow, and was careful to inspire into him from the cradle the most ardent sentiments of piety, and to inure him betimes to assiduous practices of self-denial, humility, obedience, and devotion. Bonaventure from his infancy entered upon a religious course, and appeared inflamed with the love of God as soon as he was capable of knowing him. His progress in his studies surprised his masters, but that which he made in the science of the saints, and in the practice of every virtue was far more extraordinary. It was his highest pleasure and joy to hear by how many titles he belonged to God, and he made it his most earnest study and endeavour to devote his heart with his whole strength to the divine service.
  In 1243, being twenty-two years of age, he entered into the Order of St. Francis, and received the habit in the province of Rome from the hands of Haymo, an Englishman, at that time general of the Order. 2 St. Bonaventure mentions in his prologue to the life St. Francis, that he entered this state, and made his vows with extraordinary sentiments of gratitude for the preservation of his life through the intercession of St. Francis, resolving with the greatest ardour to serve God with his whole heart. Shortly after, he was sent to Paris to complete his studies under the celebrated Alexander of Hales, surnamed the Irrefragable Doctor. 3 After his death in 1245, St. Bonaventure continued his course under his successor, John of Rochelle. His penetrating genius was poised by the most exquisite judgment, by which, while he easily dived to the bottom of every subtle inquiry, he cut off whatever was superfluous, dwelling only on that knowledge which is useful and solid, or at least was then necessary to unravel the false principles and artful sophistry of the adversaries of truth. Thus he became a masterly proficient in the scholastic philosophy, and in the most sublime parts of theology. Whilst he referred all his studies to the divine honour and his own sanctification he was most careful not to lose the end in the means, and suffer his application to degenerate into a dissipation of mind and a vicious idle curiosity. This opens an avenue into the heart for self-conceit, jealousy, envy, and a total extinction of the spirit of prayer, with a numberless train of other spiritual evils, which lay waste the affections of the soul, and banish thence the precious fruits of the Holy Ghost. To shun those rocks often fatal to piety, he seemed never to turn his attention from God, and by the earnest invocation of the divine light in the beginning of every action, and holy aspirations with which he accompanied all his studies, he may be said to have made them a continued prayer. When he turned his eyes to his book, they were swimming with tears of love and devotion excited by his assiduous meditation on the wounds of Christ, and his heart still continued to inflame its affections from that, its beloved object, which he seemed to read in every line. St. Thomas Aquinas coming one day to pay a visit to our saint, asked him in what books he had learned his sacred science. St. Bonaventure, pointing to his crucifix before him, said: “This is the source of all my knowledge. I study only Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  2
  Not content to make his studies in some sort a continuation of prayer, he devoted entirely to that heavenly exercise the greater part of his time, knowing this to be the key of divine graces and of spiritual life. For only the Spirit of God, as St. Paul teaches, can lead us into the secrets and designs of God, and engrave his holy maxims on our hearts. He alone can make himself known, as no other light can discover the sun to us but its own; and it is in prayer that God communicates himself to us. He here enlightens the souls of his servants, and is their interior instructor. But, as St. Austin says, honey cannot be poured into a vessel that is full of wormwood: neither can this excellent grace or gift of prayer find place in a soul which is not first prepared to receive the sensible presence of, the Holy Ghost by holy compunction, and by the practice of penance, humility, and self-denial. These virtues fitted the soul of our saint to be admitted to the chaste embraces of the heavenly bridegroom. Such was the innocence and purity in which he lived, and so perfect a mastery he had obtained over his passions, that Alexander of Hales used to say of him, that he seemed not to have sinned in Adam. An eminent spirit of penance was the principal guardian of this grace of innocence. The austerities of St. Bonaventure were excessive, yet amidst his penitential tears a remarkable cheerfulness appeared always in his countenance, which resulted from the inward peace of his soul. Himself lays down this maxim: 4 “A spiritual joy is the greatest sign of the divine grace dwelling in a soul.”  3
  To his mortifications he added the practice of the greatest humiliations. In attending the sick he was particularly ambitious to serve them in the lowest and most humbling offices. In this charitable duty he seemed prodigal in his own life and health, and chose always to be about those whose distempers were most loathsome or contagious and dangerous. He had no eyes to see anything in himself but faults and imperfections, and wonderful was the care with which he endeavoured to conceal from others his extraordinary practices of virtue. When their rays broke through the veil of his humility, and shone forth to others, the saint in order to cast a shade over them before men, or at least to strengthen his own heart against the danger, and to indulge his love of abjection, embraced the greatest humiliations. He always regarded himself as the most ungrateful and the basest of sinners, unworthy to walk upon the earth, or to breathe the air; and these humble sentiments were accompanied with the deepest compunction, and abundant tears. This humility sometimes withheld him from the holy table notwithstanding the burning desires of his soul to be united daily afresh to the object of his love, and to approach the fountain of grace. But God was pleased by a miracle to overcome his fears, and to recompense his humility. “Several days had passed,” say the acts of his canonization, “nor durst he yet presume to present himself at the heavenly banquet. But whilst he was hearing mass, and meditating on the passion of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, to crown his humility and love, put into his mouth, by the ministry of an angel, part of the consecrated host, taken from the hand of the priest.” By this precious favour his soul was drowned in a torrent of pure delights; and from that time he was encouraged to approach with an humble confidence to the bread of angels which gives life and strength.  4
