Francesco Gessi. Temptation of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
THE holy body was reverently carried beyond the cloister for the consolation of the Countess Francesca and female friends, after which it was laid out in the choir, with the face exposed. A great concourse of the faithful flocked to the church; such as were not permitted to enter the chancel touched the coffin with olive branches, which they kept as relics. The Requiem Mass was sung by the Bishop of Terracina, who was a Franciscan, in the presence of the Abbot and Cistercians, the Friars Preachers and Friars Minor. Father Reginald of Piperno pronounced the funeral discourse, broken with sobs, as he removed the veil which had concealed a life of consummate holiness. At its conclusion he made formal protest that he only left the body until further arrangements should be made by the Master General of the Order. Then, amid a universal wail, the earthly shrine of Thomas Aquinas was removed, and buried in a vault under the high altar. When tidings of his death reached Lyons, the Pope and Cardinals were filled with profound grief; the Holy Father ordered his treatise “Against the Errors of the Greeks” to be sent on to the Council. The saying of Eliphaz, recorded in Job v. 26, was realized in Saint Thomas. “Thou shalt enter into the grave in abundance, as a sheaf of wheat which is brought in its season”.
The Cistercians of Fossa Nuova saw a great light over the Abbey for three days, which passed away at his death. The same marvel was beheld over the Dominican priory at Cologne. At the moment of his death one of the Cistercians engaged in prayer in the Abbey church saw Saint Thomas’s soul mount to heaven like a radiant star.
At the same moment Master Albert in Cologne turned to Father Albert of Brescia, exclaiming with tears: “My son in Christ, Thomas of Aquino, the light of the Church, is dead, as God has revealed to me. He was the world’s flower and glory, and has rendered superfluous the writings of Doctors who shall come after him.”
At Anagni, Father Raymund Maturi, while asleep a few nights after this, had a vision in which he saw Saint Thomas, duly vested, proceed to the altar and say mass. What struck him as singular was the fact that his right eye appeared to be larger than the other. The saint explained the wonder, with these words: “My son, the knowledge which I enjoy in heaven is greater than what I had on earth, just as my right eye is greater than my left one”.
Father Paul of Aquila beheld this vision while praying in the church of San Domenico at Naples. He saw Thomas seated in his professorial chair, teaching a crowd of disciples. Presently Saint Paul appeared with a number of the saints, who conversed familiarly with him. He distinctly heard Thomas ask Saint Paul if he had rightly interpreted his Epistles, whereat the Apostle replied: “Yes, so far as anyone in the mortal body can understand them; but come away with me, and I will conduct you to a place where you will have clearer understanding of all things”. Then grasping the holy Doctor by his cloak, Saint Paul led him away. Then Father Paul shouted aloud: “Alas! Alas! Alas! our Doctor is taken from us!”
Eleutherius, a Franciscan theologian of repute, was also favoured with a vision. He beheld the Mother of God seated in glory, while beneath stood Saint Francis with Saint Thomas, whose cappa was studded with stars. Pointing to Saint Thomas, the Seraphic Father spoke thus to Eleutherius: “Confide in this man, for his teaching shall never pass away.”
God revealed the saint’s glory by very many miracles, ninety-six of which were duly attested, and submitted as evidence for his canonization. While his body lay exposed in the Abbey Choir, the Subprior, John de Ferentino, who was completely blind, placed his eyes against those of the saint, and instantly saw. The holy Doctor’s cell in Naples became a resort of pilgrims, one of whom, the renowned Egidius Romanus, uttered the phrase: “I am come to adore in the place where his feet have stood”. Master Albert of Cologne could never hear his name mentioned without breaking into tears. Learning that his doctrine was impugned in Paris, although over 80 years of age, he proceeded thither on foot with Hugh de Lucca in 1276, and defended Saint Thomas’s teaching warmly before the University. “What a glory it is,” he exclaimed, “for the living to be praised by the dead!” After representing the saint as being endowed with life while all others were covered with the shades of death, he poured forth a splendid eulogy of his doctrines as resplendent with orthodoxy and piety, and declared himself ready to meet any opponent. He did the same at Cologne, declaring that by his writings Thomas had laboured for all to the end of time.
Owing to the pressure of Church affairs of graver importance, little beyond collecting of evidence was done towards the canonization under the brief pontificates of the Dominican Popes, Blessed Innocent V, and Blessed Benedict XI. Innocent spoke of him in terms of no common praise: “The teaching of this Doctor beyond all others has fitness of terms, manner of expression, and soundness of opinions; so that he who holds it will never swerve from the path of truth: while, on the contrary, he who attacks it must always be suspected”. Benedict invariably styled him: “My Master; my Doctor”.
The day appointed for Saint Thomas’s canonization was 18 July, 1323. The preliminary ceremony began in the Dominican Church in Avignon on the day before, in the presence of Pope John XXII, the Cardinals, very many Archbishops and Bishops, King Robert of Sicily, his mother Queen Mary, many princes, nobles, and ambassadors. The Pope pronounced a grand eulogium of the saint’s works and merits, grounded on this text: “This is a day of good tidings: if we hold our peace, and do not tell it to the morning, we shall be charged with crime: come, let us go and tell it in the King’s court” (4 Kings vii. 9).
King Robert of Sicily, a relative of the saint, then gave an address, showing how Saint Thomas had merited the honour bestowed, because he had been, and would ever continue to be, “a burning and a shining light” (St. John V. 35).
The Archbishop of Capua followed with a panegyric, who was succeeded by Father Raymund Bequin, the Master of the Sacred Palace; further orations were delivered by the Archbishop of Arles, the Bishops of London, Winchester, and others.
On the morning of 18 July the Pope had the Bull of canonization read, assigning 7 March for the feast, after which he sang the votive mass of Saint Thomas in the Cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms, and pronounced another eulogium. “His doctrine was not other than miraculous,” cried the Pontiff. “He has enlightened the Church more than all other Doctors, and more profit can be gained in a single year by the study of his works, than by devoting a lifetime to that of other theologians. He has wrought as many miracles as he has written Articles.”
From - Saint Thomas Aquinas - A Biographical Study of the Angelic Doctor By Father Placid Conway, O.P. (1855–1913)