Jacques Maritain Center : Greatest of Centuries


No one of all the sons of the Thirteenth Century, not even Dante himself, so typifies the greatness of the mentality of the period as does Thomas, called from his birthplace Aquinas, or of Aquin, on whom his own and immediately succeeding generations because of what they considered his almost more than human intellectual acumen, bestowed the title of Angelical Doctor, while the Church for the supremely unselfish character of his life, formally conferred the title of Saint. The life of Aquinas is of special interest, because it serves to clarify many questions as to the education of the Thirteenth Century and to correct many false impressions that are only too prevalent with regard to the intellectual life of the period. Though Aquinas came of a noble family which was related to many of the Royal houses of Europe and was the son of the Count of Aquino, then one of the most important of the non-reigning noble houses of Italy, his education was begun in his early years and was continued in the midst of such opportunities as even the modern student might well envy.

It is often said that the nobility at this time, paid very little attention to the things of the intellect and indeed rather prided themselves on their ignorance of even such ordinary attainments as reading and writing. While this was doubtless true for not a few of them, Aquinas's life stands in open contradiction with the impression that any such state of mind was at all general, or that there were not so many exceptions as to nullify any such supposed rule. Evidently those who wished could and did take advantage of educational opportunities quite as in our day. Aquinas's early education was received at the famous monastery of Monte Cassino in Southern Italy, where the Benedictines for more than six centuries had been providing magnificent opportunities for the studious youth of Italy and for serious-minded students from all over Europe. When he was scarcely more than a boy he proceeded to the University of Naples, which at that time, under the patronage of the Emperor Frederick II., was being encouraged not only to take the place so long held by Salernum in the educational world of Europe, but also to rival the renowned Universities of Paris and Bologna. Here he remained until he was seventeen years of age when he resolved to enter the Dominican Order, which had been founded only a short time before by St. Dominic, yet had already begun to make itself felt throughout the religious and educational world of the time.

Just as it is the custom to declare that as a rule, the nobility cared little for education, so it is more or less usual to proclaim that practically only the clergy had any opportunities for the higher education during the Thirteenth Century. Thomas had evidently been given his early educational opportunities, however, without any thought of the possibility of his becoming a clergyman. His mother was very much opposed to his entrance among the Dominicans, and every effort was made to picture to him the pleasures and advantages that would accrue to him because of his noble connections, in a life in the world. Thomas insisted, however, and his firm purpose in the matter finally conquered even the serious obstacles that a noble family can place in the way of a boy of seventeen, as regards the disposition of his life in a way opposed to their wishes.

The Dominicans realized the surpassing intelligence of the youth whom they had received and accordingly he was sent to be trained under the greatest teacher of their order, the famous Albert the Great, who was then lecturing at Cologne. Thomas was not the most brilliant of scholars as a young man and seems even to have been the butt of his more successful fellow-students. They are said to have called him the dumb one, or sometimes because of his bulkiness even as a youth, the dumb ox. Albert himself, however, was not deceived in his estimation of the intellectual capacity of his young student, and according to tradition declared, that the bellowings of this ox would yet be heard throughout all Christendom. After a few years spent at Cologne, Thomas when he was in his early twenties, accompanied Albert who had been called to Paris. It was at Paris that Thomas received his bachelor's degree and also took out his license to teach -- the doctor's degree of our time. After this some years further were spent at Cologne and then the greatness of the man began to dawn on his generation. He was called back to Paris and became one of the most popular of the Professors at that great University in the height of her fame, at a time when no greater group of men has perhaps ever been gathered together, than shared with him the honors of the professors' chairs at that institution.

"Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, St. Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas, form among themselves, so to speak, a complete representation of all the intellectual powers: they are the four doctors who uphold the chair of philosophy in the temple of the Middle Ages. Their mission was truly the reestablishment of the sciences, but not their final consummation. They were not exempt from the ignorances and erroneous opinions of their day, yet they did much to overcome them and succeeded better than is usually acknowledged in introducing the era of modern thought. Often, the majesty, I may even say the grace of their conceptions, disappears under the veil of the expressions in which they are clothed; but these imperfections are amply atoned for by superabundant merits. Those Christian philosophers did not admit within themselves the divorce, since their day become so frequent, between the intellect and the will; their lives were uniformly a laborious application of their doctrines. They realized in its plenitude the practical wisdom so often dreamed of by the ancients -- the abstinence of the disciples of Pythagoras, the constancy of the stoics, together with humility and charity, virtues unknown to the antique world. Albert the Great and St. Thomas left the castles of their noble ancestors to seek obscurity in the cloisters of St. Dominic: the former abdicated, and the latter declined, the honors of the Church. It was with the cord of St. Francis that Roger Bacon and St. Bonaventure girded their loins; when the last named was sought that the Roman purple might be placed upon his shoulders, he begged the envoys to wait until he finished washing the dishes of the convent. Thus they did not withdraw themselves within the exclusive mysteries of an esoteric teaching; they opened the doors of their schools to the sons of shepherds and artisans, and, like their Master, Christ, they said: "Come all!" After having broken the bread of the word, they were seen distributing the bread of alms. The poor knew them and blessed their names. Even yet, after the lapse of six hundred years, the dwellers in Paris kneel round the altar of the Angel of the School, and the workmen of Lyons deem it an honor once a year to bear upon their brawny shoulders the triumphant remains of the 'Seraphic Doctor.'"

For most modern students and even scholars educated in secular universities the name of Aquinas is scarcely more than a type, the greatest of them, it is true, of the schoolmen who were so much occupied with distant, impractical and, to say the least, merely theoretic metaphysical problems, in the later Middle Ages. It is true that the renewed interest in Dante in recent years in English speaking countries, has brought about a revival of attention in Aquinas's work because to Dante, the Angelical Doctor, as he was already called, meant so much, and because the Divine Comedy has been declared often and often, by competent critics, to be the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas of Aquin in verse. Even this adventitious literary interest, however, has not served to lift the obscurity in which Aquinas is veiled for the great majority of scholarly people, whose education has been conducted according to modern methods and present-day ideas.

As showing a hopeful tendency to recognize the greatness of these thinkers of the Middle Ages it is interesting to note that about five years ago one of St. Thomas's great works -- the Summa Contra Gentiles -- was placed on the list of subjects which a candidate may at his option offer in the final honor school of the litterae humaniores at Oxford. There has come a definite appreciation of the fact that this old time philosopher represents a phase of intellectual development that must not be neglected, and that stands for such educational influence as may well be taken advantage of even in our day of information rather than mental discipline. For the purposes of this course Father Rickaby, S. J., has prepared an annotated translation of the great philosophic work under the title, "Of a God and His Creatures," which was published by Burns and Oates of London, 1905. This will enable those for whom the Latin of St. Thomas was a stumbling block, to read the thoughts of the great scholastic, in translation at least, and it is to be hoped that we shall hear no more of the trifling judgments which have so disgraced our English philosophical literature.

The fact that Pope Leo XIII., by a famous papal bull, insisted that St. Thomas should be the standard of teaching in philosophy and theology in all the Catholic institutions of learning throughout the world, aroused many thinkers to a realization of the fact that far from being a thing of the dead and distant past, Thomas's voice was still a great living force in the world of thought. To most people Leo XIII. appealed as an intensely practical and thoroughly modern ruler, whose judgment could be depended on even with regard to teaching problems in philosophy and theology. There was about him none of the qualities that would stamp him as a far-away mystic whose thoughts were still limited by medieval barriers. The fact that in making his declaration the Pope was only formulating as a rule, what had spontaneously become the almost constant practice and tradition of Catholic schools and universities, of itself served to show how great and how enduring was St. Thomas's influence.

