Saint Bonaventure: Bishop, Doctor, Apostle of Truth
Certainly a soul can be very close to our Lord Jesus Christ without constantly directing its attention toward understanding dogma or doctrine or even common Church teaching. But is it to a soul's advantage to ignore these things? Put another way, can we say we love God to the fullest extent possible if we are largely heedless of the sublime spiritual and moral truths he so lovingly revealed and deposited in his Church?
Saint Bonaventure at prayer.
DENVER, CO (Catholic Online) - St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, known as one of the most learned men in history, was born about the year 1218 at Bagnorea near Viterbo, Italy. Little is known of his youth, save for a very few details, such as his cure of a serious illness by St. Francis of Assisi, a miraculous event of which Bonaventure himself wrote in the prologue to his Life of St. Francis. It is not certain when or where St. Bonaventure was ordained a priest. Most of what we know of him begins with the year 1248, which is marked by his lectures at the University of Paris on the Book of Sentences of Peter the Lombard. During his years of teaching, Bonaventure wrote his Commentary on the Sentences, which can be considered his greatest literary work.
There are many lessons we can learn from this saint who is one of the thirty-three doctors of the Catholic Church. An important aspect of St. Bonaventure's life was the pious emphasis he placed on learning and understanding to the greatest degree possible the sublime truths of God's revelation which is contained in the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Simply, Bonaventure loved God's truth, and he loved reason, for both originate in the Author of Life. St. Bonaventure believed the primary purpose of man's intellect is to strive after the truth about God, and, as a result of the fruits of such holy labor, love God all the more.
However, it is not uncommon in our contemporary society to find a widespread lack of concern for the study of God's revelation. Some display various levels of indifference toward such study, which range from careless disregard to calloused refusal. Others insist they are too busy with the everyday demands of life. Still others posit that anything above a bare minimum of knowledge concerning the beautiful and supreme truths found in Tradition and guarded by the Magisterium is unnecessary.
Certainly a soul can be very close to our Lord Jesus Christ without constantly directing its attention toward understanding dogma or doctrine or even common Church teaching. But is it to a soul's advantage to ignore these things? Put another way, can we say we love God to the fullest extent possible if we are largely heedless of the sublime truths he so lovingly revealed and deposited in his Church? To do so is really the same as saying, "I love you Lord, but I'm unconcerned with who you say you are, with what you say you are, as well as with what you have revealed about me and how I ought to live."
On June 29, 1959, Pope John XXIII issued his encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram (On Truth, Unity, and Peace), in which he observed the destruction caused by ignorance of the truth. "All the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth -- and at times even more than ignorance, a contempt for truth and a reckless rejection of it. Thus arise all manner of errors, which enter the recesses of men's hearts and the bloodstream of human society as would a plague. These errors turn everything upside down: they menace individuals and society itself" (APC 6).
Heedless disregard of Sacred Tradition and magisterial teaching is disrespectful of our Savior and all that he has done for us. For it was our Redeemer who founded his Catholic Church in the midst of the world as a beacon of light and truth. Christ is our Master, Teacher, and Savior. All of what our Lord has done is important and demands our respect, loving attention, and religious submission. Pope John XXIII also noted that man's intentional neglect to understand the purpose of the human intellect has led to religious indifferentism. "Some men, indeed do not attack the truth willfully, but work in heedless disregard of it. They act as though God had given us intellects for some purpose other than the pursuit and attainment of truth. This mistaken sort of action leads directly to that absurd proposition: one religion is just as good as another, for there is no distinction here between truth and falsehood" (APC 17).
A Love For Truth Leads Us To The Ultimate And Supreme Truth: God
A lover is concerned to know the smallest details about his Beloved, watching every movement, listening to every word. The lover strives, thirsts, to intimately know and understand. He yearns for that cool and refreshing water which sustains and enlivens the intellect and the soul, for that treasure of wisdom more precious than life itself, for sublime and unheard-of things beyond the world which are found only in the depths of God. The lover therefore desires to immerse himself or herself in God. Yet this desire is not one directed merely toward acquiring knowledge, which can, as a result of dry and disordered motives, become infected with arrogant, intellectual pride. Rather this desire is nourished by a loving and sincere gift of oneself to the Beloved; it is a humble, submissive and tender desire borne in the depths of the human heart which strives for intimacy with Christ.
The holy labor of striving after knowledge of God became St. Bonaventure's way of life. He understood that when the pursuit of truth is combined with love, Christ opens a hidden doorway within the heart, where he himself whispers unforgettable things, drawing us ever more deeply toward our ultimate end, which is God. Thus we find St. Bonaventure frequently writing of the necessity of turning our complete attention on our Savior.
"Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulcher, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: 'Today you will be with me in paradise'" (Journey of the Mind to God).
The Pursuit Of Truth Must Be Governed By Authority
In our present age there are a number of ill-conceived notions of truth. Pope Benedict has frequently spoken of the "dictatorship of relativism" which has infected contemporary society. Falsehood is today dressed in such appealing garb that, reaching out its poisoned hand, it has infected many of the unsuspecting. In light of this, we can learn from St. Bonaventure of the importance of adherence with religious submission to the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church. It is vital to our understanding of God's revelation contained in the original deposit of faith that we assent to the teaching of the Church Christ founded.
Further, for those who desire to advance in prayer, St. Bonaventure warns that "the creature is deceived and errs when he accepts an effigy and an appearance for the truth" (Itinerarium). Thus we find the saint inviting readers of his Journey of the Soul to God to read further only if they are properly disposed.
"To these, therefore, who are disposed by divine grace, the pious and humble, the contrite and devout, to those who are anointed with the oil of divine gladness, to the lovers of divine Wisdom and to those inflamed with the desire thereof, and who wish to go apart in order to taste and magnify and appreciate God, I offer the following speculations . . ."
It is "the pious and the humble, the contrite and the devout" who embrace the words of Christ's Bride, the Holy Catholic Church. They seek not their own subjective path laden with dangerous pitfalls and treachery, but rather the securely lighted path of truth found in the oneness of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church.
As a last note of great importance, in St. Bonaventure's Fourth Sermon on Annunciation he provides a sure road of advice for all Christians who seek the path of truth. They are to fly to the Virgin Mother of God, seek her intercession, and ask her help in attaining to the fullness of life in Christ. It is especially fitting to ask this of our Blessed Mother, for she is not only the first Christian, but indeed the supreme model of what it means to give oneself over in a complete and selfless act of obedience and love for Truth Itself.
"Let us go to the virgin with great confidence, and we will tranquilly find her in our necessities. Therefore this tabernacle is rightly to be honored, and to this tabernacle flight should be made, in which the Lord rested so familiarly, so that the Blessed Virgin herself could say truly and literally, 'Who made me rested in my tabernacle.'"
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever have. He is managing editor of catholicpathways.com, and a contributing writer for Catholic Online.
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