A Sunday remembering Bonaventure


Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Generous God, you give us gifts and make them grow: though our faith is small as mustard seed, make it grow to your glory and the flourishing of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said,

‘See, I am setting a plumb-line

   in the midst of my people Israel;

   I will never again pass them by;

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,

   and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,

   and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,

   and Israel must go into exile

   away from his land.” ’

And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycomore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Amos 5:18–24


8  I will listen to what the Lord God will say, •

   for he shall speak peace to his people and to the faithful,

      that they turn not again to folly.

9  Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him, •

   that his glory may dwell in our land.

10  Mercy and truth are met together, •

   righteousness and peace have kissed each other;

11  Truth shall spring up from the earth •

   and righteousness look down from heaven.

12  The Lord will indeed give all that is good, •

   and our land will yield its increase.

13  Righteousness shall go before him •

   and direct his steps in the way.

Psalm 85


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14


King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Mark 6:14-29 

Sermon on A Sunday remembering Bonaventure 

When I was in Chicago many years ago, the University’s Divinity School brought many famous scholars together for a great celebration of the 700th anniversary of the deaths of Aquinas and Bonaventure, among them Dom Helder Camera and Karl Rahner. These two men were giants in the field of christian theology, even though neither of them were taller than I and they both were very soft-spoken, whether that was a function of age or personality was difficult to tell. I mention this high point of my career only because my diary marks St Bonaventure as today’s saint.

Bonaventure is called the seraphic doctor, a Franciscan who wrote extensively on many theological subjects. I am not an expert on this saintly theologian, so I will rely on others more skilled than I to expose us to some of his life and thought – and here I am relying on the encyclopaedic internet . So how did Bonaventure begin his life in the Church?

He fell ill while a boy and, according to his own words, was saved from death by the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi.

Entering the University of Paris in 1235, he received the master of arts degree in 1243 and then joined the Franciscan order, which named him Bonaventure in 1244. He studied theology in the Franciscan school at Paris from 1243 to 1248. …

By turning the pursuit of truth into a form of divine worship, he integrated his study of theology with the Franciscan mode of the mendicant life.

This is a rather different type of theology than the sort of thing we hear about when scholastic theology comes up. The medieval period was supposed to be filled with arguments about angels dancing on heads of pins. Nevertheless, this description of Bonaventure’s endeavour should give us pause. We should begin to think that it is possible to do a meaningful theology today in this high-tech age, when even religion has come to Facebook.

Bonaventure was particularly noted in his day as a man with the rare ability to reconcile diverse traditions in theology and philosophy. He united different doctrines in a synthesis containing his personal conception of truth as a road to the love of God.

This is the culmination of his work, that experiencing the love of God is the purpose of human life. Is it surprising that the love of God does incorporate all truth and so be able to reconcile the diversity of human intellectual endeavour? My source continues: “[His] works showed his deep understanding of Scripture and the Fathers of the early church – principally St. Augustine – and a wide knowledge of the philosophers, particularly Aristotle.” This fascination with Aristotle binds the two doctors of the Church together, for Aquinas and Bonaventure both mined that ancient Greek’s thought for insight into human endeavour. Rahner spoke about this all those years ago. Camera spoke of the seraphic doctor’s insistence on love as uniting knowledge, as the apex of human knowledge.

His Journey of the Mind to God (1259) was a masterpiece showing the way by which man as a creature ought to love and contemplate God through Christ after the example of St. Francis. 

Bonaventure writes at the beginning of this, his greatest work:

“Therefore to the groan of praying through Christ crucified, through whose Blood we are purged from the filth of vice, I indeed first invite the reader, lest perhaps he believes that reading without unction, speculation without devotion, investigation without admiration, circumspection without exultation, industry without piety, knowledge [scientia] without charity, understanding without humility, study apart from divine grace, gaze [speculum] apart from divinely inspired wisdom is sufficient for him.” [Pro. 4]

Can you imagine any of our contemporary teachers describing the work of learning in this way? Everything for Bonaventure is founded on prayer and the illumination emanating from that divine source. He continues “one must not run perfunctorily through the course of these speculations, but ruminate (on them) with the greatest of lingering.” He wants us to contemplate most deeply our motives for our continued learning. He exhorts us to the greatest effort of allowing divine wisdom to penetrate into our very selves. Much of this argument depends on the medieval notion of understanding based on the received interpretation of Aristotle. It seems that the human being has a bond with the perceived through memory and projection. It is complicated and I have not been able to succinctly state it so I apologise. However, what I do hope to convey is that Bonaventure sees that the human being and the final and first cause have a bond which reveals itself when we acknowledge the divine source. We have to accept that we know because there is an affinity between creature and created in the fact that divine wisdom can be grasped by the human being.

Moreover if you seek, in what manner these things occur [fiant], interrogate grace, not doctrine, desire, not understanding [intellectum]; the groan of praying, not the study of reading; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not brightness [claritatem]; not light, but the fire totally inflaming, transferring one into God both by its excessive unctions and by its most ardent affections.

Bonaventure comprehends the world through faith, and upon faith stands all wisdom and all knowledge – indeed all human endeavour. This is quite a different way of viewing the world than that of ours today. Bonaventure does not say with Luther, “Faith alone [sola fide]”, but he begins with faith and comprehends God through all things because of his faith. Further knowledge and wisdom – both of which succeed faith – complement faith and inform the life of faith. So Bonaventure’s faith does not restrict in any way, but rather it unfolds, it expands, all experience, helping to make sense of it through the use of all the human being is.

As a leading scholar, Bonaventure became embroiled in the strife amongst the Franciscans and he is credited with saving the order.

The work of restoration and reconciliation [of the Franciscan Order at a time of great disorder and discord] owed its success to Bonaventure’s tireless visits, despite delicate health, to each province of the order and to his own personal realization of the Franciscan ideal.  …

In his travels [as head of the Franciscans], he preached the Gospel constantly and so elegantly that he was recognized everywhere as a most eloquent preacher. As a theologian, he based the revival of the order on his conception of the spiritual life, which he expounded in mystical treatises manifesting his Franciscan experience of contemplation as a perfection of the Christian life.

Perhaps this is what we ought to remember about Bonaventure – that his teaching and his life were a unity, just as he saw wisdom as the core of human being once it was awakened through faith.


This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.