Monday, March 08, 2010

The Tree of Life

Paintings of St Bonaventure frequently depict him carrying The Tree of Life

Victor Crivelli 1440 –1501/1502
Saint Bonaventure holding The Tree of Life and of Redemption (15th c)
Tempera on wood
132 x 77cm
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris

Tiberio Diotallevi said to be of Assisi (ca 1470 - 1524)
Saint Bonaventure 1509
Part of Madonna in trono con il Bambino tra S. Girolamo, S.Antonio da Padova, S.Michele Arcangelo e S. Bonaventura
Chapel of St Anthony of Padua, Convento di S.Francesco, Stroncone (near Terni)

Saint Bonaventure was called "The Prince of Mystics" by Leo XIII or "The Seraphic Doctor" by John Gerson, and he was known throughout the Christian world as "The Devout Teacher."

In his book, The Tree of Life (Lignum vitae) he presents a simple meditation on the life of Jesus, "based on the Gospel accounts" in which "Christ is seen as the Tree of Life on whose branches blossom such virtues as humility, piety, patience, constancy and justice."

In The Divine Mercy website Dr Robert Stackpole STD presents a brief introduction to the work.

In the prologue of his work, Bonaventure quotes St. Paul, “With Christ I am nailed to the cross.”

He continues, “The true worshipper of God and disciple of Christ, who wants to conform perfectly to the Savior of all men, crucified for him, should, above all, strive with earnest endeavor of the soul to carry about continuously, both in his soul and in his flesh, the cross of Christ.”

Bonaventure speaks about the function of memory in bearing Christ’s cross. The goal of his work is to “…gather [a] bundle of myrrh from the forest of the holy Gospel, which treats at length the life, passion, and glorification of Jesus Christ…to cultivate devotion and to foster the piety of faith” so that he may “…enkindle in us this affection, to shape this understanding and to imprint this memory.”

He writes, “Since imagination aids understanding, I have arranged [the passages] in the form of an imaginary tree.”

He also gives preference to faith over reason, calling upon the devout to choose “…simplicity [over] curiosity and…the sacred cross of Christ [over] all carnal feeling or wisdom of the flesh.”

Bonaventure organizes the events in the career of the Savior in three sets of four under the following titles: origin and life of Christ, His passion, and His glorification, from bottom to top as the tree grows.

Throughout his writing on the twelve fruits of the Lignum vitae, Bonaventure balances direction of meditation with an invitation to free contemplation.

He ends his text with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking to receive the seven gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear