Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Saint Thomas Aquinas - A Biographical Study - Chapter VII. His Heroic Sanctity

    OUR saint presented a very noble and striking figure. He was of lofty stature, of heavy build but well proportioned, while his countenance was of our northern complexion, “like the colour of new wheat,” as we read in the deposition for his canonization. The features were comely, the head massive and well shaped, the forehead lofty, and he was slightly bald. Judging from his portrait, the general aspect was calm, sweet, majestic; the deep meditative eyes speak of gentleness, the nose is long and straight, the mouth very firm. Taken altogether, the features reveal the inner charm of his soul.
    The earliest known portrait is a superb painting on a panel by an unknown artist of the fifteenth century, now preserved in the Louvre at Paris. A replica of inferior quality is to be seen in the suppressed Carmelite convent at Viterbo. An inscription beneath reads thus: “The true portrait of the Angelic Doctor Saint Thomas Aquinas, as described by a disciple”.
    He was the saint of sublimest thought, which he nourished with’ spiritual reading. “In such reading I try to collect devout thoughts, which will lead me easily to contemplation.”
    The basis of his character and conduct was holy humility. The advice he tendered to others, he took to heart himself. “Love of God leads to self-contempt, whereas self-love leads to the contempt of God. If you would raise on high the edifice of holiness, take humility for your foundation.” In a moment of confidence he made this candid avowal to Father Reginald of Piperno. “Thanks be to God, my knowledge, my title of Doctor, my scholastic work, have never occasioned a single movement of vain glory, to dethrone the virtue of humility in my heart.” Dignities he would never accept: he held no office in his Order. He declined the lordly abbacy of Monte Cassino, even though the Pope offered to let him keep his habit of a Friar Preacher. Clement IV tried to secure his acceptance of a Cardinal’s hat, and expedited the Brief creating him Archbishop of Naples, but all to no purpose; when death was in view, he uttered this exclamation: “Thanks be to God, I die as a simple religious”.
    He was very tenacious of poverty; all his journeys were made on foot, his habit was of the poorest, he kept rigidly to the common life. Father Nicholas de Marsiliaco has furnished us with this testimony: “I was in Paris with Father Thomas, and I declare before God that never have I seen in any man such degree of innocence, such love of poverty. In writing his ‘Sum against the Gentiles’ he had not sufficient copy-books, so he wrote it on scraps of paper, although he might have had books in abundance, had he been so minded, but he had no concern for temporal affairs.” If mitre and scarlet had no attractions, still less had the rich revenues of an abbey, Saint Peter ad Aram, in Rome, when offered by Pope Clement. He would keep nothing for his personal use, no chalice, no manuscript, while he held dainties in abhorrence, and practised austerities.
    As to obedience, it was one of his sayings that an obedient man is the same as a saint. He was just as prompt and hearty in obeying his Prior as in obeying the Father-General, or our Lord the Pope. A lay-brother in Bologna, having occasion to go out of the convent to make some necessary purchases for the table, had leave to summon the first friar he met to bear him company, as the rule required. Saint Thomas was pacing the cloister at the moment, to whom the brother spoke thus: “Good father, the Prior wants you to follow me through the town”. Thomas complied, but as they strode through streets and market he was unable to maintain the pace, being slightly lame, for which he was soundly rated more than once. The amazed townsfolk interposed with heated speech, reminding the testy one of his companion’s dignity, to say nothing of his infirmity. The simple brother fell at once to his knees to implore forgiveness, for he had no idea of the strange father’s name or rank: Saint Thomas, however, reassured him by saying that each was simply carrying out an obedience. It was then he uttered the oft-quoted maxim: “Obedience is the perfection of religious life: thereby a man submits himself to his fellow-man for the love of God, just as God became obedient to men for their salvation”.
    With regard to the holy chastity, the Angelic Doctor is both patron and pattern of the angelic virtue: youth and maiden, priest and cloistered soul, acclaim him alike as their model and protector. “Incorruption bringeth nearer to God” (Wisdom, vi. 20). In his “Commentary on Saint Paul’s Corinthians, “Chapter VII, lesson 6, he rehearses eight blessings of Virginity.

    1. It preserves cleanness of the flesh.
    2. It beautifies and adorns the soul.
    3. It makes like unto the Angels of heaven.
    4. It espouses to the Christ.
    5. It gives union with and closeness to God.
    6. It surpasses other states.
    7. It breathes forth the odour of good repute.
    8. It invites to the eternal nuptials.

    Of these the most valuable are the fourth, fifth, and last. It espouses unto the Christ by giving fitness for union with Christ’s Body in Holy Communion, and to the priest for making, handling, and dispensing the same. Hence the Poet Virgil places the life-long chaste priest in the Elysian fields.

