Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

St Bonaventure in Yorkshire?

Today is the feast of St Bonaventure, or to give him his actual name rather than a nickname, John (Giovanni) of Fidanza. Quite apart from his insights as a Doctor of the Church, which are eloquent, the Seraphic Doctor interests me for two more particular reasons.

The first is that an understanding of his mystical theology is, I believe, a great help in understanding the theology of "my" Bishop, Richard Fleming. I am not saying that Bonaventure's work influenced Fleming directly, rather that they arrived at similar views. Fleming's literary remains are not comparable to the collected works of a figure like Bonaventure, but they are in the same essential tradition.

The second point of interest is that both were Papally provided to the see of York, but never secured it. In the case of Fleming politics, both secular and ecclesiastical, played the crucial part on frustrating the plan - but that is another, and very long, as well as very interesting, story.

The fact that John of Fidanza does not figure on the list of Archbishops of York is one that I have never seen fully explored - is it one of those topics I might look at if I ever have time? We'll see. I must look it up in the appropriate authors. The following are a few thoughts off the top of my head.

Essentially John/Bonaventure is said to have declined it through humility, but then he went on to become Cardinal Bishop of Albano.

The death in 1265 of Archbishop Godfrey Ludham left the see vacant. the Chapter elected the Dean to succeed him, but as so often in such cases the Dean's election was quashed by the Pope, Clement IV, and Bonaventure provided in November of that year. It was not until October 1266 that Bonaventure renounced the appointment, which went to Walter Gifford, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Given the situation in England - 1265 had seen the battle of Evesham and the defeat and death of Simon de Montfort, and in 1266 the siege of Kenilworth was being concluded with the Dictum, it looks as if filling the see of York either got entangled in politics or simply was neglected as far as the government was concerned. Was the appointment of the Seraphic Doctor an example of Clement IV seeking to extend Papal powers in a political vacuum, and also of providing (in both senses) for the appointment of a distinguished theologian? Given that non-native appointees in bishoprics had been an issue in the recent problems between King Henry III and many of his magnates, this was venturing on delicate ground.

Whatever the English context I wonder if Bonaventure would have really wanted to transfer himself to England and the responsibilities of being Archbishop of York. That is, of course, assuming that he might have been resident rather than an absentee. As it was York missed out on having another saint-archbishop, and Bonaventure missed out on the delights or otherwise of dealing with the chapters of York and the three pro-cathedrals of Beverley, Ripon and Southwell, the administration of a huge diocese and a province with, in whoever was Bishop of Durham, a very independent minded principal suffragan, let alone administering the palatine lordship of Hexhamshire. What would the seraphic Doctor and the people of his diocese made of each other? One of those curious might-have-beens of history.

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