Saint Bonaventure, O.F.M.
Friar, Bishop, Doctor of the Church
Born 1221
Bagnoregio, Province of Viterbo, Latium, Papal States (now modern-day Italy)
Died July 15, 1274(1274-07-15)
Lyon, Lyonnais, Kingdom of Arles (now modern-day France)
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized April 14, 1482, Rome by Pope Sixtus IV
Feast 15 July
2nd Sunday in July (1482–1568)
14 July (1568–1969)
Attributes Cardinal's hat on a bush; ciborium; Holy Communion; cardinal in Franciscan robes, usually reading or writing
Full name Bonaventure
Other names "Giovanni di Fidanza" ("John of Fidanza"), "Doctorus Seraphicus" ("Seraphic Doctor")
Born 1221
Bagnoregio, Province of Viterbo, Latium Papal States (now Italy)
Died 15 July 1274
Era Medieval philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Scholasticism

A series of articles on
Christian mysticism

Mystic Marriage.jpg

Aspects of meditationChristian meditationContemplative prayerHesychasmMystical theology • Reflection on the New Age

Early period
Gregory of NyssaBernard of Clairvaux • Guigo II

13th and 14th centuries
Francis of AssisiDominic de GuzmánBonaventureCatherine of Siena

15th and 16th centuries
Ignatius of Loyola • Francisco de Osuna • John of AvilaTeresa of AvilaJohn of the Cross

17th and 18th centuries
Francis de SalesPierre de Bérulle

19th century
Therese of LisieuxGemma GalganiConchita de Armida

20th century
Maria ValtortaFaustina KowalskaThomas Merton

Saint Bonaventure, O.F.M., (Italian: San Bonaventura; 1221 – 15 July 1274),[1] born John of Fidanza (Italian: Giovanni di Fidanza), was an Italian medieval scholastic theologian and philosopher. The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also a Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonized on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church in the year 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. He is known as the "Seraphic Doctor" (Latin: Doctor Seraphicus). Many writings believed in the Middle Ages to be his are now collected under the name Pseudo-Bonaventura.



He was born at Bagnoregio in Latium, not far from Viterbo. Almost nothing is known of his childhood, other than the names of his parents, Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria Ritella.

He entered the Franciscan Order in 1243 and studied at the University of Paris, possibly under Alexander of Hales, and certainly under Alexander's successor, John of Rochelle. In 1253 he held the Franciscan chair at Paris and was proceeded as Master of Theology. Unfortunately for Bonaventure, a dispute between seculars and mendicants delayed his reception as Master until 1257, where his degree was taken in company with Thomas Aquinas.[2] Three years earlier his fame had earned him the position of lecturer on the The Four Books of Sentences—a book of theology written by Peter Lombard in the twelfth century—and in 1255 he received the degree of master, the medieval equivalent of doctor.

After having successfully defended his order against the reproaches of the anti-mendicant party, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order. On 24 November 1265, he was selected for the post of Archbishop of York; however, he was never consecrated and resigned the appointment in October 1266.[3] It was by his order that Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar himself, was interdicted from lecturing at Oxford and compelled to put himself under the surveillance of the order at Paris.

Bonaventure was instrumental in procuring the election of Pope Gregory X, who rewarded him with the title of Cardinal Bishop of Albano, and insisted on his presence at the great Council of Lyon in 1274. There, after his significant contributions led to a union of the Greek and Latin churches, Bonaventure died suddenly and in suspicious circumstances. The Catholic Encyclopedia has citations which suggest he was poisoned. The only extant relic of the saint is the arm and hand with which he wrote his Commentary on the Sentences, which is now conserved at Bagnoregio, in the parish church of St. Nicholas.