  From this time his communions were accompanied with overflowing sweetness and consolations, and with raptures of divine joy and love. If in our communions we seem to receive, instead of torrents, scarce a small portion of heavenly grace, the reason is because our hearts are too narrow. The vessel which we bring is too small. If we dilated our souls by humility, burning desires, and love, we should receive, like the saints, an abundant supply of these living waters. St. Bonaventure prepared himself to receive the holy order of priesthood by long fasts, humiliations, and fervent prayer, that he might obtain in it an abundant measure of graces proportioned to so high a function. He considered that sacred dignity with fear and trembling, and the higher and more incomprehensible it appeared to him, so much the more did he humble himself when he saw himself invested with it. As often as he approached the altar, the profound annihilation of himself, and the tender love with which he offered, beheld in his hands, and received into his breast, the Lamb without spot, appeared by his tears, and his whole exterior. A devout prayer which he composed for his own use after mass, beginning with these words, Transfige dulcissime domine, is recommended by the Church to all priests on that most solemn occasion.  5
  Bonaventure looked upon himself as called by the obligations of his priestly character to labour for the salvation of his neighbour, and to this he devoted himself with extraordinary zeal. He announced the word of God to the people with an energy and unction which kindled a flame in the hearts of those who heard him; everything was inflamed that came from his mouth. For an assistance to himself in this function he compiled his treatise called Pharetra, consisting of animated sentiments gathered from the writings of the fathers. In the mean time, he was employed in teaching privately in his own convent, till he succeeded his late master, John of Rochelle, in a public chair of the university. The age required by the statutes for this professorship was thirty-five, whereas the saint was only thirty-three years old; but his abilities amply supplied that defect, and on this literary theatre he soon displayed them to the admiration of the whole Church. He continued always to study at the foot of the crucifix. The disagreement between the university and the regulars being terminated by Pope Alexander IV. in 1256, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure w�re invited to take the doctor’s cap together. As others contend for precedence, the two saints had a vehement contest of humility, each endeavouring to yield the first place to the other. They knew no pretexts of the interest of their Orders, nor were they sensible of any prerogatives but those of humility. St. Bonaventure prayed and entreated him with so much earnestness, that at length St. Thomas acquiesced to receive the degree first, and our saint triumphed over both his friend and himself.  6
  The holy king St. Lewis honoured St. Bonaventure with his particular esteem, invited him often to his own table, and consulted him in his most intricate concerns, placing an entire confidence in his advice. He engaged him to compile an office of the passion of Christ for his use. St. Bonaventure drew up a rule for St. Isabella, the king’s sister, and for her nunnery of mitigated Clares at Long-Champs. His book On the Government of the Soul, his Meditations for every day in the week, and most of his other lesser tracts were written to satisfy the requests of several devout persons of the court. The unction which every word breathes in the writings of this holy doctor pierces the heart, and his concise expression is an abyss, or rather a treasure of most profound sentiments of humility, compunction, love, and devotion, the riches of which a pious heart finds everywhere boundless. Especially his tender sentiments of the love of God, and on the sacred passion of Christ, exceedingly recommend to all devout persons his meditations on this latter subject, and express the burning affections with which his pure soul glowed towards that stupendous mystery of infinite love, goodness, and mercy, that perfect model of all virtue and sanctity, and source of all our good.  7
  The celebrated Gerson, the most learned and devout chancellor of Paris, writes of the works of St. Bonaventure: 5 “Among all the Catholic doctors, Eustachius (for so we may translate his name of Bonaventure) seems to me the most proper for conveying light to the understanding, and at the same time warming the heart. In particular his Brevioloquium, and Itinerarium are written with so much force, art, and conciseness, that nothing can be beyond them.” In another book he says; 6 “St. Bonaventure’s works seem to me the most proper for the instruction of the faithful. They are solid, safe, pious, and devout; and he keeps as far as he can from niceties; not meddling with logical or physical questions which are foreign to the matter in hand. Nor is there any doctrine more sublime, more divine, or more conducive to piety.” Trithemius recommends this doctor’s writings in the following words: “His expressions are full of fire, they no less warm with divine love the hearts of those who read them, than they fill their understanding with the most holy light. His works surpass those of all the doctors of his time, if we consider the spirit of divine love, and of Christian devotion that speaks in him. He is profound in few words, penetrating without curiosity, eloquent without vanity; his discourse is inflamed without being bloated.—Whoever would be both learned and devout, let him read the works of St. Bonaventure.” 7  8
