JMC : Saint Thomas Aquinas / by Raïssa Maritain

IV. Studies

THE young Thomas thus began to meditate within himself. He was a studious child, quiet, "devout in prayer." His masters cultivated his memory with care, also his extraordinary intelligence, his love for liturgical singing. "At thirteen he knew by heart a large part of the Psalter, the Gospels, the Epistles of Saint Paul. And he translated Saint Gregory, Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine." Just think, at thirteen!


In 1239 the Emperor Frederick II, in a struggle with the Pope, captured Monte Cassino. The monks were dispersed (they were to come back later). And Tomaso, leaving his oblate's habit, also had to leave the abbey. For a little while, everyone thought. For always, God decided.

On the advice of the Abbot, his parents sent him to finish his studies at the University of Naples. He was then only fourteen.

In Naples he was soon famous.

"His genius began to be so apparent, and his intelligence so keen," writes Tocco, "that he repeated to the other students the lessons of his masters in a higher and deeper way than he had learned them from their mouths."

One day a brother of the Order of Preachers saw three times "a halo of sun" shining from the face of Thomas "and lighting from afar the faces of all about him."

The innocence of the child was beginning to change into holiness. And God was soon to show him what he would have to do for Him, and to suffer.


The Dominicans, or Preaching Friars, had founded at Naples in 1231 a public school of theology incorporated in the University. It was here that Thomas Aquinas first knew them.

This Order, started at the beginning of the thirteenth century by Saint Dominic, was dedicated to the teaching of theology and to preaching.

The Church, like a rugged tree, is always pushing out new branches, and at the same time keeps the old branches alive. In this way she can draw from her treasure-house things both old and new.

Like a watchful mother, she never ceases to give to her children the best means of holiness, and to Truth her best weapons for defence and conquest, according to the needs of the times.

Pax (peace) is the device of the Benedictines.

Veritas (truth) is the device of the Dominicans.

A device is a sort of motto or watchword. "Seek peace and follow it," said Saint Benedict to his children.

And Dominic said to his sons "Seek the truth in work and in prayer, spread it by word of mouth and by the example of a holy life." Peace and truth are always necessary to each other; one cannot exist without the other. The sons of Saint Benedict should know and love the truth so that they may have real peace. And those of Saint Dominic should seek and possess peace if they wish to contemplate the truth. As is said in the little book of Divine Ways attributed to Saint Thomas, in reference to the special gifts given by God to His saints: "Each of them is distinguished by the exercise of His special gift, at the same time possessing all the other virtues.

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