Saturday, July 15, 2023

Saint Bonaventure on Progress as “Renewal in Continuity”

The late Pope Benedict XVI drew much inspiration from the Augustinian theological tradition and had a special affection for Saint Bonaventure (Feast, July 15), writing his doctoral dissertation on Bonaventure’s theology of history. In the brief selection below from the second of three homilies on Saint Bonaventure in his series of Wednesday audiences devoted to Medieval Doctors of the Church, Pope Benedict emphasizes Bonaventure’s profound conviction that the life of the Church develops and grows even as it remains rooted in Jesus Christ and His Gospel as handed on from the Apostles.

Saint Bonaventure saw that the charism of his teacher Saint Francis of Assisi represented a new “moment” in the history of the Church. Nevertheless, it did not represent a break with the past, but rather a coherent unfolding of the inner vitality of Christian faith and life. One might say—as Pope Benedict often emphasized regarding the Church today—that it was a moment of “renewal in continuity.” Bonaventure viewed the rise of the mendicant orders as a deepening of the Church’s own understanding of the “inexhaustible riches” of the revelation of God’s love given in Christ and handed on in the Church’s living tradition. The works of Christ “do not fail but progress” in the Church’s earthly pilgrimage through history in union with His fullness.

Here Pope Benedict summarizes the great thirteenth century Saint’s approach to the conflicts he faced as Minister General of the rapidly growing Franciscan order in its still-early days:

“Jesus Christ is God's last word—in him God said all, giving and expressing himself. More than himself, God cannot express or give. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. Christ himself says of the Holy Spirit: ‘He will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (John 14:26), and ‘he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:15). Thus there is no loftier Gospel, there is no other Church to await. Therefore the Order of St Francis too must fit into this Church, into her faith and into her hierarchical order.

“This does not mean that the Church is stationary, fixed in the past, or that there can be no newness within her. ‘Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt’: Christ's works do not go backwards, they do not fail but progress, the Saint said in his letter De Tribus Quaestionibus. Thus St Bonaventure explicitly formulates the idea of progress and this is an innovation in comparison with the Fathers of the Church and the majority of his contemporaries

“The Franciscan Order of course as he emphasized belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ, to the apostolic Church, and cannot be built on utopian spiritualism. Yet, at the same time, the newness of this Order in comparison with classical monasticism was valid and St Bonaventure…defended this newness against the attacks of the secular clergy of Paris: the Franciscans have no fixed monastery, they may go everywhere to proclaim the Gospel. It was precisely the break with stability, the characteristic of monasticism, for the sake of a new flexibility that restored to the Church her missionary dynamism.”

~Pope Benedict XVI (General Audience, March 10, 2010)