Saint Bonaventure and the Sabbath Age

Saint Bonaventure, “the Seraphic Doctor”, believed that before the Second Coming of Christ there would come an age of universal peace and fullness of understanding, in which everyone on earth would be a ‘contemplative’ and live in mystical union with God.

I am very interested in hearing peoples’ thoughts on this. He is a Doctor of the Church and his positive understanding of the future is very interesting to me.

Here is a description, based upon a doctrinal thesis written by the previous Pope Benedict XVI when he was a postgraduate student, of how St. Bonaventure approached this issue:

books.google.co.uk/books?id=4SXyRdClFNQC&pg=PA53&dq=Bonaventure%27s+theology+of+history+corrective+to+the+speculations+of+the+brilliant+but+wayward+Calabrian+abbot+Joachim+of+Fiore&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAWoVChMIlKmioKDqxwIVSprbCh0eUQa9#v=onepage&q=Bonaventure’s%20theology%20of%20history%20corrective%20to%20the%20speculations%20of%20the%20brilliant%20but%20wayward%20Calabrian%20abbot%20Joachim%20of%20Fiore&f=true

The Thought of Pope Benedict XVI New Edition: An Introduction

"…In large measure, Bonaventure’s theology of history took the form of an orthodox corrective to the speculations of the brilliant but wayward Calabrian abbot Joachim of Fiore. The Franciscan Order, of which Bonaventure was minister-general, was strained to breaking-point by the claims of Joachim’s Franciscan sympathisers.

They maintained that the Church, founded hitherto on the sacramental and ministerial pattern laid down by God the Son, made man in Jesus, was shortly to enter a new charismatic condition of unmediated access to grace - the reign of God the Spirit whose herald, they insisted, was Francis of Assisi himself. According to Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), the Collationes in Hexaemeron were Bonvaventure’s response to the Joachimite question. And this response consisted, not in a total rejection of Joachim’s teaching, but in a corrective interpretation [that received the sanction of Catholic orthodoxy].

Whereas the Joachimites were interpreting Joachim against tradition, Bonaventure would interpret him within, indeed back to, tradition…Bonaventure’s predecessor John of Parma had supported both the prophecies of Joachim and the Joachimite conception of the Franciscan Order…His position had, however, become untenable with the papal condemnition in 1255 of the Evangelium aeternum (the Eternal Gospel), the attempt to give Franciscan Spiritualism theological formulation.

What Bonaventure produced was perhaps the most substantial high medieval synthesis…

It is this latter, seven-fold schema which is the most interesting in Bonaventure’s eyes, as it had been to Augustine in the De Civitate Dei. What emerges from Ratzinger’s necessarily convoluted discussion, is that Saint Bonaventure, just like Joachim, hopes for a new age of salvation within history. Between Jesus Christ and the final consummation of history he makes space for an ‘inner-historical transformation of the Church’. Before this immediately pre-eschatological ‘seventh age’, there lies a small section of our present sixth age which is yet to be realized. Here is where Bonaventure’s attention is focussed, in a:

mysterious border-line area separating the perilous time of the present from that age of Sabbath rest which is yet to come within the framework of this world. (Ratzinger)

Within the single covenant of the New Testament, the present sixth age is being brought to its climax. In this, the crucial role is that played by St. Francis…

Bonaventure presents Francis as the key-figure in ushering in for the Church a new era which can only be compared to the beatitude of heaven itself…Within the time of the Church, the emergence of St. Francis, the ‘Angel of the Seals,’ foretold in the Book of the Apocalypse, and the rise of the prophetic movement he started, namely, Franciscanism.

Francis is for Bonaventure not just another saint, but the [first] sign of a new age. Francis had called himself, according to the Legenda Major, ‘the herald of a great King’. This enabled Bonaventure to see him, not just as a new John the Baptist - the herald of Christ, but also as a new Elijah…

Same text continued…

Bonaventure accepted Joachim’s insistence that the final coming of Elijah is to become a reality in the mission of the ‘two witnesses’ of the Johannine Apocalypse. Elijah will come again, accompanied by that other Old Testament deathless man, Enoch. For Bonaventure, this definitive sign has happened. The two witnesses have borne their testimony: Francis, attended by his spiritual companion, St. Dominic [founder of the Dominican Order]. But more than this, Francis is the angelus ascendens ab ortu solis, the ‘angel arising with the dawn,’ marked with the seal of the living God, the stigmata, the very impress of Christ crucified. Consonant with Joachim’s prophecy that the Angel of the Seal would receive full power to renew the Christian religion, Francis seals the elect, thus establishing the community of the Last Age. This he does by drawing men and women to make profession…to a contemplative form of Christianity, stamped by love as wax is informed by a seal. This people will enjoy here and now the peace of the seventh day, the dawn of the Lord’s Parousia…

While Bonaventure considered the ‘new people of God’ that he envisaged for the future as the true fulfilment of Francis’ intentions, he was not so arrogant as to suppose that this novus ordo (new order) was identical with the present Franciscan Order. As Ratzinger stresses:

For the present, the Dominican and Franciscan Orders stand together as the inauguration of a new period for which they are preparing. But they cannot bring this period into actuality all by themselves. When this age arrives, it will be a time of contemplation, a time of full understanding of the scripture and, in this respect, a time of the Holy spirit who leads us into the fulness of the truth of Jesus Christ. (Ratzinger)

Bonaventure thus takes Francis to anticipate in his own person that eschatological form of life which will be general in the future. Although the Religious Order he founded was merely cherubicus, concerned, like that of the Dominicans, with devotion and theological speculation, Francis himself more truly belonged to the ordo seraphicus

The final age of the world will find the Church a contemplative church, ecclesia contemplativa. As such, it will enjoy an unparralleled fulness of revelation. This is not to say that Bonaventure regards the objective reality of revelation as less than complete in the age of Christ and his apostles. Rather does he use the term revelatio for the divinely enabled (subjective) penetration of God’s self-communication in history, as well as for that (objective) content itself. ‘Revelation’ is, in not the least important of its denotations, the unveiling of the hidden meaning of the Bible:

The stages of faith are also stages of mysticism. And, in such a viewpoint, they are seen quite naturally as stages of revelatio as well. Revelatio refers not to the letter of Scripture, but to the understanding of the letter. And this understanding can be increased. If we were to suppose the possibility of a period of time in which the power of genuine mystical elevation were granted to all human beings, then - in this perspective - we could refer to such a time as a time of revelation in quite a new sense.

In the present epoch where, thanks to the activity of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders, there is already a considerable upsurge of biblical exegesis and preaching, ‘revelation’ in this sense has started to expain again. But the revelation of the Seventh Age will far exceed such modest advances. It will go beyond the sapienta multiformis, the ‘multiform wisdom’ of the present age, whose model is Augustine. It will transform itself into a sapienta nulliformis, a wisdom which is formless (apophatic) to the degree that it lies beyond all forms. The exemplar of this non-discursive, non-Scholastic acquaintance with the mystery of the Word of God, simple, inner, familiar, is Denys the Areopagite [the father of Apophatic mysticism in Christianity]. Bonaventure predicts an end to rational theology… In the Church of the final age, Francis’ own manner of life will triumph, impracticable though it is if lived sine glossa here and now. The Poor Man of Assisi, the simplex, the idiota, will turn out to have more penetration into God than all the learned men of his time, because he loved God more…"

Interesting. Looking back with hindsight, that time hasn’t happened yet. Similar prophecies of a time of peace and the flourishing of the faith are found in other prophecies too, like Fatima or the Great Catholic Monarch prophecies.

This is the one thing that gives me pause about some Catholic prophecy in this regard–I won’t go so far and say I’m a skeptic, and it would be great if it did happen, but I would not be shocked if it didn’t. Millenarianism is often a temptation because we so greatly want to see Christ victorious and experience what a world according to His rule would be like. The Church has rejected an earthly peace under an actual earthly reign of Christ, but these prophecies seem to simply sidestep this obstacle, but still get the same result–the peace of Christ fully triumphing for a time before the Second Coming.

It seems to me in Scripture and the Catechism, things just plummet down and get worse and worse until the Second Coming. There’s no plummet, then rise of peace and the flourishing of religion, and then another plummet. Granted, this isn’t ruled out either.:hmmm:

Hi Genesis :thumbsup:

You make brilliant points and I must thank you for contributing to the thread, it was getting very lonely around here!

It does indeed sidestep millenarianism, in that the age of peace is a “social reign of Christ” from heaven through the Holy Spirit acting in His Mystical Body, the Church. So there is no “secular messianism” involved.

The way I have come to approach this issue is that God in His eternal foresight had a plan for human existence that did not come to fruition on account of man’s freewill, which He of course eternally ‘factored in’. That plan is contained in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”. All Christians pray it, many of us on a daily basis.

