Introduction to Legends and Sermons - 500 

The stigmatized Francis became for Bonaventure someone whose life provided a road map of perfection, one that could be followed not only because of internal evidence, but, more so, because of these external signs of God's approbation.

The Major Legend

Even a cursory glance at the Major Legend reveals how faithful Bonaventure was to his mandate to compile one good legend from all the existing ones.22 The largest number of episodes contained in the first fifteen chapters of the Major Legend come from Thomas of Celano's Life of Saint Francis, refined by the writings of Julian of Speyer, and The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul. The influence of the Legend of the Three Companions and the Assisi Compilation are certainly evident, although it is difficult to determine whether or not these influences were transmitted by way of Thomas's Remembrance. For the most part, Bonaventure contributes little to the biographical data provided by his predecessors. In fact, in the second section of the Major Legend, the consideration of Francis's miracles, the texts come almost entirely from Thomas's Treatise on the Miracles.23

Bonaventure's contribution consists in setting these earlier materials in a new framework. "From the visible to the invisible," he teaches in his Commentary on John's Gospel. Thus, the historical, observable events of Francis's life led Bonaventure to understand more concretely the mysterious, hidden designs of God. The opening lines of the Prologue reveal immediately this appreciation of Francis's life. "The grace of God our Savior," Bonaventure declares at the outset, "has appeared in his servant Francis . . ." The sanctity of Francis, as that of every Christian, consists in the unfolding of grace, that gift of the Holy Spirit that, according to the Breviloquium,purifies, illumines, and perfects.24 In a rich mosaic of biblical passages, Bonaventure elegantly outlines his portrait of the "hierarchic man" in a framework that resonates with the threefold approach found throughout his writings.25

Undoubtedly Bonaventure was influenced in this approach by the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius and Thomas Gallus (+1246), both of whom described growth in the spiritual life as growth through the successive stages of purgation, illumination, and unification.26 For Francis's disciple, Bonaventure, however, growth in virtue consisted in more than this hierarchical progress. Francis's Canticle of Brother Sun opened a new horizon and showed that the saint had discovered God in the most simple gifts of creation. This dimension of the mystic Francis challenged Bonaventure, his follower, to re-think the hierarchical vision. The ordo amoris [the ordering of love], as he described virtue in the first of the Disputed Questions on Evangelical Perfection, demands a clear sense of direction. His view of creation sees a "twofold order of things, one within the universe, and another with regard to their end."27 By the time of his compilation of Thomas and Julian, Bonaventure had produced a well-developed theology in which he envisioned God having written for humanity three books: the Book of Creation, the Book of Scripture, and the Book




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 500