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Francois, Claude (dit Frere Luc) - Saint Bonaventure.jpg
17th-century portrait of Bonaventure by French painter and friar Claude François
Cardinal Bishop of Albano
Doctor of the Church
Seraphic Doctor
Teacher of the Faith
BornGiovanni di Fidanza
Civita di Bagnoregio near Viterbo, Latium, Papal States
Died15 July 1274(1274-07-15) (aged 52–53)
Lyon, Lyonnais, Kingdom of Burgundy-Arles
Venerated in Catholic Church
Church of England
Canonized 14 April 1482, Rome by Pope Sixtus IV
Feast 15 July or July 14
Attributes Cardinal's hat on a bush; ciborium; Holy Communion; cardinal in Franciscan robes, usually reading or writing

Philosophy career
Other namesDoctor Seraphicus ("Seraphic Doctor")
Alma mater University of Paris
Era Medieval philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Scholasticism
Neoplatonism [1] [2]
Philosophical realism
Medieval realism (moderate realism)
Institutions University of Paris
Main interests
Notable ideas
Bonaventure's version of Anselm of Canterbury's ontological argument
Ecclesiastical career
Religion Catholicism
Church Roman Catholic Church
Offices held
Cardinal-Bishop of Albano

Bonaventure ( /ˈbɒnəˌvɛnər,ˌbɒnəˈvɛn-/ BON-ə-ven-chər, -VEN-; Italian : Bonaventura [ˌbɔnavenˈtuːra] ; Latin : Bonaventura de Balneoregio; 1221 – 15 July 1274), [6] born Giovanni di Fidanza, was an Italian Catholic Franciscan, bishop, cardinal, scholastic theologian and philosopher.


The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he also served for a time as Bishop of Albano. He was canonised on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. He is known as the "Seraphic Doctor" (Latin : Doctor Seraphicus). His feast day is 15 July. Many writings believed in the Middle Ages to be his are now collected under the name Pseudo-Bonaventure.


He was born at Civita di Bagnoregio, not far from Viterbo, then part of the Papal States. Almost nothing is known of his childhood, other than the names of his parents, Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria di Ritella. [7] [8] Bonaventure reports that in his youth he was saved from an untimely death by the prayers of Francis of Assisi, which is the primary motivation for Bonaventure's writing the vita. [9]

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. [10] In 1253 he held the Franciscan chair at Paris. A dispute between seculars and mendicants delayed his reception as Master until 1257, where his degree was taken in company with Thomas Aquinas. [11] Three years earlier his fame had earned him the position of lecturer on 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. [10]

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. [12]

During his tenure, the General Chapter of Narbonne, held in 1260, promulgated a decree prohibiting the publication of any work out of the order without permission from superiors. This prohibition has induced modern writers to pass severe judgment upon Roger Bacon's superiors, who were assumed to be envious of Bacon's abilities. However, the prohibition enjoined on Bacon was a general one, which extended to the whole order. Its promulgation was not directed against him, but rather against Gerard of Borgo San Donnino. In 1254 Gerard had published without permission a heretical work, Introductorius in Evangelium æternum (An Introduction to the Eternal Gospel). Thereupon the General Chapter of Narbonne promulgated their decree, identical with the "constitutio gravis in contrarium" Bacon speaks of. The prohibition was rescinded in Roger's favor unexpectedly in 1266. [13]

Bonaventure's coat of arms of Cardinal Bishop of Albano Coat of arms of Saint Bonvanture.svg
Bonaventure's coat of arms of Cardinal Bishop of Albano

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 Second Council of Lyon in 1274. [10] There, after his significant contributions led to a union of the Greek and Latin churches, Bonaventure died suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. The 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia has citations that suggest he was poisoned, but no mention is made of this in the 2003 second edition of the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

He steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He thought of Christ as the "one true master" who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God. [14]


In the year 1434, 160 years after his death, his body was moved to a new church that was considered more fitting. Upon doing so, the head was found to be entirely incorrupt. "The hair, lips, teeth, and tongue were perfectly preserved and retained their natural colour. The people of Lyon were profoundly affected by this miracle, and they chose Bonaventure for the patron of their city. The movement, already on foot, to obtain his canonization received thereby a new and powerful impetus." However, a century later in 1562, the city of Lyon was captured by Huguenots, who burned Bonaventure's body in the public square. In the 19th-century, during the "dechristianization of France" during the French Revolution, the urn containing the incorrupt head was hidden, after which the church was razed to the ground. The urn has never been recovered. [15] The only extant relic of Bonaventure 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. [16]