For millenia, God’s will has not been perfectly done on earth. Do we expect Him to just respond, “oh well, lets just let human sinfulness and Satan have their way, I’m creating a new heaven and earth anyway!”

St. Bonaventure thought not and he was encouraged to take a more positive approach to the ultimate future state of humanity by the arrival on the scene of St. Francis of Assisi. He realized that history need not be a downward spiral, that in moments of seeming desolation a great moral reformer and charismatic individual could be sent, seemingly from heaven, to bring the world to a holier mode of being. His reasoning is that God desires humanity to conform as closely as possible to His original plan before the end, the reason being to let this “passing world” have a taste of what it always should have enjoyed. Satan will not, therefore, have the last laugh - even within this temporal order, the Church and the Immaculate Heart of Mary will triumph and society will be brought to perfection, or rather as close as society can come to perfection with human propensity to sin still existing.

It is optimistic and very much in tune with the teaching of the popes of the last two centuries.

We need not succumb to Evangelical Protestant doom about the future. It is in God’s hands.

It is interesting that you bring up the “Great Monarch” figure. Here is an excerpt from St. Bonaventure’s actual “prophecy”, he refers to this figure as well. Note when he states that “*It is necessary that one ruler, a defender of the Church, arise [in this seventh age]”. *

"…According to the comparison of the tree or of the seed to the seed, the times follow each other; according to the comparison of the bud to the branch, they correspond to each other, as is already clear. According to this, you can also distinguish six ages, for all authors agree that the seventh age runs together with the sixth…These times follow one another and there is a great correspondence among them. They are like the germination of seed from seed; like that of tree from seed and of seed from tree. The times are so arranged that they correspond to one another…

**No one knows how long that time of great peace will last since **“when they said ‘Peace and security,’ then suddenly destruction came upon them” (Matt 24:21). The seventh time or age, that of quiet, begins with the shout of the angel who “swore through Him who lives forever and ever that there would be no more time; but in the days of the seventh angel the mystery of God will be completed” (Rev 10:6-7).

In the sixth age three things take place - excellence of victory, excellence of teaching, and excellence of the prophetic life… In this age there ought to come a life through an order which will possess the prophetic life…It is necessary that one ruler, a defender of the Church, arise

It was said to the angel of Philadelphia, the sixth angel: “He who is holy and true, who has the key of David, who opens and no man closes, closes and no man opens, says this - ‘I know your works, and behold I have placed an open door before you’” (Rev 3:7). And he said that now for the first time the understanding of Scripture would be given and that the revelation, or key of David, would be given to a person or a large group, but I think rather to a large group.

In the seventh age we know that these things will take place - the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the city, and the granting of peace. Likewise in the coming seventh age there will be a restoration of Divine worship and a rebuilding of the city. Then the prophecy of Ezekiel will be fulfilled when the city comes down from heaven (Ezek 40); not indeed that city which is above, but that city which is below, the Church Militant which will then be conformed to the Church Triumphant as far as possible in this life. Then will be the building and restoration of the city as it was in the beginning. Then there will be peace. God alone knows how long that peace shall last…"

- Saint Bonaventure (ca. 1217 - 1274), Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Seraphic Doctor (Collation 16:17-19. Translated by McGinn, B. Visions of the End, pp199-200)

St. Bonaventure’s words carry greater weight than most, on account of the fact that he is a Doctor of the Church.

Interesting point on the fulfillment of the Our Father. If it happens, I certainly won’t complain! :slight_smile:

Well that is how I and some other Catholics see it. I mean think how many billions of people have prayed those words over 2,000 years of Christian history. How can that go unanswered? “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” The Church Militant conformed as closely as possible on earth to the Church Triumphant. It makes perfect sense to me. I think St. Bonaventure was right.

See this too, from the 1952 theological commission:

"……[it is not against our Catholic Faith to] …hope in some mighty triumph of Christ here on earth before the final consummation of all things. Such an occurrence is not excluded, is not impossible, it is not all certain that there will not be a prolonged period of triumphant Christianity before the end. If before that final end there is to be a period, more or less prolonged, of triumphant sanctity, such a result will be brought about not by the apparition of the person of Christ in Majesty but by the operation of those powers of sanctification which are now at work, the Holy Ghost and the Sacraments of the Church… "

—The Teaching of the Catholic Church: A Summary of Catholic Doctrine [London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1952] p. 1140

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