St. Thomas Aquinas
Feastday: January 28
St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church, patron of all universities and of students. His feast day is January 28th. He was born toward the end of the year 1226. He was the son of Landulph, Count of Aquino, who, when St. Thomas was five years old, placed him under the care of the Benedictines of Monte Casino. His teachers were surprised at the progress he made, for he surpassed all his fellow pupils in learning as well as in the practice of virtue.
When he became of age to choose his state of life, St. Thomas renounced the things of this world and resolved to enter the Order of St. Dominic in spite of the opposition of his family. In 1243, at the age of seventeen, he joined the Dominicans of Naples. Some members of his family resorted to all manner of means over a two year period to break his constancy. They even went so far as to send an impure woman to tempt him. But all their efforts were in vain and St. Thomas persevered in his vocation. As a reward for his fidelity, God conferred upon him the gift of perfect chastity, which has merited for him the title of the "Angelic Doctor".
After making his profession at Naples, he studied at Cologne under the celebrated St. Albert the Great. Here he was nicknamed the "dumb ox" because of his silent ways and huge size, but he was really a brilliant student. At the age of twenty-two, he was appointed to teach in the same city. At the same time, he also began to publish his first works. After four years he was sent to Paris. The saint was then a priest. At the age of thirty-one, he received his doctorate.
At Paris he was honored with the friendship of the King, St. Louis, with whom he frequently dined. In 1261, Urban IV called him to Rome where he was appointed to teach, but he positively declined to accept any ecclesiastical dignity. St. Thomas not only wrote (his writings filled twenty hefty tomes characterized by brilliance of thought and lucidity of language), but he preached often and with greatest fruit. Clement IV offered him the archbishopric of Naples which he also refused. He left the great monument of his learning, the "Summa Theologica", unfinished, for on his way to the second Council of Lyons, ordered there by Gregory X, he fell sick and died at the Cistercian monastery of Fossa Nuova in 1274.
St. Thomas was one of the greatest and most influential theologians of all time. He was canonized in 1323 and declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius V.
Thomas Aquinas, OP, Priest, Doctor
Born at Rocca Secca near Aquino in Naples, Italy, c. 1225; died at Fossanuova (near Rome), 1274; canonized 1323; declared Doctor of the Church in 1567; Pope Leo XIII named him patron of Catholic universities and centers of study in 1880; feast day formerly March 7.
"Word made flesh,
true bread Christ makes
By his word his flesh to be,
Wine his Blood; which whoso takes
Must from carnal thought be free
Faith alone, though sight forsakes,
Shows true hearts the mystery."
--Saint Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas was born in the family castle of Rocca Secca, the son of Count Landulf of Aquino (a relative of the emperors Henry VI and Frederick II and kings of France, Castile, and Aragon) and Theodora, Countess of Teano. It is said that when he was a baby, a thunderbolt struck the castle and killed his nurse and little sister. Thereafter, Thomas had a fear of lightning and would pray with his head against the Tabernacle during a storm.
At age 5, he was sent as an oblate to the Monte Cassino Monastery and was educated there until age 13. Around 1239, he attended the University of Naples, and he became a Dominican in 1244 (age 19). His superiors sent him to Rome en route to Cologne and Paris.
His family was so upset that he joined a mendicant order that they had him kidnapped by his brothers before he reached Paris and returned to the castle, where they held him for 15 months in the hopes of changing his mind. His mother and sisters used caresses to shake his vocation.
His brothers used vile attempts to destroy his chastity. Snatching from the hearth a burning brand, the saint drove the wretched woman from his chamber. Then marking a cross upon the wall, he knelt down to pray and immediately went into ecstasy. An angel girded him with a cord in token of the gift of perpetual chastity that God had given him. (The cord is still preserved at the convent of Chieri in the Piedmont.) The girdle caused pain so sharp that he cried out, bringing his guards into the room. But he confessed this grace shortly before his death and only to his spiritual director Father Raynald.
Patiently, Thomas conquered all the temptations used to turn him away from his vocation. Instead of bemoaning his situation, he used his two-year confinement to memorize the Bible and study religion. When his family realized they would not change his mind, his brothers relaxed their guard and Thomas, with the help of his sisters, escaped from the tower and rejoined the Dominicans in 1245.
Finally he reached Cologne and was put in the charge of Saint Albert the Great, a man of encyclopedic knowledge. From 1245 to 1248 he continued his studies in Paris under Albert. Thomas's nonparticipation at disputations and his large figure led him to be called "the dumb Sicilian ox." Nevertheless, Albert predicted that Thomas's voice would one day fill the world.
One of the young men took pity on Thomas and offered to tutor him. The saint accepted with humility and thanks. But one day the teacher made a mistake. For the sake of the truth, Thomas corrected him and explained the lesson very clearly. The teacher was astonished. He then begged Thomas to be the teacher. Thomas agree but only if it could remain a secret arrangement.
A contemporary described Thomas as "tall, erect, large and well- built, with a complexion like ripe wheat and whose head early grew bald."
From Cologne, Saint Albert and Saint Thomas walked more than 250 miles to the University of Paris. Here Thomas met and became friends with a young Franciscan monk named Bonaventure, later known as the 'Seraphic Doctor.'
Thomas went with Albert to a new Dominican studium generale in Cologne in 1248 and was ordained about 1250. He said Mass with such great devotion that he often shed tears. Those who assisted at his Masses always felt themselves moved to greater love for God. After his own Mass, he often served another in thanksgiving.
Armed with several university degrees, including a doctorate in theology from the renowned University of Paris, Thomas moved easily from one environment to another. In 1252 he returned to Paris to undertake his first teaching appointment at the Dominican monastery of Saint-Jacques. Here he wrote a spirited defense of the mendicant orders against William of St-Amour, a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, De ente et essentia, works on Isaiah and Matthew. He was master of theology in Paris in 1256. He then taught in Anagni, Ovieto (1261-64), Rome (1265-67), Viterbo (1268), Paris again (1269-71) and Naples (1272-74).
During this period (1259-64), he completed his Summa contra Gentiles, a theological statement on the Christian faith argued partly by the use of pure reason without faith against Islam, Judaism, heretics and pagans. This was not designed for use by missionaries but rather to counteract the influence of Aristotelian thinkers in the universities by answering them from Aristotle's viewpoint. Around 1266, he began his five-volume Summa theologica, which is a comprehensive statement of his mature thought on all the Christian mysteries. It poses questions, then systematically answers them. Unfortunately, Thomas never finished the work.
In 1263, Thomas was present at a general chapter of the Dominicans in London. It seems almost impossible to believe he could have produced his enormous literary output while travelling as extensively as he did, especially considering the number of authorities he must have studied in order to cite them and the depth of his prayer life as reflected in them. Yet, he was capable of intense concentration and was known to dictate to four secretaries at one time. He frequently used abbreviations in his writings because the friars did not have sufficient supplies of parchment.
Always, he was a humble and prayerful man. In fact, it is said of Thomas that 'his wonderful learning owes far less to his genius than to the effectiveness of his prayer.' He was made a preacher general and was called upon to teach scholars attached to the papal court. During Holy Week 1267, Thomas preached in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. He moved the people to tears with his sermon on the Passion of our Lord. On the following Easter Sunday he spoke about the Resurrection, and the congregation was filled with the greatest joy. As he was coming down from the pulpit that day, a poor woman who touched the hem of his garment was instantly cured of a disease that had troubled her for years.
Thomas wrote much about our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. One day Jesus appeared to him and said, "Thomas, you have written well concerning the Sacrament of My Body." Another time the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him how pleasing his writings were to her divine Son. At the request of Saint Thomas, the pope extended the feast of Corpus Christi to the entire Church. The two hymns sung during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo, are taken from the office of the feast written by Thomas Aquinas. The saint also wrote beautiful prayers to be said before and after Holy Communion.
Prayer before Communion:
Almighty and ever-living God,
I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
I come sick to the doctor of life,
unclean to the fountain of mercy,
blind to the radiance of eternal light,
and poor and needy to the
Lord of heaven and earth.
Lord, in your great generosity,
heal my sickness,
wash away my defilement,
enlighten my blindness,
enrich my poverty,
and clothe my nakedness.
May I receive the bread of angels,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
with humble reverence,
with the purity and faith,
the repentance and love,
and the determined purpose
that will help to bring me to salvation.
May I receive the sacrament of the
Lord's body and blood
and its reality and power.
Kind God, may I receive the body
of your only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, born from the womb of the Virgin Mary, and
so be received into his mystical body,
and numbered among his members.
as on my earthly pilgrimage
I now receive your beloved Son
under the veil of a sacrament,
may I one day see him face to face in glory,
who lives and reigns with you for ever. Amen.
(These prayers are taken from the English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours, copyright 1974, prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Inc. Used with permission.)
Prayer after Mass:
and ever-living God,
I thank you,
for even though I am a sinner,
your unprofitable servant,
not because of my worth,
but in the kindness of your mercy,
you have fed me with the precious body
and blood of your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
I pray that this holy communion
may not bring me
condemnation and punishment
but forgiveness and salvation.
May it be a helmet of faith and
a shield of good will.
May it purify me from evil ways
and put an end to my evil passions.
May it bring me charity and patience,
humility and obedience,
and growth in the power to do good.
May it be my strong defense
against all my enemies,
visible and invisible,
and the perfect calming
of all my evil impulses,
bodily and spiritual.
May it unite me more closely to you,
the one true God,
and lead me safely through death
to everlasting happiness with you.
