Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Cardinal

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Saint Bonaventure of BagnoregioThe Seraphic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure, was born in 1221 at Balneoregio, in the State of Tuscany. His parents were very distinguished people, not only on account of their nobility and great riches, but still more for their piety and virtues. When scarcely four years old, Bonaventure became dangerously sick and the physicians despaired of his life. His mother appealed to Saint Francis of Assisi, who was still living at that period, begging him to obtain, by his prayers, her son’s life from God. She promised to bring him up to the honor of the Almighty, and in the course of time to consecrate him entirely to His divine service in the Order founded by Saint Francis. The latter prayed for the sick child and the malady was subdued. In regard to this miracle the holy man cried: “O Buona Ventura!” which means, “Oh happy event!” and from that time they called the child, so miraculously cured, Bonaventure, although at the baptismal font it had received the name of John.

Arrived at the period when reason awakens, Bonaventure heard of the promise his mother had made in regard to him and fulfilled it by entering joyfully into the Order of Saint Francis. After having finished his probation, he went to Paris to devote himself to study, and his progress in learning was as great as his advancement in virtue, especially in humility, constant self-denial, perfect obedience, great love of his crucified Lord, and ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He meditated daily on the passion and death of Christ, and spent as much time as he could in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He seldom received Holy Communion, especially when he himself said Mass, without shedding many tears. His innocence he preserved inviolate. The celebrated Doctor Alexander of Hales, under whom Bonaventure studied, used to say, that it seemed to him that he had not committed any sin in Adam; so strictly did he control his inclinations, so great were his virtue and his piety. Before he was thirty years old, his superiors appointed him to teach theology in the University of Paris, which he did with immense success. There he and Saint Thomas of Aquin received the title of “Doctor,” the highest dignity conferred upon Theologians. At the age of 35 years, he was elected General of the whole Seraphic Order, and his election was confirmed by Pope Alexander, who had presided over the assembly. When once installed in his new functions, he was as zealous to preserve the rule of the holy Founder, as he had previously been earnest in declining the dignity. He made the most wholesome regulations, and led all those under him by word and example to great sanctity. During eighteen years he administered his office, with so much wisdom, mildness and strength of character, that he was loved and esteemed by all, and venerated as the second Founder of the Order.

Although occupied with such constant and important labors, he never neglected his devotional exercises or his studies. We possess this day a great many theological works of great learning written by this holy man. Among others, he wrote a book to refute those who slandered the Mendicant Orders, which he entitled: “A Defense of the Poor.” He proves in this book the temporal as well as spiritual benefits of such orders. He also wrote several most learned and eloquent books in praise of the Blessed Virgin, whose honor he desired to further to the best of his ability, and whom, from childhood, he had greatly venerated. There is also extant from his pen, the life of Saint Francis, Founder of the Seraphic Order. Whilst he was writing this work, Saint Thomas Aquinas came to pay him a visit. Hearing in what Bonaventure was occupied, he declined disturbing him, and left with the words: “Let us leave one Saint to work for another.” Saint Thomas so highly esteemed Bonaventure, that he did not hesitate to call him a Saint while he was still alive. This holy man was greatly astonished that Bonaventure, being so much occupied with his duties, yet found time to write so many books of such profound learning, and one day asked him where his library was. Bonaventure pointing to a crucifix, said: “This is the library, wherein I find all that I teach to others.” Before he began to study, or whenever a doubt or a difficulty during study embarrassed him, he fell down before the Crucifix and humbly prayed for Divine assistance. He said more than once, that by this means, he had obtained more knowledge and wisdom than by all his industry. Not content with all this, the holy man preached publicly in all the places which he visited in the exercise of his functions, exhorting sinners to repentance and the pious to be constant in good works; by which he converted, in a most remarkable manner, the most hardened sinners.

