JMC : Saint Thomas Aquinas / by Raïssa Maritain

VI Captivity

HIS father died in 1243. The Countess Theodora, his mother, took matters into her own strong hands. Having learned that John the Teutonic, Master-General of the Preachers, had decided to take Thomas to the convent in Paris, she ordered her sons, Raynald and Landulph, who were in Tuscany with the Emperor Frederick II, to seize their younger brother, cost what it might, and to bring him back to her. However, John the Teutonic, Brother Thomas and several other religious had already started out. On foot they reached Rome, then Tuscany, and were going on to Bologna, not knowing that their movements were being watched.

It was the month of May, the weather was warm, and the peaceful little troop stopped towards noon near a fountain, seeking a little rest and cool.

Suddenly appeared the knights led by Raynald. The soldiers captured Thomas and tried to take off his Dominican robes. But Thomas was no longer the baby whose mother had opened his little fist, clutching the bit of paper bearing the words of the angel's salutation.

He was now a young man, very big and strong. And no one was able to open his arms that he held crossed with all his strength across his black and white habit.

So they put him on a horse. This young lord knew very well how to ride, and he was led under escort to Roccasecca where his mother awaited him.

As he would not give in to her prayers, she had him locked up in the fortress of Mount Saint John, near Roccasecca, until the return of her sons.

And she sent his sisters, Theodora and Marotta, to tempt him with sweet words.

But instead Thomas persuaded Marotta to take the habit of Saint Benedict.

In his prison Brother Thomas carefully planned his solitary life. He prayed, he thought of God and loved Him, he studied the Bible and the wise men of olden times.

His brothers came back. Again they tried to take his white robe from him. But they only succeeded in tearing it to pieces. Thomas wrapped himself in the tatters which were only the more dear to him and seemed to him the most beautiful clothes in the world.

And he was tempted again. After the gentle words of his sisters and the violence of his brothers, a very beautiful woman was sent into his cell to try to overcome his resistance.

But it is not possible to conquer someone whose whole confidence is in God.

Prompt as grace, Thomas did not hesitate a moment. He seized a charred and smoking brand from the hearth and rushed towards the poor woman, who did not wish to be burned, and fled as fast as her feet would carry her.

Saint Thomas then made with the charred brand a great cross on the wall. And he prayed Our Lord crucified to guard him against the attractions of the world, and to let him live for the service of truth alone.

"And while he prayed, weeping, he suddenly fell asleep.

"And two angels were sent to him from heaven to tell him that his prayers had been heard."

And about him they tied a white girdle to signify his angelic purity.

Later Saint Thomas confided this secret to his dear companion Reginald, who in his turn made it known "for the glory of God and to show the worthiness of the Saint."


The summer of the year 1245 was drawing to its close.

Thomas was still a captive. His brothers had gone to rejoin the imperial army.

While the Master-General of the Dominicans was trying to obtain his freedom through Pope Innocent IV, Thomas and old Brother John of Saint Julian, who had received him into the Order, and who visited him often (so often that the jailers ended by keeping him captive also for a while), had the idea of an escape.

And one fine day, or more probably one fine night, Thomas escaped through the window of his cell, sliding down a long rope.

Below, John of Saint Julian and several other brothers were waiting for him.

They received Brother Thomas with transports of joy and with light hearts they took the road to Naples. He had been in prison for well over a year.

The next day, when she found out about the disappearance of her son, Countess Theodora remembered the prophecy of the good hermit: "He will be a brother of the Order of Preachers."

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