  This is chiefly to be understood of his spiritual tracts. In these the author discovers every where a most profound spirit of humility and holy poverty, with a heart perfectly disengaged from all earthly things, and full of the most ardent love of God, and the most tender devotion to the sacred passion of our Divine Redeemer. The eternal joys of heaven were the frequent entertainment of his pious soul, and he seems never to have interrupted his ardent sighs after them. He endeavoured by his writings to excite in all others the same fervent desires of our heavenly country. He writes 8 that “God himself, all the glorious spirits, and the whole family of the eternal King wait for us, and desire that we should be associated to them; and shall not we pant above all things to be admitted into their happy company? He would appear amongst them with great confusion, who had not in this valley of tears continually raised his soul above all things visible to become already, in ardent desire, an inhabitant of those blessed regions.” He clearly shows that he was not able to express the transports of holy joy that overflowed his soul, as often as he contemplated its future union with God in immortal bliss and uninterrupted love and praise. He revolved in mind the raptures of gratitude and joy in which the blessed spirits behold themselves in the state of security for ever, whilst they see so many souls on earth every day overthrown by their spiritual enemies, and so many others lost in hell. He was strongly affected with the thought of the glorious company of millions of angels and saints, all most holy, loving, and glorious, adorned each with their distinguishing trophies and graces; in which every one will possess in others every gift which he hath not, and all those gifts which himself hath, doubled so many times as he hath partners in bliss. For loving every companion as himself he will rejoice for the felicity of each no less than for his own. Whereupon, with St. Anselm, he often asked his own heart, here so poor, so weak, and overwhelmed with miseries, if then it would be able, without being strengthened and raised above itself by an extraordinary grace, to contain its joy for its own felicity; how it could be able to contain so many and such excess of joys? But this saint’s sublime sentiments of piety and devotion are best learned from his own works. His love of an interior life did not hinder his application to promote the divine honour in others by various exterior employments; but these he animated and sanctified by a constant spirit of recollection and prayer.  9
  Whilst he continued to teach at Paris he was chosen general of his Order in a chapter held in the convent called Ara-Cœli, at Rome, in 1256. The saint was only thirty-five years old. Nevertheless Pope Alexander IV. confirmed the election. St. Bonaventure was thunderstruck at this news, and prostrating himself on the ground, he with many tears implored the divine light and direction. After which he set out immediately for Rome. The Franciscan Order was at that time divided by intestine dissensions, some of the friars being for an inflexible severity, others demanding certain mitigations of the letter of the rule. The young general no sooner appeared among them, but by the force of his exhortations which he tempered with mildness and charity, he restored a perfect calm; and all the brethren marched under this new Josue with one heart, in the same spirit, and in the same path. William of Saint-Amour, a member of the university of Paris, having published a bitter invective against the Mendicant Orders, entitled, “On the Dangers of the Latter Times,” St. Thomas answered it. St. Bonaventure also confuted it by a book, which he called, “On the Poverty of the Lord Jesus,” in which his mildness in handling the controversy against a most virulent adversary reflected a double advantage on his victory.  10
  Our saint in his return to the schools at Paris, visited several of his convents in the way, in which he showed everywhere that he was only become superior to be the most humble, the most charitable, and the most compassionate of all his brethren, and the servant of his whole Order. Notwithstanding his great employments, he never omitted his usual exercises of devotion, but laid out his time and regulated his functions with such wonderful prudence as to find leisure for every thing. He composed several works at Paris, but often retired to Mante for greater solitude. A stone, which he used for his pillow, is shown to this day in that convent. In 1260 the saint held a general chapter at Narbonne, and in concert with the definitors, gave a new form to the old Constitutions, added certain new rules, and reduced them all into twelve chapters. At the request of the friars assembled in this chapter, he undertook to write the life of St. Francis; but went first from Narbonne to Mount Alverno, and there assisted at the dedication of a great church. In a little oratory, built upon the very place where St. Francis had received the miraculous marks of the wounds of our Saviour, St. Bonaventure continued a long while abstracted, and in an ecstacy, in holy meditation. He there wrote his incomparable treatise, called Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, or the Way of the Soul to God, showing that all her comfort and riches are to be found in God alone, and tracing out the sure way that leads to him. Whilst he was in Italy he gathered the most authentic memoirs for the life of St. Francis, which he compiled with a spirit which shows him to have been filled with all the heroic virtues of his founder, whose life he wrote. St. Thomas Aquinas coming one day to pay him a visit whilst he was employed in this work, saw him through the door of his cell, raised in contemplation above the ground, and going away said: “Let us leave a saint to write for a saint.” In 1230 St. Bonaventure assisted at the translation of the relics of St. Antony, which was performed at Padua. From that city he went to hold a general chapter at Pisa, in which, by words and example, he exhorted his brethren to a great love of holy solitude. He gave on that and every other occasion proofs of his tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. When he was first made general he put his Order under her special patronage. He regulated many pious exercises of devotion to her, composed his Mirror of the Virgin, setting forth her graces, virtues, and prerogatives, with many prayers, which are tender and respectful effusions of the heart, to implore her intercession. He wrote a pathetic paraphrase in verse of the anthem Salve Regina. 9 He published the praises of the Mother out of devotion to the Son, and to extend His glory. To propagate his honour and saving faith he sent, by the pope’s authority, preachers into many barbarous nations, and lamented his situation that he could not go himself, and expose his life among the infidels.  11
  The venerable brother Giles, the third companion of St. Francis at Assisio, 10 said one day to St. Bonaventure: “Father, God has shown us great mercy and bestowed on us many graces. But we who are poor and ignorant idiots, what can we do to correspond to his immense goodness, and to be saved?” St. Bonaventure answered: “If God were to bestow on any one no other talents besides the grace of loving him, this alone suffices, and is every spiritual treasure.” B. Giles said: “Can a dull idiot love God as perfectly as a great scholar.” St. Bonaventure replied: “A poor old woman may love him more than the most learned master and doctor in theology.” At this brother Giles in a sudden fervour and jubilation of spirit went into a garden, and standing at a gate towards the city (of Rome) he looked that way, and cried out with a loud voice,—“Come, the poorest, most simple, and most illiterate old woman, love the Lord our God, and you may attain to a higher degree of eminence and happiness than brother Bonaventure with all his learning.” After this he fell into an ecstacy, in which he continued in sweet contemplation without motion for the space of three hours. 11  12
  Pope Clement IV, in 1265, nominated St. Bonaventure archbishop of York, being assured how agreeable he would be to that church, to the king of England, and his whole kingdom. But St. Bonaventure having first by earnest prayer begged that God would preserve him from so great a danger, went and cast himself at the feet of his holiness, and by tears and entreaties extorted from him a discharge of that burden. He held a general chapter at Paris in 1266: and in the next, which he assembled at Assisium, he ordered the triple salutation of the Blessed Virgin, called the Angelas Domini, to be recited every evening at six o’clock, to honour the incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation, which ought to be the object of our perpetual praises and thanksgiving.  13
  In 1272, Theobald, the holy archdeacon of Liege, a native of Placentia, then absent in the Holy Land, was chosen pope, and took the name of Gregory X. a person of such eminent sanctity that a process has been set on foot for his canonization; and Benedict XIV. in 1745, ordered his name to be inserted in the Roman Martyrology. He was a man of an extraordinary reputation throughout all his life, for prudence in the conduct of his affairs; for courage, greatness of mind, and contempt of money; for devotion, clemency, and charity to the poor. He died on the 10th of January, 1276, on his return from the council at Abruzzo in Tuscany, of which city he is the titular patron. Miracles have rendered his name illustrious. Bonaventure fearing this holy pope would compel him to accept of some ecclesiastical dignity, left Italy and went to Paris, where he wrote his Hexaëmeron or pious exposition of the creation, or work of six days. He had scarcely finished it, when at Whitsuntide he received from the pope a brief by which he was nominated cardinal, and bishop of Albano, one of the six suffragans of Rome. His holiness added a precept to him to accept that double charge without alleging any pretext against it, and immediately to repair to Rome. He sent two nuncios to meet him on the road with the hat and other ensigns of his dignities. They found the saint reposing on his journey in a convent of his Order at Migel, four leagues from Florence, and employed in washing the dishes. He desired them to hang the cardinal’s hat on the bough of a tree, because he could not decently take it in his hands, and left them to walk in the garden till he had finished his work. Then taking up the hat he went to the nuncios, and paid them the respect due to their character. Gregory X. came from Orvietto to Florence, and there meeting Bonaventure ordained him bishop with his own hands; then ordered him to prepare himself to speak in the general council which he had called to meet at Lyons for the reunion of the Greeks.  14
  The emperor Michael Palæologus had made proposals to pope Clement IV. for a union. Pope Gregory X. zealously pursued this affair. Joseph, patriarch of Constantinople, made a violent opposition, but was obliged by the emperor to retire into a monastery. To bring this affair to a happy conclusion, Gregory X. invited the Greeks to come to the general council which he assembled at Lyons for this very purpose, and also to concert measures for pushing on a war for the recovery of the Holy Land, which the pope promoted with all his might. This was the fourteenth general council, and the second of Lyons. At it were present five hundred bishops, seventy abbots, James, king of Arragon, and the ambassadors of the emperor Michael and of other Christian princes. St. Thomas of Aquin died on the road to this synod. St. Bonaventure accompanied the pope through Milan to it, and arrived at Lyons in November, though the council was only opened on the 7th of May, 1274. 