Feast day

Bonaventure's feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar immediately upon his canonization in 1482. It was at first celebrated on the second Sunday in July, but was moved in 1568 to 14 July, since 15 July, the anniversary of his death, was at that time taken up with the feast of Saint Henry. It remained on that date, with the rank of "double", until 1960, when it was reclassified as a feast of the third class. In 1969 it was classified as an obligatory memorial and assigned to the date of his death, 15 July.[4]

Philosophy and works

Bonaventure was formally canonized in 1484 by the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV, and ranked along with Saint Thomas Aquinas as the greatest of the Doctors of the Church by another Franciscan Pope Sixtus V, in 1587. His works, as arranged in the most recent Critical Edition of his works by the Quaracchi Fathers (Collegio S. Bonaventura), consist of a Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard, in four volumes, and eight other volumes, among which are a Commentary on the Gospel of St Luke and a number of smaller works; the most famous of which are Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, Breviloquium, De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam, Soliloquium, and De septem itineribus aeternitatis, in which most of what is individual in his teaching is contained. Nowadays German philosopher Dieter Hattrup denies that De reductione artium ad theologiam might be written by Bonaventure, claiming that the style of thinking does not match Bonaventure's original style.[5]

In philosophy Bonaventure presents a marked contrast to his contemporaries, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas. While these may be taken as representing, respectively, physical science yet in its infancy, and Aristotelian scholasticism in its most perfect form, he presents the mystical and Platonizing mode of speculation which had already, to some extent, found expression in Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, and in Bernard of Clairvaux. To him, the purely intellectual element, though never absent, is of inferior interest when compared with the living power of the affections or the heart. He used the authority of Aristotle in harmony with Scriptural and Patristic texts, and attributed much of the heretical tendency of the age to the attempt to divorce Aristotelian philosophy from Catholic theology. Like Thomas Aquinas, with whom he shared numerous profound agreements in matters theological and philosophical, he combated the Aristotelian notion of the eternity of the world vigorously. Augustine, who had imported into the west many of the doctrines that would define scholastic philosophy, was an incredibly important source of Bonaventure's Platonism. Another prominent influence was that of a mystic by the name of Dionysius the Areopagite.

St. Bonaventure receives the envoys of the Byzantine Emperor at the Second Council of Lyon.

Bonaventure accepts the Platonic doctrine that ideas do not exist in rerum natura, but as ideals exemplified by the Divine Being, according to which actual things were formed; and this conception has no slight influence upon his philosophy. Like all the great scholastic doctors he starts with the discussion of the relations between reason and faith. All the sciences are but the handmaids of theology; reason can discover some of the moral truths which form the groundwork of the Christian system, but others it can only receive and apprehend through divine illumination. In order to obtain this illumination, the soul must employ the proper means, which are prayer, the exercise of the virtues, whereby it is rendered fit to accept the divine light, and meditation which may rise even to ecstatic union with God. The supreme end of life is such union, union in contemplation or intellect and in intense absorbing love; but it cannot be entirely reached in this life, and remains as a hope for the future. The mind in contemplating God has three distinct aspects, stages or grades—the senses, giving empirical knowledge of what is without and discerning the traces (vestigia) of the divine in the world; the reason, which examines the soul itself, the image of the divine Being; and lastly, pure intellect (intelligentia), which, in a transcendent act, grasps the Being of the divine cause.

To these three correspond the three kinds of theology: theologia symbolica, theologia propria and theologia mystica. Each stage is subdivided, for in contemplating the outer world we may use the senses or the imagination; we may rise to a knowledge of God per vestigia or in vestigiis. In the first case the three great properties of physical bodies—weight, number, measure—in the second the division of created things into the classes of those that have merely physical existence, those that have life, and those that have thought, irresistibly lead us to conclude the power, wisdom and goodness of the Triune God. So in the second stage we may ascend to the knowledge of God, per imaginem, by reason, or in imagination, by the pure understanding (intellectus); in the one case the triple division—memory, understanding and will,—in the other the Christian virtues—faith, hope and charity,—leading again to the conception of a Trinity of divine qualities—eternity, truth and goodness.

In the last stage we have first intelligentia, pure intellect, contemplating the essential being of God, and finding itself compelled by necessity of thought to hold absolute being as the first notion, for non-being cannot be conceived apart from being, of which it is but the privation. To this notion of absolute being, which is perfect and the greatest of all, objective existence must be ascribed. In its last and highest form of activity the mind rests in the contemplation of the infinite goodness of God, which is apprehended by means of the highest faculty, the apex mentis or synderesis. This spark of the divine illumination is common to all forms of mysticism, but Bonaventura adds to it peculiarly Christian elements. The complete yielding up of mind and heart to God is unattainable without divine grace, and nothing renders us so fit to receive this gift as the meditative and ascetic life of the cloister. The monastic life is the best means of grace.

