Jacques Maritain Center : St. Thomas Aquinas / by Placid Conway, OP




THE Master-General at this time was the Venerable John of Wildeshausen, formerly a missionary, and Bishop of Bosnia. Knowing well the worth and rare abilities of his subject, he resolved on giving him the best opportunities for developing his singular powers. The first step was to remove him far from the importunities and distractions of home. The school presided over by Albertus Magnus in Cologne being in his judgment the best suited for the purpose, the holy man set out from Rome with Br. Thomas, in October, 1245. But since business of the order required the Father-General's presence in Paris, they proceeded thither on foot, carrying nothing but a satchel and a breviary. In those days of faith it was a familiar scene to pass Churchmen of every degree upon the road; now bishops and abbots, mounted on well-caparisoned horses, and with a retinue of retainers; now the beneficed clergy riding in company, or with the stout burgesses, and a few men at arms for protection; or else it might be the more modest company of monks and friars and pilgrims, all afoot, and even the veiled minchins on palfreys. The travellers sped on commonly like two streams in their channels, going to or else returning from the threshold of the holy Apostles in Rome. But apart from this throng, it was of daily occurrence to see the hooded friars of various orders wending their way in couples or trios apart, and ever on foot, across the Alps to the greater schools on either side of the mountains, or journeying afar to attend General Chapters. There was a constant movement going on over those rough roads which were the arteries of European life, and across many a river and mountain.

Fr. John of Wildeshausen and Br. Thomas Aquinas, stooping age and vigorous youth, thought lightly of a journey afoot extending over 1500 miles. They set out each morning and walked a good space, now conversing familiarly, now reciting the breviary or in silent meditation, until by some running brook they opened their wallets for the mid-day repast. At sunset they sought for lodging in some religious establishment, or hospice, or else under the roof of God-fearing folk. Such had been St. Dominic's manner of travelling, and that of all the mediaeval saints, and now from this first experience St. Thomas grew familiar with it. It was a weary task at the outset, until the traveller came to be inured; but the free play of the muscles supplies a vigour and freshness unknown to them who lag at home. But at the same time men's sense of Christian hospitality was more universal than in our day, and no one wearing the livery of Christ was ever turned from a Christian door: true enough, beds were often lacking, but then there was the fragrant hay in the cottar's loft, and the lowing of the cattle at night was a reminder of Bethlehem. In this fashion the aged bishop and his son in Christ plodded on across the rainy plains of Lombardy in sad November, crossed the biting Alpine passes in December, and, following the Valley of the Rhone, pressed northwards towards Paris. Their brief halt in the French capital was spent in the great Priory of St. Jacques amidst their brethren. Once more they set out with wallet and staff, through Brabant, past Louvain and Aachen, until they reached the ancient city of Cologne on the Rhine, in January 1246. The Dominican Schools of Philosophy and Theology were founded therein by the German friars in the year 1222. This ancient foundation, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, consisting of an extensive priory and church, stood in the Stolkgasse, hard by the cathedral. It had risen into public as well as domestic eminence owing to the teaching of that prodigiously learned man, Albertus Magnus. He belonged to the noble family of Bollstadt, from Lavingen, in Bavarian Swabia; during ten years he had studied at Padua, and won his first spurs as a keen dialectician, before taking the Dominican habit. Blessed Jordon of Saxony, the Master General at the time, completely captivated him by his masterful eloquence and holiness, received his vows by St. Dominic's tomb in Bologna, and left him there to complete the higher studies. Returning home to Germany, he acquired such a reputation for learning, notably in physical science, that his contemporaries styled him "Albert the Great, the Universal Doctor," and posterity has confirmed the verdict. [His marble effigy graces the Prince Consort Memorial in London.] The Belgian Chronicle has inscribed his name in its Annals with this just encomium: "Great in Magic [that is, in Physics], greater in Philosophy, greatest in Divinity". His published works in twenty-seven folio volumes reveal his vast breadth of research, as well as the depth of his acumen. Such was the man marked out by God's Providence to be the master of "The Angel of the Schools". Albert was in his fifty-second year, and Thomas just 20 years old, when first they met: little did either of them suppose that the younger would eclipse the elder, as the sunset in glory veils the star. All notions of Albert having ever been mentally slow, or styled "the dull Swabian novice," must be relegated to the pages of idle romance, for they are utterly void of foundation.

St. Thomas entered the schools of Albert, as a gem to be cut by a cunning hand, but the fluent genius in the rostrum utterly failed to comprehend him: the truer genius seated below was pronounced to be a dullard. Among his fellow students Thomas passed for a slow wit, however much impressed they might be by his retirement and application. Even Albert shared in the verdict, until he received a rude awakening. Vet this was the youth of whom Rodolph in his "Life of Albertus Magnus" gives the just estimate in impassioned phrase: "Thomas hastened to Cologne with the ardour of a thirsty stag which runs to a fountain of pure water, there to receive from Albert's hand the life-giving cup of wisdom, and to slake therein the thirst which consumed him". Among those novice-students, Germans, Italians, French, were youths who afterwards shone in the Church and in Universities as saints, cardinals, prelates, and professors: such were Ambrose of Sienna, Ulrich of Engelbrecht, Thomas de Cantimpré, and many more. Modesty in expressing an opinion, the attitude of rapt attention as a listener, in the tall Neapolitan brother, above all, his profound humility in shunning display, all led up to the common verdict that Thomas was stupid, so a name was speedily found for him: it was "the dumb Sicilian ox". With them learning meant wrangling: with St. Thomas it was all thought. When asked later on in life why he had been silent so long at Cologne, he replied: "It was because I had not yet learned to speak before such a mind as Albert".