12 Bonaventure sat on the pope’s right hand, and first harangued the assembly. Between the second and third sessions he held his last general chapter of his Order, in which he abdicated the office of general. He found leisure to preach, and he established at Lyons a pious confraternity called Del Gonfalone, which he had formerly instituted at Rome. In it pious persons associated themselves in certain daily devotions, under the patronage of the mother of God. The deputies of the Greeks being arrived at Lyons, St. Bonaventure was ordered by the pope to confer with them. They were charmed with his sweetness, and convinced by his reasoning, and they acquiesced in every point. In thanksgiving the pope sung mass on the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, and the gospel was sung first in Latin, then in Greek. After this St. Bonaventure preached on the unity of faith. Then the creed was sung first in Latin, then in Greek, and as a seal of the reunion of the two churches those words were thrice repeated: “Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son.” In memory of this solemn function two crosses are placed on the high altar of the metropolitan church of St. John at Lyons. 13 St. Bonaventure was taken ill after this session; nevertheless he assisted at the fourth, in which the Logothete or high chancellor of Constantinople abjured the schism. But the next day the saint’s strength began entirely to fail him, insomuch that he was no longer able to attend business. From that time he gave himself up entirely to his private devotions, and the constant amiable serenity of his countenance demonstrated the holy peace and joy of his soul in those most awful moments. The pope himself gave him extreme unction, as is attested by an inscription which hath been preserved in the same chamber in which he died, to our times. The saint kept his eyes constantly fixed on a crucifix, and expired in great tranquillity on the 14th of July, in the year 1274, of his age the fifty-third. The pope and the whole council solemnized his obsequies on the same day in the church of the Franciscans at Lyons. Peter of Tarrentaise, a Dominican friar, cardinal and bishop of Ostia, afterwards pope under the name of Innocent V., preached his funeral panegyric, in which he said,—“No one ever beheld him who did not conceive a great esteem and affection for him; and even strangers, by hearing him speak, were desirous to follow his counsel and advice; for he was gentle, affable, humble, pleasing to all, compassionate, prudent, chaste, and adorned with all virtues.”  15
  The body of St. Bonaventure was translated into the new church of the Franciscans on the 14th of March, 1434. King Charles VIII. founded their new convent at Lyons at the foot of the castle of Pierre Incise in 1494, with a rich chapel in which the saint’s remains were enshrined, except a part of the lower jaw which that king caused to be conveyed to Fontainbleau, and it is now in the church of the Cordeliers in Paris; the bones of an arm are kept at Bagnarea, and a little bone at Venice. In 1562 the Calvinists plundered his shrine, burned his relics in the market-place, and scattered the ashes in the river Saone, as is related by the learned Jesuit Possevinus, who was then at Lyons. 14 They stabbed to death the guardian with a Catholic captain whom they had made prisoner; they burned the archives of the library and set fire to the convent. The saint’s head and some other relics escaped the fury of the rebels by having been concealed. St. Bonaventure was canonized by Sixtus IV. in 1482. Sixtus V. enrolled his name among the doctors of the Church, in the same manner as Pius V. had done that of St. Thomas Aquinas. The acts of his canonization record several approved miracles wrought by his intercession. The city of Lyons, in 1628, being grievously afflicted with the plague, the raging distemper began to cease from the time in which certain relics of our saint were devoutly carried in procession. That and other cities have experienced the divine mercy in like manner, in several other public calamities, by invoking St. Bonaventure’s intercession. Charles of Orleans, father of Lewis XII. king of France, was taken prisoner by the English in the battle of Agincourt, in 1425. During his captivity he fell ill of a fever, under which no human remedies gave him any relief. The more desperate his situation appeared, with the more earnestness he set himself to implore the patronage of St. Bonaventure, and a perfect recovery was the recompense of his devotion. In gratitude, as soon as he was set at liberty, he went to Lyons to offer up his thanksgivings and prayers at the tomb of the saint, on which he bestowed magnificent presents. 15  16
  St. Bonaventure, this great master of a spiritual life, places not the perfection of Christian virtue so much in the more heroic exercises of a religious state as in the performing well our ordinary actions. “The best perfection of a religious man,” says he, “is to do common things in a perfect manner. 16 A constant fidelity in small things is a great and heroic virtue.” It is a continual crucifixion of self-love and all the passions; a complete sacrifice of all our actions, moments, and affections, and the entire reign of God’s grace throughout our whole lives. Quintilian lays it down for the great rule in forming an orator, that he accustom himself never to write or speak carelessly even on the most trifling subject or in common conversation, but that he study always to express himself in the most proper manner possible; with far greater diligence ought every one strive to perform all even the meanest of his actions in the most perfect manner, and to improve every grace, every moment of time to advance in virtue.  17
Note 1. Baillet in S. Bonav. Wadding, &c. [back]
Note 2. Haymo, who had taught divinity at Paris, and been sent by Gregory IX. nuncio to Constantinople, was employed by the same pope in revising the Roman breviary and its rubrics. He is not to be confounded with Haymo, the disciple of Rabanus Maurus, afterwards bishop of Halberstadt, in the ninth age, whose Homilies, Comments on the Scriptures, and Abridgment of Ecclesiastical History are extant. His works are chiefly Centos, compiled of scraps of fathers and other authors patched and joined together; a manner of writing used by many from the seventh to the twelfth age, but calculated to propagate stupidity and dulness, and to contract, not to enlarge or improve the genius, which is opened by invention, elegance, and imitation; but fettered by mechanical toils, as centos, acrostics, &c. [back]
Note 3. Alexander of Hales, a native of Hales in Gloucestershire, after having gone through the course of his studies in England, went to Paris, and there followed divinity and the canon law, and gained in them an extraordinary reputation. He entered into the Order of Friars Minors, and died at Paris in 1245. His works discover a most subtle penetrating genius; of which the principal is a Summ or Commentary upon the four Books of the Master of the Sentences, written by order of Innocent IV. and a Vumm of Virtues. [back]
Note 4. Specul. Discipl. p. 1, c. 3. [back]
Note 5. Gerson, Tr. De libris quos religiosi legere debent. [back]
Note 6. Gerson, l. de Examine Doctrinar. [back]
Note 7. See Du Pin, Biblioth. Cent. 13, p. 249, t. 14. [back]
Note 8. Soliloqu. Exercit. 4, c. 1, 2. [back]
Note 9. The psalter of the Blessed Virgin is falsely ascribed to St. Bonaventure, and unworthy to hear his name. (See Fabricius in Biblioth. med. ætat. Bellarmin and Labbe de Script. Eccl. Nat. Alexander, Hist. Eccl. Sæc. 13.) The Vatican edition of the works of St. Bonaventure, was begun by an order of Sixtus V. and completed in 1588. It consists of eight volumes in folio. The two first contain his commentaries on the holy scriptures: the third his sermons and panegyrics: the fourth and fifth his comments on the Master of the Sentences: the Sixth, seventh, and eighth, his lesser treatises, of which some are doctrinal, others regard the duties of a religious state, others general subjects of piety, especially the mysteries of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. Most of these have run through several separate editions. All his works have been reprinted at Mentz and Lyons; and in 4to. in fourteen volumes at Venice, in 1751. [back]
Note 10. B. Giles was a native of Assisio, and became the third companion of St. Francis in 1209. He attended him in the Marche of Ancona, and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, whither he was sent by St. Francis to preach to the Saracens; but upon their threats of raising a persecution he was sent back to Italy by the Christians of that country. He afterwards lived some time at Rome, some time at Reati, and some time at Fabriano; but the chief part of the remainder of his life he spent at Perugia, where he died in the night between the 22nd and 23rd of April, in the year 1272, not in 1262, as Papebroke proves against the erroneous computation of certain authors, (p. 220, t. 3, Apr.) Wadding and others relate many revelations, prophecies, and miracles of this eminent servant of God; his tomb has been had in public veneration at Perugia from the time of his death, and he was for some time solemnly honoured as a saint in the church of his order in that city as Papebroke shows; who regrets that this devotion has been for some time much abated, probably because not judged sufficiently authorized by the holy see. The public veneration at his tomb and the adjoining altar continues, and the mass is sung, on account of his ancient festival, with great solemnity, but of St. George, without any solemn commemoration of this servant of God. Nevertheless, from proofs of former solemn veneration, Papebroke honours him with the title of Blessed.
  None among the first disciples of St. Francis seems to have been more perfectly replenished with his spirit of perfect charity, humility, meekness, and simplicity, as appears from the golden maxims and lessons of piety, which he gave to others. Of these Papebroke has given us a large and excellent collection from manuscripts; some of which were before printed by Wadding and others. A few will suffice to show us his spirit.
  B. Giles always lived by the labour of his hands. When the cardinal bishop of Tusculum desired him always to receive his bread, as a poor man an alms, from his table; B. Giles excused himself, using the words of the psalmist: Blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee, because thou shalt eat by the labour of thy hands. Ps. cxxvii. “So brother Francis taught his brethren to be faithful and diligent in labouring, and to take for their wages not money, but necessary subsistence.” (Papebroke, p. 224.) If any one discoursed with him on the glory of God, the sweetness of his love, or Paradise, he would be ravished in spirit, and remain so a great part of the day unmoved. Shepherds and children who had learned this from others, sometimes for diversion or out of curiosity, cried out after him, Paradise, Paradise; upon hearing which, he through joy fell into an ecstacy. His religious brethren in conversing with him took care never to name the word Paradise or Heaven for fear of losing his company by his being ravished out of himself, (ib. p. 226, and Wadding.)
  An extraordinary spiritual joy and cheerfulness appeared always painted on his countenance; and if any one spoke to him of God, he answered in great interior jubilation of soul. Once returning to his brethren out of close retirement he praised God with wonderful joy and fervour, and sung—“Neither tongue can utter, nor words express, nor mortal hearts conceive how great the good is which God hath prepared for those who desire to love him.”
  Pope Gregory IX. who kept his court at Perugia from 1234 to autumn in 1236, sent one day for the holy man, who, in answer to his holiness’s first question about his state of life, said—“I cheerfully take upon me the yoke of the commandments of the Lord.” The pope replied—“Your answer is just; but your yoke is sweet and your burthen light.” At these words B. Giles withdrew a little from him, and, being ravished in spirit, remained speechless and without motion till very late in the night, to the great astonishment of his holiness, who spoke of it to his cardinals and others with great surprise.
  This pope on a certain occasion pressed the holy man to say something to him on his own duty; Giles after having long endeavoured to excuse himself said: “You have two eyes, both a right and a left one, always open; with the right eye you must contemplate the things which are above you: and with the left eye you must administer and dispense things which are below.”
  On humility, the following maxims are recorded among his sayings: “No man can attain to the knowledge of God but by humility. The way to mount high is to descend; for all dangers and all great falls which ever happened in the world, were caused by pride, as is evident in the angel in heaven, in Adam in Paradise, in the Pharisee mentioned in the gospel: and all spiritual advantages arose from humility, as we see in the Blessed Virgin, the good thief, &c. Would to God some great weight laid upon us obliged us always to hold down our heads.” When a certain brother asked him: “How can we fly this cursed pride?” he answered: “If we consider the benefits of God, we must humble ourselves, and bow down our heads; and if we consider our sins we must likewise humble ourselves, and bow down our heads. Woe to him who seeks honour from his own confusion and sin. The degrees of humility in a man are, that he know that whatever is of his own growth is opposite to his good. A branch of this humility is, that he give to others what is theirs, and never appropriate to himself what belongs to another; that is, that he ascribe to God all his good and all advantages which he enjoys; and acknowledge that all his evil is of his own growth. Blessed is he who accounts himself as mean and base before men as he is before God. Blessed is he who walks faithfully in obedience to another. He who desires to enjoy inward peace, must look upon every man as his superior and as better and greater before God. Blessed is he who knows how to keep and conceal the favours of God. Humility knows not how to speak, and patience dares not speak, for fear of losing the crown of suffering by complaints, in a firm conviction that a person is always treated above his deserts. Humility dispels all evil, is an enemy to all sin, and makes a man nothing in his own eyes. By humility a man finds grace before God, and peace with men. God bestows the treasures of his grace on the humble, not on the proud. A man ought always to fear from pride, lest it cast him down headlong. Always fear and watch over yourself. A man who deserves death, and who is in prison, how comes it that he does not always tremble? A man is of himself poverty and indigence; rich only by the divine gifts; these then he must love, and despise himself. What is greater than for a man to be sensible what he owes to God, and to cover himself with confusion, self-reproach, and self-reprehension for his own evils? I wish we could have studied this lesson from the beginning of the world to the end. How much do we stand indebted to him who desires to deliver us from all evil, and to confer upon us all good?” Against vain-glory he used to say: “If a person was sunk in extreme poverty, covered all over with wounds, half clad in tattered rags, and without shoes; and men should come to him, and saluting him with honour say: ‘All admire you, my lord; you are wonderfully rich, handsome, and beautiful; and your clothes are splendid and handsome;’ must not he have lost his senses, who should be pleased with such a compliment, or think himself such, knowing that he is the very reverse?”
  The servant of God was remarkable for his meekness and charity, and he used to say, “We can appropriate to ourselves our neighbour’s good, and make it also our own; for the more a person rejoices at his neighbour’s good, the more does he share in it. If, therefore, you desire to share in the advantages of all others, rejoice more for them all; and grieve for every one’s misfortunes. This is the path of salvation, to rejoice in every advantage, and to grieve for every misfortune of your neighbour; to see and acknowledge your own evils and miseries, and to believe only good of others; to honour others, and to despise yourself. We pray, fast, and labour; yet lose all this if we do not bear injuries with charity and patience. If we take so much pains to attain to virtue, why do not we learn to do what is so easy? you must bear the burdens of all, because you have no just reason of complaint against any one, seeing you deserve to be chastised and treated ill by all creatures. You desire to escape reproaches and condemnation in the next world, yet would be honoured in this. You refuse to labour or bear anything here, yet desire to enjoy rest hereafter. Strive more earnestly to vanquish your passions, and bear tribulations and humiliations. It is necessary to overcome yourself, whatever you do. It avails your soul little to draw others to God unless you die to yourself.”
  On prayer, which this servant of God made his constant occupation and delight, he used to say,—“Prayer is the beginning and the consummation of all good. Every sinner must pray that God may make him know his miseries and sins, and the divine benefits. He who knows not how to pray, knows not God. All who are to be saved, if they have attained the use of reason, must set themselves to pray. Though a woman were ever so bashful and simple, if she saw her only son taken from her by the king’s orders for some crime, she would tear her breasts, and implore his mercy. Her love and her son’s extreme danger and miseries would make her never want words to entreat him.”
  The fruits and graces of perfect prayer he summed up as follows: “1. By it a man is enlightened in his understanding. 2. He is strengthened in faith and in the love of all good. 3. He learns to know and feel his own miseries. 4. He is penetrated with holy fear, is humble and contemptible in his own eyes. 5. His heart is pierced with compunction. 6. Sweet tears flow in abundance. 7. His heart is cleansed. 8. His conscience purged. 9. He learns obedience. 10. Attains to the perfect spirit of that virtue. 11. To spiritual science. 12. To spiritual understanding. 13. Invincible fortitude. 14. Patience. 15. Spiritual wisdom. 16. The knowledge of God, who manifests himself to those who adore him in spirit and truth. Hence love is kindled in the soul, she runs in the odour of his sweet perfumes, is drowned in the torrent of his sweetness, enjoys perfect interior peace, and is brought to immortal glory.” [back]
Note 11. Vita B. Ægidii apud Papebroke, t. 3. Aprilis ad diem 23, p. 236. [back]
Note 12. Conc. t. 11, p. 937. [back]
Note 13. The Emperor Michael dying in 1283, his son Andronicus renewed the schism, and restored the deposed patriarch Joseph. [back]
Note 14. Possevin. Apparatus sacer, t. 1, p. 245. [back]
Note 15. Gerson calls St. Bonaventure both a cherub and a seraph, because his writings both enlighten and inflame. His Order makes his doctrine the standard of their schools, according to a decree of Pope Pius V. To the works of St. Bonaventure these divines add the double comments of Scotus on Aristotle and the Master of the Sentences.
