On Friday and Saturday, July 14-15, the feast of Saint Bonaventure will be celebrated with particular solemnity, on the occasion of the Eighth Centenary of his birth (1217-2017), in his city of Begnoregio, Lazio. Father Pietro Messa, OFM, spoke about it to ZENIT.
Minor Friar Fr Pietro Messa is Professor of the History of the Franciscan spirit at the Pontifical University Antonianum. From 2005 to 2017 he was head at the same academic center of the Higher School of Medieval and Franciscan Studies. Among his publications is “Francis of Assisi and Mercy,” written with Monsignor Paolo Martinelli (Bologna 2015).
Q: Father Messa, Saint Bonaventure is being celebrated, how and why?
–Father Messa: Franciscan Bonaventure of Bagnoregio died at Lyon, where he was to take part in the Council called by Pope Gregory X on July 15. When Pope Sixtus canonized him in 1482, his liturgical feast was established according to the tradition of the Church, in his dies natalis, namely the day of his birth to eternal life, hence July 15. The celebration became more solemn in 1588, after Pope Sixtus declared him Doctor of the Church. This 2017, therefore, is the Eighth Centenary of his birth in 1217.
Q: The Saint’s statue watches over Saint Peter’s Square. What does it mean for the Church?
–Father Messa: It is very significant that the series of Saints decorating Bernini’s Colonnade begin on the right of Saint Peter’s Basilica with Saint Bonaventure and on the left with Saint Thomas Aquinas. First of all, it must be recalled that these two theologians, both declared Doctors of the Church, are an important reference to understand the faith and the culture, so much so that the year of their death, namely 1274, is indicated by some even as a change of epoch, namely, the end of the Medieval Age.
Their position there almost indicates how the two columns of reference for reason open to mystery and a reasonable faith, is the necessary condition not to yield to the temptation of any fundamentalism or fideism, whose devastating effects can be seen again today.
Q: Pope Benedict dedicated his thesis to Saint Bonaventure. What does his theology say to us, “non-theologians” today?
–Father Messa: The story of Joseph Ratzinger’s thesis wasn’t at all linear and this is already a spur to overcome a certain intellectual laziness, which impedes reflecting further on forgotten pages of history or repeating in a boring way judgments given for granted that instead are in need of being verified from the sources. Moreover, such study offers many aspects for understanding history, the idea of progress, ecclesiology and other questions that require answers also today.
Q: What does this great Franciscan transmit to us of Saint Francis?
–Father Messa: First of all, in his “Life of Saint Francis,” Bonaventure does not offer a chronicle of the Saint of Assisi but he makes a theological reading of him according to the hagiographic genre. If such work is not considered, as any hagiography, as a theological reading of history that doesn’t eliminate history, one easily comes to speak of the myth and denied history, as also happened recently. One of the characterizing aspects of the spiritual story of the Saint of Assisi, according to Bonaventure, is that his wisdom was humility. In fact this made him docile to the action of the Holy Spirit that conformed him to Jesus, so much so as to be able to come to affirm that he was a living memory of Christ in his time and for his time.
Q: On the occasion of the Eighth Centenary of his birth, why is there a publication with such a complicated title as that of Barbara Faes “Bonaventure of Bagnoregio: An Itinerary through Editions, Reprints and Translations”?
–Father Messa: Cardinal Tauran observed with acuteness that today the danger is that of a clash of ignorance more than of civilizations. In fact, also because of the social networks, much false, manipulated and partial news is spread. Therefore, it is important to go to the sources; this certainly implies challenging work but as a Franciscan scholar – Father Giovanni Boccali — repeats often “things that are born in a hurry end in a hurry; those that are born slowly last in time.” To know, study and divulge the life and thought of Bonaventure, as, for example, has been done from Romano Guardini to Giuseppe De Luca, from Etienne Gilson to Hans Urs von Balthasar, is certainly a good investment for the present but especially for the future.
The book will be presented at Bagnoregio on Friday, July 14 at 4:30 pm at the auditorium of the Hotel de Ville, with the participation of Father Pietro Messa, Filippo Sedda, de Fortunato and the author, Barbara Faes.
The presentation will be followed a 6:00 pm with the First Vespers of the Solemnity of Saint Bonaventure at the Cathedral of Bagnoregio.