It would be my attempt in this paper to understand the reason the stigmata is described by Bonaventure as a mark of a special holiness on St. Francis, and if it was indeed special, the reason why the saint tried his best to keep it a secret during his lifetime. Bonaventure was attempting to establish St. Francis as a man " venerable and worthy of imitation",( P 182) and hailing the stigmata as the ultimate justification for worshipping the saint. As he says in the Prologue itself:"... But even more is this confirmed/ with the irrefutable testimony of truth/by the seal of likeness of the living God,/namely of Christ crucified,/which was imprinted upon his body/not by natural forces or by human skill/but by the wondrous power/of the Spirit of the living God."( P 182).But perhaps his motives as a theologian for setting up St. Francis as an exemplary saint were not unmixed with the politics of the Franciscan Order, and the immediate needs for the survival of the Order itself.
Issues of this nature can only be resolved by studying Bonaventure's general outline of St. Francis's life and his character traits and aspirations. We would need to investigate what made St. Francis who he was, what he considered the purpose of his life and the reasons why St. Francis was considered holy even before he received the stigmata. We would also do well to perhaps look into who Bonaventure was, the historical context in which he wrote the text, why he undertook its writing, the state of the Franciscan Order during that period. Moroever, since the text is a biography we need to qualify the distance from St Francis's actual lifetime it was written. It would also be important to know what other accounts, if any, of St.Francis's life were available at the time, because no text can be completely understood without a discussion on the background from which it emerged. And to grasp the special significance of the stigmata and the saint's efforts at concealment of this phenomenon it is important to understand the text in its entirety.
Even in the very beginning when Bonaventure describes St. Francis in the first chapter "On Saint Francis's Manner of Life while in Secular Attire" Bonaventure remarks upon the good nature of the saint-to-be, emphasizing his suitability for receiving the sacred stigmata: "His gentleness, his refined manners, his patience, his superhuman affability, his generosity beyond his means, marked him as a young man of flourishing natural disposition. This seemed to be a prelude to the even greater abundance of God's blessings that would be showered on him in the future".( P 186).
But it is in receiving the vision of Jesus Christ on the cross as described by Bonaventure in poetic detail that marks the lifelong passion of St. Francis to imitate the life of Christ; to worship him through imitation by undertaking pain, trials and tribulations. It is significant here that Jesus Christ does not appear to the holy man in His beautiful resurrected form, but in the painful impalement on the cross, somewhat foretelling the Seraphic vision that accompanies the stigmata. This terrible aspect of Christ's voluntary suffering aroused the youthful Francis's empathy and sustained it through the rest of the years of his life:
After long and urgent prayer, he merited to be heard by the Lord. One day while he was praying