Tuesday 16 May 2023

The Seven Last Words of Christ - Saint Bonaventure, and Arnold of Bonneval translated by Fr. Robert Nixon

The Seven Last Words of Christ
Saint Bonaventure
Arnold of Bonneval
Fr. Robert Nixon (Translator)
ISBN 9781505129243
eISBN 9781505129267

This is one of a trio of books highlighted for Lent by TAN Books. They were marketed as a collection. The three volumes are:

The Seven Last Words of Christ - St. Bonaventure & Arnold of Bonneval

I read this one on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It is an amazing volume. The description of this volume is:

“From the pulpit of the cross, Christ gave His final and most riveting sermon: His seven last words. In times past, Christ frequently spoke in parables, but no more. No, Christ penned these words with His royal blood like a calligrapher using the most delicate of strokes. Christʼs seven last words are the greatest utterances ever recorded in the history of the world—greater than the words of any esteemed orator, heroic leader, or even saint, because they were the last words of God to mankind. They are the “mystical compendium of the entire Gospel,” the perfection of the Beatitudes. Yes, Christ saved the best for last, just like at the wedding feast of Cana—only this time, it was the blood and water from His side that were offered freely to His own bride, the Church.

In this engrossing work, the seraphic doctor, Saint Bonaventure, and Arnold of Bonneval, a Benedictine abbot, offer some of the most profound insights into the seven last words of Christ. Arnold, a friend of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, is believed to be the first person to write on the seven last words, inspiring Bonaventure. While the seven last words have been glossed over for centuries by Christians, it is now time to uncover their hidden and powerful meaning—for there is no greater meditation than pondering the Teacher’s last lecture. In Christ’s seven last words, we find the necessary direction to reach the heights of perfection.”

The punlisher’s note begins with:

“CAN YOU BELIEVE, dear TAN reader, that the first work on the seven last words of Christ has never been put into the English language? On top of that, can you believe the work is by the Seraphic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure? Truly, it is hard for this publisher to imagine that such a work has been out of reach for most of us since the thirteenth century.

Little can be added by me to the extraordinary work of the translator and his note. Father Nixon is more than a translator: he is a herald of the great lost works. Nonetheless, I will add a few minor points of personal interest that I hope will resonate with you.

I remember the day during my undergraduate studies at Franciscan University when my favorite professor told me that while Saint Thomas Aquinas is honored with the title the Angelic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure was honored with the title the Seraphic Doctor. This one simple statement opened the world of Bonaventure to me, and my fascination with him has never waned.

These two titles deserve a short explanation. The distinction is not intended to be a ranking of Doctors according to the choirs of angels, the Seraphim being the first and the Angelic being the ninth. Rather, it is meant to give emphasis to the particular theological traits of the two saints.”

Over the years I have read a few volumes on the 7 Last Words of Christ from the cross. But The combined wisdom of the two doctors of the church in this work are by far the most powerful version I have read. The chapters and sections in this volume are:

Publisher’s Note
Translator’s Note
A Short Biography of Saint Bonaventure and Arnold of Bonneval
Arnold’s Preface
The First Word: “Pater, ignosce illis, quia nesciunt quid faciunt.”
The Second Word: “Amen, dico tibi, hodie mecum eris in paradiso.”
The Third Word: “Mulier, ecce filius tuus.” “Ecce, mater tuus.”
The Fourth Word: “Eli, eli, lamma sabacthani? Deus, deus meus, quare me derliquisti?”
The Fifth Word: “Sitio.”
The Sixth Word: “Consummatum est.”
The Seventh Word: “Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.”

I highlighted but a few passages my first time through this book. Some of them are:

“These two titles deserve a short explanation. The distinction is not intended to be a ranking of Doctors according to the choirs of angels, the Seraphim being the first and the Angelic being the ninth. Rather, it is meant to give emphasis to the particular theological traits of the two saints.”

“This work on the seven last words of Christ is in perfect keeping with the seraphic nature of Bonaventure’s theology. The simple but penetrating reflections on the words of Our Lord while hanging in agony on the cross are worthy of much contemplation. Bonaventure’s reflections display both his own dire need for intimacy with Our Lord on the cross and his pastoral encouragement to the reader. Each of his reflections are beautiful and instructive, neither aspect intruding upon the other.”

“Hopefully you can see from these few excerpts what is meant by the Seraphic Doctor doing theology on his knees. Hopefully you can see why the term “Seraphic” was given to this Doctor of the Church, a man whose only desire was to be close to God.”

“As I write this publisher’s note, I look up above my monitor and see a Latin quote from Saint Bonaventure hanging on my wall. When I first read it years ago, I typed it up, printed it, and hung it right before me to remind myself that the work of a Catholic publisher is not to educate my readers but to help them become saints.”

“The Seven Last Words of Christ are as follows: 5 1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 2. “Amen, I say to thee: today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” 3. “Woman, behold thy son,” and, “Behold, thy Mother.” 4. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” 5. “I thirst.” 6. “It is consummated.” 7. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.””

