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The wise spirits: St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio

In the same Heaven of the Sun, Dante also meets the spirit of Saint Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, a refined theologian and leading figure of the so-called mystical current of the Franciscan order, who also succeeded in mediating the bitter dispute between Spiritual Franciscans, who rigorously interpreted the Saint’s rule and his ideal of Christian poverty, and Conventual Franciscans, who endorsed a freer interpretation and were favourable to possess material goods too. Symmetrically to the arguments of the Dominican Saint Thomas, here Saint Bonaventure in his turn praises, as a Franciscan, Saint Dominic, criticizing, as Thomas had done, the vices of some friars from his own order.

"The love that makes me fair

Draws me to speak about the other leader,

By whom so well is spoken here of mine.

'Tis right, where one is, to bring in the other,

That, as they were united in their warfare,

Together likewise may their glory shine.

The soldiery of Christ, which it had cost

So dear to arm again, behind the standard

Moved slow and doubtful and in numbers few,

When the Emperor who reigneth evermore

Provided for the host that was in peril,

Through grace alone and not that it was worthy;

And, as was said, he to his Bride brought succour

With champions twain, at whose deed, at whose word

The straggling people were together drawn.

Within that region where the sweet west wind

Rises to open the new leaves, wherewith

Europe is seen to clothe herself afresh,

Not far off from the beating of the waves,

Behind which in his long career the sun

Sometimes conceals himself from every man,

Is situate the fortunate Calahorra,

Under protection of the mighty shield

In which the Lion subject is and sovereign.

Therein was born the amorous paramour

Of Christian Faith, the athlete consecrate,

Kind to his own and cruel to his foes;

And when it was created was his mind

Replete with such a living energy,

That in his mother her it made prophetic.

As soon as the espousals were complete

Between him and the Faith at holy font,

Where they with mutual safety dowered each other,

The woman, who for him had given assent,

Saw in a dream the admirable fruit

That issue would from him and from his heirs;

And that he might be construed as he was,

A spirit from this place went forth to name him

With His possessive whose he wholly was.

Dominic was he called; and him I speak of

Even as of the husbandman whom Christ

Elected to his garden to assist him.

Envoy and servant sooth he seemed of Christ,

For the first love made manifest in him

Was the first counsel that was given by Christ.

Silent and wakeful many a time was he

Discovered by his nurse upon the ground,

As if he would have said, 'For this I came.'

O thou his father, Felix verily!

O thou his mother, verily Joanna,

If this, interpreted, means as is said!

Not for the world which people toil for now

In following Ostiense and Taddeo,

But through his longing after the true manna,

He in short time became so great a teacher,

That he began to go about the vineyard,

Which fadeth soon, if faithless be the dresser;

And of the See, (that once was more benignant

Unto the righteous poor, not through itself,

But him who sits there and degenerates,)

Not to dispense or two or three for six,

Not any fortune of first vacancy,

'Non decimas quae sunt pauperum Dei,'

He asked for, but against the errant world

Permission to do battle for the seed,

Of which these four and twenty plants surround thee.

Then with the doctrine and the will together,

With office apostolical he moved,

Like torrent which some lofty vein out-presses;

And in among the shoots heretical

His impetus with greater fury smote,

Wherever the resistance was the greatest.

Of him were made thereafter divers runnels,

Whereby the garden catholic is watered,

So that more living its plantations stand.”

Paradise, XII, 31-105.


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