Saturday, July 24, 2010

Christus Unus Magister Personarum

[a belated sermon for St. Bonaventure's day]

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” our Lord said, “for I am meek and humble of heart.”

It is practically undeniable that Franciscan thought and affection is eminently personal. Franciscans don’t look to an ideal to understand their way of life; they love a man, a particular one, the man who took off his clothes in front of his father, who embraced a leper, who made the first living crèche, who bore the stigmata.

This personal way of thinking and loving holds firmly true for St. Bonaventure, as is evidenced in his theological works. Perhaps most obviously, St. Bonaventure did not just discourse on poverty, he wrote a life of St. Francis. He did not simply expound theological ideas, he always made them beautiful and directed toward enflaming his reader’s charity. Similarly, when St. Bonaventure spoke about learning, he said that we must above all learn from Christ.

“Learn from me,” Christ said. St. Bonaventure’s most famous sermon, Christus Unus Omnium Magister, is about how our Lord is the One Teacher of All — the exemplar of all Teachers, the one from whom we all can learn in order to be united with the Trinity forever.

We learn from Christ, St. Bonaventure says, because Christ is the fount of all wisdom; he is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the way of wisdom by faith which he gives through his sacraments; he is the truth of wisdom as the very light which illumines our mind, and he is the life of the soul as the Teacher of contemplation. Therefore Christ ought to be honored, heard and questioned by us.

Christ ought to be honored, because, according to St. Bonaventure, “he wanted to reserve the dignity of the Magisterium to himself,” as when he said, “You call me Master and Lord; and . . . indeed I am.”

Christ ought to be heard by us “through the humility of faith,” which is why Jesus said to the crowds, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear!” “For Christ teaches us not only by word, but also by example; and for that reason, one is not a perfect hearer unless he conform his understanding to his deeds,” just as Jesus did.

Finally, Christ ought to be questioned by us — not because we are curious or want to trick him, as the Pharisees often did, but because we want to learn from him, as Nicodemus did when he asked about the nature of baptism. In this way, we follow the example of the disciples, who often asked or demanded knowledge from their teacher: Peter: How many times should we forgive? Philip: show us the Father.

There is much more that St. Bonaventure says about how we can learn from Christ as teacher, but we must conclude with a word. Beginners, he says, look to Christ and compare the knowledge that he gives us with the knowledge that man gives and it could seem that man’s knowledge is better because it seems more organized, clearer, and easier to remember. But once it seems this way to us, the Seraphic Doctor insists, we have the obligation to penetrate the surface of Christ’s teaching and enter into the depths of theology — and we do that above all through an intimate conversation and union with a person, our supreme teacher: Jesus Christ, the Truth Incarnate.

1 comment:

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for this pleasant surprise this morning. Through the intercession of the Seraphic Doctor, may we continue to surrender ourselves into Christ. Via non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem crucifixi. Amen.