Bearers of the Gospel: Franciscan Evangelization

The Importance of Martyrdom


St. Anthony of Padua was inspired to join the new Order of Friars Minor by the example of the five sons of Francis who died as martyrs in Morocco in 1220.


Commissioned by Francis himself to teach theology to the friars, Anthony insisted that the evangelizers must experience within themselves the divine truths which they had mastered and absorbed by intellectual effort. A simple perusal of his sermons reveals his insistence that the cross of Christ must be their constant support, and that His passion must never fade from their memory.20

St. Anthony and St. Francis

St. Anthony and St. Francis


It is St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor and the eighth successor of St. Francis as the Minister General of the Order (from 1257 to his death in 1274), who transformed the Founder’s intuitive understanding of the Order's mission into a compelling spirituality of evangelization. His exposition of love as the motive of Franciscan evangelization identifies him as an authentic son of the Seraph of Assisi. In the Major Life he described Francis as a man "completely absorbed by the fire of divine love," who "sought to love God in everything"21 and "longed to be wholly transformed into Him by the fire of love."22

Bonaventure pointed out that love is the very substance of God; that the gratuitous outpouring of God's goodness in creation is essentially an act of love; and that it was His loving mercy, more than human malice, that induced God to assume a human nature and die for our sins. The friars, he pointed out, should proclaim these joyous mysteries, as Francis said, to "all peoples, races, tribes and tongues, all nations and all peoples the world over."23 They were to move their hearers to delight in the "Creator, Redeemer and Savior, who is the fullness of good, the true and the highest good, and who alone is good."24 For that reason, the friars who were also preachers must conform themselves in all things to the example of Christ the Lord.

St. Anthony and St. Francis

St. Bonaventure


In his Defense of the Mendicants, Bonaventure pointed out that "the means of conformation to Christ most fitting for those to be saved consists in imitating His passion and death. "25 In The Soul's Journey into God he taught that "there is no other path (to total conformity to Christ) but through the burning love of the Crucified. "26 In that same tract Bonaventure outlines a method of contemplation designed to arouse the desire for martyrdom. On this very theme of the place of martyrdom in the spirituality of Franciscan evangelization some very perceptive studies have been made, not least of all those published by persons outside the Franciscan Order and even outside the Catholic Church.27

It is the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure, who gives the earliest and most authoritative explanation of Francis' "desire to offer himself as a living victim to God by the sword of martyrdom: to repay Christ for His love in dying for us."28 In his Defense of the Mendicants, Bonaventure provided theological justification for this desire for martyrdom: "Perfect love of God perfectly inclines the lover to anything by which he will more readily, personally and rapidly rejoin the Beloved; but nothing unites the spirit of mortal man more rapidly and personally with the immortal God than the suffering of death in His honor. Hence the perfect lover must desire such death before enduring it, and perfectly rejoice as soon as it comes to him."29

Finally, in The Triple Way, Bonaventure explained that the desire for martyrdom is the highest level of love for neighbor. "Then only is perfection (of love) attained when one finds his heart not merely willing, but intensely longing, to die for his neighbor's salvation, according to the words of Paul: 'I will most gladly spend and be spent myself for your souls' (2 Cor. 12.15). We cannot love our neighbor perfectly before we attain a perfect love of God. It is for Him that we love our neighbor; only because of Him do we find our neighbor lovable.“30

See S. Antonii Patavini sermones domincales et festivi, 3 vols. (Padua: Centro Studi Antoniani, 1979) 1:390; 1:463; and 2: 508.

Major Life, chap. 9:1, in Omnibus, 698.

Ibid., chap. 9:2, p. 699.

"Rule of 1221," ch. 23:7 in Brady, 86.

Ibid., ch. 23:9 in Brady, 87.

Defense of the Mendicants (Apologia Pauperum), 4:2 in The Works of Bonaventure, 5 vols., trans. Jose de Vinck (Paterson: St. Anthony Guild, 1960-70), 4:63.

The Soul's Journey into God, Prol.:3 in Bonaventure: The Soul's Journey into God, The Tree of Life, The Life of St. Francis, trans. Ewert Cousins (New Yark: Paulist Press, 1978), 54.

On Bonaventure's treatment of the desire for martyrdom, see E. Randolph Daniel, "The Desire for Martyrdom: a Leitmotiv of St. Bonaventure," Franciscan Studies 32 (I 972): 74-87; and Lazaro Iriarte, "El martirio meta del seguimiento de Cristo segun San Buenaventura" in San Bonaventura maestro de vita Francescana e di sapienza Cristiana, 3 vols., Atti del congresso internazionale per il VII centenario di San Bonaventura da Bagnoregio. Roma, 19-26 settembre 1974, ed. Alfonso Pompei (Rome: Pontificia Facolta Teologica "San Bonaventura," 1976), 3:335-49.

Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.

Defense,4:2, in Works, 4:62-63.

The Triple Way, 2:8, in Works, 1:76-77.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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