St Bonaventure and the Age of the People of God


It has become very clear that there is a crisis within the Church that seems to be only getting worse. There is a contingent within the Church that wants to see a return to Feudal/Medieval Christendom—a Christendom who was central to the overarching social, economic and political order of the time, meaning She was complicit in all injustices, atrocities and prejudices of the Social Order as well. A vision for Christendom that, through Her protection of the status quo Social Order, falls into the Mud of Worldliness, becoming a Maurrassian tool to be used however the State wants. We only have to look back to the 20th century to see how the Church’s hierarchy and members, imbued with this corrupt vision for the Church, has dragged the Church into not only ignoring atrocities and injustices but publicly advocating for them. The wounds of these tragic events have yet to heal, be it the legacy of colonialism, treatment of workers and minorities under Catholic fascism, etc.
It is clear that the Church in Her current state is unsustainable with problems ranging from lack of missionary zeal, renewed attachment to evil regimes in many parts of the world, failure to come to terms with past mistakes, to being rife with scandal across the world, and it is clear that going back to a nonexistent Worldly Christendom is neither possible nor preferable. We must strive for a New Age for the Church: a truly Christocentric Church who will not accept compromise nor deals with the devil. The question then becomes: “What should we be striving for? What can we do to be a part of Christ’s renewal of the Church? What will this renewed Church look like?” For this we can turn to the great friar, cardinal and Doctor of the Church, Saint Bonaventure.
St Bonaventure was Minister General of the Franciscans during a time of great upheaval and chaos within the order. A conflict between the “Spiritual Franciscans” and those within the order who wanted to keep it stable and within the good graces of the Church hierarchy. One of the conflicts was over the adoption of the thought of a certain Calabrian Cistercian monk named Joachim and his theory of eschatology. Joachim viewed history in three Ages: The Age of the Father (Old Testament), The Age of the Son (New Testament), and The Age of the Holy Spirit (an Age of Peace and Renewal of the Church that was prophesied to occur before the Final End and Last Judgment).


Unlike other theologians like St Thomas Aquinas who rejected Joachim de Fiore’s thinking wholecloth, St Bonaventure, as Ratzinger puts it in his The Theology of History in St Bonaventure, “expressly recognized Joachim’s Old Testament exegesis and adopted it as his own”. Although St Bonaventure utilizes Joachim’s thinking to shape his own he is quick to reject problematic notions of the Trinity found in Joachim’s work and the work of those who later claimed to understand him. In this rejection both St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure come to agreement on a “Christo-centric” view of history. Using Joachim of Fiore, St Bonaventure comes to answer the question we had asked previously: “What should we be striving for? What can we do to be a part of Christ’s renewal of the Church? What will this renewed Church look like?”.
In St Bonaventure’s theory of history, human history before the Final End and Last Judgment is separated into a double-seven system of epochs with Christ at their center. This contrasts with Joachim only in that for St Bonaventure these Ages are all centered in Christ and do not follow in the exact form of the Trinity. Beyond that the use of seven in the system of epochs fit well with Joachim’s schema. In the context of a Renewed Church, the sixth and seventh are of interest. Roughly, in the sixth epoch the Church will go through a period of Great Tribulation which will end with a Renewed and Fulfilled Church in the seventh epoch. Within this seventh epoch we see a vision for a Church which all Catholics should strive for.
Like Joachim, St Bonaventure envisions a Contemplative Church in an Epoch of Peace as prophesied would occur after the coming of Christ but before the End by Elijah and Ezechiel. The epoch is the form of the Sabbath, a period of peace, rest and glorification of God before the End. From the Tribulation will come a People of God and a Fulfilled Church of the Final Age and it is the responsibility of every Catholic, through complete and utter Devotion to Christ and Separation from the World, to embody the future People of God and be a part in the ushering in of a Fulfilled Church. St Bonaventure turns to no other than St Francis of Assisi as the model for the People of God and a vision into what the Fulfilled Church will look like. We can see in St Francis’s complete devotion to Christ and rejection of the World and its Demonic Temptations and Corruptions while mendicant and still living among the world as the path forwards through the tribulations which beset the Church and Society globally and what bring us closer to an Age of Christian Peace and Equality Before Christ. Ratzinger talks of St Bonaventure looking towards St Francis as second Elijjah and John the Baptist, one who would show us how to restore all things to Christ before the advent of a new age.

