Papal Address at Bonaventure's Birthplace
"The Universe Itself Can Again Be the Voice That Speaks of God"
BAGNOREGGIO, Italy, SEPT. 7, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address Sunday at Bagnoreggio, the birthplace of St. Bonaventure.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters:
This morning's solemn Eucharistic celebration in Viterbo opened my pastoral visit to your diocesan community, and this meeting here in Bagnoreggio practically closes it. I greet you all with affection: religious, civil and military authorities, priests, men and women religious, pastoral agents, young people and families, and I thank you for your cordial welcome. I renew my gratitude first of all to your bishop for his affectionate words, which referred to my link with St. Bonaventure. And I respectfully greet the mayor of Bagnoreggio, grateful for the courteous welcome he gave me in the name of the whole city.
Giovanni Fidanza, who later became Friar Bonaventure, joins his name to that of Bagnoreggio in the well-known presentation that he makes of himself in the Divine Comedy. On saying: "I am the soul of Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio, who in exalted tasks put to one side erroneous endeavors" (Dante, Paradise XII, 127-129), which underscores how, in the important tasks that he had to undertake in the Church, he always postponed attention to temporal realities -- "erroneous endeavors" -- in favor of the spiritual good of souls. Here, in Bagnoreggio, he spent his childhood and adolescence; then he followed St. Francis, for whom he manifested special gratitude because, as he wrote, when he was a child he "snatched him from the jaws of death" (Legenda Maior, Prologus, 3,3) and predicted "bona venture," as your mayor recalled recently. He was able to establish a profound and lasting bond with the poor man of Assisi, drawing from him ascetic inspiration and ecclesial genius. You jealously guard the famous relic of the "holy arm" of this illustrious fellow-citizen, keep alive his memory and reflect deeply on his doctrine, especially through the Center of Bonaventure Studies, founded by Bonaventure Tecchi, which every year promotes special study conferences dedicated to him.
It is not easy to summarize the extensive philosophical, theological and mystical doctrine that St. Bonaventure left us. In this Year for Priests, I would like to invite priests especially to listen to this great doctor of the Church and to reflect more profoundly on his teaching of wisdom rooted in Christ. He directs every step of his speculation and mystical tension to wisdom that flowers in holiness, passing through the degrees that range from what he calls "uniform wisdom," which concerns the essential principles of knowledge, to "multiform wisdom," which consists of the mysterious language of the Bible, and then to "omni-form wisdom," which recognizes in the whole of created reality the reflection of the Creator, to "informed wisdom," that is, the experience of profound mystical contact with God, wherewith man's intellect knows the infinite Mystery in silence (cf. J. Ratzinger, St. Bonaventure and the Theology of History, Porziuncola publishers, 2006, pp. 92ff). On remembering this profound researcher and lover of wisdom, I would also like to express my encouragement and appreciation for the service that theologians are called to give, in the ecclesial community, of that faith that seeks understanding, that faith which is a "friend of intelligence" and which becomes a new life according to God's plan.
From St. Bonaventure's rich cultural and mystical patrimony I limit myself, this afternoon, to consider a "path" of reflection that might be useful for your diocesan community's pastoral journey. He was, in the first place, a tireless seeker of God, from the time of his studies in Paris until his death. He indicates in his writings the path to be followed. "Given that God is on High," he wrote, "the mind must ascend to him with all its strength" (De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam, No. 25).
In this way, he traces a committed path of faith, in which it is not enough "to read without unction, to speculate without devotion, to do research without admiration, to be circumspect without joy, to be expert without piety, to know without charity, to be intelligent without humility, to study without divine grace, to speak without wisdom inspired by God" (Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, Prologue 4). This journey of purification involves the whole person striving, through Christ, to the transforming love of the Trinity. And, given that Christ, forever God and man forever, effects in the faithful a new creation with his grace, the exploration of the divine presence becomes contemplation of him in the soul "where he dwells with the gifts of his uncontainable love" (ibid. IV, 4), to be finally transported in him. Hence, faith is the perfection of our cognitive capacities and participation in the knowledge that God has of himself and of the world; we experience hope as preparation for our encounter with the Lord, who will constitute the fulfillment of that friendship that already unites us to him. And charity introduces us to divine life, making us see all people as brothers, according to the will of our common heavenly Father.
In addition to being a seeker of God, St. Bonaventure was a seraphic singer of creation who, following St. Francis, learned to "praise God in all and through all creatures," in which "shines the omnipotence, wisdom and goodness of the Creator" (ibid. I, 10). St. Bonaventure presents a positive vision of the world, gift of God's love to men: He recognizes in it the reflection of the highest Goodness and Beauty that, following St. Augustine and St. Francis, assures us that it is God himself. God has given it all to us. From him, as original source, flow truth, goodness and beauty. To God, as on the steps of a stairway, one ascends until arriving and almost attaining the highest Good and in him we find our joy and peace. How useful it would be if also today we rediscovered the beauty and value of creation in the light of divine goodness and beauty! In Christ, observed St. Bonaventure, the universe itself can again be the voice that speaks of God and leads us to explore his presence; exhorts us to honor and glorify him in everything (Cf. Ibid. I, 15). Herein we perceive the spirit of St. Francis, with whom our saint shared love for all creatures.
St. Bonaventure was a messenger of hope. We find a beautiful image of hope in one of his Advent homilies, where he compares the movement of hope to the flight of a bird, which spreads its wings as far as possible, and employs all its energies to move them. In a certain sense, it make its whole being a movement to rise and fly. To hope is to fly, says St. Bonaventure. But hope exacts movement from all our members and our projection to the authentic stature of our being, to God's promises. He who hopes, he affirms, "must lift his head, directing his thoughts on high, to the height of our existence, that is, to God" (Sermo XVI, Dominica I Adv., Opera Omnia, IX, 40a).
In his address, the Lord Mayor posed a question: "What will Bagnoreggio be tomorrow?" In truth, we all wonder about our future and that of the world, and this question has much to do with hope, for which every human heart is thirsty. In the encyclical "Spe Salvi," I wrote that not just any hope is sufficient to address and overcome the difficulties of the present: a "certain hope" is indispensable which, giving us the certainty of attaining a "great" goal," justifies the effort of the journey" (cf. No. 1). Only this "great hope-certainty" assures us that, despite the failures of our personal life and the contradictions of history as a whole, we are always protected by the "indestructible power of Love."
When we are sustained by such hope we never run the risk of losing the courage to contribute, as the saints did, to the salvation of humanity, and "we can open ourselves and open the world so that God will enter, God, who is truth, love and goodness" (cf. No. 35). May St. Bonaventure help us to "spread the wings" of hope, which drives us to be, as he was, incessant seekers of God, singers of the beauties of creation and witnesses of that Love and Beauty that "moves everything."
Thank you, dear friends, once again, for your hospitality. While I assure you of my remembrance in prayer, I impart to you, through the intercession of St. Bonaventure and especially of Mary, faithful Virgin and Star of Hope, a special apostolic blessing, which I extend with pleasure to all the inhabitants of this beautiful land, rich in saints.