Saturday, 5 July 2014

Saint Thomas Aquinas - A Biographical Study - Chapter IV. He Graduates As Doctor

       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 Saint 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 sober-minded 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 Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint 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, Saint 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, Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint 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.

From - Saint Thomas Aquinas - A Biographical Study of the Angelic Doctor By Father Placid Conway, O.P. (1855–1913)