Today, Good Friday, let us meditate before the Cross with Saint Bonaventure:
“When the innocent Lamb, who is the Sun of justice, had hung on the cross for three hours. . . now that all things were consummated, at the ninth hour the Fountain of Life dried up. With a loud cry and tears, Jesus, God and human, in order to manifest his compassion, commends his spirit to the hands of his Father and expires. . .”
“O Lord, Holy Father,
look down, then," from your sanctuary,
and from your lofty habitation in the heavens;
Look, I say upon the face of your Anointed,
look upon this most holy Victim
which our High Priest offers to you
for our sins.
“And you also, redeemed human being, consider
who he is, how great he is,
and what kind of person he is
who for you is hanging on the cross,
whose death brings the dead to life,
at whose passing away
heaven and earth mourn and hard rocks crack
as if out of natural compassion.
“O human heart,
you are harder than any hardness of rocks,
if at the recollection of such great expiation
you are not struck with terror,
nor moved with compassion,
nor shattered with compunction,
nor softened with devoted love.”
--Bonaventure, Tree of Life, 29.
This imposing crucifix (14.6x12.10 ft.) was painted by Cimabue c. 1275 for the Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence. It hung here until 1966, when it was badly damaged in the disastrous flooding of the Arno. [This image (public domain) dates from before that time.] Cimabue's Cross is one of the most important examples of the Christus patiens (“suffering Christ”) image, which became increasingly common in the later thirteenth century, reflecting the focus on Christ’s sufferings we also see in Bonaventure’s meditation.
View an interesting short video on this transition in art.
Also see the talk “St. Francis and Clare of Assisi and the Cross with Open Eyes,” by Michael Blastic, OFM.
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.