SOURCE: R. G. Clouse, “Bonaventura (1221–74),” ed. Martin Davie et al., New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (London; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press; InterVarsity Press, 2016), 127–128.


Bonaventura was a *scholastic theologian, born in Tuscany, who became the greatest *Franciscan mystic after St Francis himself. Earning the MA degree at Paris, he joined the order (1243) and studied under some of its most renowned scholars, including Alexander of Hales (c. 1170–1245). In 1248 he began lecturing on the Scriptures and theology, but he was not formally received into the masters’ guild at Paris until 1257 because of a dispute between the friars and the secular teachers. However, by that time he was no longer actively teaching, because he had been elected minister-general of the Franciscans (1257) and had resigned his position so that he could spend time on his administrative duties. Despite many other responsibilities he continued to encourage Franciscan involvement in academic life. Although often absent on business for the order and the church, whenever possible he preached at the university on matters of philosophical and theological importance to the faculty and students. Declining the position of Archbishop of York (1265), he was persuaded to become Bishop of Albano (1273) and was also made a cardinal. He attended the Council of Lyons (1274) and contributed to an agreement to reunite the Western and Eastern churches.

Bonaventura was a mystic scholastic, as distinct from other Franciscans who were scientific scholastics and the *Dominicans such as *Thomas Aquinas who were rational scholastics. His leadership of the Franciscans temporarily saved the order from division by achieving a compromise between the two opposing factions. His most original thought, expressed in books including The Seven Journeys of Eternity and The Journey of the Mind to God, centres on mysticism, and this caused him to be remembered as ‘the Seraphic Doctor’. The works are profoundly influenced by *Augustine, whom he regarded as a balance to the emphasis on *Aristotle and the Arabic commentaries which were so popular in his time.

The knowledge of God, according to Bonaventura, comes not through formulating propositions but by experience with him in the soul (see *Religious experience). Rational *knowledge of God is actually impossible because he is different from humans in a qualitative sense. Information about the divine is hazy, equivocal and analogous. An understanding of God comes through a long and arduous struggle of the spirit, rather than by means of a series of logical progressions. Preparation for an encounter with God requires separation from material concern. Then a person must look for God through shadows or reflections of the divine in things of the world. After one perceives God’s presence in the world, one can see God through one’s own being. For example, the human will demonstrates his goodness and the intellect shows his truth. This leads to an appreciation of the grace and transcendence of God, but another leap of faith is required to accept the mystery of the Trinity. At this stage in the mystical quest, Bonaventura warns, a period of testing, monotony and spiritual fatigue often sets in; but then, like the light of dawn, comes the gift of the Spirit consisting of an experience of the ineffable joy of the divine presence.

Bonaventura influenced and foreshadowed the great period of mysticism during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which produced such individuals as Meister Eckhart, John Tauler and Thomas à Kempis (see *Imitation of Christ). The *Augustinianism and individual devotion that he emphasized helped to prepare the way for the Protestant Reformation.


  • E. Bettoni, Saint Bonaventure (Notre Dame, 1964);
  • J. G. Bougerol, Introduction to the Works of Bonaventure (New York, 1964);
  • L. Costello, Saint Bonaventure (New York, London, etc., 1911);
  • E. Gilson, The Philosophy of St Bonaventure (New York, 1965);
  • G. F. LaNave, ‘Bonaventure’, in P. L. Gavrilyuk and S. Oakley (eds.), The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 159–173;
  • J. F. Quinn, The Historical Constitution of St. Bonaventure’s Philosophy (Toronto, 1973).