Tonna Ivo ,
Recensione: Noel Muscat, The life of St. Francis in the light of St. Bonaventure's theology of the «Verbum Crucifixum» ,
Antonianum, 65/1 (1990) p. 115-116
This work is the outcome of years of research which the author presented as a dissertation for the doctoral degree in theology at the Franciscan Institute of Spirituality of the Pontificium Athenaeum «Antonianum ».
As the title indicates, the aim of this study/research is to show St. Francis in the light of the theology of the Cross according to the teaching of St. Bonaventure. It was in fact the merit of this outstanding theologian to write a biography of the Saint of Assisi with the main purpose of constructing a franciscan theology centred on the humanity of Christ Crucified, without discarding the historical events concerning the life of the Saint. This work produced the « Legenda Maior Sancti Fran-cisci» which Bonaventure finished in the year 1263 when he was Minister General of the Franciscan Order.
The methodology selected by Fr. Muscat has as its departure point the theological system of St. Bonaventure with the explicit intention of demonstrating its influence on his franciscan formation and consequently the special manner in which he looks upon Francis of Assisi.
Dependently on this general observation, the work is composed of two principal parts, each containing three chapters. The first part speaks of the theology of the « Verbum Crucifixum » as it appears in the writings of St. Bonaventure. The second part is a study of the life of St. Francis in the light of the « Verbum Crucifixum ». The author studies the theology of the « Verbum Crucifixum » in the various works of the Seraphic Doctor, particularly those strictly theological, which Bonaventure conceived and wrote during the years of his studies and teaching at Paris. These works are the Commentaries to the Gospels of Luke and John and also those in which he defends the evangelical poverty of the Mendicants which has as its basis the life and example of Christ in his « kenosis ». A whole chapter is dedicated to the mystical works of St. Bonaventure, where the figure of the Crucified Christ is the central theme, and particularly to the classical work « Itinerarium mentis in Deum ». The second section represents a deep study of the « Legenda Maior » and the figure of St. Francis in the light of the Crucified Christ. Here the author expounds the theology of the « Verbum Crucifixum », as it is manifested in the prologue of this biography, which is reputed as a truly fine page of medieval hagiography. This is followed by an attentive consideration of the virtues of St. Francis as presented by Bonaventure in the light of their great conformity with the life of Christ. A whole chapter of this second part is dedicated to the mystical experience of the « Stigmata » received by St. Francis on Mt. La Verna — the seal of the Saint's intimate union with Christ Crucified.
This work should draw the interest of those who want to deepen their knowledge of the figure of the Poverello of Assisi and his particular message. Notwithstanding the doctrinal aspects of the dissertation, the exposition is remarkably clear. The reader can easily follow the mind of the author. The critical apparatus is adequately presented and has the special advantage of making available the original thesis of Bonaventure to those who do not have the time or possibility of delving into the voluminous Opera Omnia of the Seraphic Doctor. The theme of the work has a special significance to those who are interested in the franciscan charism. The conclusion to which the author arrives can be synthetised in the following text: « The Cross will always remain a mystery destined to be misunderstood and unloved. Nevertheless, if we are not to fall into the errors of the world's logic, we must face the challenge to repropose Christ, and Christ Crucified, as the only wisdom in whom human life becomes meaningful. This particular aspect of our Franciscan charism is the qualitative blend or trade-mark of our apostolate. We cannot be poor, nor present ourselves as minor brothers, nor be worthy of our name as Franciscan, if we do not love the Cross ».