Bonaventure's Opera Omnia, Br Alexis Bugnolo, Franciscan Archive Publications, S.O.S.M. Inc., St Bonaventure
Q. How did you ever come to undertake such a large translation project?
Br. Bugnolo: On the occasion of my solemn vows, as a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, having come to a certain knowledge that the Pontifical Decrees on the Rule of St. Francis pointed to a more supernatural observance of St. Francis’s Rule than that which we lived in my former institute, and that in the sight of God, He was calling me to that, I asked and petitioned my major superior for permission to live that vocation within a vocation after my solemn vows, professing that I recognized this as my vocation. In response, I was summarily dismissed from my institute without even a “thank you” and with the implication that I had something wrong with my vocation.
This was a momentous shock to me. I never expected men, who publicly profess themselves to be so loyal to the Magisterium of the Church, to have such a profound disregard for the teaching of the Magisterium regarding the Rule of St. Francis which they have solemnly vowed to observe.
Alas, hatred for goodness and truth is something very prevalent today, not only in monasteries. This we all know. But for simple believers, like myself, it is the revelation of its existence in the hearts of men of God which is the most scandalous tragedy of our age.
However, trusting in the teaching of the Popes, I recognized that the vocation to follow St. Francis according to its authentic spirit, does not come from men, but from God, I decided immediately to take private vows to persevere in my vocation, without the help of men. And so God blessed me, in His mercy, by no other merit of my own.
Not having anyone to give me counsel, but the Saints, and being surrounded on every side by those who urged me to give up my vocation as a Franciscan brother, or to give up even the Catholic Faith, on account of the many scandals in the Church, I found among the writings of the glorious Saint Bonaventure a testimony to an age of faith and sanity in matters religious, which gave me great consolation and showed me by example just how to deal with the madness and devilry of our own times.
Q. What is the importance of having St. Bonaveture’s great Treatise on the Most Holy Trinity, in English, in our own days?
Scandals abound, this we all know. But holding fast to faith and virtue, not just any faith, but to the One & Only True Faith without which it is morally and metaphysically impossible to be saved and arrive at the wonderful Beatific Vision of God; holding fast to this Faith and the virtue which God can alone give, against all the falsehoods and deceit of our age and of the men and women who rule this age: this is the great challenge and duty of all of us Catholics.
It is my firm belief that there has never been a time in the Church when knowledge of and familiarity with what the Saints of old taught is so beneficial and necessary to keep this Faith and all virtue.
We who have the Faith, know that the Saints are such primarily because God loved them before the foundation of the world in a manner in which He did not love ordinary men or ordinary Catholics, and that they, responding faithfully throughout their lives or at the end of their life, in a heroic manner, merited that crown of glory to which we all aspire. For this reason, to manifest His extraordinary favor for them and to show by public proof that they have been taken up into His Eternal Friendship and Glory, and are now actually present before His Face, in soul, and some in body and soul, He has worked and He does work a multitude of miracles.
Such Saints were not canonized to push an agenda of worldly men; they were canonized by the Popes before the Council to rebuke the world, to refute the errors of men, and to chasten the wanton desires of the flesh, of heretics, and of wicked men.
Among the choirs of Saints there are all manner of gifts and special graces to be found; and among the Saints who wrote with unction, there shines forth before all others, the Doctors of the Church, wisely named and numbered and honored by the Church for the efficaciousness and clarity of their writings in matters of faith and morals, and the utility of these in the promotion and defense of the Faith throughout the ages.
Now, among all the Doctors of the Church, two shine out before all others, for the excellence of all 3 qualities: clarity, utility and efficaciousness to inspire, enlighten, teach, and instruct. Pope Sixtus V named these two as the Principal Doctors of the Church. These are, Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure of Bagnoregio.
Now, while for nearly a century, we have had the grace in the English speaking world to have good translations of many of the writings of one of these Doctors, St. Thomas Aquinas (e. g. the Summa theologica); and in the last 50 years there have had available popular but poor translations of some of the minor works of St. Bonaventure, there was still lacking a complete English translation of the Seraphic Doctors works. Having much time on my hands, because for loyalty to the Papal Magisterium and the form of religious life St. Francis actually handed down, I found myself excluded from recognition or acceptance by all other Franciscan institutes and all the Diocese which I contacted, I decided simply to translate whatever I could each day.
With the passing of months and years, I finished the first, then the second and then the third volume of Bonaventure’s Opera Omnia: now I am working on the 4th.
Q. What is the historical value of having St. Bonaventure’s work, now, in English?
With the publication of the present work, Catholics in the English speaking world will have available for the very first time a complete and systematic translation, in traditional Catholic English, of the first volume of St. Bonaventure’s own summa of theology, his Commentaries on the Four Books of Master Peter Lombard.