A novice more charitable than his fellows offered one day to help him in preparing the morrow's lesson. The saint gratefully accepted the assistance; but when the would-be instructor got hopelessly involved in the argument Thomas came to his assistance and unravelled the tangle quite easily. Some time after this Albert invited the scholars to give him their views upon an obscure passage in a book of itself obscure, the "Book of the Divine Names," a fifth century work, but then uncritically ascribed to Denis the Areopagite. The outwitted brother, who had floundered so helplessly in assisting Br. Thomas, now asked him to write down his solution; this he did in candid simplicity. The paper was delivered into Albert's hands, who at once recognized the impress of a master mind, so straightway he set him up at the lector's desk to defend certain knotty questions which were subjects of discussion at the time. Thomas explained the matter with such surprising clearness and force that his auditory was amazed. Nor did he handle with less skill the intricate objections raised by the Bachelor, as he cut his way through with keen distinctions. The objector then interposed sharply: "You seem to forget that you are not a master, to decide, but a disciple to learn how to answer arguments raised". Then came the simple rejoinder: "I don't see any other way of answering the difficulty". Albert now interposed: "Very well then, continue according to your method, but remember that I have my objections to make"; whereupon he plied him with retorts, axioms transgressed, and sub-divisions of sub-distinctions, but Thomas never faltered for an instant. To each thrust of argument advanced he had a ready parry of a distinction, or of argument retorted in its utmost conclusions, for he was a swordsman of the tongue, a very giant of dialectics. Albert could restrain himself no longer. "You call him 'a dumb ox,' but I declare before you that he will yet bellow so loud in doctrine that his voice will resound through the whole world." He procured a cell for him next to his own, allowed him to avail himself of the results of his own laborious researches, and made him the companion of his walks.

The lesson was not lost upon the students, who, while admiring his genius, still continued to twit him with his simplicity. One day a novice observing him as he stood by the open window, called out: "Look, look, there is an ox flying over the convent". Thomas leant forth and gazed up, to be greeted with laughter of derision; but the tormentor quailed before the rejoinder: "I was not so simple as to believe that an ox could fly, but I never imagined that a religious man could stoop to falsehood". Many years afterwards a similar jest drew forth the same rebuke, when asked -- "Could you have believed that a fish could climb a tree? St. Thomas was always extremely simple, but it was the simplicity of the Gospel. At this early period he launched forth on his first work, which was a commentary on the Ethics of Aristotle.

Six months were the limit of his first stay in Cologne. The General Chapter of the order met there at Pentecost decided to send Albert and Thomas to Paris, the master to occupy a chair in the University, which was then the foremost in the world, the disciple to continue his studies under the best possible advantages. The progress of this scholar cannot be set forth better than in his own axiom inculcated in the "Summa Theologica":

"Whatever is received by any subject is grasped according to the subject's capacity". And his was a genius which already bid fair to overtop Albertus Magnus.

During the month of August three Friars Preachers might be seen journeying afoot from the Rhine to the Seine: they were the Father-General, the master, the disciple : the Venerable John, Blessed Albert, St. Thomas. Once arrived in Paris, master and disciple resumed their places in the Dominican schools, which were affiliated to the University. Albert's reputation having preceded him, he drew a vast concourse of students to his lectures; in time the assembly grew to be so vast that no hall could accommodate the auditory, until by compulsion he had to lecture in the open square. Master Albert was outpaced in holiness and in learning by his meteor disciple; but the Church has beatified him, the world has acclaimed him as the "Universal Doctor," who knew all that was to be known. Daily on his knees he recited the entire Psalter. His eminent piety has been attested to by many, but let one witness suffice: it is the testimony of his disciple, Cardinal Thomas of Cantimpré: "After this ought it to astonish us that Albert should be endowed with superhuman knowledge, and that his word should enflame the heart more than that of other masters? We know now from what source those transports of love proceeded, which we see so frequently break out in his numerous writings." All the world owes him homage, because he trained the soul as well as the mind of St. Thomas.

Whether the master commented, or examined in the cloister school or elsewhere, Thomas was always present, forming himself on the great model. At this time he was engrossed in studying Aristotle's Metaphysics, the "Sacra Pagina," or Holy Scriptures, and Patrology, for these entered into the normal course of every scholastic; in his hours of privacy in the cell he set himself to read and retain in memory the voluminous writings of St. Augustine, the most learned of the doctors. To Thomas the mind of Augustine was the mind of the Catholic Church; upon him he based his opinions; his authority was final. Posterity is indebted to St. Thomas for a benefit so little known and recognized; after assimilating St. Augustine's works, which usually extend to forty volumes in octavo, he recast them in the terse and accurate speech of the Schoolmen.

Patrology is sacred science in its least scientific presentment. The Holy Fathers had none of the conciseness in form, none of the preciseness in terminology, which characterizes the thirteenth century Schoolmen; they wrote with a fullness of diction and laxity of expression which is often tedious and sometimes misleading. The great Augustine is a river whose fullness of waters gladdens the city of God. The Fathers are the "Ponies," the Authorities, while the Schoolmen are but the Exponents; the former define doctrine, the latter define form, whereas "The Angel of the Schools" does both. But it must not be overlooked that St. Thomas had the Church's experience of eight centuries from the age of St. Augustine, during which interval both thought and speech were recast. Here in Paris he was the reader, the thinker, the rememberer, but still the disciple. To write and talk was reserved for maturer days, when the coarse grain now passing through the mill of his mind would emerge as the refined flour, to make the bread of doctrine. What little he wrote was for his own purposes: his hour had not yet come.

Such studious occupations did not cause his spirit of piety to relax. How often does the study even of Divine things cause the wells to dry up! It is to the student's hurt when the true inner spirit gives way before the outer discipline of learning. With the Dominicans, the novice remains such until priesthood under the vigilant eye and candid tongue of a novice master: forward youth, over pert of speech, has to be kept under, and wilful youth tamed; indolent nature must be jogged, and all show of cleverness put down by timely, yea, and untimely, snubbings. St. Thomas had experience of it in the novitiate at Paris. One day as he was reading aloud at table, the voice of reproval rang out sharp, correcting him for a false quantity in latinity: now although the error was not the novice's but the corrector's, the reader instantly adopted the amended prosody. When afterwards twitted with his want of spirit, he replied: "It really matters little how a word is pronounced, but it is of the utmost importance to practise humility and obedience on every occasion."

While in Paris he met among our brethren, the Friars Minor, one to whom his soul leaped out in friendship: this was the future Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure, a student at the time. For a parallel friendship one must go back to the days of David. "And it came to pass . . . the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (I Kings xviii. 1). Although they had entered religion about the same time, Bonaventure was older than Thomas by about four years. Their intimacy in Paris extended over seven years, that is from 1246 to 1248, and again from 1252 to 2256. It is sometimes stated that St. Thomas sat with his friend as a student under Master Alexander de Hales: that brilliant man, however, was dead before Thomas's arrival.

After two years spent in the schools of St. Jacques, Brother Thomas was raised to the Subdiaconate, and his younger brother, Rayner of Aquino, gave himself to the order in Naples. The General Chapter which met in Paris in this year confirmed the Ordinances made in the two previous chapters, and erected four new formal colleges for the higher studies in other University centres: Oxford for England, Bologna for Northern Italy, Cologne for Germany, and Montpellier for Provence. Master Albert was now designated Regent for Cologne, with Thomas for Bachelor; so once more they wended their way to the Rhine, while Brother Thomas carried in his sack Aristotle's writings and the Sentences of Peter Lombard. On the road they halted at Louvain in Brabant, passing some days in the priory and church of Notre Dame aux Dominicains, on the Dyle: a relic of this visit is still reverently treasured in the new foundation there, the restored "Studium Generale"; it is the upper portion of the "pupitre," or lectern, from which St. Thomas sang the epistle.

As Bachelor he had charge of all the students: it was his task to supervise their plan of study, correct their essays, object severely in the daily defensions, read with them in camera. As a professor he began some daily lectures on Philosophy and the Sacred Scriptures, which were not restricted to his fellow religious, but were addressed to a great concourse of clerics as well. It may not be out of place to give his letter of golden advice addressed to a student, premising that it is not admitted as genuine by some critics


"Since you have asked me how you ought to study in order to amass the treasures of knowledge, listen to the advice which I am going to give you.

"As a mere stripling, advance up the streams, and do not all at once plunge into the deep: such is my caution, and your lesson. I bid you to be chary of speech, slower still in frequenting places of talk: embrace purity of conscience, pray unceasingly, love to keep to your cell if you wish to be admitted into the mystic wine-cellar. Show yourself genial to all: pay no heed to other folk's affairs: be not over-familiar with any person, because over-much familiarity breeds contempt, and gives occasion to distraction from study.

"On no account mix yourself up with the sayings and the doings of persons in the outside world. Most of all, avoid all useless visits, but try rather to walk constantly in the footsteps of good and holy men. Never mind from whom the lesson drops, but commit to memory whatever useful advice may be uttered. Give an account to yourself of your every word and action: see that you understand what you hear, and never leave a doubt unsolved: lay up all you can in the storehouse of memory, as he does who wants to fill a vase. 'Seek not the things which are beyond thee'.

"Following these ways, you will your whole life long put forth and bear both branches and fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth. If you take these words to heart, you will attain your desire."

This letter is unquestionably the reflex of his own rule of conduct. No one could be more affable, more courteous, yet at the same time it was a principle with him to shun all needless visits; the world might come to him, but he would not go out to it. As the time drew near for him to be raised to the sacred priesthood, he gave himself over to more protracted prayer and watchings. Several hours of the day, as well as part of the night, were spent in attitude of adoration before the altar, often sighing and weeping audibly as his soul melted with devotion; the heat of love within was manifest on the glowing countenance. At early morn the brethren frequently found him like the angel guarding the sepulchre. The Archbishop of Cologne raised him to the diaconate, and subsequently to the priesthood. The prelate who had the privilege of consecrating his holy hands was Conrad of Hochstaden, the princely and munificent Archbishop who rebuilt the choir of the old Romariesque Cathedral. The ordination took place in the year 1250. His attitude in celebrating the Divine mysteries upon the altar was one of majesty, and of rapt devotion. William de Tocco, his pupil and first biographer, describes what he was privileged to witness daily: "When he consecrated in mass, he was seized with such intensity of devotion as to be dissolved in tears, utterly absorbed in its mysteries, and nourished with its fruits".

This year of gladness for him was one of dire disaster for his family. His brothers left the service of the Emperor Frederick II in consequence of his hostility to the Pope, and took up arms in defence of the Holy See. The enraged monarch thereupon besieged Rocca Secca Castle, and all but demolished it, put Raynald of Aquino to death, while the elder brother, Landulf, who was now head of the family, fell fighting in the cause of the Church. The Countess Theodora, stricken with grief and years, was forced into voluntary exile with her dependents, and died soon after in sentiments of great piety. St. Thomas heard of the ruin of his home and family with his wonted calm, humbly accepting God's inscrutable and adorable will.

All knowledge is aptly distinguished into two classes, which form the divisions of the holy doctor's writings. The distinction is his own: "The knowledge of Divine things is termed Wisdom, whereas the knowledge of human things is called Science". His life henceforth may be generally classified into two periods, each of twelve years; as an expository writer he now started his scientific period, which was in 1262 commuted for the sapiential.

During this time at Cologne he composed his first Opuscula, or lesser works. These were first of all Aristotelian: first in order was the treatise "On Being and Essence," then another on "The Principles of Nature"; for his theological course he wrote a "Commentary on the Sacred Scriptures," also a "Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard ". At the instance of Adelaide Duchess of Brabant he drew up and sent her a treatise "On the Government of the Jews," for it was a thorny question of the day, as to how the Jews ought to be treated by Christian rulers.

From the day of his ordination the scholar came forth as the preacher. In the churches of Cologne and Bonn St. Thomas poured out his thoughts in rich German speech to delighted auditories; he was no utterer of platitudes or profundities, but an orator who spoke to the heart and held men under the spell of his sonorous eloquence. The great German awakening to liberty, and letters, and national prosperity, dated from 1250; their feudalism ended then, and a religious-minded people thought and wrote for the first time no longer in Latinity but in their own vigorous tongue. St. Thomas caught the public ear by his well-reasoned doctrinal sermons, which were listened to by Jews and Christians alike. To quote from de Tocco once more: "He was heard by the people as if his discourse came from God". "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life," as we read in Proverbs xv. 4. We have grown so used to think of him as the theologian teaching and writing that we are apt to lose sight of the apostolic side of his life. Not less an apostle in zeal than St. Dominic, he never let an occasion of preaching go by; where hundreds heard him in the schools, thousands hung on his lips in the churches of Italy, France, and Germany, for this versatile man could say with St. Paul: "I give thanks to my God, for that I speak in all your tongues" (1 Cor. xiv. 18).



GREAT was the satisfaction of the scholars in Paris, greater the joy of the brethren, when Thomas was recalled thither as licentiate in 1252, with a view to taking the doctorate. The holy friendship with Bonaventure was resumed, and deepened. One day he found his friend engaged in writing the life of St. Francis of Assisi: loath to disturb him in his devout task, he stole quietly away from the cell, saying to his companion, "Let us leave a saint to write about a saint".

It was now a period of conflict between the city and the University, owing to the slaying of a student, coupled with the wounding and arrest of three more, perpetrated by the city guard. Since satisfaction was not forthcoming, the doctors closed their schools: but the Dominican and Franciscan professors continued to lecture as usual, having no interest in the dispute. Such a proceeding gave offence, so the University authorities passed a new statute, that for the future no one should be admitted to the degree of Doctor in Theology unless he swore to observe all the statutes, especially the one just formulated. This simply meant that on every occasion of a dispute between themselves and the city, all lectures must cease until the matter was settled. The Mendicant Orders stood out, and refused to be so restricted. Why should soberminded men be reduced to silence by reason of the night escapades of these young bloods! The disagreement lasted for over three years, while the saintly friends kept their souls in peace, studying, praying, and lecturing, as if there were no such entities as doctors and proctors and city-bailiffs. But when Friar Thomas Aquinas was duly presented by the Prior and Regent to stand for his degree, he was curtly set aside and the petition refused. Feeling ran so high that he and Bonaventure were driven out of the schools with kicks and hisses: such was the secularism of the age. Pope Alexander IV sent a Brief ordering the University to admit him to the doctorate: the Senate steadily refused to obey the mandate. Matters stood at a deadlock, the outlook was becoming serious, as the students forsook Paris for Oxford, not in units but in shoals, while Thomas lectured to the shrunken auditory of his brethren only.

During this time, which was as peaceful to him as it was distracting to others, he composed and issued treatises "On Man," "On Eternity," "On Thought," "The Movement of the Heart," "Thirty-six Articles in Reply to a Professor of Venice," "Explanation of Two Decretals of Pope Innocent III," written for the Archdeacon of Trent. The following, which have been attributed to him, must however be considered as apocryphal: "Of Fate," "The Powers or the Soul," "The Difference between God's Word and Man's Word," "The Essence and Dimensions of Matter".

There came a lull in the storm early in 1256, since the Pope wrote to the Chancellor on 4 May, congratulating him on permitting Friar Thomas Aquinas to teach once more in public; but the spirit of rancour was still abroad. As he was preaching in St. Jacques' Church on Palm Sunday, one of the University proctors, Guillot by name, marched in and stopped his discourse, after which he read aloud a letter from William de St. Amour and the other doctors, full of acrimony against the Mendicant Friars and the preacher in particular. Thomas kept silent throughout, then calmly resumed his sermon. This William de St. Amour, a name of ill-omened fame, had just completed a work against the Mendicant Orders, entitled, "The Perils of the Last Times". This was the gage of battle thrown down by the doctors of Paris University. The French episcopate spoke out against the infamous book, but coming as it did from such high authority, the students and people accepted its lying statements. At the instance of the King, St. Louis IX, the Pope summoned both parties to appear before him. The gage of battle thus recklessly thrown down was taken up by Thomas and Bonaventure, while a commission of doctors represented the University: it was question now, not of privilege, but of the very right of existence for religious men. Thomas proceeded straight to Rome on the summons of the Master General, Humbert de Romans, who put the book into his hands to read and refute. Against it he wrote his famous treatise, entitled, "An Apology for the Religious Orders," basing it upon the opening words of Psalm LXXXII.: "O God, who shall be like unto Thee? Hold not Thy peace, neither be Thou still, O God. For lo, Thine enemies have made a noise: and they that hate Thee have lifted up their head." He pronounced a discourse before the General Chapter, in which he broke out as follows: "Have no fear, my brethren, for I have examined it, and find it to be captious, perfidious, and erroneous". The mendicant apologists were Albert and Thomas on behalf of the Friars Preachers, Bonaventure and another on behalf of the Friars Minor, besides other friars from both orders; all appeared before Pope Alexander IV in Anagni Cathedral, and read their confutations; as was to be expected, this silly and most murderous work in its intent was condemned on 5 October, 1256. The apologies read that day deserve the eternal gratitude of all the religious orders: Paris reeled again under the blow smitten by the hands of the Universal, the Seraphic, the Angelic doctors, who vindicated the rights of holy poverty.

During this stay in Italy, St. Thomas confuted another work of impiety and false mysticism, entitled "The Eternal Gospel". In November he returned with Master Albert by sea to Marseilles. During the early part of the voyage the weather seemed promising: soon, however, a wild tempest arose, which created panic in every breast but their own. Like another Paul, the saint prayed, the lives of the travellers and mariners were granted to his prayers, and all reached the port in safety.

Eleven Papal Briefs were sent out before the Angel of the Schools was admitted to his degree in October, 1257, in his thirty-third year. When the time came his humility took alarm: vainly he pleaded his unworthiness of such a dignity, or that there were other brethren, his seniors, who were more deserving of the doctorate. It required the voice of a formal obedience to get him to acquiesce, and this made him sad of heart.

During the night preceding the academic Act he was on his knees reciting the sixty-eighth Psalm, seeking comfort from heaven, "Save me, O God," cried he, "for the waters are come in, even to my soul!" then sleep overcame him, and he had this vision: before him stood a religious of mature years, wearing the habit of the order, who accosted him in gentle tones: "Why are you beseeching God thus earnestly, and in tears?" Then Thomas answered him with all his natural sincerity: "It is on account of the burden of the doctorate, for which my knowledge is insufficient, likewise because I do not know which text to select as the burden of my discourse ". Then the heavenly visitor continued: "Behold thou art heard. Take the burden of the doctorate upon thee, since God is with thee: choose for thy subject this text, and all will go well with thee: 'Thou waterest the hills from Thy chambers above: the earth shall be filled with the fruits of Thy works'" (Ps. clii. 13). Then he awoke and returned thanks to God. Who else can the heavenly instructor have been but the Apostolic Patriarch St. Dominic himself?

Early in the morning of the eventful day Thomas awoke with swollen cheek, and scarce able to speak from pangs of toothache; so he hied him to the cell of his friend Father Reginald for counsel in his misery. Reginald stood dumb with amazement at the mishap. Did he suggest some old-time remedy? Very likely he did, but Thomas hit upon a speedier one. Falling on his knees he prayed mutely a while, when to the cell floor fell the cause of the trouble, the tooth with its biting fangs.

It was on 23 October, 1257, that St. Thomas pronounced his oration in the hall of the Archbishop's palace, based on the text revealed to him: "Thou waterest the hills from Thy chambers above: the earth shall be filled with the fruits of Thy works". His theme was "The Majesty of Christ," and he spoke as one inspired, before a hushed assembly. It was as a scene rehearsed from the Book of Job (XXIX.): "The young men saw me, and hid themselves: the elders rose up and stood. The rulers ceased to speak, and laid their finger on their mouth." He applied his text to our Lord, who is King over angels and men alike. Christ from His throne of majesty waters the mountains, which are the heavenly spirits, the sublime intelligences, with the torrents of His glory and light. He fills the Earth, that is to say, the Church upon earth, with the fruits of His works, through the Sacraments, which are the channels whereby He communicates to men the fruits of His Passion. After the oration he was solemnly received with cap and ring as a Doctor of Paris. There is an old tradition to the effect that St. Bonaventure was promoted on the same day. Some critics deny the fact, ["Acta S.S.", Tom. XXX p. 809] but what tradition is there which has not been gainsaid~ On this occasion arose the Only contention they ever had together. Each from humility wished the other to take precedence, until Thomas gave way as being the younger.



"Post honores, labores." -- " To honours succeed labours".

LIKE some well-laden tree, Thomas, moved by the Spirit of Truth from on high, dropped the ripe fruits of learning. St. Raymund of Pennafort, known in history as "The Master of the Decretals," after resigning the rank of Master General of the Order of Preachers, retired to Spain, where he exercised his zeal in the conversion of the Jews and Moors. What he needed most was a philosophic exposition of Christian belief, to combat Arabian thought. Aware of the newly risen star, he besought Father Thomas in Paris to undertake the task. Writing is preaching, when the pen is dipped in grace, and is ever more enduring. So the holy Doctor responded to the appeal by commencing his first monumental work, the "Summa Contra Gentiles," or, "The Sum of the Truth of Catholic Faith against the Gentiles". [The exact date of completion of the "Summa Contra Gentiles" appears to be 1261 (Ptol. Lucca, L, xxii, C. 23).] Set forth in four books, it contains a complete demonstration of Christian Truth against false philosophies, demonstrating absolutely that the dogmas of Christianity can never be opposed to right reason. Its success was immense, and soon it was rendered out of Latin into Greek, Syriac, and Hebrew, in order to be more accessible to those against whose errors it was composed. In European schools from 1261 it became a text-book of the philosophy of religion. Next followed the mixed writings known as the "Quodlibets," a collection in 160 Articles of questions proposed with their solutions: some of these questions were profound, others trivial, but all throw a side-light on the scholastic subtilties of his day. After this he put forth the opusculum of 104 articles upon "Truth," this he followed up by the "Compendium of Theology". The masterly collection known as the "Questiones Disputatae" was not written in any precise year: it is a compilation made in 400 articles, comprising his answers to discussions arising out of his lectures, and extending over twenty years. In his elaborated Commentary on the Book of Job, he draws out admirably the argument of God's Providence governing the world.

The real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is a doctrine which cannot be denied without making shipwreck of the faith. By the term real is meant an objective, substantial, abiding presence: it proclaims the living Christ to be truly in the Sacrament, "Secundum rei Veritatem". This doctrine is the very touchstone of Catholic belief, the centre of Catholic devotion. But in the age of St. Thomas, while all professed this faith, there were conflicting opinions as to the manner of such presence. The Doctors of Paris were especially full of this question, and now, after many fruitless disputes, resolved to refer the matter to the Angelic Doctor, since with him, to seize upon a difficulty was to unravel it. For a time he withdrew to the solitude of his cell to give himself up to prayer, then, under the dictation of the Holy Spirit, he wrote a treatise, "Of Substance and Accidents in the Eucharist," [The extant tractate is declared apocryphal by Père Mandonnet, O.P. Des Ecrits authentiques de St. Thomas d'Aquin Fribourg, 1910, p. 97.] which he afterwards so pithily expressed in the "Lauda Sion".

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
  Signs, not things, are all we see.

After finishing the work he retired to the church, where he placed it upon the altar, and thus addressed the crucifix: "Lord Jesus Christ, Who art really present and workest wonders in this Sacrament, I humbly beg of Thee, that if what I have written of Thee be true, Thou wilt say so: but if I have written aught which is not conformable to the faith, or contrary to this holy mystery, be pleased to hinder me from proceeding farther". Fr. Reginald of Piperno and others who had followed him saw our Blessed Lord appear, standing on the manuscript, and heard Him speak these words of approbation: "Thou hast written ably of the Sacrament of My Body, and hast accurately determined the difficulty proposed to thee, in so far as it can be understood by man on earth, and be defined by human wisdom". Then the spectators beheld the holy man uplifted miraculously from the ground, as if drawn heavenwards by the fervour of his devotion. From that day the University looked upon him not merely as a genius of thought, but as a man sent of God. According to the statutes the Master must retire on the expiry of one year, and Thomas complied; but so keen was the sense of loss, that after a few months he was invited to resume his course.

St. Louis IX, King of France, held his relative Thomas Aquinas in the highest esteem, and made him a member of his Privy Council for State Affairs. It was his wont to inform the holy Doctor the evening before of all important business to be discussed on the morrow, so that he might come prepared to tender advice. One is not surprised to find these years synchronize with the monarch's greatest temporal glory, opening an epoch of lasting benefit to France. He excused himself as often as he could with propriety from sitting at the royal table, but whether at Council board or supper, he was as recollected as in his cell. While sitting at table one evening with the King and Queen and guests, he was observed to be quite lost in thought. Vainly the Prior plucked his sleeve to arouse him, when suddenly the goblets and platters jumped from a blow of his fist on the trencher, and the sonorous voice rang out: "The argument is clinched against the Manichees!" All the while his train of thought had been of the heresy of the new Manichees, the Vaudois, and Cathari. The Prior rebuked him for such unseemly conduct, but the gentle Louis only smiled, and bade one of his secretaries write down the argument hastily, lest it might lose its force and clearness. The King furthermore employed him and Fr. Vincent de Beauvais, author of "The Threefold Mirror," in arranging the royal library of rare manuscripts. Often might the spectacle be seen of the saintly King sitting as a rapt listener, while the great Doctor, now a man of commanding stature and build, poured out his eloquence within the walls of Notre Dame, or of St. Jacques. A fairer sight it was to behold Thomas humbly serving at Mass in the conventual church, or making the rough ways plain to novices in logic.

In the General Chapter assembled at Valenciennes during Pentecost of 1259, he sat on the Commission for Studies, together with Masters Albert, Vincent de Beauvais, Peter de Tarentaise, [Afterwards Pope Innocent V.] Buonomo, and Florence, all of them Doctors of Paris. It was their task to draw up a Norma Studiorum, or fixed programme of higher studies, to be employed in all colleges of the order; the Ordinances then prescribed may be found in the Chapter Acts. [ "Reichart Acta Capitulorum Generalium," 1898, 1. 99; cf. Denifle "Chartularium," Paris, 1889, I. B. 385, etc., n. 335.] From thence he returned to Paris for two more years, lecturing and writing as before. In the schools his deportment and spirit reminded the listeners of the mildness and modesty of Christ; never ruffled, never heated in argument, utterly devoid of pretence or display, he kept to his childlike way of holy simplicity. St. John Chrysostom in his "Sixty-second Homily on St. Matthew's Gospel," makes this deep observation, and St. Thomas certainly lived up to it: "The full measure of philosophy is to be simple, with prudence: such is an angelic life ". Once when he was examining a candidate for the Licentiate, the cleric hazarded a thesis savouring of unorthodoxy; Thomas gently reproved the line of argument taken, and pointed out its fatal consequences, but with rare delicacy. When blamed for not at once confuting the error, he rejoined: "I did not wish to put him to shame before such a distinguished auditory, but to-morrow I will convince him of his mistake". Next day came the final defension in the Archbishop's palace, when the same opinion was advanced with emboldened insolence. Then the holy Doctor calmly objected by accepting the thesis, but with pitiless logic forced the candidate to draw out his argument to its ultimate conclusions which he had to admit were heretical and untenable. The defendant saw his error, withdrewt the thesis, and apologized for the offensive manner assumed. The saint then administered a correction quite after his own fashion: "Ah, now you speak sound doctrine, as a true teacher should ".

How did St. Thomas study? What was his method in writing? We gather it from the lips of his inseparable secretary and confessor and confidant, Fr. Reginald of Piperno. Before studying or lecturing he prayed much, distrusting his great natural gifts: when writing or dictating he would frequently rise and stand a while before the crucifix: at times he would withdraw to the altar where the adorable Sacrament reposed, and, leaning upon the altar table, or with head pressed against the Tabernacle door, collect his thoughts as he sought for light. During the composition of his Apology for the Faith, the "Summa Contra Gentiles," he was often seen in rapture. The Vatican Library contains among its other treasures a genuine autograph copy, on whose margins he occasionally wrote the words "Ave Maria".

Genius is twofold: it may be the dower of rare mental parts, but more commonly it is the faculty of taking pains over work, the art of constructiveness: and St. Thomas shone in both. He took the greatest pains in forecasting his scheme, dividing and subdividing, after which he built up each portion in a separate article. There is an old adage in the schools: --

Sanctus Doctor est doctrina simul et disciplina.
(The Holy Doctor is both doctrine and discipline.)

From him the scholar can learn science and method. "He did all things well," as was said of our Lord. Employing both methods, analytic and synthesis, his aim was to construct each work on the basis of a vast synthesis. Of course this does not hold good of his Commentaries, where the purpose is all critical and expository. Nor does it apply to the "Catena Aurea," which is simply the stringing together of quotations from the Fathers: but even here one marvels at the acumen shown in the fitness of the passages culled from each, like a handful from a meadow.

The beauty of his writings lies in four cardinal points: Sublimity of thought, Subtilty of argument, Simplicity of style, Unction of spirit. Above all things he is logical in sequel. No one can presume to abridge him without losing the charm of his rare diction: wilfully to excise an argument, especially one which he calls "a first and more obvious one," such as the proof of God's existence drawn from motion, is the freedom of a pigmy towards a giant. The best model for the Christian apologist to follow is his "Sum of the Truth of Catholic Faith against the Gentiles". His attitude towards the princes of the ancients, Plato and Aristotle, is always one of reverence: [For question of the Church's supposed condemnation of Aristotle's Philosophy see " Siger de Brabant," by Pierre Mandonnet, O.P., Louvain, 1911.] towards the leaders of the Arabian school he is more hostile, since their influence threatened to undermine Christian thought: hence all his destructive weapons were brought to bear upon Avicenna (1037), Avicebron (1070), and Averroes (1198). His philosophy is Aristotelian throughout, but refined and purified by the light of revelation: with all the elevation of Plato, he does not disdain at times to use the Socratic method. A master of analysis, he furnishes us with many an example of clear thought. Take for instance his treatise on the Incarnation of our Blessed Lord, which he disposes of in fifty-nine questions: it is all resumed under four headings: Ingressus, His birth; Progressus, His mission; Regressus, His passion and death; Exaltatio, His ascension and headship.

No one need ever hope to understand St. Thomas who is not well grounded in Scholastic Philosophy: mere knowledge of latinity will not suffice. The student must attend to the holy Doctor's method of constructiveness, as exhibited in every article. He first submits his proposition: as for instance -- "Whether Grace be a quality of the soul". Then he opens out with arguments to the contrary, varying from two to twenty, but commonly three in number: these objections are drawn either from reason or authority, and such authority is either of Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, or the Philosophers. After apparently demolishing the proposition, he opens out his own line of argument by a "Sed Contra", or, "But on the contrary". In the body of the article he constructs the proof by solid arguments well reasoned out: frequently he adopts the historic method, narrating the opinions of past schools of thought, and demolishing each as he proceeds: finally he lays down the conclusion as established by irrefragable argument. All this is constructive method: now he passes to the destructive. Each objection proposed at the outset is weighed, distinguished, dismissed. The Scholastic rule of debate is this: "Never admit, seldom deny, always distinguish". All are not Thomists who read St. Thomas: Thomism is consistency with the principles and conclusions of the Master.

Great was the consternation and grief of Paris when the newly elected Pontiff, Urban IV, summoned St. Thomas to Rome. For four years now, from 1261 to 1265, he was a stranger to the public schools: Universities vainly petitioned for his services, but the Pope would have him close by his side. Although never made Master of the Sacred Palace, he was set over the school of select scholars, and resided with them in the Lateran Palace. Urban IV was a promoter of learning, and insisted on the staff and students following him in all his journeys and residences through Italy: thus it came about that during five years Thomas held his "prelections," as they were termed, in Rome, Viterbo, Fondi, Orvieto, Anagni, Perugia, and Bologna, He was now a member of the papal household, a Consultor of the Holy Father, a teacher of the coming princes and bishops of the Church: at the same time he gave himself to preaching in these towns, to the great profit of souls. The uppermost thought in Urban's mind was the reunion of East with West, since the Eastern Church was unfortunately severed by heresy and schism. The Greek Church had stood aloof for ages from the centre of unity, the Chair of Peter, in a state of stagnation as to learning and sanctity. Christ's prayer for unity wrung the Pontiff's soul; so he opened his mind to the Angelic Doctor. The zeal of the one and the learning of the other ought surely to accomplish our Lord's desire: "Grant, Father, that they may be one, even as Thou and I are one" (St. John, xvii. 22). According to St. Thomas, schism is a most grievous crime, as destroying the Church's Unity, and setting up many folds and shepherds. Figuratively speaking, the Lord's seamless garment is rent: with such a conviction in mind, this loyal son of the Church set himself to repair it with the silver threads of argument and the golden of charity. At the bidding of Urban IV he composed a work entitled "Against the Errors of the Greeks". The Pope sent the book to Michael Paleologus, the eighth Emperor of Constantinople: soon it was turned into the Greek tongue, and copies multiplied, which found their way into many hands. He followed it up with another work undertaken at the request of the Precentor of Antioch: "Against the Errors of the Greeks, Armenians, and Saracens". In this treatise he draws out in masterly fashion the Generation of the Eternal Word, the Procession of the Holy Ghost, the motive of the Incarnation, how the faithful receive the Body of Christ, Purgatory for expiation, the Beatific Vision in heaven, and lastly, how Predestination imposes no necessity on man's free-will. Our saint did not live to see the realization of his hopes, but he sowed the good seed which resulted in the harvest garnered in at the General Council of Florence, when the decree of union was pronounced.

Quite a year went by from St. Thomas's coming to Rome before the Pope removed his Court to Viterbo; d4ring this interval he interpreted Aristotle to the students in the Lateran Palace. It was in Viterbo that he completed his second Commentary on the Sacred Scriptures: its method is quite different from the first: in the latter he bases his views upon Tradition, whereas in the former he relied upon the revealed letter itself. When these are employed side by side, they form a component harmony of the written word. The one aim of his life was to pursue and to impart knowledge. Daniel d'Augusta put the question to him one day, as to what he considered to be the greatest gift he had ever received, apart from sanctifying grace: with candour of soul he replied that it was the gift of understanding all that he had ever read. To intimate friends he disclosed the secret of his marvellous wisdom, telling them that he learned more by prayer than from study. This is the prayer which he invariably made before lecturing or writing, or studying

"Creator, beyond human utterance, Who out of Thy wisdom's treasures didst establish three hierarchies of Angels, setting them in wonderful order to preside over the empyrean heaven, and Who hast most marvellously assorted the parts of the universe; Thou Who art called the fountain-head of life and of wisdom, and the one over-ruling principle; be pleased to shed the ray of Thy brightness over the gloom of my understanding, so as to dispel the double shadow of sin and ignorance in which I was born. Thou Who makest eloquent the tongues of babes, instruct my tongue, and shed the grace of Thy blessing upon my lips. Bestow on me keenness of wit to understand, the power of a retentive memory, method and ease of learning, subtilty for explaining, and the gift of ready speech. Teach me as I begin, direct me as I advance, complete my finished task for me, Thou Who art truly Godand man, Who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen."

