By Sarah Delaney
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI praised a 13th-century theologian and saint for emphasizing that the faithful should hold Christ and his teaching of poverty, chastity and obedience as a model for their lives.
In his weekly audience at the Vatican March 3, the pope talked about the spiritual and intellectual vigor of St. Bonaventure, an early follower and biographer of St. Francis of Assisi.
The saint and doctor of the church was exemplary because of the way he managed to use wisdom and moderation to mitigate violent conflicts within the church regarding the mendicant religious orders that were influential at the time, the pope said.
The saint also taught and wrote that all believers should do as St. Francis, who strived to imitate Christ in his own life.
Born in central Italy around 1217 as Giovanni da Fidanza, the saint wrote that he had been saved from a probably fatal illness through the intercession of St. Francis. A good student, he went to study in Paris where he became familiar with the mendicant Franciscan order, the pope explained. He became a Franciscan friar in 1243 and changed his name to Bonaventure.
He studied theology at the University of Paris, a city where the validity of the mendicant, or begging, orders was being violently disputed and their right to teach at the university was being contested.
St. Bonaventure wrote a treatise in defense of the orders called “Evangelical Perfection,” in which he said that those who practice poverty, chastity and obedience were only following the Gospel itself.
Later Pope Alexander IV called on Bonaventure to become the master general, or superior, of the Franciscans, a position he held for 17 years. He tried to better organize the some 30,000 members of the order, inspiring them to follow the example of St. Francis and helping draft rules intended to stave off an internal rupture.
St. Bonaventure realized, however, that “this wasn’t sufficient to assure the communion of the hearts and spirits” of the Franciscans, the pope said.
So Bonaventure researched documents and interviewed people who knew St. Francis and wrote what became the official biography of the saint from Assisi, the pope said. From his work, he offered an image of St. Francis as a man who, “driven by the love that seeks imitation, conformed entirely to him (Christ),” said the pope.
St. Bonaventure was called upon by the pope to prepare the Second Council of Lyons, to try to heal the divide between the Latin and Greek churches, but died in 1274 while it was still in session.
Reflecting on St. Bonaventure’s call to imitate Christ and St. Francis of Assisi, the pope said, “the lessons of Bonaventure, through his work and in his life, are still relevant.”
The church, the pope said, is made better by the men and women who “with their poor, chaste and obedient style of life show that the Gospel is a source of joy and perfection.”
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Editor’s Note: The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English will be posted online at: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100303_en.html.
The text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish will be posted online at: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100303_sp.html.
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