07 Mar Saint Thomas Aquinas, Confessor, Doctor of the Church
Today is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Ora pro nobis.
Philosopher, theologian, doctor of the Church (Angelicus Doctor), patron of Catholic universities, colleges, and schools. (5)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Thomas, one of the most learned and holy doctors of the Church, was born, in 1225, at the castle of Rocca Sicca, in the kingdom of Naples. His father was Landulph, Count of Aquino, and his mother Theodora, a daughter of the Count of Chieti. At the age of five he was entrusted to the Benedictines at Monte Cassino to be educated. When he was ten years old, he was sent to Naples to perfect himself in the liberal arts. While sojourning here, he formed acquaintance with a priest belonging to the order of St. Dominic, in consequence of which he sought and obtained admission into that order at the age of fourteen.
His mother, Theodora, was very much displeased, and hastened to Naples with the intention of forcibly taking Thomas from the monastery. St. Thomas had, however, already left Naples for Rome before his mother arrived; and from Rome he had been sent to Paris. His two brothers, who were in the service of the Emperor, at the instance of Theodora, intercepted him on his way to Paris and sent him back a prisoner. The mother exerted all her influence to make him forsake the ecclesiastical state; his sisters likewise opposed his project. All was in vain, for the Saint remained firm, and answered: “In this matter I am bound to obey God before man.” His brothers had, in the meanwhile, returned from the wars, and, finding him unshaken in his resolution, were exasperated against him, and heaped injury and abuse on him, even going so far as to tear the clerical dress from his person. They shut him up in a room of the castle and deprived him of the necessary food; in their wickedness they even introduced a dissolute woman to him, who, by her caresses and allurements, should rob him of his purity. The holy youth, as soon as he saw the courtezan entering, understood her purpose, and endeavored to escape from the danger by flight; but, the door being barred on the outside, he was unable to flee. In this extremity he called to heaven for aid. “Do not, O Jesus, and you, purest of Virgins, suffer me to fall into this detestable sin.” He shouted for assistance, but all access to him had been shut off. Seeing no other means, the chaste youth seized a burning brand, attacked the abandoned woman, and drove her away. After accomplishing this, he fell on his knees and humbly thanked God for his escape from this peril, renewed his vow of chastity, and implored the Almighty to extend further assistance to him. During the sleep which overtook him during his prayer, he beheld two angels, who congratulated him on his victory, and, as a sign that his petition had been heard, girded his loins with a band, and tightened it so much that the pain awoke him and forced him to I cry out. From this moment he was unmolested by temptations or stings of impurity. Still he never neglected the means necessary to preserve his purity, and, according to the testimony of his I confessor, he carried his baptismal innocence unsullied to the grave.
After an imprisonment of two years, his sisters, whom he had persuaded to enter religion, lowered him by a rope from the castle. He hastened to the monastery at Naples, where, after having completed the year of noviceship, he was admitted to the solemn profession. He then continued his studies at Rome, Paris and lastly at Cologne, under the directions of the renowned Albert the Great. At the last-mentioned city his classmates, for a while, called him the “dumb ox,” because he always listened in silence to his professor and never entered into any dispute. Albert, however, once said to them: “You call him a dumb ox, but this dumb ox will one day open his mouth and the whole world will hear his voice.” This prophecy was fulfilled; for St. Thomas made such progress in his studies that his fame soon spread over the whole world. Scarcely twenty-five years old, he received the degree of Doctor of Holy Scripture at Paris, where he taught the higher sciences with great success. In this city sprung up that holy friendship between him and St. Bonaventure, of the Order of St. Francis who resembled St. Thomas in virtue and holiness. The many works written by St. Thomas, even on the most difficult subjects, are not only admired by all Christendom, but also much studied and highly prized. They contain a depth of wisdom unsurpassed, which he acquired not by his own application but rather from Divine inspiration, as he himself avowed. Hence, also, is he called the Angelic Doctor. Before beginning to study, to explain the Holy Scriptures, or to preach, or if he met with any difficulty, he always had recourse to prayer, as also fasting and other mortifications.
Though his learning was great, still it was surpassed by his sanctity, and his zeal for the salvation of souls. He was most assiduous in his devotion to the Sacrament of the Altar, and, whenever his health permitted, he offered up the Holy Sacrifice with an awe and piety which resembled an angel’s more than that of a man. After his own Mass he served another. Whenever he himself could not celebrate, he assisted at the adorable Sacrifice with so great a fervor as to cause him to shed abundant tears. The office recited by the Priest on the feast of Corpus Christi is the work of his piety. The Saint laid this, as well as his other writings, at the foot of the cross, begging a sign from God that his works were acceptable to the Divine Majesty. He heard these consoling words from the Crucifix: “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what recompense dost thou desire?” The Angelical replied: ” None other but thyself, Lord.” His burning zeal for the salvation of souls led the Saint, even while filling a professor’s chair, to devote himself to preaching for the good of many a sinner. It was a wonderful thing to see a man whose body had been weakened by penance and reduced by sickness, especially a weakness of the stomach, able to compose so many works, teach in the schools, and, besides this, announce the Word of God in His holy temple. His humility, likewise, was most edifying; for though the most learned man, still he always esteemed himself below everybody. He never spoke of himself nor could he bear to hear any one praising him. Repeatedly did the Popes desire to bestow ecclesiastical dignities on him, but the humility of the Saint always knew how to avoid them.
Being called by Gregory X. to attend the General Council at Lyons, he was taken sick on the road, in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossa Nova. The good monks received and treated him with motherly tenderness, and begged him, in imitation of St. Bernard, to dictate an exposition of the Canticle of Canticles. St. Thomas replied: “Give me the spirit of Bernard and I will comply with your request.” Being urged, he began the exposition, but he was obliged to interrupt his work, on account of the severity of his illness, on the sixth of March. He then received the last Sacraments, and prepared for death by fervent acts of virtue. When the holy Viaticum was brought to him, he adored his Saviour on bended knee, and after making his profession of faith he added: “I wish to die in the Roman Church, to whose judgment I submit all my writings.” Extreme Unction! was then administered to him, after which, raising his eyes to heaven, he departed this life at the age of fifty. “How is it possible to live in a world full of dangers and perils without committing sin,” some one asked St. Thomas, shortly before his I death; and this was the answer: “Often recall to mind the account which God requires on the Judgment Day, and live in a manner to have no dread of that day.” He was asked, on some other occasion, how a person could be saved: “By earnestly wishing it,” said he. Often did he express his surprise that a man, knowing himself to be in a state of mortal sin, could I yet sleep quietly or even laugh, considering that he was exposed to eternal perdition. The Most High, who had rendered St. Thomas so famous during his lifetime for his extraordinary wisdom, glorified him also after death by many great miracles. Many visions which he enjoyed during life are recorded; also his ecstasies, some of them lasting several days, and usually beginning while the Saint was engaged in prayer. To prayer he joined a mortification which extended over all his senses. In his last illness, his stomach craved after a certain kind of fish rare in the neighborhood. It happened that the physician met with one and brought it to St. Thomas; but the holy man, remembering the example of David, who, in his burning thirst, emptied the proffered cup, sacrificing the draught to the Almighty, also refused to accept the fish out of love for God. This mortification, though it appears small to worldly people, still shows the ardent desire in the Saint to embrace every occasion of self-abnegation. It deserves no less praise than David’s act, which is so highly spoken of by the holy fathers. Thus, in the very practice of penance, did St. Thomas end his life. (2)
by Fr. Prosper Gueranger
The Saint we are to honour today, is one of the sublimest and most lucid interpreters of Divine Truth. He rose up in the Church many centuries after the Apostolic Age, nay, long after the four great Latin Doctors, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory. The Church, the ever young and joyful Mother, is justly proud of her Thomas, and has honoured him with the splendid title of The Angelical Doctor, on account of the extraordinary gift of understanding wherewith God had blessed him; just as his co-temporary and friend, St. Bonaventure, has been called the Seraphic Doctor, on account of the wonderful unction which abounds in the writings of this worthy disciple of St. Francis.
Thomas of Aquin is an honour to mankind, for perhaps there never existed a man whose intellect surpassed his. He is one of the brightest ornaments of the Church, for not one of her Doctors has equalled him in the clearness and precision wherewith he has explained her doctrines. He received the thanks of Christ himself, for having well written of him and his mysteries. How welcome ought not this Feast of such a Saint to be to us during this Season of the Year, when our main study is our return and conversion to God?
What greater blessing could we have than the coming to know this God? Has not our ignorance of God, and his claims, and his perfections, been the greatest misery of our past lives? Here we have a Saint whose prayers are most efficacious in procuring for us that knowledge, which is unspotted, and converteth souls, and giveth wisdom to little ones, and gladdeneth the heart, and enlighteneth the eyes (1 Ps. xviii. 8, 9.). Happy we if this spiritual wisdom be granted us! We shall then see the vanity of everything that is not eternal, the righteousness of the divine commandments, the malice of sin, and the infinite goodness wherewith God treats us when we repent.
Let us learn from the Church the claims of the Angelical Doctor to our admiration and confidence.
Thomas was born of noble parents, his father being Lanclulph, Count of Aquino, and his mother a rich Neapolitan lady, by name Theodora. When he was five years old, he was sent to Monte Cassino, that he might receive from the Benedictine Monks his first training. Thence he was sent to Naples, where he went through a course of studies, and, young as he was, joined the Order of Friars Preachers.
This step caused great displeasure to his mother and brothers, and it was therefore deemed advisable to send him to Paris. He was waylaid by his brothers, who seized him, and imprisoned him in the castle of Saint John. After having made several unsuccessful attempts to induce him to abandon the holy life he had chosen, they assailed his purity, by sending to him a wicked woman; but he drove her from his chamber with a fire-brand. The young saint then threw himself on his knees before a crucifix. Having prayed some time, he fell asleep, and it seemed to him that two angels approached to him, and tightly girded his loins. From that time forward, he never suffered the slightest feeling against purity. His sisters, also, had come to the castle, and tried to make him change his mind; but he, on the contrary, persuaded them to despise the world, and devote themselves to the exercise of a holy life.
It was contrived that he should escape through a window of the castle, and return to Naples. He was thence taken by John the Teutonic, the general of the Dominican Order, first to Rome, and then to Paris, in which latter city he was taught philosophy ana theology by Albert the Great. At the age of twenty-five, he received the title of Doctor, and explained in the public schools, and in a manner that made him the object of universal admiration, the writings of philosophers and theologians. He always applied himself to prayer, before reading or writing anything. When he met with any difficult passage in the Sacred Scriptures, he both fasted and prayed. He used often to say to his companion, Brother Eeginald, that if he knew anything, it was more a gift from God, than the fruit of his own study and labour.
One day, when at Naples, as he was praying, with more than his usual fervour, before a crucifix, he heard these words: “Well hast thou written of Me, Thomas! What reward wouldst thou have me give thee?” He answered: “None other, Lord, but Thyself.”
There was not a book which he had not most carefully read. His favourite spiritual book was the Conferences of the Fathers. He was most zealous in preaching the Word of God. On one occasion, during Easter Week, as he was preaching in the Church of St. Peter, a woman touched the hem of his habit, and was cured of an issue of blood. His writings are so extraordinary, not only for their number and their variety, but also for their clearness in explainiug difficult points of doctrine, that he has received the title of Angelical Doclor. He was invited to Rome by Pope Urban the Fourth, but nothing could induce him to accept the honours which were offered him. He refused the Archbishopric of Naples, which Pope Clement the Fourth begged him to accept. He was sent by Gregory the Tenth to the Council of Lyons; but having got as far as Fossa Nova, he fell sick, and was received as a guest in the Monastery of that place, and wrote a commentary on the Canticle of Canticles. There he died, in the fiftieth year of his age, in the year of our Lord 1274, on the Nones of March (March 7th). His sanctity was made manifest by miracles, both before and after his death. He was canonized by John the Twenty- second, in the year 1323. His body was translated to Toulouse, during the Pontificate of Urban the Fifth. (2)
Numerous miracles attested his sanctity, and he was canonized by John XXII, 18 July, 1323. The monks of Fossa Nuova were anxious to keep his sacred remains, but by order of Urban V the body was given to his Dominican brethren, and was solemnly translated to the Dominican church at Toulouse, 28 January, 1369. A magnificent shrine erected in 1628 was destroyed during the French Revolution, and the body was removed to the Church of St. Sernin, where it now reposes in a sarcophagus of gold and silver, which was solemnly blessed by Cardinal Desprez on July 24, 1878. The chief bone of his left arm is preserved in the cathedral of Naples. The right arm, bestowed on the University of Paris, and originally kept in the St. Thomas’s Chapel of the Dominican church, is now preserved in the Dominican Church of S. Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, whither it was transferred during the French Revolution. (1)
by St. Thomas Aquinas
O merciful God, grant that I may eagerly desire, careful search out, truthfully acknowledge, and ever perfectly fulfill the things which are pleasing unto Thee. Order all my state for the glory and honor of Thy Name alone; and grant me to know what Thou dost require me to do, and give me to do it as is fitting, and profitable to my salvation.
Grant that I may not fail or swerve either in prosperity or in adversity; that I be not lifted up by the one, nor cast down by the other. Let me joy in nothing but what leads to Thee, nor grieve for any thing but what leads away from Thee ; let me neither seek to please, nor fear to displease, any but Thee alone. May all transitory things grow vile in my eyes, O Lord, and may all that is Thine be dear to me for Thy sake, and Thou, O my God, dear above them all. May all joy be irksome to me that is without Thee, nor may I desire any thing that is apart from Thee. May all labour and toil delight me which is for Thee, and all rest be weariness which is not in Thee.
Grant me, O Lord, continually to lift up my heart towards Thee, and to bring sorrowfully to my mind my many shortcomings, with full purpose of amendment. Make me, O Lord, obedient without demur, poor without repining, chaste without stain, patient without murmur, humble without pretense, joyous without frivolity, fearful-without abjectness, truthful without disguise, given to good works without presumption, faithful to rebuke my neighbor without arrogance, and ever careful to edify him both by word and example without pretension.
Give me, O Lord God, an ever-watchful heart, which no subtle speculation may lure from thee; a noble heart, which no unworthy affection can draw downwards to the earth; an upright heart, which no insincere intention can warp aside; ‘an unconquerable heart, which no tribulation can crush or quell; a free heart, which no perverted or impetuous affection can claim for its own.
Bestow on me, O Lord, my God, understanding to know Thee, diligence to seek Thee, wisdom to find Thee, a life and conversation which may please Thee, persevere in waiting patiently for Thee, and in hope which may embrace Thee at the last. Grant me to be pierced with compunction by Thy sorrows through true repentance, to improve all Thy gifts and benefits during this my pilgrimage through Thy grace, and so at length to enter into Thy full and consummate joy in Thy glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who liveth and reigneth, Amen.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be etc. (2)
Image: Freskenzyklus im Dominikanerkloster San Marco in Florenz, Szene: Maria mit dem Christuskind und Heilige, Detail: Evangelist Johannes, Thomas v. Aquin, Märtyrer Laurentius, Artist: Fra Angelico, Circa 1437 (8)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff