St. Bonaventure: Lessons from the Seraphic Doctor

Andrew Santos (7/15/20)

“In all your deeds and words you should look upon this Jesus as your model.” -St. Bonaventure

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been men and women who place love of Christ as the paramount purpose of life. St. Bonaventure was no exception to the rule.

St. Bonaventure was born in Italy in 1221. A very bright young man with many opportunities available to him promising status and wealth, Bonaventure chose the life of simplicity and prayer, entering a new religious community at the time known as the Franciscans. The rule of the Franciscan order which is still an essential part of their lives today is poverty, chastity, and obedience.

As a Franciscan friar once put it to me, “No money, no honey, no way.” Although these rules may seem to be a bit excessive, it was these rules that very well may have nurtured the life of holiness in Bonaventure. Aside from his luminous intellect, which earned him the title “Seraphic Doctor,” Bonaventure was also known for his humility and prayer. These qualities may seem simple and insignificant, however, they are profound in the ways we too can learn from this great saint to grow in virtue. 

When we hear about the importance of prayer, it is precisely in these moments when we allow our minds to drift onto other thoughts. Unfortunately, we place menial tasks as more important than prayer. We’d like to pray to strengthen our relationship with God, but it’s been so long that we don’t know how to pray anymore. Prayer is not going to strengthen your relationship with God. It is your relationship with God. It is in prayer that we allow God to mold us into the men and women he created us to be. St. Bonaventure had a deeply rooted prayer life which he outlines in his writings entitled Holiness of Life

In this text, he explains that it is in prayer that God assists us in exposing all of the vices and sins that hinder us from holiness. It is in prayer that God gives us the knowledge to know one’s self and him in a deeper way. 

Humility is the wellspring of virtue according to Dietrich von Hildebrand. Humility, like all of the other virtues, requires our constant effort as well as God’s grace. In spite of all of the accomplishments of St. Bonaventure, he never boasted of his own gifts, but rather pointed to the crucifix, recognizing Christ as the giver of all that is good.

As the reputation of St. Bonaventure spread throughout the Franciscan Order, and the Church at large, he was placed in several leadership positions. In 1265, he renounced the office of Cardinal offered to him by Pope Clement IV. St. Bonaventure wanted to live a life grounded in the teachings of St. Francis. In 1274, however, at the order of Pope Gregory X, St. Bonaventure was to be elevated to the office of Cardinal despite his wishes. Knowing that this time he could not decline the order of the pope, St. Bonaventure went to a small community of Franciscans near Florence, Italy for a short time to pray before accepting his new post. The pope sent messengers to deliver the cardinal’s hat to St. Bonaventure in Florence. When they found him, he was serving those around him – he was doing the dishes. 

The example of St. Bonaventure, a man who lived 800 years ago, still plays an important role in our times today. His life of prayer and humility can inspire us to ignore the distractions that the world places in front of us and lead us to a deeper union with God and his Church. Though these tasks may seem daunting and difficult, we must put forth the effort to welcome God into our daily thoughts, words, actions, and lives. Then let God do the rest. 

Take time to pray. Do the dishes.

St. Bonaventure, pray for us.

Andrew Santos lives in Rochester, NY with his wife Emily and their two sons, Dominic (28 months) and Damian (9 months). He has bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Theology from St. John’s University. He enjoys camping, hiking, reading Tolkien, and wrestling his sons.

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