The fortieth General Chapter of the Order met in London in the year 1263, at Pentecost. We are told that 300 brethren took part in it, in the priory which stood in Holborn, which, on the testimony of Matthew Paris, was previously "the noble residence" of the Earl of Kent. King Henry III gave them a cordial welcome, assisted at the opening ceremony, and, as the Garde-robe Accounts testify, gave a new habit to every friar present; this was by no means a superfluous gift, considering that all had come on foot, and many from remote quarters of Europe. The Chapter was presided over by the Venerable Humbert de Romans, fifth Master-General, who, after nine years of government, now laid down his office owing to infirmities. The resignation came as a surprise, and was accepted with regret, but since the Chapter was not an elective one, no more could be done than choose a Vicar-General for the ensuing year. Master Albertus Magnus was the one selected, and took up office. It was an eminent Chapter, if only from men of eminence who took part in it. St. Thomas was there, also Blessed Albertus Magnus, Peter de Tarentaise, better known now as Blessed Innocent V, Peter de Luca, the Roman Definitor, all the Provincials of the order with their companions, the Masters from Paris, David de Ayr, the Vicar-General of Scotland, and the Vicar from Ireland, some forty definitors, and the professors from Oxford. The fact of St. Thomas's presence is not attested by contemporary writers, but by later ones, who set forth many authentic details of his life corroborated from other sources. This need occasion no surprise, since the scope and purpose of the first biographers was to establish the sanctity and miracles of the Angelic Doctor, as set forth by the Commissions. He would have sailed from a French port in a schaloupe, and landed at Deal, from whence a short journey would bring him to his brethren in Canterbury. From Canterbury to Rochester would form the second stage: then on the close of the third day he would be crossing Old London Bridge. There was an affinity between King Henry Plantagenet and Thomas of Aquino, although a remote one, since each sprang from the Princes of Normandy. Two main points occupy the attention of every Chapter: these are regular observance and study. During the great intellectual development of the thirteenth century, the question of the Schools was paramount; the nomination of Masters in Theology to the greater centres of teaching, the assigning of scholars who were to read in the various faculties, the enforcing or modifying of the Norma Studiorum, all these had to be discussed, and the results published. The aim of those first Dominicans, whose motto has ever been Veritas, or Truth, was not to keep abreast of the times, but to go beyond them, to lead, and progress beyond the Sentences of Peter Lombard in divinity, and glosses upon Aristotle. Most of all they sought to specialize. Thus at this very time three hundred of them were engaged under Cardinal Hugh de St. Cher in compiling the first Biblical Concordance, while St. Raymund of Pennafort was compiling his Five Books of Decretals, and others were establishing centres for the study of Oriental languages. Their halls in St. Edward's Schools at Oxford had been open now just forty years, and to these many of the disaffected scholars from Paris flocked. The condition of this General House of Studies, enjoying the privileges of a University, would certainly form a subject for protracted discussion. On the conclusion of the Chapter, St. Thomas returned to Viterbo by way of Paris and Milan. In this latter city he prayed for some days before the tomb of his holy brother in religion, St. Peter of Verona, the Martyr, in whose honour a magnificent shrine had just been erected over his remains in the church of the order, San Eustorgio. At the request of the pious donors, he then composed the still extant epitaph

Proeco, lucerna, pugil, Christi, populi, fideique, etc.

St. Thomas was Poet as well as Theologian: his "Summa Theologica" is one vast epic, while his poems are all of them devout and couched in sweet flowing numbers: and right well he sang of the object dearest to his soul, Christ veiled in the Eucharist. The office composed for the festival of Corpus Christi is the rhapsody of a poet inspired by faith and devotion; that he wrote it is due to a command received by Pope Urban IV, whom he petitioned to establish a special feast to be known as Corpus Christi's. The thought was by no means his own, for the honour falls to three holy virgins of Belgium, the Blessed Julienne, Prioress of Mont Cornillon, Eve, the recluse by Liege, and Isabel of Huy. Stirred by a vision of the saints petitioning our Lord to establish such a festival in His Church, they consulted a devout Canon of Liége, John de Lausanne, who warmly approved of their design, and wrote the original Office of the Blessed Sacrament. This good priest furthermore laid the scheme before Urban in the days when he was simply Archdeacon of St. Lambert in Liége, as well as before the Dominican Provincial, Hugh de St. Cher, besides consulting with Guy de Laon, Bishop of Cambrai, and three Dominican theologians, John, Giles, and Gerard. Now that the Archdeacon was seated on the throne of the Fisherman, he acceded to the prayers of these devout souls, and commissioned "his own Doctor," as he termed him, to compose a new office for the festival of Corpus Christi. Approaching this work in the spirit of reverent criticism, one is forced to pronounce it a marvel of poetic vein, tenderest thought and sublime doctrine. Dipping his pen as it were into his very heart, he wrote as one inspired; where all is beautiful, one is particularly struck with its doctrinal accuracy. Thus, in the Antiphon for the Second Vespers, he sets forth admirably the fourfold purpose of the Eucharist.

O Sacred Banquet! wherein
(1) The Christ is received,
(2) The memory of His Passion recalled,
(3) The Soul is filled with grace, and
(4) A pledge of future glory given to us.

The language of theology is didactic, but in the sequence, the Lauda Sion Salvatorem, he sings even while he defines, like some bell-mouthed Seraph strayed from heaven. With the year 1264 closes his Noon-tide of life. The morning star's lustre has given place to the light of the full noon.

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