  Peter Lombard, a native of Novara in Lombardy, was recommended by St. Bernard (ep. 366,) to Gilduin, first abbot of the regular canons of St. Victor’s at Paris, performed there his studies, professed that Order, and was one of those who, by an order of Abbot Suger, King Lewis VII. and Pope Eugenius III. in 1147, were sent from St. Victor’s to St. Genevieve’s in place of the secular canons. Eudes or Odo, one of this number, was chosen first regular abbot of St. Genevieve’s, on whose eminent virtues see the pious F. Gourdan, in his MS. history of the eminent men of St. Victor’s, in 7 vols. folio, t. 2. p. 281. Peter Lombard taught theology at St. Genevieve’s, till in 1159 he was made bishop of Paris. Gourdan, ib. t. 2, pp. 79, 80. He died, bishop of that city, in 1164. He compiled a body of divinity, collected from the writings of the fathers, into four books, called Of the Sentences, from which he was surnamed The Master of the Sentences. This work he is said by some to have copied chiefly from the writings of Blandinus his master, and others. (See James Thomasius De Plagio literario, from sect. 493 to 502.) Though it be not exempt from inaccuracies, the method appeared so well adapted to the purposes of the schoolmen that they followed the same and for their lectures gave comments on these four books of the Sentences. Among these, St. Thomas Aquinas stands foremost. The divines of the Franciscan Order take for their guides St. Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus. This latter was born in Northumberland, and entered young into the Order of St. Francis at Newcastle. He performed his studies, and afterwards taught divinity at Oxford, where he wrote his Commentaries on the Master of the Sentences, which were thence called his Oxonian Commentaries. He was called to Paris about the year 1304, and in 1307 was appointed by his Order, regent of their theological schools in that university, where he published his Reportata in Sententias, called his Paris Commentaries, which are called by Dr. Cave a rough or unfinished abstract of his Oxford Commentaries. For the subtlety and quickness of his understanding, and his penetrating genius, he was regarded as a prodigy. Being sent by his Order to Cologn in 1308, he was received by the whole city in procession, but died on the 8th of November the same year, of an apoplexy, being forty-three, or as others say, only thirty-four years old. The fable of his being buried alive is clearly confuted by Luke Wadding, the learned Irish Franciscan, who published his works, with notes, in twelve tomes, printed at Lyons in 1636. Natalis Alexander, a most impartial inquirer into this dispute, and others, have also demonstrated that story to have been a most groundless fiction. Wadding, Colgan, &c. say that Duns Scotus was an Irishman, and born at Down in Ulster. John Major, Dempster, and Trithemius say he was a Scotchman, born at Duns, eight miles from England. But Leland, Wharton, Cave, and Tanner prove that he was an Englishman, and a native of Dunstone, by contraction Duns, a village in Northumberland, in the parish of Emildun, then belonging to Merton-hall in Oxford, of which hall he was afterwards a member. This is attested in the end of several manuscript copies of his comments on the Sentences, written soon after the time when he lived, and still shown at Oxford in the colleges of Baliol and Merton. That he was a Scotchman or an Irishman, no author seems to have asserted before the sixteenth century, as Mr. Wharton observes. See Cave, t. 2, Append, p. 4. Wood, Athen. Oxon. Sir James Ware de Script. Hibern. c. 10, p. 64. Tanner de Script. Brit. V. Duns. Wadding in the life of Scotus, prefixed to his works.
  William Ockham, a native of Surrey, also a Grey-Friar, a scholar of Duns Scotus at Paris, disagreeing from his master in opinions, raised hot disputes in the schools, and became the head or leader of the Nominals, a sect among the schoolmen who in philosophy explain things chiefly by the properties of terms; and maintain that words, not things, are the object of dialectic, in opposition to the others called Realists. Ockham was provincial of his Order in England in 1322, and according to Wood (Hist. et Ant. l. 2, p. 87,) wrote a book On the Poverty of Christ, and other treatises against Pope John XXII. by whom he was excommunicated. He became a warm abettor of the schism of Lewis of Bavaria, and his antipope, Peter Corbarius, and died at Munich in 1347. He is said also to have favoured the heresy of the Fratricelli, introduced by certain Grey-Friars in the marquisate of Ancona, who made all perfection to consist in a seeming poverty, rebelled against the church, and railed at the pope and the other pastors. Flying into Germany, they were favoured by Lewis of Bavaria, and in return supported his schism. They at length rejected the sacraments as useless. Akin to these were the Beguards and Beguines, an heretical sect formed by several poor laymen and women, who, some by an ill-governed devotion and a love of a lazy life, others put of a spirit of libertinism, would needs imitate the poverty of the Friars Mendicants, without being tied to obedience, or living under superiors. They at length fell into many extravagant errors, and became a society of various notions and opinions, which had nothing in common but the hatred they bore to the pope and other prelates, and the affectation of a voluntary poverty, under which they covered an infinite number of disorders and crimes. Such are the baneful fruits of self-conceit. [back]
Note 16. St. Bonav. Specul. Novit. p. 2, c. 2. [back]