Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe: Documents in Translation

By Edward Peters | Go to book overview

Bonaventure's treatise firmly upholds the doctrine of poverty, tries to make precise what St. Francis and Gregory IX had left vague, and greatly influenced Pope Nicholas III's attitude toward poverty in the order.

Jesus Christ, the Origin of all good, the Foundation and Founder of the New Jerusalem, who "appeared to this end, that he might destroy the works of the devil," embraced with great eagerness the very opposite of such covetousness, advocating poverty by his example and preaching it by his word. Because the vice of covetousness and its disorder find their root in a disposition of the mind and their occasion and fuel in things possessed externally, extirpation of it must apply to both in order that the damaging passion of greed and alluring possession of earthly wealth may be given up both spiritually and materially. Commenting on this passage from Matthew: " Peter addressed Him, saying 'Behold, we have left all,' " Bernard says: "This is excellent and should not be imputed to you as being unwise. For 'the world with its lusts is passing away,' and it is better to abandon such things than to be abandoned by them. And the best reason to avoid wealth is that it is impossible, or almost impossible, to have it without being attached to it".

If this twofold abdication, of the world and of its lusts, also called poverty of the spirit, is the means by which the root of all evil is perfectly cut off and the foundation of Babylon destroyed, we may conclude reasonably and certainly that this same poverty of the spirit, because of the analogy and closeness it has to what was said, is the root and foundation of that evangelical perfection by which we are conformed to Christ and planted with him, and through which we become his dwelling place. For this reason, Christ himself, when he explained perfection to his disciples on the Mount, placing "upon the holy mountain," that is, in the mind of the apostles, the foundations of the "New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven," that is, the luminaries of evangelical perfection, and exalting the other virtues, began with the excellence of holy poverty when he said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Later, when advising on how to be perfect, He insisted first on the practice of poverty as he lived it, for he said: "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast,

From St. Bonaventure, Defense of the Mendicants, Vol. 4 of The Works of St. Bonaventure, translated by Josó de Vinck ( Patterson, N.J.: The St. Anthony's Guild Press, 1966), pp. 126-29. Reprinted with the permission of St Anthony's Guild.

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