“The order of the lists of Arnold and Bede differ from that of Bonaventure and each other. The reason for this variability of order is the fact that the pronouncements are not to be found in any single Gospel, but are derived from a synthesis of the passion narratives of all four canonical Gospels.”

“When Christ had reached the time of His passion, He recapitulated the whole essence of His teaching, saying with great succinctness things He had expounded at much greater length and detail during His preaching ministry. Thus it is that the last words of Christ offer a mystical compendium of the entire Gospel. These words are radiant with the splendor of the totality of the Christian faith. They are, indeed, like small seeds which, when sown in suitable soil, bring forth an immense and wonderful harvest for all the faithful.”

“There are “Seven Words” (or pronouncements) which Christ uttered while elevated upon the cross, which may be likened to seven rich and verdant leaves springing forth upon a mystical vine [the cross itself being this spiritual vine]. Again, the wood of the cross may be likened to the frame of a lyre, and these Seven Words imagined to be the seven strings extended upon it.”

“Learn from this, O reader, how to forgive rightly! For the good Jesus forgives not a mere seven times, nor even seventy-seven times (in accordance with His own precept), but absolutely and perfectly, without limit. For divine mercy has neither limit nor bounds. If anyone invokes this divine mercy, it shall unfailingly hear their cry. If anyone sincerely repents, it will always bestow heaven’s pardon.”

“As to the repentant thief, because his contrition is entirely sincere, no long fasts are demanded, nor sackcloth, nor penitential pilgrimages. For the act of confession coincides with God’s forgiveness; and this saving forgiveness coincides with glorification.”

“Consider this thief, not as a thief, but rather as one who repents during his final hour. During his final hour (or rather, final moments), grace is able to reverse the effects of a lifetime of sin in the flash of an eye. It did this also for Mary Magdalene, and for King David, and for the city of Nineveh, when they repented. And it shall do this for anyone at all who sincerely repents, deleting long-enduring sins in a single moment.”

“The Blessed Virgin Mary, having been separated from her natural Son, accepted the youthful John as her adopted child, and showed to him maternal care and affection. They were united as mother and son, not out of any connection of nature or the flesh, but from the same heavenly grace that established them in the most perfect concord. The chastity of these two virgins, Mary and John, united them also. Together, they formed a single harmonious household.”

“O Saint John, you were chosen as the guardian of the Lord’s most precious treasure, His own dear Mother. In this singular privilege, you were given an honor that is higher than any other. And Saint Joseph, when he came to know of Christ’s decision, gladly acceded to His desire. He raised no complaints on the grounds of his marital bond with Mary, for, indeed, though they were formally married in the eyes of the world, their marriage was without physical union, and so could be dissolved without any violation of divine law. Indeed, by entrusting Mary to the care of John, Christ was offering an undeniable proof of her life-long virginity, and the entirely chaste nature of her relationship with Joseph.”

“I like to imagine a four-fold connection, whereby the soul may ascend readily and securely to God the Father. You, O Saint John, lead us to the glorious Mother. The Blessed Mother then takes us unfailingly to her divine Son, and through the Son alone we may approach the invisible Father. This four-fold stairway thus leads us from the darkness of this present world to the most sublime heights of heaven, and even what lies beyond the highest heavens! You, John, are like a silver column, raising us to share the intimate filial closeness which you enjoyed with Mary. And the Blessed Virgin in turn is like a pathway of finest purple silk, bringing us to her immortal Son. The Son Himself is a splendid avenue of mystical love, of radiant and refulgent brilliance. And the Son takes us safely to the golden resting place of the pure vision of the Father, in all its ineffable beauty, and eternal and perfect tranquility!”

“Whenever the flames of trouble and sin burn within us, a single drop of divine grace, distilled in the blood of Christ, suffices to extinguish the fire of woe, and reduce it to harmless ashes. He who had the power to still the wind and the waves has likewise the power to still whatever gales of anxiety and anguish blow within our hearts. Whatever seems like a defeat for us can readily be transformed into a victory, just as the cross became the means of Our Lord’s own supreme triumph. And whatever we feel has been lost to us irreparably can, and will, be restored through the surpassing mercy of God; even as the life of Jesus, surrendered upon the cross, was completely and perfectly restored to Him in the glory of the resurrection.”

“It is noteworthy that, of the seven pronouncements made by Our Lord Jesus Christ as He approached His death, the Gospel texts say that three of these were said “in a great voice.” The first was when He said, “Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The second was, “It is consummated.” And the third occasion was when He said His very last words, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.””

I hope those quotes give you a feel for this volume. This was a deeply moving volume to read during Holy Week. It is a book that will inspire, encourage and challenge. This was another excellent read from TAN. It is a book any Catholic would benefit from reading. It is a fantastic resource for spiritual growth. It is great by itself or in the collection with the other two. It is a volume I can easily recommend, and one I strongly encourage you to pick up and give a read!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

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