David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 12: Sun — Saint Bonaventure Praises Saint Dominic”

“Canto 12: Sun — Saint Bonaventure Praises Saint Dominic”

Who was Saint Bonaventure? Who is he, historically?

As Saint Thomas finishes speaking, his circle of wise souls is joined by another circle of wise souls. The second circle goes around the first circle. Again, we have a relationship of parts forming a whole.

The soul who will speak in this circle is Saint Bonaventure, a Franciscan. He enjoyed learning from books.

St. Bonaventure was born in Tuscony in 1221, but he was named John. He received his name when he became ill, then recovered. Saint Francis heard of John’s remarkable recovery, and he exclaimed, “O buona ventura,” which means, “O good fortune.”

St. Bonaventure became the superior of the Franciscan friars, and he died in 1274. This is the same year that Saint Thomas Aquinas died.

  • Whose story does the Franciscan Saint Bonaventure relate? The story of Saint Dominic, or the story of Saint Francis?

St. Bonaventura tells the story of Saint Dominic (circa 1170-1221). Again, we see that the Franciscans and the Dominicans in Paradise are not jealous of or competitive in a bad way with each other. They know that they are on the same side.

Just as Saint Thomas, a Dominican, tells the story of Saint Francis, so Saint Bonaventure, a Franciscan, tells the story of Saint Dominic. This is a way of showing respect for a great founder who did not found his own order.

  • What does Saint Bonaventure relate about Saint Dominic?

One important point to notice is that the lives of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis are complementary.

However, one difference is that Saint Bonaventure’s story of the life of Saint Dominic focuses more on such miraculous things as prophetic utterances and prophetic dreams than did Saint Thomas’ story of the life of Saint Francis.

One of the prophetic events in Saint Dominic’s life occurred even before he was born. His mother had a dream about the son she would give birth to:

“His mind, the instant God created it,

possessed extraordinary power: within

his mother’s womb he made her prophesy.”

(Musa 12.58-60)

St. Dominic’s mother dreamed that she would give birth to a dog — a black-and-white dog that held a flaming torch in its mouth. Here are some important points about the dream:

  • The Dominicans are called Domini canes, or the “dogs of the Lord” (Musa 151). Some people call Dominicans the hounds of the Lord.
  • Black and white are the colors of the Dominican habit (the clothing worn by the Dominicans).
  • The flaming torch is a symbol of the zeal of the Dominican order.

Names are important in Saint Dominic’s family:

  • Saint Dominic belongs to the Lord (Dominus).
  • His father, Felix, was felicitous (marked by good fortune). Felixis Latin for “happy.”
  • His mother, Giovanna, gave birth to Saint Dominic, a gift to the world, “Giovanna” means “God gives.”

St. Dominic was concerned about the poor.

St. Dominic died in 1221, and he was canonized in 1234.

  • How does Saint Bonaventure criticize the Franciscans (his own religious order)?

St. Thomas criticized his own order, the Dominicans, and now Saint Bonaventure criticizes his own order, the Franciscans. He says that very few of them are what they should be:

“Yet say I, he who searcheth leaf by leaf

Our volume through, would still some page discover

Where he could read, ‘I am as I am wont.’

’Twill not be from Casal nor Acquasparta,

From whence come such unto the written word

That one avoids it, and the other narrows.”

(Longfellow 12.121-126)

“Acquasparta” refers to a man who relaxed the rules of the Franciscan order: Matthew of Acquasparta, who became the general of the order in 1287.

“Casal” refers a man who opposed the relaxation of the rules of the Franciscan order: Ubertino of Casal.

Here Dante is saying that we need to have a Golden Mean. Having not enough rules is wrong. Matthew of Acquasparta made this mistake. But having too rigid an enforcement of the rules is also wrong. Ubertino of Casal made this mistake.

When Mother Teresa founded her order of nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, she at first wanted them to eat only what the poor ate: bread and salt. However, she soon realized that that was too strict. To do good work among the poor, her nuns needed to eat more than bread and salt. However, Mother Teresa was careful not to relax the rules too much. In one city, she thought that her nuns were living too luxuriously, so she got rid of some of the luxuries.

Both Saint Thomas and Saint Bonaventure criticize something that they love; they criticize their own religious orders. In The Divine Comedy, Dante is also criticizing something that he loves: the Catholic Church. (Of course, this is before the Reformation, so no Protestant churches exist.)

One thing that Dante learns from Saint Thomas and Saint Bonaventure is to criticize something you love. By criticizing it when it is wrong, you hope to get it on the right path again.

  • Saint Francis and Saint Dominic emphasize different things. What are they? Do we need both of them?

Both Saint Francis and Saint Dominic wanted the Church to be right, but they emphasized different things.