    Quique sacerdotes casti, dum vita manebat.
    —Aeneid, vi. 66i.

    It gives union with God, and closeness, by bestowing fitness for contemplation. “Where there is cleanness there is understanding;” “What removes a hindrance is an indirect mover,” as Saint Thomas constantly urges. Chastity lends fitness for contemplation by removing carnal desires, which so affect the mind’s eye that even the truest see sin through a distorted lens. Lastly, it invites to the eternal nuptials. The closer anything approaches to its principle, the more perfect it becomes: but God, Who is our Principle, is a most Pure Spirit: therefore, Chastity leads up to perfection. But our last end is to be one of inseparable union with the all-clean God, as guests at the nuptials of the Lamb; therefore Chastity disposes for such union. The saint lived and died a perfect virgin in mind and body: his heroism in youth drew Angels down from heaven. “He who loves cleanness of heart, for the grace of his lips, shall have the King for a friend.” (Proverbs 22:11)
    The depth of his Divine love, God alone can sound: it was revealed in a measure by his life, but he never spoke of it. “It is a good thing to conceal the King’s secret” (Tobias XII. 7). All the world read his heart, his human kindness, his deep friendships. No hard saying ever crossed his lips: he could slay an argument, yet spare a foe. Without guile in his own soul, he could with difficulty be brought to believe in the guilt of others. When he sat in the tribunal of penance, in God’s Mercy-seat, it was with a melting heart of pity. Two things he loved especially: these were the Order of Preachers, and God’s poor. From love of the brethren he blessed the church bell at Salerno, foretelling that it would toll of itself to give warning of an approaching death. It kept its miraculous power until it fell and was broken in the seventeenth century. [Its power was still attested in 1678.] Like Saint Dominic he was “ever joyous in the sight of men,” uniting the grace of noble manners to the reserve of the religious. He inculcated and observed the remembrance of God’s presence. “Be assured,” he would say, “that he who walks faithfully in God’s presence, and who is ready to give Him an account of his actions, will never be parted from Him by yielding to sin.
    Prayer was for him the very breath of his life. Frequently he urged Saint Augustine’s maxim: “He knows how to live rightly, who has learnt how to pray properly”. In the funeral discourse at his obsequies, Father Reginald bore this testimony: “During life my Master always prevented me from revealing the wonders which I witnessed. Of this number was his marvellous learning which uplifted him beyond all other men, which he owed less to power of genius than to the efficacy of his prayer. Truly, before studying, or lecturing, reading, writing, or dictating, he began by shutting himself up in secret prayer: he prayed with tears, so as to obtain from God the understanding of His mysteries, and then lights came in abundance to illumine his mind. When he encountered a difficulty, he had recourse to prayer, and all his doubts vanished.”
    The Angelic teacher was likewise an Angelic singer: nothing but inability from sickness ever kept him from Choir duty. In the opening of his treatise, “On the Separated Substances,” that is, the Angels, he acknowledges his absence for a time from Divine praise in the Choir, due to frequent attacks of sickness. “Being deprived of assisting at the solemnities of the Angels, we must not allow a time consecrated to devotion to be unoccupied, but rather compensate by study for the loss of assisting at the Divine Office.”
    His devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary was tender and deep, as evinced by his writings, and by this prayer:

    “Dearest and most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, overflowing with affection, Daughter of the Sovereign King, and Queen of the Angels: Mother of Him Who created all things, this day and all the days of my life I commend to the bosom of thy regard my soul and my body, all my actions, thoughts, wishes, desires, words, and deeds, my whole life, and my end: so that through thy prayers they may all be ordered according to the will of thy beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Lady most holy, be my helper and my comforter against the attacks and snares of the ancient foe, and of all my enemies.”