In the drawing together of Christian sects that has inevitably come as a result of the attacks made upon Christianity by modern materialists, and then later by those who would in their ardor for the higher criticism do away with practically all that is divine in Christianity, there has come a very general realization even on the part of those outside of her fold, that the Roman Catholic Church occupies a position more solidly founded on consistent logical premises and conclusions than any of the denominations. Without her aid Christian apologetics would indeed be in sad case. Pope Leo's declaration only emphasizes the fact, then, that the foundation stone of Christian apologetics was laid by the great work of St. Thomas, and that to him more than any other is due that wonderful coordination of secular and religious knowledge, which appoints for each of these branches of knowledge it proper place, and satisfies the human mind better than any other system of philosophic thought. This is the real panegyric of St. Thomas, and it only adds to the sublimity of it that it should come nearly six centuries and a half after his death. To only a bare handful of men in the history of the human race, is it given thus to influence the minds of subsequent generations for so long and to have laid down the principles of thought that are to satisfy men for so many generations. This is why, in any attempt at even inadequate treatment of the greatness of the Thirteenth Century, Thomas Aquinas, who was its greatest scholar, must have a prominent place. The present generation has had sufficient interest in him aroused, however, amply to justify such a giving of space.

When Leo XIII. made his recommendation of St. Thomas it was not as one who had merely heard of the works of the great medieval thinker, or knew them only by tradition, or had slightly dipped into them as a dilettante, but as one who had been long familiar with them, who had studied the Angelical Doctor in youth, who had pondered his wisdom in middle age, and resorted again and again to him for guidance in the difficulties of doctrine in maturer years, and the difficulties of morals such as presented themselves in his practical life as a churchman. It was out of the depths of his knowledge of him, that the great Pope, whom all the modern world came to honor so reverently before his death, drew his supreme admiration for St. Thomas and his recognition of the fact that no safer guide in the thorny path of modern Christian apologetics could be followed, than this wonderful genius who first systematized human thought as far as the relations of Creator to creature are considered, in the heyday of medieval scholarship and university teaching.

Those who have their knowledge of scholastic philosophy at second hand, from men who proclaim this period of human development as occupied entirely with fruitless discussion of metaphysical theories, will surely think that they could find nothing of interest for them in St. Thomas's writings. It is true the casual reader may not penetrate far enough into his writing to realize its significance and to appreciate its depth of knowledge, but the serious student finds constant details of supreme interest because of their applications to the most up-to-date problems. We venture to quote an example that will show this more or less perfectly according to the special philosophic interest of readers. It is St. Thomas's discussion of the necessity there was for the revelation of the truth of the existence of God. His statement of the reasons why men, occupied with the ordinary affairs of life, would not ordinarily come to this truth unless it were revealed to themr though they actually have the mental capacity to reach it by reason alone, will show how sympathetically the Saint appreciated human conditions as they are.

"If a truth of this nature were left to the sole inquiry of reason, three disadvantages would follow. One is that the knowledge of God would be confined to few. The discovery of truth is the fruit of studious inquiry. From this very many are hindered. Some are hindered by a constitutional unfitness, their natures being ill-disposed to the acquisition of knowledge. They could never arrive by study at the highest grade of human knowledge, which consists in the knowledge of God. Others are hindered by the claims of business and the ties of the management of property. There must be in human society some men devoted to temporal affairs. These could not possibly spend time enough in the learned lessons of speculative inquiry to arrive at the highest point of human inquiry, the knowledge of God. Some again are hindered by sloth. The knowledge of the truths that reason can investigate concerning God presupposes much previous knowledge; indeed almost the entire study of philosophy is directed to the knowledge of God. Hence, of all parts of philosophy that. part stands over to he learned last, which consists of metaphysics dealing with (divine things). Thus only with great labour of study is it possible to arrive at the searching out of the aforesaid truth; and this labour few are willing to undergo for sheer love of knowledge.

"Another disadvantage is that such as did arrive at the knowledge or discovery of the aforesaid truth would take a long time over it on account of the profundity of such truth, and the many prerequisites to the study, and also because in youth and early manhood the soul, tossed to and fro on the waves of passion, is not fit for the study of such high truth; only in settled age does the soul become prudent and scientific, as the philosopher says. Thus if the only way open to the knowledge of God were the way of reason, the human race would (remain) in thick darkness of ignorance: as the knowledge of God, the best instrument for making men perfect and good, would accrue only to a few after a considerable lapse of time.

"A third disadvantage is that, owing to the infirmity of our judgment and the perturbing force of imagination, there is some admixture of error in most of the investigations of human reason. This would be a reason to many for continuing to doubt even of the most accurate demonstrations, not perceiving the force of the demonstration, and seeing the divers judgments, of divers persons who have the name of being wise men. Besides, in the midst of much demonstrated truth there is sometimes an element of error, not demonstrated but asserted on the strength of some plausible and sophistic reasoning that is taken for a demonstration. And therefore it was necessary for the real truth concerning divine things to be presented to men with fixed certainty by way of faith. Wholesome, therefore, is the arrangement of divine clemency, whereby things even that reason can investigate are commanded to be held on faith, so that all might be easily partakers of the knowledge of God, and that without doubt and error (Book I. cix)."

A still more striking example of Thomas's eminently sympathetic discussion of a most difficult problem, is to be found in his treatment of the question of the Resurrection of the Body. The doctrine that men will rise again on the last day with the same bodies that they had while here on earth, has been a stumbling block for the faith of a great many persons from the beginning of Christianity. In recent times the discovery of the indestructibility of matter, far from lessening the skeptical elements in this problem as might have been anticipated, has rather emphasized them. While the material of which man's body was composed is never destroyed, it is broken up largely into its original elements and is used over and over again in many natural processes, and even enters into the composition of other men's bodies during the long succeeding generations. Here is a problem upon which it would ordinarily be presumed at once, that a philosophic writer of the Thirteenth Century could throw no possible light. We venture to say, however, that the following passage which we quote from an article on St. Thomas in a recent copy of the Dublin Review, represents the best possible solution of the problem, even in the face of all our modern advance in science.

"What does not bar numerical unity in a man while he lives on uninterruptedly (writes St. Thomas), clearly can be no bar to the identity of the arisen man with the man that was. In a man's body, while he lives, there are not always the same parts in respect of matter but only in respect of species. In respect of matter there is a flux and reflux of parts. Still that fact does not bar the man's numerical unity from the beginning to the end of his life. The form and species of the several parts continue throughout life, but the matter of the parts is dissolved by the natural heat, and new matter accrues through nourishment. Yet the man is not numerically different by the difference of his component parts at different ages, although it is true that the material composition of the man at one stage of his life is not his material composition at another. Addition is made from without to the stature of a boy without prejudice to his identity, for the boy and the adult are numerically the same man."

In a word, Aquinas says that we recognize that the body of the boy and of the man are the same though they are composed of quite different material. With this in mind the problem of the Resurrection takes on quite a new aspect from what it held before. What we would call attention to, however, is not so much the matter of the argument as the mode of it. It is essentially modern in every respect. Not only does Thomas know that the body changes completely during the course of years, but he knows that the agent by which the matter of the parts is dissolved is "the natural heat," while "new matter accrues through nourishment." The passage contains a marvelous anticipation of present-day physiology as well as a distinct contribution to Christian apologetics. This coordination of science and theology, though usually thought to be lacking among scholastic philosophers, is constantly typical of their mode of thought and discussion, and this example, far from being exceptional, is genuinely representative of them, as all serious students of scholasticism know.

Perhaps the last thing for which the ordinary person would expect to find a great modern teacher recommending the reading of St. Thomas would be to find therein the proper doctrine with regard to liberty and the remedies for our modern social evils. Those who will recall, however, how well the generations of the Thirteenth Century faced social problems even more serious than ours -- for the common people had no rights at all the beginning of the century, yet secured them with such satisfaction as to lay the foundation of the modern history of liberty -- will realize that the intellcctual men of the time must have had a much better grasp of the principles underlying such problems, than would otherwise be imagined. As a matter of fact, St. Thomas's treatment of Society, its rights and duties, and the mutual relationship between it and the individual, is one of the triumphs of his wonderful work in ethics. It is no wonder, then, that the great Pope of the end of the Nineteenth Century, whose encyclicals showed that he understood very thoroughly these social evils of our time, recognized their tendencies and appreciated their danger, recommended as a remedy for them the reading of St. Thomas. Pope Leo said:

"Domestic and civil society, even, which, as all see, is exposed to great danger from the plague of perverse opinions, would certainly enjoy a far more peaceful and a securer existence if more wholesome doctrine were taught in the academies and schools -- one more in conformity with the teaching of the Church, such as is contained in the works of Thomas Aquinas.

"For the teachings of Thomas on the true meaning of liberty -- which at this time is running into license -- on the divine origin of all authority, on laws and their force, on the paternal and just rule of princes, on obedience to the higher powers, on mutual charity one towards another -- on all of these and kindred subjects, have very great and invincible force to overturn those principles of the new order which are well known to be dangerous to the peaceful order of things and to public safety."

For this great Pope, however, there was no greater teacher of any of the serious philosophical, ethical and theological problems than this Saint of the Thirteenth Century. His position in the matter would only seem exaggerated to those who do not appreciate Pope Leo's marvelous practical intelligence, and Saint Thomas's exhaustive treatment of most of the questions that have always been uppermost in the minds of men. While, with characteristic humility, he considered himself scarcely more than a commentator on Aristotle, his natural genius was eminently original and he added much more of his own than what he took from his master. There can be no doubt that his was one of the most gifted minds in all humanity's history and that for profundity of intelligence he deserves to be classed with Plato and Aristotle, as his great disciple Dante is placed between Homer and Shakespeare. Those who know St. Thomas the best, and have spent their lives in the study of him, not only cordially welcomed but ardently applauded Pope Leo's commendation of him, and considered that lofty as was his praise there was not a word they would have changed even in such a laudatory passage as the following:

"While, therefore, we hold that every word of wisdom, every useful thing by whomsoever discovered or planned, ought to be received with a willing and grateful mind, We exhort you, Venerable Brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences. The wisdom of St. Thomas, We say -- for if anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated -- if there is anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age, or, in a word, improbable in whatever way, it does not enter Our mind, to propose that for imitation to Our age. Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrines of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others. Let the academies already founded or to be founded by you illustrate and defend this doctrine, and use it for refutation of prevailing errors. But, lest the false for the true or the corrupt for the pure be drunk in, be watchful that the doctrine of Thomas be drawn from his own fountains, or at least from those rivulets which derived from the very fount, have thus far flowed, according to the established agreement of learned men, pure and clear; be careful to guard the minds of youth from those which are said to flow thence, but in reality are gathered from strange and unwholesome streams."

Tributes quite as laudatory are not lacking from modern secular writers and while there have been many derogatory remarks, these have always come from men who either knew Aquinas only at second hand, or who confess that they had been unable to read him understandingly. The praise all comes from men who have spent years in the study of his writings.

A recent writer in the Dublin Review (January, 1906) sums up his appreciation of one of St. Thomas's works, his masterly book in philosophy, as follows:

"The Summa contra Gentiles is an historical monument of the first importance for the history of philosophy. In the variety of its contents, it is a perfect encyclopedia of the learning of the day. By it we can fix the high-water mark of Thirteenth Century thought, for it contains the lectures of a doctor second to none in the great school of thought then flourishing -- the University of Paris. It is by the study of such books that one enters into the mental life of the period at which they were written; not by the hasty perusal of histories of philosophy. No student of the Contra Gentiles is likely to acquiesce in the statement that the Middle Ages were a time when mankind seemed to have lost the power of thinking for themselves. Medieval people thought for themselves, thoughts curiously different from ours and profitable to study."

Here is a similar high tribute for Aquinas's great work on Theology from his modern biographer, Father Vaughan:

"The 'Summa Theologica' is a mighty synthesis, thrown into technical and scientific form, of the Catholic traditions of East and West, of the infallible dicta of the Sacred Page, and of the most enlightened conclusions of human reason, gathered from the soaring intuitions of the Academy, and the rigid severity of the Lyceum.

"Its author was a man endowed with the characteristic notes of the three great Fathers of Greek Philosophy: he possessed the intellectual honesty and precision of Socrates, the analytical keenness of Aristotle, and that yearning after wisdom and light which was the distinguishing mark of 'Plato the divine,' and which has ever been one of the essential conditions of the highest intuitions of religion."

As a matter of fact it was the very greatness of Thomas Aquinas, and the great group of contemporaries who were so close to him, that produced an unfortunate effect on subsequent thinking and teaching in Europe. These men were so surpassing in their grasp of the whole round of human thought, that their works came to be worshiped more or less as fetishes, and men did not think for themselves but appealed to them as authorities. It is a great but an unfortunate tribute to the scholastics of the Thirteenth Century that subsequent generations for many hundred years not only did not think that they could improve on them, but even hesitated to entertain the notion that they could equal them. Turner in his History of Philosophy has pointed out this fact clearly and has attributed to it, to a great extent, the decadence of scholastic philosophy.

"The causes of the decay of scholastic philosophy were both internal and external. The internal causes are to be found in the condition of Scholastic philosophy at the beginning of the Fourteenth Century. The great work of Christian syncretism had been completed by the masters of the preceding period; revelation and science had been harmonized; contribution had been levied on the pagan philosophies of Greece and Arabia, and whatever truth these philosophies had possessed had been utilized to form the basis of a rational exposition of Christian revelation. The efforts of Roger Bacon and of Alfred the Great to reform scientific method had failed; the sciences were not cultivated. There was, therefore, no source of development, and nothing was left for the later Scholastics except to dispute as to the meaning of principles, to comment on the text of this master or of that, and to subtilize to such an extent that Scholasticism soon became a synonym for captious quibbling. The great Thomistic principle that in philosophy the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments was forgotten; Aristotle, St. Thomas, or Scotus became the criterion of truth, and as Solomon, whose youthful wisdom had astonished the world, profaned his old age by the worship of idols, the philosophy of the schools, in the days of its decadence, turned from the service of truth to prostrate itself before the shrine of a master. Dialectic, which in the Thirteenth Century had been regarded as the instrument of knowledge, now became an object of study for the sake of display; and to this fault of method was added a fault of style -- an uncouthness and barbarity of terminology which bewilder the modern reader."

The appreciation of St. Thomas in his own time is the greatest tribute to the critical faculty of the century that could be made. "Genius is praised but starves," in the words of the old Roman poet. Certainly most of the geniuses of the world have met with anything but their proper meed of appreciation in their own time. This is not true, however, during our Thirteenth Century. We have already shown how the artists, and especially Giotto, (at the end of the Thirteenth Century Giotto was only twenty-four years old) were appreciated, and how much attention Dante began to attract from his contemporaries, and we may add that all the great scholars of the period had a following that insured the wide publication of their works, at a time when this had to be accomplished by slow and patient hand-labor. The appreciation for Thomas, indeed, came near proving inimical to his completion of his important works in philosophy and theology. Many places in Europe wanted to have the opportunity to hear him. We have only reintroduced the practise of exchanging university professors in very recent years. This was quite a common practise in the Thirteenth Century, however, and so St. Thomas, after having been professor at Paris and later at Rome, taught for a while at Naples and then at a number of the Italian universities.

Everywhere he went he was noted for the kindliness of his disposition and for his power to make friends. Looked upon as the greatest thinker of his time it would be easy to expect that there should be some signs of consciousness of this, and as a consequence some of that unpleasant self-assertion which so often makes great intellectual geniuses unpopular. Thomas, however, never seems to have had any over-appreciation of his own talents, but, realizing how little he knew compared to the whole round of knowledge, and how superficial his thinking was compared to the depth of the mysteries he was trying, not to solve but to treat satisfactorily, it must be admitted that there was no question of conceit having a place in his life. This must account for the universal friendship of all who came in contact with him. The popes insisted on having him as a professor at the Roman university in which they were so much interested, and which they wished to make one of the greatest universities of the time. Here Thomas was brought in contact with ecciesiastics from all over the world and helped to form the mind of the time. Those who think the popes of the Middle Ages opposed to education should study the records of this Roman university.

Thomas became the great friend of successive popes, some of whom had been brought in contact with him during his years of studying and teaching at Rome and Paris. This gave him many privileges and abundant encouragement, but finally came near ruining his career as a philosophic writer and teacher, since his papal friends wished to raise him to high ecclesiastical dignities. Urban IV. seems first to have thought of this but his successor Clement IV., one of the noblest churchmen of the period, who had himself wished to decline the papacy, actually made out the Bull, creating Thomas Archbishop of Naples. When this document was in due course presented to Aquinas, far from giving him any pleasure it proved a source of grief and pain. He saw the chance to do his life-work slipping from him. This was so evident to his friend the Pope that he withdrew the Bull and St. Thomas was left in peace during the rest of his career, and allowed to prosecute that one great object to which he had dedicated his mighty intellect. This was the summing up of all human knowledge in a work that would show the relation of the Creator to the creature, and apply the great principles of Greek philosophy to the sublime truths of Christianity. Had Thomas consented to accept the Archbishopric of Naples in all human probability, as Thomas's great English biographer remarks, the Summa Theologica would never have been written. It seems not unlikely that the dignity was pressed upon him by the Pope partly at the solicitation of powerful members of his family, who hoped in this to have some compensation for their relative's having abandoned his opportunities for military and worldly glory. It is fortunate that their efforts failed, and it is only one of the many examples in history of the shortsightedness there may be in considerations that seem founded on the highest human prudence.

Thomas was left free then to go on with his great work, and during the next five years he applied every spare moment to the completion of his Summa. More students have pronounced this the greatest work ever written than is true for any other text-book that has ever been used in schools. That it should be the basis of modern theological teaching after seven centuries is of itself quite sufficient to proclaim its merit. The men who are most enthusiastic about it are those who have used it the longest and who know it the best.

St. Thomas's English biographer, the Very Rev Roger Bede Vaughan, who is a worthy member of that distinguished Vaughan family who have given so many zealous ecclesiastics to the English Church and so many scholars to support the cause of Christianity, can scarcely say enough of this great work, nor of its place in the realm of theology. When it is recalled that Father Vaughan was not a member of St. Thomas's own order, the Dominicans, but of the Benedictines, it will be seen that it was not because of any esprit de corps, but out of the depths of his great admiration for the saint, that his words of praise were written:

"It has been shown abundantly that no writer before the Angelical's day could have created a synthesis of all knowledge. The greatest of the classic Fathers have been treated of, and the reasons of their inability are evident. As for the scholastics who more immediately preceded the Angelical, their minds were not ripe for so great and complete a work: the fullness of time had not yet come. Very possibly had not Albert the Great and Alexander (of Hales) preceded him, St. Thomas would not have been prepared to write his master-work; just as, most probably, Newton would never have discovered the law of gravitation had it not been for the previous labors of Galileo and of Kepler. But just as the English astronomer stands solitary in his greatness, though surrounded and succeeded by men of extraordinary eminence, so also the Angelical stands by himself alone, although Albertus Magnus was a genius, Alexander was a theological king, and Bonaventure a seraphic doctor. Just as the Principia is a work unique, unreachable, so, too, is the 'Summa Theologica' of the great Angelical. Just as Dante stands alone among the poets, so stands St. Thomas in the schools."

Probably the most marvelous thing about the life of St. Thomas is his capacity for work. His written books fill up some twenty folios in their most complete edition. This of itself would seem to be enough to occupy a lifetime without anything more. His written works, however, represent apparently only the products of his hours at leisure. He was only a little more than fifty when he died and he had been a university professor at Cologne, at Bologna, at Paris, at Rome, and at Naples. In spite of the amount of work that he was thus asked to do, his order, the Dominican, constantly called on him to busy himself with certain of its internal affairs. On one occasion at least he visited England in order to attend a Dominican Chapter at Oxford, and the better part of several years at Paris was occupied with his labors to secure for his brethren a proper place in the university, so that they might act as teachers and yet have suitable opportunities for the education and the discipline of the members of the Order.

Verily it would seem as though his days must have been at least twice as long as those of the ordinary scholar and student to accomplish so much; yet he is only a type of the monks of the Middle Ages, of whom so many people seem to think that their principal traits were to be fat and lazy. Thomas was fat, as we know from the picture of him which shows him before a desk from which a special segment has been removed to accommodate more conveniently a rather abnormal abdominal development, but as to laziness, surely the last thing that would occur to anyone who knows anything about him, would be to accuse him of it. Clearly those who accept the ancient notion of monkish laziness will never understand the Middle Ages. The great educational progress of the Thirteenth Century was due almost entirely to monks. There is another extremely interesting side to the intellectual character of Thomas Aquinas which is usually not realized by the ordinary student of philosophy and theology, and still less perhaps by those who are interested in him from an educational standpoint. This is his poetical faculty. For Thomas as for many of the great intellectual geniuses of the modern time, the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist was one of the most wondrously satisfying devotional mysteries of Christianity and the subject of special devotion. In our own time the great Cardinal Newman manifested this same attitude of mind. Thomas because of his well-known devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, was asked by the Pope to write the office for the then recently established feast of Corpus Christi. There are always certain hymns incorporated in the offices of the different Feast days. It might ordinarily have been expected that a scholar like Aquinas would write the prose portions of the office, leaving the hymns for some other hand, or selecting hymns from some older sacred poetry. Thomas, however, wrote both hymns and prose, and, surprising as it may be, his hymns are some of the most beautiful that have ever been composed and remain the admiration of posterity.

It must not be forgotten in this regard that Thomas's career occurred during the period when Latin hymn writing was at its apogee. The Dies Irae and the Stabat Mater were both written during the Thirteenth Century, and the most precious Latin hymns of all times were composed during the century and a half from 1250 to 1300. Aquinas's hymns do not fail to challenge comparison even with the greatest of these. While he had an eminently devotional subject, it must not be forgotten that certain supremely difficult theological problems were involved in the expression of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. In spite of the difficulties, Thomas succeeded in making not only good theology but great poetry. A portion of one of his hymns, the Tantum Ergo, has been perhaps more used in church services than any other, with the possible exception of the Dies Irae. Another one of his beautiful hymns that especially deserves to be admired, is less well known and so I have ventured to quote three selected stanzas of it, as an illustration of Thomas's command over rhyme and rhythm in the Latin. tongue.

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,{1}
Quae sub his figuris vere latitas.
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia te contemplans totum deficit.

Visus, tactus, gustus, in te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tute creditur:
Credo quidquid dixit Dei filius
Nihil veritatis verbo venus.

And the less musical but wonderfully significative fourth stanza

Plagas sicut Thomas non intueor,
Deum tamen meum te confiteor,
Fac me tibi semper magis credere,
In te spem habere, te diligere.

Only the ardent study of many years will give anything like an adequate idea of the great schoolman's universal genius. I am content if I have conveyed a few hints that will help to a beginning of an acquaintance with one of the half dozen supreme minds of our race.

{1} The following translation made by Justice O'Hagan renders sense: and sound into English as adequately perhaps as is possible:

Hidden God, devoutly I adore thee,
Truly present underneath these veils:
All my heart subdues itself before thee,
Since it all before thee faints and fails.

Not to sight, or taste, or touch be credit,
Hearing only do we trust secure;
I believe, for God the Son hath said it
Word of truth that ever shall endure.

Though I look not on thy wounds with Thomas,
Thee, my Lord, and thee, my God, I call:
Make me more and more believe thy promise,
Hope in thee, and love thee over all.

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