Saturday, July 15, 2006

O buona ventura!

Today is the feast day of the great Giovanni di Fidanza (1221-1274), better known as Bonaventura. The legend is that he got his name when, while sick as an infant, his parents took him to St. Francis of Assisi in the hopes that he might be healed. Francis, it is said, held the infant in his arms and exclaimed, "O buona ventura!" (O good fortune!) And so the young one was ever after known as Buonaventura (in Italian) or Bonaventura (in Latin).

This late legend is highly improbable, of course, and seems to date no earlier than the fifteenth century. We do know, from Bonaventure himself, that there was some sort of intercession by Francis that was related to a deathly illness; but it's link with his name seems a later addition. Nonetheless, it conveys the intimate link between Francis of Assisi and the Seraphic Doctor, who was Good Fortune indeed for the Franciscan Order, since Bonaventure navigated the Franciscans through their most difficult time. He died at the Council of Lyons in 1274; it is said that a great deal of what the Council accomplished was due to the respect the Greeks came to have for him as a person and as a Christian. How exactly he died is unknown; but there has always been a rumor that he was poisoned -- why, nobody knows.

You can find almost everthing of value the internet has to offer on or by Bonaventure at the Franciscan Archive. Dante places Bonaventure in the Circle of the Sun:

Bonaventura of Bagnoregio's life
Am I, who always in great offices
Postponed considerations sinister.


One of the neater things about Aquinas and Bonaventure in Dante's poem is that Aquinas, the Dominican, praises St. Francis, while Bonaventure, the Franciscan, praises St. Dominic; Aquinas laments the failings of the Dominicans while Bonaventure laments the failings of the Franciscans; and Aquinas includes Siger of Brabant, one of his major intellectual opponents, among the saints, while Bonaventure does the same for Joachim of Fiore. It's a lovely and balanced way to express the perichoresis of heaven.

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