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THE SECOND FOUNDER OF THE FRANCISCAN ORDER

Father Francis's picture
Saint Bonaventure

The most powerful forces of change in the 13rh Century were two new institutions: the universities and the mendicant religious orders. The future Saint Bonaventure was closely involved in both. He became a leading theologian, a successful teacher and writer, rose to high office in the Church and was the Franciscan Order's second founder.

Born in Viterbo in central Italy in 1221, he studied theology at the University of Paris where he later became a lecturer and writer. In 1208 Francis of Assisi had gathered together a small band who followed the Gospel and based their lives on complete poverty and simplicity. In 1210 Pope Innocent III acknowledged them as a religious Order and approved the Rule Francis presented. Bonaventure came into contact with the Franciscans through his university tutor, Alexander of Hales, and was inspired to join them.

In many ways the Franciscans were revolutionaries. Their life of poverty was in direct opposition to the affluence and self-indulgence they saw around them. They took vows and lived in community, but they went about preaching and performing pastoral duties. They had considerable freedom and were becoming popular and successful in the academic field. This aroused some jealousy among secular clergy but after Pope Alexander IV investigated the controversy the friars were vindicated.

When Bonaventure was 36 he became Minister General of the Order and was faced with a fundamental problem. Some friars wanted the rules relaxed while others wanted them to be even stricter. Bonaventure succeeded in reconciling the two factions, bringing the whole Order back to the original Franciscan ideals. For this reason he became known as the second founder of the Order. In 1260 he wrote a life of St. Francis which became accepted as the standard biography. He made some changes in the administration of the Order, and introduced the custom of ringing a bell at nightfall in honour of the Annunciation. This was the origin of the Angelus.

In 1273, much against his will, Bonaventure was created Cardinal-Bishop of Albano by Pope Gregory X who asked him the following year to direct the council of Lyons which was trying to mend the schism between the Greek Church and the Roman Church. It was largely due to the efforts of Bonaventure and his friars that the Greeks agreed to accept union with the western Church. Sadly, that union was not to last, but when Bonaventure died on 15th July 1274, aged 53, he felt that all his diplomatic efforts had been worthwhile.

Bonaventure has been called 'the Seraphic Doctor' because he combined piety with learning. He was a fine scholar who chose to lead a life of humility and poverty. Through his studies he came to understand the natural world; as a follower of Francis he learnt how to love and appreciate that world and everything in it. He has a great deal to teach us about love for God and respect for all Creation.

We thank God for the life of St. Bonaventure and we ask him to look after the Franciscan Order he loved so dearly. He was a friar loved by all who met him. To read about him today is still for us to meet a true son of Francis of Assisi and a gentleman.