Saint Bonaventure-Seraphic Doctor AND 8lb, 6oz Baby Jesus!
Mandeville, LA – The Church today gives us the feast day of the Saint Bonaventure-Seraphic Doctor. Born John – Giovanni – Fidanza our saint became a contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, with the pair engaging in legendary debates and contests over certain theological questions and the creation of prayers to be used in the Mass.
Of his childhood, we get the best version of the story from the Reverend Alban Butler, including the life saving miracle God performed through His faithful servant, Saint Francis of Assisi.
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. 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.
Saint Bonaventure-Seraphic Doctor, “The Contest”
There is too much ground to cover in the incredible life story of this Doctor of Holy Church so we must be prudent and present only the most inspirational epics of his life and one of the most famous of these was “the contest” twixt our saint and his “BFF”, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catholic Kingdom has a most succinct and moving account.
It was 1264 when Pope Urban IV instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, (this title comes from the Latin, meaning the Body of Christ). The pope wanted a special Mass and office written especially for this new important feast of the Holy Eucharist. It was this difficult and essential task that was appointed to both Sts. Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. The holy father reserved to himself the right of choosing which of these two great men’s writings would be used.
So on the appointed day, both Saints, each with his manuscript under his arm, came before the Vicar of Christ. St. Thomas was to go first, and kneeling before the pope, began to read what he had written. Both Pope Urban IV and St. Bonaventure listened with tears of emotion to the beautiful work of this Saint. And while St. Thomas was still reading, St. Bonaventure turned aside and tore his manuscript into small pieces. When St. Bonaventure’s turn came, he admitted what he had done and told them that he was no longer in possession of his manuscript. St. Bonaventure explained that he considered St. Thomas’ work alone worthy to be used at the Most Holy Feast, therefore making it unnecessary to take his own poor work into account.
The works in question are O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo.
Saint Bonaventure-Seraphic Doctor and the First, 8lb. 6oz Baby Jesus
Tradition holds that when Francis of Assisi was gifted with the inspiration to recreate the Nativity of Our Lord that his intention was to have the blessed event staged by live actors, an account of which our beloved Saint actually gives in his biography of Saint Francis The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Our dear friends the Slaves To The Immaculate Heart tell the story thus.
The name Bonaventure, which means good fortune, was given to him by Saint Francis of Assisi, who cured him of a serious illness when he was a small child. Many believe that Saint Bonaventure was the little boy taking the place of Jesus, put in the first Christmas crib built by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223, and that he was two years old when he portrayed Baby Jesus.
In Life of Saint Francis, Bonaventure himself recounts these details without incriminating himself as the child Jesus.
It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Grecio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed.
The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise.
Before Buddy Movies, There Was Bonaventure and Thomas
Much has been written about the correspondence and personal friendship our saint and The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas shared and their rivalry and controversies are legendary. Turning again to Butler we receive a most wonderful tale of mutual admiration and holiness of the men in question who were then embroiled in the toil against sin as we are engaged in it today.
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.”
Saint Bonaventure-Seraphic Doctor, Dies and Is Canonized
Saint Bonaventure’s death occurred on the 14th of July, 1274, again the Rev. Butler provides a most beautiful eulogy.
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.”
St. Bonaventure was canonized by Pope Sixtus IV in 1482 and his successor, 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.
Saint Bonaventure-Seraphic Doctor, oremus!