St. Bonaventure: “Reason that is open to mystery; Faith that is reasonable”


Because it occurs during the eight centenary of his birth in 1217, the feast day of St. Bonaventure will be celebrated with greater solemnity this year in his native Bagnoregio (Lazio). Fr. Pietro Messa ofm, spoke to the readers of ZENIT about the celebrations taking place on Friday and Saturday,14-15th July.   

Pietro Messa, a Friar Minor, is professor of Franciscan History at the Pontifical University, Antonianum. Since 2005 he has served as the head of the School of Medieval and Franciscan Higher Studies at the Antonianum. Amongst his many publications is Francis of Assisi and Mercy, which he co-wrote with Msgr. Paolo Martinelli (Bologna 2015).


ZENIT: Fr Messa, St. Bonaventure is being celebrated: How? and Why? 

Fr. Pietro Messa, ofm: Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, a Franciscan, died at Lyon on 15th July, where he had gone to participate in the Council summoned by Pope Gregory X. When Pope Sixtus IV canonized him in 1482, following the tradition of the Church, Bonaventure’s liturgical feast day was fixed as his dies natalis, the day when he was born to eternal life, on the 15th July. The celebration was made even more solemn when Pope Sixtus V declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1588. This year, 2017, marks the eighth centenary of his birth in 1217.


A statue of this saint watches over St. Peter’s Square: what does that mean for the Church?

Fr Pietro Messa, ofm: It is very significant that the series of saints that adorns Bernini’s colonnade begins with St. Bonaventure on the right-hand side of St. Peter’s Basilica, and with St. Thomas Aquinas on the left. This is an important reminder that these two theologians (both declared Doctors of the Church) are an important point of reference for an understanding of faith and culture — so much so, that the year of both their deaths, 1274, has been seen by some as a change of epoch, indicating the end of the Middle Ages.

Their position in St. Peter’s is a sign that they are two central pillars of an approach that sees reason as open to mystery, and faith that is reasonable. This approach is necessary in order to resist any temptation towards fundamentalism and fideism — whose devastating effects can still be seen today.


What does this great Franciscan hand on to us from St. Francis?  

Fr Pietro Messa, ofm: First of all, in his Life of St. Francis, Bonaventure does not present a chronological history of Francis of Assisi, but instead gives a theological reading of his life in the manner of a hagiography. This work, like any hagiography, is a theological reading of history — but this does not mean that it eliminates history. If we do not keep this in mind, we can easily begin talking in terms of myths, and start negating history, as has happened recently.

According to Bonaventure, one of the characteristic features of the spiritual life of Francis of Assisi is that his wisdom grew from his humility. It is precisely that which made him open to the action of the Holy Spirit, and in this way, he became so conformed to Jesus that he was a living memorial of Christ in his time and for his time.


For the complete text (in Italian):