Bonaventure, however, is not merely a meditative thinker, whose works may form good manuals of devotion; he is a dogmatic theologian of high rank, and on all the disputed questions of scholastic thought, such as universals, matter, the principle of individualism, or the intellectus agens, he gives weighty and well-reasoned decisions. He agrees with Saint Albert the Great in regarding theology as a practical science; its truths, according to his view, are peculiarly adapted to influence the affections. He discusses very carefully the nature and meaning of the divine attributes; considers universals to be the ideal forms pre-existing in the divine mind according to which things were shaped; holds matter to be pure potentiality which receives individual being and determinateness from the formative power of God, acting according to the ideas; and finally maintains that the intellectus agens has no separate existence. On these and on many other points of scholastic philosophy the "Seraphic Doctor" exhibits a combination of subtlety and moderation, which makes his works particularly valuable.

In Islamic thought

St. Bonaventure was widely regarded as one of the greatest Christian theologians by early Muslim thinkers. Hossein Nasr, in his A Young Muslim's Guide to the Modern World mentions Bonaventure amongst the outstanding saints, saying:

St. Bonaventure was one of the greatest theologians and philosophers of Christianity. An Italian Franciscan, he was declared one of the Doctors of the Church and remains to this day as one of the most important authorites on the interpretation of Christian thought among Catholics. He entered the University of Paris where he joined the Franciscan order and studied theology, in which he soon became a notable figure. He is especially well known for his insistence that the pursuit of truth is part of divine worship. He wrote commentaries on the Bible as well as the Sentences of Peter Lombard and was well versed in the philosophies of Augustine of Hippo and Aristotle as well as Islamic philosophy...Saint Bonaventure was also a great mystic and wrote one of the most famous treatises of mysticism in the Middle Ages, The Journey of the Mind to God...

Places, churches, and schools named in his honor


  • Life of St Francis of Assisi, TAN Books, 2010. ISBN 9780895551511
  • On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology (De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam), Franciscan Institute Publications, 1996. ISBN 978-1-57659-043-0
  • Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (Journey of the Soul Into God), (†)Philotheus Boehner, OFM, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2002. ISBN: 978-1-57659-044-7
  • Saint Bonaventure’s Disputed Questions on the Mystery of the Trinity, Franciscan Institute Publications,

1979. ISBN 978-1-57659-045-4


  1. ^ M. Walsh, ed (1991). Butler's Lives of the Saints. New York: HarperCollins. p. 216. 
  2. ^ Knowles, David (1988). The Evolution of Medieval Thought (2nd ed.). Edinburgh Gate: Longman Group. ISBN 0-582-4946-5. 
  3. ^ Fryde, E. B.; D.E. Greenway, S. Porter and I. Roy (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 282. ISBN 0-521-56350-X. 
  4. ^ Calendarium Romanum. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1969. pp. 97, 130. 
  5. ^ Hattrup, Dieter (1993) (in German). Ekstatik der Geschichte. Die Entwicklung der christologischen Erkenntnistheorie Bonaventuras. Paderborn: Schöningh. ISBN 3-506-76273-7. 
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Bonaventure. Ewert Cousins, translator (The Classics of Western Spirituality ed.). Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 1978. ISBN 0-8091-2121-2. 

Further reading

External links

Gloriole blur.svg Saints portal
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John of Parma
Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor
Succeeded by
Jerome of Ascoli
Preceded by
William Langton
Archbishop of York
Succeeded by
Walter Giffard

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  • bonaventure — /bon euh ven cheuhr, bon euh ven /, n. Naut. a mast fitted with a lateen sail (bonaventure mizzen) or lugsail, situated behind the mizzenmast at or near the stern, used in the 16th and early 17th centuries. [1490 1500; < It buonaventura lit.,… …   Universalium

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