Written from 1250 to 1254 A. D., at the University of Paris, in France, to demonstrate his own acumen in theology, for the purpose of obtaining the degree of Magister sacrae doctrinae, St. Bonaventure was the first Scholastic to write a complete Scholastic treatise on theology. St. Thomas, himself, would not write his own Commentary (yet to be published by anyone in English) for another 2-4 years, and the Summa would not be completed for another 12-15 years.
St. Bonaventure’s work therefore can rightly be said to represent the most significant and important work on Catholic Theology before and after St. Thomas; while he agrees with the Angelic doctor on nearly every question, yet there are some differences which help to preserve the Faith against the rationalism of Aristotle, to which the Catholic world has been subjected for nearly 800 years. While St. Thomas in the Summa sought to convince the admirers of Aristotle, that the Catholic faith was in no way contrary to right reason; St. Bonaventure aimed, instead, to show that all the wisdom of philosophers could not carry a man through the threshold of faith, and that the teachings of the Fathers of the Church were a more certain guide in matters of faith, that the reasonings drawn from Aristotelian thought.
For this reason, while many have read St. Thomas because they wished to limit the expression of faith within Aristotelian categories, St. Bonaventure was forgotten and misunderstood by many for long centuries, because he openly obviated the weaknesses of Aristotle’s thought, in which there is no place for a God-creator, a God-redeemer, or a God-sanctifier.
Many problems in theology have arisen in the last 800 years, because theologians attempted to understand the great Scholastics by reading modern philosophers. Yet, they erred in this, because many words and terms have changed their meaning throughout these 800 years, and much of what even St. Thomas said, was taken in a sense he never intended by those who were not so adequately prepared. Even such great theologians such as Cajetan, fell into very subtle but grievous errors in philosophy, since they presumed that certain turns of phrase in St. Thomas meant what they did not mean.
For all these reasons, the theological summa of St. Bonaventure is a most useful corrective to many the modern errors in theology and philosophy. And it is for this reason that I undertook the English translation, to benefit the clergy, religious and laity of the Catholic church for the next century or more.
Q. What is the unique genius of St. Bonaventure’s approach to Theology?
St. Bonaventure’s approach to theology represents that form of theology which prevailed at the University of Paris before St. Thomas attempted an Aristotelian synthesis. In St. Bonaventure, it is always the Fathers who prevail, and it is the theological tradition which descends from them, and not from Aristotle, which he upholds. You can see this in the way in which St. Bonaventure uses Aristotelian categories: for example, he never quotes Aristotle but about 4 times in 4000 pages, since in theology he holds that the Philosopher ought never be granted authority. Yet he quotes St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory the Great, and many other Catholic authors, Saints and sinners, on nearly every page.
He also strives to explain for the student how the different terminology or use of terms by the Fathers and Saints respected, defended and exposed the wonderful and whole truth of the Faith, and in this way showed how wrong it is to abandon the manner of speaking of the Fathers and Saints for the incomplete and inaccurate categories which were often imposed by those too zealous to take Aristotle or some other pagan philosopher as their master in theology.
Q. What is the advantage of having today, in 2014, a new English translation of a book originally printed in 1252 A. D. and reprinted in critical edition in 1882 A. D.?
The Quaracchi edition of 1882 A. D., from which I have done my translation, is a most erudite and sound work of itself. To read the explanations given in the editor’s Scholia or Prefaces, is to return to a world of Catholic thought which has been nearly destroyed since the time of Vatican II: one in which a Catholic scholar was not ashamed to speak of the whole Faith, to rebuke every error, to condemn heretics, and to find fault with erring Catholics, and to say so in a book destined for the libraries of the world.
Thus, the publication of Bonaventure’s summa, is, as I believe, a most useful and effective weapon in the arsenal of all who would seek the restoration of the One and True Faith in the Church, in souls, and in the hearts and minds of clergy and religious, who ought to present true doctrine honestly to save our souls. While there are many who would like to do this, most are intellectually unprepared to do this. If we but give them a copy of Bonaventure, I believe that under his guide and scholarship, many will be prepared, converted, and saved from the errors of our age.
For all these reasons, I have worked upon this English translation for 12 years, and will continue for another 4 to see the complete publication of the 4 volumes.
Q. Should a layman consider this book suitable for only priests or theologians?
The Faith is attacked on every side today; having such a book as Bonaventure’s treatise on the Most Holy Trinity is a most prudent and wise strategy for preserving the Faith in your family, in your parish, in your diocese. By donating copies of this book you can strengthen the weak and fortify those who want to defend the Faith, but who lack the formation in theology necessary to have the right words and reasons to do so.
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