Francis was far removed from any historico-theological speculation concerning the nature and the time of the end; but in an amazing and entirely authentic though totally unrellected way, he was filled with that primitive eschatological mood of Christianity which is expressed in the statement: “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1, 15). In fact we can say that without this eschatological consciousness Francis and his message is no more understandable than is Christ and the message of the New Testament, the eschatological character of which is being brought out ever more clearly at the present. In fact, every interpretation of Franciscanism which abstracts from its original determination with regard to the history of salvation and, more precisely, with regard to eschatology, ultimately misses the essence of Franciscanism. The unsophisticated and unrealistic way in which Francis tried to make the Sermon on the Mount the “rule” of his “New People” is not understood properly if we designate it as “idealism,” as W. Nigg has shown. It is understandable only as the fruit of a vital consciousness that has raised itself above the question of the possible, and above the institutions and forms of this aeon; it is dominated by that eschatological confidence of the New Testament, which, as it were, puts an end to time. It believes in the Father who clothes the flowers of the field and nourishes the birds of the air, who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns (cfr. Mt. 6, 25-32). It is at this point that we come back to our original question. Joachim had predicted that in the new and final church of the Spirit the Sermon on the Mount would be observed literally “sine glossa.” This development would consist in the gradual overthrow of that licencia which was still allowed for the men of the second and third ages. Must not this also have directed attention to the Poor Man of Assisi who, in his testament, forbade every explanation of the Rule in “strict obedience ?” And it was a Rule, after all, which was intended to be nothing else but an application of the unfalsified and literal Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

— Joseph Ratzinger in The Theology of History in St Bonaventure (1971 English Translation), pg 39-40

It is in the life of St Francis and all the other saints who have forgone the worldly temptations for the sake of Christ that we see the future People of God and Fulfilled Church. It is a Church of the “unfalsified and literal Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. Not only do the current and past Systems make a life of Radical Separation from the World’s Corruption while not secluding ourselves from our Brother and Sisters in Christ near impossible without enormous amounts of Grace, our current System is built is such a way as to bring everything it touches into the Mud of Worldly Greed and Corruption. The current System ensures that there is no Ethical Way to Live, which brings us back to the problems inherent in chaining the Church to the current System. It is evidently clear that the current System must be radically brought down and completely replaced if we are to ever to form a Society genuinely built to serve towards the Christ and the Common Good and a new Renewed Church that reflects it. St Bonaventure envisions a new Society in the Last Epoch where it is in the practical capacity of ALL to live like St Francis and more fully live out the life of Christ.

Bonaventure recognized that Francis’ own eschatological form of life could not exist as an institution in this world; it could be realized only as a break-through of grace in the individual until such time as the God-given hour would arrive at which the world would be transformed into its final form of existence.

This final People of God is a community of contemplative men; in this community the form of life realized in Francis will become the general form of life. It will be the lot of this People to enjoy already in this world the peace of the seventh day which is to precede the Parousia of the Lord.

— Joseph Ratzinger in The Theology of History in St Bonaventure (1971 English Translation), pg 51-55


At the vanishing point of his theology of history we find the very same word which Augustine had used at the close of his City of God, which in itself is so different from the work of Bonaventure. That word is peace: “And then there will be peace.” But for
Bonaventure, this peace has come closer to earth. It is not that peace in the eternity of God which will never end and which will follow the dissolution of this world. It is a peace which God Himself will establish in this world which has seen so much blood and tears, as if at least at the end of time, God would show how things could have been and should have been in accordance with His plan. Here the breath of a new age is blowing; an age in which the desire for the glory of the other world is shaped by a deep love of this earth on which we live. But despite the difference that may separate the work of these two great Christian theologians, still there is a basic unity; both Augustine and Bonaventure know that the Church which hopes for peace in the future is, nonetheless, obliged to love in the present; and they both realize that the kingdom of eternal peace is growing in the hearts of those who fulfill Christ’s law of love in their own particular age. Both see themselves subject to the word of the Apostle: “So there remain faith, hope, and love, these three. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13,13).

— Joseph Ratzinger in The Theology of History in St Bonaventure (1971 English Translation), pg 162-163

May we fight for a Society in which none are constrained by the Greed and Avarice of others to live a life like St Francis’s; a Society in which it is truly possible to Ethically Live. We can no longer try to revive a Mode of Living in Society and the Church that is not only impossible to bring back but ties us back down to the Filth of the World, nor can we be complacent in the previously unheard of atrocities and horrors of our current Mode of Living and let its horrors further infect the Church. We strive to tear down the current Mode and renew the Church, ushering in a New Age, an Age of a Fulfilled Church and a People of God.

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