    A few days before his death he told Father Reginald that Christ’s dear Mother had appeared to him on several occasions, assuring him that his life and writings were pleasing to God, and that he would persevere in his state. Saint Vincent Ferrer and Saint Antoninus of Florence affirm that in his difficulties he used to turn to her as a child to a mother. Then she would stand visibly before him, and, turning with a smile to the Divine Babe in her arms, ask Him to bestow the enlightenment he sought.
    A complete Mariology has been compiled from his works, drawing out Mary’s singular graces. [The work of Rev. Dr. Morgott, Ratisbon.] He upheld the privilege of her exemption from original sin. It is an old-established saying, that, “with Saint Thomas a man can never be wrong, nor can he be right without him”. That he upheld Mary’s sinless conception can be established from extrinsic and intrinsic evidences. It is the verdict of his weightiest exponents, such as Capponi de Porrecta, Joannes a Sancto Thoma, Natalis Alexander, John Bromeyard of Oxford, and many more. At the Council of Basle, John of Segobia upheld the Immaculate Conception from Saint Thomas’s writings. Theologians of first rank have held the same view, such as Vega, Eichof, Nieremberg, Sylveira, Thyrsus Gonzalez, Stefano Chiesa, Plazza, Spada, Cornoldi, Cardinal Sfondrato, Cardinal Lambruschini, etc.
    If we open his writings we have the intrinsic evidences of various passages. In his “Opusculum,” LXI, de Dilectione Dei, et Proximi, we meet this passage: “For the more complete manifestation of His power, the Creator made a mirror which is brightest of the most bright, more polished and more pure than the Seraphim, and of such great purity that there can not be imagined one more pure, except it were God: and this mirror is the person of the most glorious Virgin”.
    In his “Commentary on the First Book of the ‘Sentences,’” he twice makes use of this sentence: “The Blessed Virgin Mary shone with a purity greater than which under God cannot be comprehended.” (Dist. XVII, Quest. II, art. 4, 3m). Here is his proof: “Increase of purity is to be measured according to withdrawal from its opposite, and since in the Blessed Virgin there was ‘depuratia’ from all sin, she consequently attained the summit of purity; but yet under God, in Whom there is no capability of defect as is in every creature of itself”. And again he writes in Dist. XLIV, Quest. I, art 3 “Purity is increased by withdrawal from its opposite, and consequently some created being can be found purer than which nothing can be found in creatures, if never sullied by defilement of sin, and such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin, who was exempt from original and actual sin”. Some think that the expression “depuratio” argues cleansing from stain; but such was not the meaning which Saint Thomas attached to the word. The Holy Fathers frequently use this word with regard to God Himself. Saint Augustine, Peter Lombard, Fulgentius, Ferrandus, Hugh of Saint Victor, also use it of God, while a whole host of writers employ it when speaking of Christ: Saint Thomas uses it twice in his treatise on the Incarnation, and Dionysius makes use of it with regard to the heavenly Hierarchies. So then, “depuratio ab omni peccato” does not mean “cleansing from all sin,” but “exemption from all sin”. The Angelic Doctor knew the scientific value of the term used, and his critics do not. The expression used above “immunis a peccato” is the one employed by Pope Pius IX in proclaiming the dogma.
    There is no need to expatiate on the fact that Saint Thomas was a consummate logician, and consequently not likely to teach in one part of his writings the contrary to what he lays down in another. In the First Part of the “Summa Theologica,” Question XXV, art. 6, ad. 4, he writes: “The Blessed Virgin, in that she is the Mother of God, has a kind of infinite dignity from the Infinite Good, which is God, and on this account nothing better than her can be made, just as there is nothing better than God”. Again in the Third Part, Question XXVII, art. 3, he says: “The closer a thing approaches to its principle in any order, the more it partakes of the effect of such principle. Hence Dionysius states in the fourth chapter of the ‘Heavenly Hierarchies,’ that ‘the angels being nearer to God, share more fully of the Divine perfections than men do’. But Christ is the principle of grace authoritatively according to His Divinity and instrumentally in His humanity, as Saint John declares in the first chapter (of the Gospel). ‘Grace and truth are made through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ But the Blessed Virgin was closest to Christ in His humanity, since He drew His human nature from her, and therefore she ought beyond all others to receive the fullness of grace from Christ.”
    From these two passages we gather Saint Thomas’s teaching as to Mary’s prerogatives. 1. She possessed an almost infinite dignity from her closeness to God, in this surpassing the angels. 2. She ought, that is, she had the right, to receive the fullness of Divine grace beyond all other creatures. Since then it is the work of grace to purify the soul by imparting to it the Divine beauty, it follows necessarily that grace wrought absolute sinlessness in her soul, and created boundless holiness. In this dual capacity of closest union with God, and being the appointed instrument of Christ’s humanity, she surpassed the angels, who never knew sin: she had a kind of infinitude in merit which none of them ever could have. How then can such teaching of Saint Thomas be reconciled with the idea that Mary had ever been sullied for an instant with original sin? Let the theory be once admitted that Mary had been so defiled, then his two principles given above fall to the ground; admit his principles, and the Immaculate Conception is the logical result. The holy Doctor was well aware of the grace bestowed on those pre-eminent saints, Jeremiah and John the Baptist, yet he does not hesitate to place Mary incomparably beyond them, and attributes their sanctification to her as well as to her son. She must then, logically speaking, have received a greater grace than cleansing after conception.