St. Francis emphasized repentance and coming back to God. Christianity, according to Saint Francis, involves more than simply attending church on Sunday morning. Saint Francis emphasized making Christianity a part of your life. Saint Francis emphasized experiencing Christ rather than simply reading the Bible.

St. Dominic emphasized thinking correctly about God. You must believe the correct doctrine, not an incorrect doctrine that will lead you astray. Saint Dominic wanted preachers to preach the right things.

Of course, we would say that both Saint Francis and Saint Dominic are correct. We need repentance. We also need correct doctrine. Without both of those, we can be led astray. Without both of those, we can go wrong.

A strong Church must emphasize each of these things: repentance and correct doctrine. The Church needed to be reformed, and Saint Francis and Saint Dominic emphasized two things that would make the Church strong.

  • Who are the sages who form the rest of Saint Bonaventure’s wheel?

After Saint Bonaventure tells briefly the biography of Saint Dominic, he identifies the wise souls who make up his wheel.

The sages who make up Saint Bonaventure’s wheel are all males and span several centuries:

  1. Illuminato.

Illuminato is an early Italian Franciscan who joined Saint Francis in 1210.

  1. Augustine.

Augustine is another early Italian Franciscan who joined Saint Francis in 1210. Augustine was from Assisi, like Saint Francis.

  1. Hugh of the Abbey of Saint Victor near Paris.

Hugh lived circa 1097-1141. He was an influential mystic and theologian whose students Richard of Saint Victor and Peter Lombard are also known as sages.

  1. Peter the Eater.

This nickname may make us think of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, but he got his nickname because he devoured books, not pumpkins. He was born in French Troyes, and he died in 1179.

By the way, when Gary Paulsen, the popular children’s author of Hatchet, speaks before groups of young readers, he often wears a cap that bears the message, “Read Like a Wolf Eats.” (Source: Edith Hope Fine, Gary Paulsen: Author and Wilderness Adventurer, p. 109.)

  1. Peter the Spaniard.

He lived from circa 1225-1277, and he was actually from Portugal. He was the only Portuguese Pope: Pope John XXI. He was concerned about the dangers of Aristotelianism. He died after only eight or nine months in the papacy. The falling ceiling of a cell killed him; the cell had been hastily built so that he could continue his scholarly pursuits there. He wrote a book on logic that was widely used.

  1. Nathan.

This Hebrew prophet spoke truth to power and criticized King David for arranging the death of Bathsheba’s husband. This story is told in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 (King James Version):

1: And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.

2: The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:

3: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.

4: And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him

5: And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:

6: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.

7: And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;

8: And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

9: Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

10: Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.

11: Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.

12: For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

13: And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.

14: Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

15: And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

  1. Saint John Chrysostom.

Saint John Chrysostom lived circa 345-407 C.E. He was a famed preacher who was called the “golden-mouthed” patriarch of Constantinople; he was noted for his honesty, self-denial, and tactlessness. He spent time in exile.

  1. Saint Anselm.

Saint Anselm lived from 1033-1109. He was an Italian archbishop of Canterbury, and if you study the Philosophy of Religion, you will probably study his famous “Ontological Argument” for God’s existence. Both Saint Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant criticized the Ontological Argument; both Descartes and Hegel defended the Ontological Argument.

  1. Donatus.

Donatus was the 4th-century Roman author of a famous Latin grammar.

  1. Rabanus/Hrabanus.

Rabanus/Hrabanus lived circa 776-856, and he was abbot and archbishop of his native Mainz. Like many of the other sages in this circle, he was a great scholar.

  1. The Abbot Joachim of Flora.

St. Thomas Aquinas has his adversary Siger of Brabant on his left, and Saint Bonaventure has his adversary the Abbot Joachim of Flora (died circa 1220) on his left. The Abbot Joachim of Flora was a Cistercian monk who predicted an approaching final age of history, which he believed would be the age of the everlasting gospel. Saint Bonaventure strove to combat this belief.

  • Why is it surprising that Saint Bonaventure and the Calabrian Abbot Joachim are part of the same wheel?

St. Bonaventure introduces the last sage of the wheel, a sage who is next to him:

“Here is Rabanus, and beside me here

Shines the Calabrian Abbot Joachim,

He with the spirit of prophecy endowed.

To celebrate so great a paladin

Have moved me the impassioned courtesy

And the discreet discourses of Friar Thomas,

And with me they have moved this company.”

(Longfellow 12.139-145)

Once again, we see that two scholars who were rivals on Earth are now side by side in Paradise.

Once again, we learn that two people of good will can disagree over what is to be regarded as truth.

Once again, we see two people of good will who strove to know the truth on Earth.

Once again, we see that two people of good will can both be sincere seekers after truth even if they arrive at different conclusions.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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