That same year, 1257, when Bonaventure was barely 36 years old, one of the most serious and difficult challenges in his life would be given to him. He was chosen Minister General of the Franciscan Order. While this would seem to most to be a great honor, it was a job which no one would have been able to handle as well as St. Bonaventure. He was the right man for the job at a crucial time. But he suffered.
To give you a little background, from the time the new Rule was forced upon the entire community in 1223, and St. Francis formally resigned as head of the Friars Minor, a rift had opened which became wider and wider, and more and more vindictive, until it had reached disaster proportions. Either you were a supporter of Father Francis, or you were an adherent of the new Rule, which they knew was not what Francis wanted. We would like to insert a small passage here from our book “Saints and Other Powerful Men in the Church.”
“In the last days of September, 1226, Francis was brought back to Assisi. It was enough now with the doctors and the cures. Francis knew the Lord was calling him Home, and he responded. He dictated his last Testament. He wanted to set things straight. While he trusted in God, he didn’t trust in man. He wanted everyone to know exactly how he felt, what his concerns were for the Order, now that he was leaving them. In reading the Testament, it doesn’t appear that Francis was trying to open an old wound, but that’s exactly what happened. While he made a point of telling the brothers not to interpret what he was saying, this Testament became the ammunition for many who believed he did not accept the Rule of 1223. It became food for those who wanted to split from the Fraternity as it existed.
Francis did recap his values, and his commitment to the Rule. He warned the brothers not to be going off in all directions, but to be obedient to the legitimate authority. He ended his Testament with a blessing from the Holy Trinity, and from himself.”
However, the split did come about, and today we have the Friars Minor and the Conventual. It all began in 1226, and by 1257, when Bonaventure became Minister-General, it was completely out of control. Bonaventure was almost like the Franciscans’ last ditch effort. If he could not put things back together, there was danger that they might be disbanded. The first thing he did was to criticize both ends of the spectrum, those who wanted complete laxity in the Rule, and the others who wanted to go even beyond Francis in their rigid spirituality. He insisted that the Rule of 1223 should be strictly observed, and in addition, neither the excesses of the Conservative extremists, nor the liberal wing, would be tolerated either. He wrote a letter to each of his provincials outlining exactly what he expected of them. Now remember, many of these provincials were much older than Bonaventure, but all respected him as having the wisdom and endurance, and above all, the love of St. Francis and all things Franciscan, to make it work. And so they obeyed.
He held five general chapters, the first of which was in 1260 in Narbonne, France, in which he wrote and presented a new set of constitutions, in an attempt to bring all factions together amicably, or so he hoped. They were accepted and adopted by most, but not by all. They did, however, have an enduring effect on the Franciscan community, at least enough to get them out of the big trouble they were in. However, there were those who felt he had sold out to the more liberal elements in the community, and were never really reconciled with the rest of their Friar brothers. One of the complaints of the rigorous devotees of the original Rule was that Bonaventure was attempting to take the Francis out of the new Franciscan constitutions. However, for the most part, that accusation was attributed to sour grapes….
Saints and Other Powerful Men in the Church” Page 144