Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Saint Thomas Aquinas - A Biographical Study - Chapter VIII. His Writings; Third Period: and Death

    THE completion of the Moral Section of the Summa raised Saint Thomas to the height of fame. The Universities of Paris, Bologna, and Naples, sent eager applications to have him, addressed to the General Chapter sitting in Florence during the Pentecost-tide of 1272. Rome lost him, as there was no reigning Pontiff to retain him, and Naples won him. The Capitular fathers assigned him to teach in Naples University, at the earnest suit of Charles, King of Sicily, the brother of Saint Louis, who contributed two ounces of gold per month for his maintenance. Late in the month of August, Thomas quitted Rome in company with his brethren Reginald of Piperno and Bartholomew of Lucca.
    All three fell sick of malaria at Cardinal d’Annibaldi’s residence in the Campagna. Thomas speedily recovered, but his companions lay in grave danger of their lives, so, drawing from his neck a relic of Saint Agnes, he applied it with his blessing, whereat they rose instantly in perfect health.
    The home-coming of the Angelic Doctor to Naples was a veritable triumph. Five miles beyond the city he was met by princes, senators, professors, and the ever-clamorous youth of a University; an immense concourse of citizens filled the festive streets, roaring out their ovation, while the reverend magistracy conducted him to his convent of San Domenico Maggiore. Such demonstrations deeply wounded his humility: fortunately for himself his habitual recollection of thought kept him unconscious of the respectful salutions which greeted his every appearance in the public streets. Shortly after his arrival the Cardinal Legate of Sicily and the Archbishop of Capua, a former disciple, went to consult with him on matters of grave moment: on being informed of their arrival, the holy Doctor descended from his cell to the open cloister, but so rapt in thought that he passed them unnoticed. Presently his face brightened, and they heard him exclaim: “I have hit upon the solution I was looking for”. The Cardinal looked shocked for a moment at the apparent discourtesy, until the Archbishop assured him that such moments of abstraction were priceless to the Church; then, pulling Thomas by the sleeve, he roused him from his reverie. Then only did the man of God observe them, and in simple language explained the mystery of his joyful mien. “It was merely because an excellent argument on a long-debated subject occurred just then to my mind, whose inner contemplation was expressed on my joyful countenance.”
    His end was close at hand, like a goal in sight; the words from the world behind the veil were vividly impressed on his memory: “You will speedily join us”. In his cell he prayed and wrote, then passed forth to lecture in the University, in whose Aula Maxima he delivered the treatises of the Third Part of the “Summa Theologica,” beginning with the Incarnation. The pulpit and chair from which he lectured were preserved for centuries after, together with his statue in marble in the outer atrium, where a marble slab bore this inscription
    “Before passing in, pay reverence to this statue, and to the chair from which Saint Thomas pronounced so many oracles to a countless throng of students, for the glory and happiness of his age”.
    Every morning he said mass at an early hour in Saint Nicholas Chapel, after which he heard another; he made his thanksgiving still vested in alb and girdle, but when he served mass, he resumed the black cappa. At the moment of consecration he used his favourite ejaculation: “Tu Rex gloriae, Christe. Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius”. His Vesper hour of life had come, and he welcomed it: during the year 1273 his raptures became more and more frequent; seldom he went out, except to deliver the daily lecture. Now that the Commentary on Boetius was finished, his philosophic labours were ended. His pre-occupying theme now was the Sacred Godhead. As revealed in prophecy, it is the gist of his exposition of Isaiah: as revealed in the Incarnation and Redemption, it is the burden of the “Summa” in its concluding part. One night his friend and secretary, Reginald, who occupied the cell next to his, heard him talking in a loud tone as if engaged in animated conversation, which was the more remarkable since it was being carried on in time of profound silence. After a while Thomas came to his cell and bade him to get up. “Light the lamp, and bring the manuscript which I have begun upon Isaiah:” for a long space of time he dictated rapidly, then told him to retire again to rest. Reginald then threw himself upon his knees, and besought him to tell with whom he had been conversing. Finally, in God’s dear name and in the name of their friendship, he adjured him to speak. “Dear son,” replied the saint, “for many days past you have witnessed my affliction of spirit. I had misgivings over a passage in the text I have been commenting upon, so that I besought God with tears to give me understanding. Now this very night God has had compassion upon me, sending me His blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, who have brought me complete light. And now, in God’s name, I command you to keep absolute silence as to this fact, during my lifetime.” After the Commentary on Isaiah he wrote his Exposition of the first fifty-one Psalms. During the Lent of this year he preached every day in the Cathedral upon the words, “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” giving a summary of Mary’s rare privileges. The Compline hour at home filled him with the deepest devotion: tears coursed freely during the singing of the Lenten anthem: “Cast us not off in the season of our old age, when our strength shall fail us: Lord God, do not forsake us”. As he was praying in the choir, he saw before him the figure of Father Romanus, to whom he had relinquished his chair in Paris. “Welcome indeed, dear brother,” said he; “but when did you arrive here?” “I have passed from life,” said the dead friar, “but I am permitted to appear on your account.” Saint Thomas was much overcome, but recovering self-possession, put these apt questions: “How do I stand with God, and are my works pleasing to Him?” “Thou art in a good state, and thy works are pleasing to God.” “What then of thyself?” asked the holy Doctor. “I am in bliss,” replied Romanus, “but have passed sixteen days in Purgatory.” “Tell me then,” cried Thomas, “how do the Blessed see God, and do our acquired habits abide with us in heaven?” “It is enough,” answered Romanus, “if I tell you that I see God: ask me no more: ‘As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord of Hosts’:” saying which he vanished. The Angelic Doctor at once gave voice to his conclusion: “therefore it is by specular vision that the Blessed see God”.
    The servant of God was permitted at times to penetrate men’s hidden thoughts: one such instance was when he rebuked a friar for leaving the choir to indulge in gluttony. As he was pacing the terrace conversing with a nobleman, the devil appeared under the guise of a negro: “How dare you come here to tempt me!” he shouted as he advanced with clenched fist; whereupon the fiend vanished.
    The year 1273 was drawing to a close when the pen dropped from his hand, before reaching his fiftieth year. It was on Saint Nicholas Day, the 6th day of December, and in that saint’s chapel, that he had a long ecstasy while saying Mass; what was then communicated to him he never revealed, but from that hour “he suspended his writing instruments,” as William de Tocco puts it. Frequently he had been observed to be raised several cubits in the air, while engaged in prayer. Directly the treatise on the Eucharist was finished, some two months before this, Father Dominic di Caserta and other friars saw him thus uplifted in Saint Nicholas Chapel shortly before Matins; but what filled them with awe was the miraculous voice proceeding from the mouth of the crucifix over the altar. “Thomas, thou hast written well of Me; what reward wilt thou have?” To which the holy man at once replied: “None other but Thyself, Lord”. Mid-way in the treatise of the Sacrament of Penance, after finishing ninety Questions, of five hundred and forty-nine articles, he lapsed into silence. To every appeal made by superiors or brethren there came the same reply: “I can do no more”. Father Reginald, his secretary and confidant, urged him to resume his task. “Father, why do you leave unfinished this great work, which you have undertaken for God’s glory and the world’s enlightenment?” But he could only draw the reply: “I can do no more. Such secrets have been communicated to me, that all I have written and taught seem to me to be only like a handful of straw.” Few could credit the report that the great oracle would speak no more; none imagined that the sun was setting, and in part already below the horizon. Nobly has Dante sung of him in his “Paradiso,” Canto X
    Such his wisdom upon earth,

    Like to the Cherubim in lustre glowed.


    One of the lambs of that blest flock was I
    Which Dominic so leads in righteous ways,
    They thrive, unless they fall by vanity.

    The Summa Theologica was his legacy to the Church.
    [A study of this monumental work has wrought many remarkable conversions, such as Rabbi Paul of Burgos, in the fifteenth century; Theobald Thamer, a disciple of Melanchthon; the Calvinist, Duperron, afterwards Cardinal and Archbishop of Sens. It has earned Luther’s invectives, as well as Bucer’s menace: “Take away Thomas, and I will destroy the Church”.]
    Father Reginald was obliged to feed him now, owing to his constant abstraction and frequent raptures. Before the Christmas festival Saint Thomas spent a week with his sister, the Countess of San Severino, during which time they had but one long conversation, and that was about the joys of life everlasting. “What can have happened to my brother,” she inquired of Reginald of Piperno, “that he is so entranced, and will not speak to me?” On his return to Naples he fell ill of fever; the attendant informed the prior that during the night he perceived a brilliant star enter by the window, and rest for a long time on the sleeper’s head.
    In obedience to Pope Gregory’s summons to attend at the General Council of Lyons, which was to open on 1 May, Saint Thomas quitted Naples on 28 January, 1274, taking with him by papal command his treatise “Against the Errors of the Greeks”. He set out on foot, having for companions the trusty Reginald and another friar; so pre-occupied was he in thought, that, as they descended from Terracina along the Borgo Nuovo road, he struck his head violently against a fallen tree and lay stunned for some time. From that moment Reginald never left his side, but sought to occupy his mind by agreeable conversation. “Master, you are going to the Council on behalf of our order and of the kingdom of Naples.” “God grant that I may see this great good accomplished,” was the reply. “And furthermore,” pursued Reginald, “they will make you a Cardinal, like Friar Bonaventure, so that both of you will be of great service to the Orders of which you are members.” To this came the prophetic reply, confirmed by the event: “There is no state in which I can be of more use to my Order than that in which I am at present: rest assured that I shall never change my state of life”. They halted for a few hours at Aquino; there he received a letter from the Abbot of Monte Cassino, soliciting his interpretation of a point of Rule, to which he returned a gracious reply. Owing to his failing strength, a mule was procured, upon which he rode to visit his niece, the Countess Francesca Ceccano at Maienza Castle. There he fell ill, and could take no food; it was now the season of Lent, and, since he would not break the law of abstinence, the doctor begged of him to say if there was any kind of food he could relish. “I have several times eaten in France a kind of fish called herring,” said he; “but it is rare and very dear in these parts.” His physician, John de Guido, sought vainly for the fish, until chancing to meet a fisherman coming from Terracina, he found some herrings at the bottom of a creel of sardines. Then Reginald coaxed him to eat some of the herrings.
“From whence do they come?” asked the holy Master. “It is God who has sent them,” was the reply; but all the same he would not partake of them, for fear of indulging in a delicacy. He tarried five days in Maienza Castle, and was able to say mass twice: the Abbot and some of the Cistercians from Fossa Nuova Abbey came to pay their respects. Thomas was now extremely ill, but persisted in fulfilling his obedience by proceeding onwards to the Council. Once more he mounted upon the mule, and the little party of ten moved slowly on to the Abbey, just seven miles away. Reverently they lifted him and carried him at his request into the church, for his last visit to the Blessed Sacrament: after a short prayer he was again taken up and carried through the cloisters to the Abbot’s own apartments. Reginald had besought him not to quit Maienza Castle, where he could have every remedy and attention, but the saint would not listen to the proposal. “If the Lord wishes to take me, it is better that I should be found in a religious house than in the establishment of the laity.” He entered Fossa Nuova Abbey on 10 February; as he was borne through the cloisters he uttered the saying of the Psalmist: “This is my rest for ever: here I shall dwell, for I have chosen it” (Psalm cxxxi. 14). The good Cistercians lavished every attention upon him, cutting and carrying faggots for the fire. “Whence comes this honour,” he cried, in distress of humility, “that holy men should carry wood for my fire! Whence comes it that God’s servants should wait upon me, and carry a burden so far, which must be painful to them!” Very speedily the tidings reached Naples that his dissolution was at hand; soon the Abbey was thronged with nobility and clergy and brethren, importuning to see him but once again. Among the Friars Preachers came his younger brother Rayner, who afterwards became Archbishop of Messina in Sicily.
    [The Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum, Tome II, gives him among the prelates promoted by Pope Honorius IV. “Frater Raynerius de Aquino, germanus frater Doctoris Angelici S. Thomae, Archiepiscopus Messanus, Messina in Sicilia.” See also Bernard Guidonis, de Episcopis Sicilii Cavalerius, de Episcopis Ord. Praed., Tom. I, p. 46, no. cxxxv; Stephanus Sanpayo, ex. MSS. Archivii Caenobii Neapolitani S. Dominici.]
    During an interval of the intermittent fever the Cistercians besought him to dictate an exposition of the Canticle of Canticles. “Give me Saint Bernard’s spirit, and I will do so,” said he. Touched by their kindness, he complied: supported on his bed, he dictated the Commentary as Reginald read each succeeding verse, while eager hands committed it to writing. This, let it be observed, was his second exposition of Solomon’s Song; it is entitled “Sonet vox tua,” whereas the first is entitled “Salomon inspiratus”. This second work must be accepted rather as the fruit of his piety than of his learning. His biographer, William de Tocco, makes this observation on the fact: “It was fitting that the great Doctor, now about to be released from the body, should finish his teaching by the Canticle of Love between Jesus Christ and the faithful soul”. The last words dictated were a passage from Saint Paul, so fully realized in himself: “Our conversation is in heaven for in every place we are unto God the good odour of Christ”. On coming to the eleventh verse of the seventh chapter— “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields,” he swooned away, for his end was near. As the lamp of vitality was burning low, he received the last anointing after confessing to Father Reginald. The Abbot then brought him the Sacred Viaticum, while the brethren knelt around. Upborne in Reginald’s arms the dying saint made this protestation of faith: “If in this world there be any knowledge of this mystery keener than that of faith, I wish now to use it to affirm that I believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in this Sacrament, truly God and truly man, the Son of God, the Son of the Virgin Mary. This I believe and hold for true and certain. This faith is in my heart, and I profess it with my lips, just as the priest has pronounced it.”
    To Father Reginald it seemed impossible that Saint Thomas should die thus early, when only entering upon his fiftieth year, so he used every art to rouse him, especially by dwelling on the great work which was before him in the coming Council, and of the sure honours which awaited him. Then with dying breath the holy Doctor made his last reply: “My son, keep yourself from harbouring any such thoughts, or from troubling yourself in this matter. What used to be at one time the object of my desires, is now a matter of thanksgiving. What I have ever been asking of God He now grants to me this day, in withdrawing me from this life in the same state in which it pleased His mercy to place me. Without a doubt I might have made further progress in learning, and have made my learning to be more profitable to others, by sharing with them what has been manifested to me. But the infinite goodness of my God has let me know, that if, without any merit of my own, I have received more graces and lights than other Doctors who have lived a long while, it is because the Lord wished to shorten the days of my exile, and to take me the sooner to be a sharer in His glory, out of a pure act of mercy. If you love me sincerely, be content and comforted, since my own consolation is perfect.”
    After receiving the Holy Viaticum he closed his eyes, and was silent for a short time, then repeated aloud his devout Rhythm:

    Adoro Te devote, latens deitas,
    quae sub his figuris vere latitas.

    He uttered this Divine song to the finish, and yielded up his soul in the early morning of 7 March, 1274.

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