At today’s general audience, Pope Benedict XVI spoke for a second straight week about St. Bonaventure.
There was a surprise in store for pilgrims, who saw the Pope set aside his prepared text several times and speak freely in Italian.
Vatican Radio made available a partial transcript of his remarks. The following is a Register translation of his comments on the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing new spiritual movements constantly to the fore in the Church.
“Today as well, some think that the history of the Church during the second millennium was of constant decline. Others perceive a decline ever since right after the time of the New Testament.
“But in reality, Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficient — Christ’s work does not regress, but advances. What would the Church be without the new spirituality of the Cistercians, of the Franciscans and Dominicans or without the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, and so on?
“Today, too, it remains true: Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficient. It advances.
“St. Bonaventure teaches us the need for discernment — sometimes rigorous discernment — for clear realism, and for openness to the new charisms given by Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to his Church.
“Besides decline, there is another idea which is often repeated nowadays: that of pseudo-spiritual utopianism. We know that after the Second Vatican Council, some people were convinced that everything was totally new, that another Church had been born, that the pre-conciliar Church was over and that we had a totally different one now. It was anarchic utopianism.
“Thanks be to God, there were wise helmsmen guiding Peter’s boat — Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II — who have on the one hand defended the newness of the Council and at the same time the oneness and the continuity of the Church, which is always both a Church of sinners and a place of grace.”
Joseph Ratzinger’s postdoctoral work on St. Bonaventure’s theology of history earned him his first teaching job at the University of Bonn. His analysis of Bonaventure’s balanced approach was a unique contribution to theology, and is very much in line with the theme of newness through continuity which underlies much of his teaching and the “hermeneutic of continuity” with which he contends that the Council’s teaching should be understood and applied.
As he commented on this research to a group of scholars shortly before his election, “My postdoctoral work was about St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan theologian of the 13th century. I discovered an aspect of Bonaventure’s theology not found in the previous literature, namely, his relation with the new idea of history conceived by Joachim of Fiore in the 12th century.
“Joachim saw history as progression from the period of the Father (a difficult time for human beings under the law), to a second period of history, that of the Son (with more freedom, more openness, more brotherhood), to a third period of history, the definitive period of history, the time of the Holy of Spirit.
“According to Joachim, this was to be a time of universal reconciliation, reconciliation between East and West, between Christians and Jews, a time without the law (in the Pauline sense), a time of real brotherhood in the world.
“The interesting idea which I discovered was that a significant current among the Franciscans was convinced that St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order marked the beginning of this third period of history, and it was their ambition to bring it up to date; Bonaventure was in critical dialogue with this current.”