Of St. Bonventure and how Pope Benedict is “Bonaventuran”

Today is the feast St. Bonaventure.

You might check out an oldie PODCAzT I did in 2008.

PODCAzT 64: Bonaventure on Christ “the door”; Interview – Fr. Timothy Finigan

Also, I posted this back in 2006 about how the "Pope of Christian Unity" is influenced by St. Bonaventure.  A few years have passed, so I think this should be reviewed and verified:

Are you looking for insight into how Pope Benedict is going to treat the SSPX or make other decisions concerning dissent or practices that require correction?  We can learn something about how Pope Benedict operates through a glimpse at how he studied St. Bonaventure.  As you know, today is the Feast of St. Giovanni di Fidanza, otherwise known as Bonaventure Bagnoregio (+1274), Doctor of the Church.

Way back when, His Holiness Pope Benedict explored St. Augustine’s theology of the House and People of God (Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustine Lehre von der Kirche, 1954).  Steeped in Augustine, Joseph Ratzinger made significant theological/ecclesiological contributions to the Second Vatican Council.  After his work on Augustine, Ratzinger turned his considerable attention to St. Bonaventure for his Habilitationsschrift (his second doctoral dissertation).  Ratzinger was interested in exploring questions having to do with the relationship of salvation history to metaphysics. In other words, how are God’s nature and this universe created under God’s plan related?   In short, Ratzinger (and many others) were interested in a theology of history.  It was natural to turn to St. Bonaventure for these questions.  His work called Geschichtstheologie des heiligen Bonaventura or (The Theology of History in Saint Bonaventure) was published in 1959.

BonaventureBack in the 13th century, Bonaventure, in his role as a theologian and the Minister General of the Franciscans, had written about this subject as part of a response to the Calabrian writer Joachim of Fiore.  Joachim and his followers were creating great tensions amongst the Franciscans themselves and theology at large.  Joachim was making claims that the world was about to enter into a new “charismatic” phase, a reign of the Holy Spirit, during which people would receive unmediated graces.  For Joachim, St. Francis of Assisi had been the forerunner of this new age.  While St. Thomas Aquinas’ response totally rejected Joachim’s ideas, Bonaventure’s own response in Collationes in Hexameron sought to apply corrections to the theory.  The radical followers of Joachim were interpreting Joachim in a way that was contrary to the Church’s theological tradition.  Bonaventure, on the other hand, attempted to interpret Joachim’s ideas in a manner consonant with tradition.

In the 20th century, as a theologian, Joseph Ratzinger used the same technique as Bonaventure.   He sought to correct rather than reject.  For example, Ratzinger sought as a theologian to make good use of what could be salvaged from Liberation Theology which, as the Prefect, he had had to correct but also repress in some of its aspects.  For example, in his work A New Song For The Lord, Ratzinger lays the groundwork for a liturgical theology taking ideas from positive ideas gleaned Liberation Theology.    I think it is fair to say that, as Prefect, Ratzinger came to know Liberation Theology better than anyone else in the world, including its own proponents.   He was in a good position, therefore, to make judicious use of the good things that Liberation Theology produced while rejecting the dross.
Another example might be to go back to his first encyclical Deus caritas est and consider his discussion of eros and agape.  This and the exitus/reditus theme were constant considerations of the neo-Platonising theologians of the Augustinian tradition, such as Bonaventure.   But I digress…

This could be instructive about Pope Benedict’s modus operandi both as a theologian and as a disciplinarian and, now, legislator, etc.  It might be useful to regard Pope Benedict through this lens as he follow his dealing with the SSPX and matters of liturgical discipline, even curial appointments.  It might be helpful to keep in mind when thinking about how Pope Benedict acts to remember that he is in some respects “Bonaventuran” and decidedly eclectic in his influences.  I am not alone in making this observation.   There was an interesting article about this idea last year in Commonweal (not my usual reading material, please note) by Joseph A. Komonchak. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. FrCharles says:

    My favorite quote from The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure: “The unsophisticated and unrealistic way in which Francis tried to make the Sermon on the Mount the rule of his ‘new People’ is not understood properly if we designate it as ‘idealism’…it is understandable only as…eschatological confidence…” (trans. Zachary Hayes)

  2. jesusthroughmary says:

    I don’t know that much about Bonaventure, but I know enough to know that he is vastly underappreciated and lives in the immense shadow of his friend Thomas. So I named my son Bonaventure to help shine a little light on this wonderful and holy bishop.

    Is there a patron saint of bishops? If not, perhaps he should be considered.

  3. lacrossecath says:

    Father, I could not access the link. Recently with the Friars of the Immaculate coming to my area, I have become more and more fascinated with the Augustinian/Bonaventuran philosophy since it seems like all I have ever learned(not much) is exclusively based on Aquinas. So interesting you posted this, because I recently found a used copy of Theology of History In St. Bonaventure by Cd Ratzinger(1971). I was so happy to see it was published in English! Also I’ve heard a lot more interest is now being paid to Bl John Duns Scotus in this same school of thought.

  4. FrCharles, love the section of the quote “eschatological confidence.” What a fantastic phrase! Will have to use that as a blog post title.

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