And I pray that you will lead me,
to the banquet where you,
with your Son and Holy Spirit,
are true and perfect light,
total fulfillment, everlasting joy,
gladness without end,
and perfect happiness to your saints.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
In 1269, Thomas was recalled to Paris for three years. King Saint Louis IX highly esteemed Thomas and consulted him; so did the University of Paris. Once, when he was a guest at the king's table, he was absorbed in thought and quite oblivious of his surroundings. To the astonishment of everyone present, the now corpulent friar banged his fist on the table and exclaimed: "That's finished the heresy of the Manichees." A gentle reproof from his prior was followed by Thomas's apology and the immediate arrival of a scribe to take down his thoughts. Thomas's power of concentration was extraordinary: He had the ability to dictate to four secretaries at once.
Upon his return to Paris, he became enmeshed in the struggle between the Dominican priests and the seculars, and opposed the philosophical teachings of Siger of Brabant, John Peckham, and Bishop Stephen Tempier of Paris. When dissension racked the university causing a general strike in 1272, Thomas was sent as regent to head a new Dominican school in Naples.
Saint Thomas experienced visions, ecstasies, and revelations. He stopped writing the Summa theologiae because of a revelation he experienced while saying Mass on the feast of Saint Nicholas 1273. He confronted the consternation of his brethren saying, "The end of my labors is come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been, revealed to me." Nevertheless, the work became the basis of modern Catholic theology.
He was appointed by the Pope Gregory X to attend the General Council of Lyons, called to discuss the reunion of the Greek and Latin churches. Although he was sick, he set off for Rome in obedience. The illness overtook him on his way. He suffered for about a month before he died in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanuova outside Terracina near Rome.
The day before he died, he asked to be laid on the floor in ashes. Just before receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, he exclaimed: "You, O Christ, are the King of Glory. You are the everlasting Son of God." On March 7, 1274, he received Extreme Unction before dying peacefully about age 48.
He is considered to have been the greatest Christian theologian and his work dominated Catholic teaching for hundreds of years. The amount of writing he accomplished is staggering. His writings are characterized by a sharp distinction between faith and reason, but emphasizing that the great fundamental Christian doctrines, though impossible to establish by reason, are not contrary to reason and reach us by revelation; nevertheless, he believed that such truths as the existence of God, His eternity, His creative power, and His providence can be discovered by natural reason.
Among Aquinas's works are Quaestiones disputatae, Quaestiones quodlibetales, De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, and commentaries on the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, Hail Mary, and various parts of the Bible. He also wrote hymns, many of which are still used, though the authorship of some attributed to him is now questioned.
Probably his greatest contribution to Western civilization was the retranslation and utilization of the works of Aristotle. Thomas explained Aristotle's works in the light of Christian revelation. Aquinas used the logic of Aristotle to consider the mysteries of religion. Thomas Aquinas suffices to upset the myth that religion fears thought.
Saint Thomas was less influential on his contemporaries than were Saint Bonaventure and Saint Albert, but his work has endured the test of time. Leo XIII in 1879 wrote an encyclical encouraging the revival of Thomistic studies.
Yet for all his intelligence, Thomas Aquinas was a man of great humility--he thought poorly of his work. He had come to live in so habitual a communion with God, actually in the country wherein the most accurate theology is but the map, that he said, "all I have written now seems to me but of little value." When asked by the pope to accept the archbishopric of Naples, he respectfully asked to remain a simple Dominican monk. Thomas was always charitable. Never did he refuse anyone who came to him for help. He was kind, gentle, and simple in his ways.
He was called "the Angelic Doctor" for his superior intellect was combined with the tenderest piety. Prayer, he said, taught him more than study. After his death, one of his companions saw a vision of Saint Thomas enjoying in heaven the fruit of the labors he performed for God. Many miracles were granted through his intercession. In 1368, his body was translated to Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. In 1974, it was moved to the Jacobin's church in the same city (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Butler, Delaney, Dorcy, Farmer, Martindale, Melady, Waltz, Weisheipl, White).
He is depicted in art as a portly Dominican friar, carrying a book; or with a star on his breast and rays of light coming from his book; or holding a monstrance with Saint Norbert. At times he may be shown: (1) with the sun on his breast; (2) enthroned with pagan and heretic philosophers under his feet; (3) at a teacher's pulpit or desk, with rays coming from him; (4) with a chalice and host; (5) listening to a voice speaking to him from the Crucifix; (6) as angels bring him a girdle; or (7) in a library with Saint Bonaventure who points to the crucifix (Roeder, White). Click here to see Stefano Di Giovanni Sassetta's The Vision of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Saint Thomas is the patron saint of Roman Catholic schools, colleges, universities, and academies, scholars and students, apologists, philosophers, theologians, and booksellers (due to his patronage of education in general), and pencil-makers (Roeder, White).
He is invoked for chastity and learning, and against storm and lightning