Ecclesia Semper Purificanda
Robert P. Imbelli July 15, 2006 - 10:22am
In the course of his transformative journey, Dante Alighieri arrives at the heaven of the sun, where he encounters the great theologians and doctors of the Church. The two most prominent are, of course, Thomas of Aquino and Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, whose feast the Church celebrates today.
In the famous cantos eleven and twelve of the Paradiso, Thomas sings the praises of Francis and Bonaventure reciprocates by hymning the praises of Dominic. Clearly we are in Paradise where earthly competition and jealously are transcended. Except that, in Dante, earth is never left behind, but seen in its truth.
Thus both Thomas and Bonaventure conclude their praise of the other's founder, by castigating the present corruption of their own religious family. Ecclesia semper purificanda!
One of my favorite works of Bonaventure is his short treatise, The Six Wings of the Seraph, a series of counsels to religious superiors, structured on the seraphic vision of Francis which marked him with the signs of Christ's passion.
Here are two excerpts, taken from de Vinck's translation, published by St. Anthony's Press:
.....devotion is the basis of all true religious life, and the means by which all exercises of virtue come to prosper. Dry indeed is the religious life that is not abundantly anointed with this oil, unstable the structure of good works not bonded with frequent and devout prayer: it is destined to crumble like a stone wall built without cement. In every Order where the fervor of devotion has cooled, the whole framework of the other virtues begins to fall apart and comes close to ruin. The empty lamps of the foolish virgins will go out.
The superior is God's minister whom the Master has set over His household.....If he fails to correct delinquents, and allows vice to flourish under his rule, and bad habits to rise and wax strong and spread out; if he permits regular discipline to fall apart and infractions to teem; if he fails to make every effort to counter evil, both actual and foreseeable: he will have a threefold account to render to God.
There is much spiritual insight and pastoral realism in the work. I suspect Dante knew it, but would be grateful for any illumination on the matter from those more knowledgeable than myself.
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.