Born in Italy as Giovanni di Fidanza around the year 1217, St. Bonaventure entered the new religious order founded by St. Francis of Assisi called the “Friars Minor” around the year 1243, about twenty years after Francis’ death. Bonaventure studied theology under the famous Alexander of Hales and became a professor at the greatest school of theology in the medieval world, the University of Paris where he taught alongside St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor.”
St. Bonaventure’s theology is always written with holy passion, in the tradition of St. Augustine, and always directed towards increasing the depth and intensity of the spiritual life. Because of his burning zeal, Bonaventure became known as the “Seraphic Doctor.” St. Bonaventure was elected minister general of the Franciscan order in 1257 and played a prominent role in settling the dissension that had plagued the order since the death of its founder, St. Francis. In fact Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis was approved by the Friars Minor as the official biography of their founder. Having been created Cardinal Archbishop of Albano in 1273, St. Bonaventure attended the Ecumenical Council of Lyon where he died in the same year that St. Thomas Aquinas died, in 1274.
As a theologian, Saint Bonaventure upheld the duty and value of using the human intellect to reflect on the mysteries of faith. But for him all human wisdom was folly when compared to the mystical illumination given to the faithful Christian by God himself. This theme is most beautifully developed in St. Bonaventure’s best known work, his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (Journey of the Mind into God). His most extensive and systematic work of theology is his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. It is however, as a spiritual writer, that Saint Bonaventure has had his greatest and most lasting impact. Be sure to check out the poetic Prayer of Saint Bonaventure. Incorporate it into your own prayer life.
It is only fitting that the first Franciscan University in the United States, located in St. Bonaventure, New York, should be named after St. Bonaventure, the greatest of all Franciscan theologians. His feast day in the Roman calendar falls on July 15.