Born Giovanni de Fidanza in 13th century Italy, Bonaventure – whose name means “happy venture” – changed his name on his entering the Franciscan order as a young man of 25.
As a young child he had been cured of a grave illness through the intercession of Francis of Assisi; and as a young man he had studied and lectured at the University of Paris under the great Franciscan teacher, Alexander of Hales. It seemed natural then, that Bonaventure should become a friar, and that the destiny of the Franciscan Order should be closely bound up with him.
When he was just 39, he was elected Minister General of the Order, a position he held for 16 difficult years. He endeavoured with great prudence to bring about a common ground between the Spirituals and the Conventuals, two extremist parties within the Franciscan community, who both argued that their interpretation of Francis was the more authentic. Because of this, Bonaventure is sometimes called the “second founder” of the Friars Minor.
Our custom of the ‘Angelus’ owes its origin to Bonaventure. He ordered that a bell be rung and the Hail Mary recited thrice at sunset in each Franciscan priory, a custom later adopted by the whole Church.
Bonaventure was an outstanding theologian and philosopher, and a mystical writer of the first rank. His Threefold Way is a compendium of mystical prayer; his great Commentary on the Sentences, written when he was just 27, is a summary of Scholastic philosophy; and his Life of St Francis had such clarity and beauty, that for many years it was the standard biography of that great saint.
Bonaventure always attached great importance to preaching, whether to common folk, before kings and princes, or in the lecture halls and church assemblies. He is still referred to by many as the “Seraphic Doctor”.