The Holy Father returned to St. Bonaventure for the subject of his catechesis at the General Audience on Wednesday morning. This saint, he said, not only kept the Franciscan order together with his theology that accepted "newness" into the Church but also teaches modern Christians how to be open to new charisms in the Church.
St. Bonaventure, from his place as general minister of the Franciscan Minors, refuted the idea present within the order in the 13th century that St. Francis had ushered in a “totally new phase in history.” Within this perspective promoted by so-called “spiritual” Franciscans, the Holy Spirit had come to replace Christ and the Church in a new and final age, Pope Benedict recalled.
Following of the ideas of Joachim of Fiore, these brothers believed that an “eternal Gospel” had replaced the New Testament and that history was divided into three phases, one for each person of the Trinity.
This new age was said to have been brought into being by St. Francis, who they believed had inaugurated a time when Church hierarchy was no longer necessary. The Holy Spirit, they thought, was at the base of a new age in which Christian brotherhood would bring peace and reconciliation.
But this perspective contained a “grave misunderstanding” which brought them to an erroneous vision of Christianity, the Pope said.
St. Bonaventure dealt with this question in his last work, "Hexaemeron," in which he explained that "God is one throughout history. ... History is one, even if it is a journey, a journey of progression” and that “Jesus is the last word of God." St. Bonaventure also taught that "there is no other Gospel, no other Church to be awaited. Thus the Order of St. Francis must also insert itself into this Church, into her faith and her hierarchical order.”
He also proposed that the Church always moves forward, is not immobile and experiences newness within it. In this statement, said the Pope, he adds to the theology of the Church Fathers in saying that in the Church there is room for newness, guaranteed through the uniqueness of Christ, and that "utopian spiritualism" cannot be constructed within it.
St. Bonaventure, said the Pope, "teaches us of the necessary discernment... of sober realism and of openness to new charisms given by Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to his Church."
The ideas of decline and "spiritualistic utopianism" continue to repeat themselves, Benedict XVI pointed out.
He explained, "We know how after the Second Vatican Council some were convinced that everything was new, that there was another Church, that the pre-conciliar Church was finished and that we would have another, completely other."
This, said the Holy Father was "an anarchic utopianism, and thanks to God the wise helmsmen of the boat of Peter - Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II - defended the newness of the Council on one hand and, at the same time, the uniqueness and the continuity of the Church," which, he said "is always the Church of sinners and always the place of grace."
In this sense, said the Holy Father, St. Bonaventure provided a clear line of government for the order in which, guided by healthy realism and spiritual courage, members had to bring themselves "as close as possible to the realization of the sermon on the mount, that for St. Francis was a rule."
Following his catechesis on the Franciscan saint, the Holy Father made an appeal for the victims of the earthquake in Turkey on March 8 and called for an end to violence and reconciliation in Nigeria.