    In his exposition of the “Hail Mary” he distinctly declares the doctrine. “Thirdly, she exceeds even the angels in purity: because the Blessed Virgin was not only pure in herself, but even procured purity for others. She was most clean from fault, because she incurred neither original, nor mortal, nor venial sin.”
    In his “Commentary on the Epistle to Galatians,” III, lect. VI, the original text runs thus: “Of all women I have found none who was altogether exempt from sin, at least from original sin, or venial, except the most pure, and most worthy of all praise, the Virgin Mary”.
    Again in his “Commentary on the Epistle to Romans”: “All men have sinned in Adam, excepting only the most Blessed Virgin, who contracted no stain of Original Sin”.
    Such are the readings of the first MS. Codices and early printed versions. In a marginal note written by Saint Vincent Ferrer in his copy of the “Summa,” Part III, Question XXVII, art. 2, ad. 2m, are these words: “The Blessed Virgin was exempt from original and actual sin”. It was these original texts of early manuscript Codices which early defenders of the Immaculate Conception quoted for their opinion, such as Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, Bernardine de Bustis, B. Peter Canisius, Cardinal Sfondrato, Salmeron, and many more. Weighty theologians such as Velasquez, Peter of Alva, Eusebius Nieremberg, Frassen, Lambruschini, Gual, and Palmieri, following the critical method of Hermeneutics, have held and shown that many passages of Saint Thomas have been changed or interpolated. Let it suffice to adduce three apologetic writers who denounce such practices, and vindicate the purity of his text. Bishop Vialmo, a Friar Preacher: “Pro defensione Sancti Thomae”; Egidius Romanus, a disciple of Saint Thomas “Castigatorium: in corruptorem librorum S. Thomae Aquinatis”; Cardinal Sfondrato: “Innocentia Vindicata”; besides seven more apologists.
    Some of the Angelic Doctor’s neat sayings caught in familiar conversation have been preserved. “The poverty of a discontented religious is a useless expense.” “The prayerless soul makes no progress whatever.” “A religious without prayer resembles a soldier fighting without weapons.” “Idleness is the devil’s hook, on which any bait is tempting.” “I cannot understand how anyone conscious of mortal sin can laugh or be merry.” When asked how to detect a spiritual-minded man, he gave this reply: “He who is constantly chattering about frivolous things, who fears being despised, who is weary of life, whatever marvels he may work, I do not look on him as a perfect man, since all he does is without foundation, and he who cannot suffer is ready for a fall”. To his sister Theodora, inquiring how to become a saint, he replied with a single word, “Velle,” or “Resolve”.
    It is not surprising that one so clean of heart and full of charity should be favoured with visions, or that the dead should make an appeal to his pity. Thus, in earlier years he foresaw the triumph of the Mendicant Friars, while they were being subjected to persecution. “A Doctor of Theology in Paris, a man of great reputation and learning, and one who rendered signal services to the Church, during the time that the Master-General was doing battle for the order in the Roman Court, at the trying period when bitter enmity prevailed against the brethren, saw in a dream a great concourse of friars looking up to heaven, who called out to him; ‘Look! Look!’ He also gazed upwards, and saw these words emblazoned in letters of gold upon the sky: ‘The Lord has delivered us from our enemies, and from the hands of all them that hated us’. At that very time the Brief issued by Pope Innocent against the Mendicant Friars was recalled by Alexander his successor, through the favour of the Most High” (Gerard de Frachet, “Lives of the Brethren,” Book IV, Chap. xxiii.).
    His deceased sister, Marietta, the Abbess of Capua, appeared to him in Paris in the year 1272, to commend her soul to his prayers: some time later she reappeared in Rome to tell him that she was admitted to glory. When he inquired about his dead brothers Raynald and Landulf she assured him that the former was already in paradise, but that the latter was still in purgatory. Then, emboldened, he put the question as to whether he would himself die before long, and secure his eternal salvation. To this she replied: “You will be saved, if you but persevere, but you will attain your last end very differently from us; you will speedily join us, but your glory will quite surpass ours”. Shortly after this he was consoled by the vision of an angel displaying a book, on which the names of the saints were written in golden letters on an azure ground, and among them he saw Raynald’s name among the martyrs. The angel disappeared, and Raynald stood visibly before him. “How do I stand with God?” was our saint’s first question. “You are in a good state, my brother. Such a query is unbecoming, because you are in the sure way which leads to life. Hold fast to what you now have, and finish as you have begun: learn also for a certainty, that none of your Order, or very few, will be lost.”

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