St. Thomas Aquinas icon
January 29th, 2013
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf“I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I esteemed wisdom more than scepter or throne; compared with her, I held riches to be nothing. Who will know your design, O Lord, unless you bestow wisdom, and send down your Holy Spirit from above?” - Wisdom 7:7-8; 9:17“Blessed be the Lord; for love of him Saint Thomas Aquinas spent long hours in prayer, study and writing.” – Antiphon for Morning Prayer“God gave him surpassing wisdom which he taught without deceit, and shared freely with others.” – Antiphon for Evening Prayer“Simply I learned about Wisdom,
and ungrudgingly do I share—
her riches I do not hide away;
for to men she is an unfailing treasure;
those who gain this treasure
win the friendship of God,
to whom the gifts they have
from discipline commend them.” - Wisdom 7:13-14A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE SAINT:St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – March 7th 1274)
, was born in a castle at Roccasecca in 1225 (or 1227) to Landulf, Count of Aquino and Theodora, Countess of Teano. He was the youngest son of a large family and was expected to become a Benedictine monk and abbot at the nearby famous abbey of Monte Cassino. At a young age, he received an education at Monte Cassino and astounded his teachers with his intelligence and questions, one notable example being a recurrent question of his, “What is God?”
In his mid-teens, war broke out between the Pope and the Emperor Frederick II, so he continued his education at the University of Naples, where he came into contact with a great Dominican preacher named John of St. Julian.
At the age of nineteen, he was resolved to become a Dominican Friar. His decision utterly shocked his family, who had political ambitions that he would become a powerful abbot of Monte Cassino. Instead, he wanted to become a mendicant friar, or, essentially, a beggar. The Dominicans tried to smuggle him to Rome, and then to Paris, but two of his brothers (who were knights), kidnapped him and locked him up in the family castle of Monte San Giovanni. There he was imprisoned for two years, while his family tried to wear down his resolution to his vocation as a Dominican friar. He eventually won over his more sympathetic mother and sisters, and they managed to bring him books to read, such as the Sacred Scriptures, Aristotle’s Metaphysics
, and others. During his imprisonment, he taught his sisters and wrote letters to others in the Dominican order. A famous story of St. Thomas’ imprisonment relates that his brothers were growing impatient with the wearing-down tactics, so they decided to break his resolve through temptation. They paid prostitute to go to his room in the evening where he was presumably resting and off-guard. However, once St. Thomas saw the prostitute and realized what they were trying to do, he took a hot brand from the fire place and chased her out of his room, while she fled the castle shrieking. Afterwards, he prayed that the Lord would grant him the virtues of purity and steadfastness. While he was sleeping, he had a dream that two angels came and girded him with a flaming white belt that symbolized chastity. Thereafter, he never had any temptations against his chastity.
St. Thomas Aquinas finally managed to escape his imprisonment by slipping out through his window to the waiting Dominicans below. From there, they went to Rome, where St. Thomas officially became a Dominican and took his vows. A year later, he was at the University of Paris, where he met his teacher, St. Albert the Great. Because he was a large, quiet, and thoughtful young man, his fellow students took him to be a bit dim and called him “the Dumb Ox.” St. Albert saw a lot of promise in him though, and was said to have famously remarked: “You may regard him as a Dumb Ox, but one day his bellowing will fill the world.” He received his Doctorate of Theology on October 23rd, 1257 along with a great life-long Franciscan friend, St. Bonaventure. For the next fifteen or so years he spent his time studying, teaching and writing numerous works.
The next ten years his life was filled with much of the same. He spent much time traveling between commissions from the Pope and the Dominican Order, he worked on other major works and taught at the Universities of Paris and Naples. He was requested by the Pope to write the liturgy for the new Feast of Corpus Christi (where many of his beautiful works about the Eucharist originate). It was in the last few years of his life that he wrote one of his more famous works, the Summa Theologica
. Towards the end of his life, around 1273, he was praying in the chapel when a fellow Dominican passed by and heard voices. Since St. Thomas was all alone, the latter peeked in to see who he was talking to. A voice coming from a crucifix above the altar said: “You have written well of me Thomas, what reward would you ask of me?”
And St. Thomas replied, “None but yourself, O Lord.”
St. Thomas Aquinas never finished his Summa Theologica
though. In December of 1273, he put down his pen and refused to write anything more. When his friend Fr. Reginald implored him to continue writing, St. Thomas shook his head and replied, “I can write no more. God has revealed to me such beautiful secrets that all I have written up to now seems to me as so much straw.”
Pope Gregory X requested St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to attend the council of Lyons in 1274, and St. Thomas immediately rose to obey. However, as he was traveling there, his health suddenly gave out and he collapsed on the road. He was carried to his niece’s castle at Maienza, but the Cistercian monks of Fossa Nuova offered to take care of him at their own monastery. He accepted, and was brought there. At their request, he dictated a commentary on the Song of Songs to them, and asked for it to be read to him before he died. After his last confession, the priest who had administered the sacrament left the room and burst into tears exclaiming that the saint’s confession was like that of a five-year-olds’. As death approached, he was brought the Viaticum, and he declared: “If in this world there be any knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament . . . I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and laboured. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.”
He died on March 7th, 1274. His body was taken to the Dominican church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, France and is there to this day, only having been moved once during the French Revolution. He was canonized on July 18th, 1323 by Pope John XXII, and in 1567 was declared a Doctor of the Church. Pope Pius V named him the Angelic Doctor. His feast day is celebrated on January 28th in remembrance of the transferal of his relics to Toulouse, France. Canon in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas: Ode I
by John Plousiadenos (1429 – 1500)Longing to praise the famous teacher of theology,
I approach You, O Christ, as one of infirm utterance.
Inspire me with wise speech so that I may worthily adorn him
by songs and harmonious melodies.
As a star from the West he illumined the Church of Christ:
The musical swan and subtle teacher,
Thomas, the wholly blessed, called Aquinas the sagacious.
Coming before him let us cry: Hail, teacher of the universe!
Sweet-smelling and pleasant myrrh gushed forth
from the precious coffin in which your all-holy
and lawgiving body reposes, most reverend father,
teacher of piety and the opponent of impiety.
“Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because "he most venerated the ancient Doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all." The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas is celebrated on January 28th. O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith.
With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching.
Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.
Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield.
And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up.
Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.
For these reasons most learned men, in former ages especially, of the highest repute in theology and philosophy, after mastering with infinite pains the immortal works of Thomas, gave themselves up not so much to be instructed in his angelic wisdom as to be nourished upon it.
It is known that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders commanded their members to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas, fearful least any of them should swerve even in the slightest degree from the footsteps of so great a man. To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others all testify that they are bound by this law. "
- From Pope Leo XIII - Aeterni Patris (August 4, 1879)