Theology and works

Legenda maior, 1477 Bonaventura - Legenda maior, MCCCCLXXVII adi VI del mese de februario e stata impressa questa opera - 2360911 ib00890000 Scan00008.jpg
Legenda maior, 1477


Bonaventure was formally canonised in 1484 by the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV, and ranked along with Thomas Aquinas as the greatest of the Doctors of the Church by another Franciscan, Pope Sixtus V, in 1587. Bonaventure was regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages. [17] His works, as arranged in the most recent Critical Edition by the Quaracchi Fathers (Collegio S. Bonaventura), consist of a Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard, in four volumes, and eight other volumes, including a Commentary on the Gospel of St Luke and a number of smaller works; the most famous of which are The Mind's Road to God (Itinerarium mentis in Deum), an outline of his theology or Brief Reading (Breviloquium), Reduction of the Arts to Theology (De reductione artium ad theologiam), and Soliloquy on the Four Spiritual Exercises (Soliloquium de quatuor mentalibus exercitiis), The Tree of Life (Lignum vitae), and The Triple Way (De Triplici via), the latter three written for the spiritual direction of his fellow Franciscans.[ citation needed ]

The German philosopher Dieter Hattrup denies that Reduction of the Arts to Theology was written by Bonaventure, claiming that the style of thinking does not match Bonaventure's original style. [18] His position is no longer tenable given recent research: the text remains "indubitably authentic". [19] [20]

A work that for many years was falsely attributed to Bonaventure, De septem itineribus aeternitatis, was actually written by Rudolf von Biberach (c. 1270 – 1329). [21]

For Isabelle of France, the sister of King Louis IX of France, and her monastery of Poor Clares at Longchamps, Bonaventure wrote the treatise Concerning the Perfection of Life. [6]

The Commentary on the Sentences, written at the command of his superiors when he was twenty-seven, [17] is Bonaventure's major work and most of his other theological and philosophical writings are in some way dependent on it. However, some of Bonaventure's later works, such as the Lectures on the Six Days of Creation , show substantial developments beyond the Sentences. [22] [23]


Bonaventure wrote on almost every subject treated by the Scholastics (see Scholasticism) and his writings are substantial. A great number of them deal with faith in Christ, God and theology. No work of Bonaventure's is exclusively philosophical, a striking illustration of the mutual interpenetration of philosophy and theology that is a distinguishing mark of the Scholastic period. [17]

Much of Bonaventure's philosophical thought shows a considerable influence by Augustine of Hippo, so much so that De Wulf considers him the best medieval representative of Augustinianism. Bonaventure adds Aristotelian principles to the Augustinian doctrine, especially in connection with the illumination of the intellect and the composition of human beings and other living creatures in terms of matter and form. [24] Augustine, who had introduced into the west many of the doctrines that would define scholastic philosophy, was a critically important source of Bonaventure's Platonism. The mystic Dionysius the Areopagite was another notable influence.

In philosophy Bonaventure presents a marked contrast to his contemporaries, Roger Bacon, Albert the Great, 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, Bonaventure presents the mystical and Platonizing mode of speculation that had already, to some extent, found expression in Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, Alexander of Hales, 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. [10]

Bonaventure receives the envoys of the Byzantine Emperor at the Second Council of Lyon. Francisco de Zurbaran 012.jpg
Bonaventure receives the envoys of the Byzantine Emperor at the Second Council of Lyon.

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 (though he disagreed with Aquinas about the abstract possibility of an eternal universe). Bonaventure accepts the general Christian Neoplatonic doctrine, found in Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius that "forms" do not exist as subsistent entities, but as ideals, predefinitions, archetypes, or in Bonaventure's words: "exemplars", in the mind of God, according to which actual things were formed. This conception has no slight influence upon his philosophy. Emanationism, exemplarism, and consummation are explicitly listed by Bonaventure as the core principles of theology, all of which are heavily Platonic themes and carry equally Platonic subtopics and discussions but yet are all rooted in the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, incarnate as Jesus Christ, who is the 'principio' of divine exemplars, from which creation emanates from and by which creation is made intelligible and which creation finds as its goal. [25] Creation is two-fold, expressing the divine truth, the divine exemplar in the Word of God; it "speaks" of that which it is the likeness and subsists in itself and in the Son. [26] Within Bonaventure mature work, the Collationes in Hexaemeron, the Seraphic Doctor takes exemplarism, drawn out from his transformation of Platonic Realism, as the basis for vital points of Christian theological dogma: God's love of creation, God's foreknowledge, providence and divine governance, the unconstrained but perfect will of God, divine justice and the devil, the immortality of and uniqueness of human soul, and the goodness and beauty of creation. This also serves as his repudiation of Arab peripatetic necessitarianism and pure Aristotelian identified by the Greek Fathers, if left uncorrected by Plato and Revelation which teach the same thing under different modes. [27]

Upon [rejection of exemplarism], there follows another [error], that is, that God has neither foreknowledge nor providence, since He does not have within Himself a rational justification of things by which He could know them. They also say that there are no truths concerning the future except that of necessary things. And from this it follows that all things come about either by chance or by necessity. And since it is impossible that things come about by chance, the Arabs conclude to absolute necessity, that is, that these substances that move the globe are the necessary causes of all things. From this it follows that truth is hidden, that is, the truth of government of worldly things in terms of pain and glory. If, indeed, these substances are inerrant movers, nothing is supposed concerning hell or the existence of the devil: neither did Aristotle ever suppose the existence of the devil, nor happiness after this life, as it appears. Here, then, there is a threefold error: a concealment of exemplarity, of divine providence and of world government. [28]

Like all the great scholastic doctors, Bonaventure 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 that form the groundwork of the Christian system, but other truths can only be received and apprehended through divine illumination. 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 that may rise even to ecstatic union with God. The supreme end of life is a union in contemplation or intellect or intense absorbing love; but it cannot be entirely reached in this life, and remains as a hope for the future. [10]

Like Aquinas and other notable thirteenth-century philosophers and theologians, Bonaventure believed that it is possible to logically prove the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. In fact, unlike Aquinas, Bonaventure holds that reason can demonstrate the beginning of the world. [29] [30] He offers several arguments for the existence of God, including versions of Anselm of Canterbury's ontological argument and Augustine's argument from eternal truths. His main argument for the immortality of the soul appeals to humans' natural desire for perfect happiness, and is reflected in C.S. Lewis's argument from desire. Contrary to Aquinas, Bonaventure did not believe that philosophy was an autonomous discipline that could be pursued successfully independently of theology. Any philosopher is bound to fall into serious error, he believed, who lacks the light of faith. [31]

A master of the memorable phrase, Bonaventure held that philosophy opens the mind to at least three different routes humans can take on their journey to God. Non-intellectual material creatures he conceived as shadows and vestiges (literally, footprints) of God, understood as the ultimate cause of a world that philosophical reason can prove was created at a first moment in time. Intellectual creatures he conceived of as images and likenesses of God, the workings of the human mind and will leading us to God understood as illuminator of knowledge and donor of grace and virtue. The final route to God is the route of being, in which Bonaventure brought Anselm's argument together with Aristotelian and Neoplatonic metaphysics to view God as the absolutely perfect being whose essence entails its existence, an absolutely simple being that causes all other, composite beings to exist. [14]

Bonaventure, however, is not only 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, seminal reasons, the principle of individuation, or the intellectus agens, he gives weighty and well-reasoned decisions. He agrees with 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 that receives individual being and determinateness from the formative power of God, acting according to the ideas; and finally maintains that the agent intellect 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. [10]

In form and intent the work of Bonaventure is always the work of a theologian; he writes as one for whom the only angle of vision and the proximate criterion of truth is the Christian faith. This fact affects his importance as a philosopher; when coupled with his style, it makes Bonaventure perhaps the least accessible of the major figures of the thirteenth century. This is true because philosophy interests him largely as a praeparatio evangelica, as something to be interpreted as a foreshadow of or deviation from what God has revealed. [32]


Bonaventure's feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar immediately upon his canonisation 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. [33]

He is the patron saint of bowel disorders. [34] [35]

Bonaventure is remembered in the Church of England with a commemoration on 15 July. [36]

Places, churches, and schools named in his honour

United States



United Kingdom

Latin America

Southern Asia


Bonaventura College is a Catholic high school in Leiden in the Netherlands.


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  30. Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 2 (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1950), p. 248.
  31. McInerny, Ralph, A History of Western Philosophy, Vol.II, Chapter 5, "St. Bonaventure: the Man and His Work", Jacques Maritain Center, Notre Dame University.
  32. Calendarium Romanum. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1969. pp. 97, 130.
  33. Online, Catholic. "Patron Saints A-Z - Saints & Angels". Catholic Online. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  34. Craughwell, T.J. (2016). Heaven Help Us: 300 Patron Saints to Call Upon for Every Occasion. Book Sales. p. 72. ISBN   978-0-7858-3465-6 . Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  35. "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 27 March 2021.

Further reading

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor
Succeeded by
Preceded by Archbishop of York
Succeeded by