The fame of his great knowledge and holiness, which spread all over the country, was of great benefit to him in his missionary work; whence he received the title of Seraphic Doctor, by which he is still known in our days. Bishops and prelates of the Church honored the Saint still more than other people of a lower degree. Clement IV, desired to reward him for his many services to the Church with the Archbishopric of York; but the holy man throwing himself at his feet, begged so earnestly to be spared the burden of this honor, that the Holy Father acceded to his request. After the death of this Pope, the Cardinals, assembled at Viterbo, could not agree in the election of a new head of the Church, and they at last determined to leave the choice to Bonaventure, promising to accept as Pope, whomsoever he thought deserving to receive the highest of earthly dignities. This was surely the greatest sign of honor which they could confer upon the Saint. Bonaventure, after having prayed to God, said that, in his opinion, Theobald, archdeacon of Liege, who was not even present, was most worthy to be raised to the Pontifical Throne. The cardinals received his decision and Theobald became the head of Christ’s Church. This Pope, who took the name of Gregory X, sent afterwards the hat and insignia of a Cardinal to Bonaventure, nominating him Bishop of Albano, and commanding him at the same time, to obey without any opposition. The papal Nuncios who were to convey this news to the Saint, found him occupied in washing the dishes in the kitchen. He listened with unfeigned surprise to their message, and as he saw that, this time, there was no escape left, he obediently submitted, but nevertheless he finished his humble occupation. The Pope, calling him to Rome, took him to Lyons where a general Council was held, during which he gave new proofs of his great learning, and of his unwearied zeal in promoting the welfare of the holy Church. It pleased the Almighty, to call His faithful servant, in the midst of his pious labor, and after a short illness, to receive his eternal reward. He died in 1274, only fifty-three years of age. The Pope and all the bishops deeply lamented his early death, but God immediately honored him by many miracles. One hundred and sixty years later, when on account of the erection of a new Church, the relics of the Saint were exhumed, it was found that the flesh of the body was entirely consumed, the head excepted, of which the hair, teeth, tongue, eyes and ears, lips and cheeks, were as perfect as though he had still been living. The head, therefore, was preserved in a rich shrine, and the rest of the body laid into a coffin. After many years, when the Huguenots or Calvinists took possession of Lyons, they publicly burned the body of the Saint and threw the ashes into the river. The holy head, however, was saved from their rage by the care of a priest, who, though most cruelly tortured, to make him confess where the relic was kept, preferred to bear the suffering rather than reveal where the precious treasure was concealed.

Practical Considerations

1. The love and devotion of Saint Bonaventure to the passion and death of our Lord was great beyond description. He meditated upon them daily. The crucifix was continually before his eyes, and before it he said his prayers, either prostrate on the ground or on bended knees. I hope that you are not among those who are ashamed to keep an image of Christ in their room: as in that case I must remind you of the saying of our Lord, that, on the judgment-day He will be ashamed of those who on earth are ashamed of Him. I will suppose, therefore, that you have a crucifix in your room, but why do you so seldom prostrate yourself before it? Why do you so seldom meditate on the passion and death of the Saviour? Is this a sign of love and gratitude towards Him? If any human being had suffered, for love of you, only half what Christ the Lord suffered; or if he perhaps had died to save you from death, how would you feel towards him? And why have you not the same feelings towards your Redeemer? Endeavor, at least, to show greater love for Him in future. Let no day pass without praying before the crucifix; raise your eyes to it sometimes during the day, and manifest, by short prayers and pious ejaculations, your love and devotion towards your suffering Saviour; as for example: “With my whole heart I love Thee, O Jesus, and it is bitter grief to me that I have offended Thee, O merciful God!” Or “Cleanse my soul with Thy precious blood.” Or, “Jesus Christ, who didst die for me upon the cross, have mercy on me!” etc.

2. Saint Bonaventure very seldom received holy Communion or said Mass, without shedding tears. Love to the Saviour in the most holy sacrament thus moved his heart. How great is your devotion and love to the Blessed Sacrament, especially at the time when you receive it? How much time do you give to prayer before and after holy Communion? Do you purify your soul from every stain by a sincere confession? Do you adorn it with virtues, that it may be a worthy dwelling for so great a guest as the only Son of the Almighty? Do you appear with due reverence at the table of the Lord? How much time do you give to thanksgiving after your dear Saviour has come to you, and what is your devotion during the same? Examine yourself on these points, and correct yourself where you have been negligent. Before all things, however, take care that you never receive your Lord while in mortal sin, “For” says Saint James of Nisibis, “this is a crime that cannot be excused;” a crime, the wickedness of which is so great, that it deserves no pardon, when committed voluntarily, as it offends Christ our Lord above all others. You know, you believe that He whom you receive is not only your Saviour, but also your Judge, who has power to condemn you. Before Him you will soon appear to receive your sentence for all Eternity. How dare you, therefore, receive Him unworthily, when you know that you thus draw upon yourself the wrath of your Judge, and render yourself deserving of everlasting punishment? Is there any crime, any blasphemy, which can be compared with this? And does there exist a punishment great enough to atone for so horrible an offence towards our dear Lord? “Woe to him, eternal woe, who dares to go unworthily to the table of the Lord,” says the venerable Bede. “Judas, the traitor, was the first to go to Holy Communion in mortal sin. What happened to him is known to you. At the moment he committed the sacrilege, the devil took possession of him, and incited him to betray his Lord. Guard yourself that you may not imitate his wickedness; otherwise you will receive the same punishment “Let no one dare to approach the table of the Lord like Judas,” says Saint Chrysostom.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Cardinal”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 15 March 2018. Web. 18 November 2018. <>