ST. THOMAS was born of noble parents at Aquino in Italy, in 1226. At the age of nineteen he received the Dominican habit at Naples, where he was studying. Seized by his brothers on his way to Paris, he suffered a two years’ captivity in their castle of Rocca-Secca; but neither the caresses of his mother and sisters, nor the threats and stratagems of his brothers, could shake him in his vocation. While St. Thomas was in confinement at Rocca-Secca, his brothers endeavored to entrap him into sin, but the attempt only ended in the triumph of his purity. Snatching from the hearth a burning brand, the Saint drove from his chamber the wretched creature whom they had there concealed. Then marking a cross upon the wall, he knelt down to pray, and forthwith, being rapt in ecstasy, an angel girded him with a cord, in token of the gift of perpetual chastity which God had given him. The pain caused by the girdle was so sharp that St. Thomas uttered a piercing cry, which brought his guards into the room. But he never told this grace to any one save only to Father Raynald, his confessor, a little while before his death. Hence originated the Confraternity of the "Angelic Warfare," for the preservation of the virtue of chastity. Having at length escaped, St. Thomas went to Cologne to study under Blessed Albert the Great, and after that to Paris, where for many years he taught philosophy and theology. The Church has ever venerated his numerous writings as a treasure-house of sacred doctrine; while in naming him the Angelic Doctor she has indicated that his science is more divine than human. The rarest gifts of intellect were combined in him with the tenderest piety. Prayer, he said, had taught him more than study. His singular devotion to the Blessed Sacrament shines forth in the Office and hymns for Corpus Christi, which he composed. To the words miraculously uttered by a crucifix at Naples, "Well hast thou written concerning Me, Thomas. What shall I give thee as a reward?" he replied, "Naught save Thyself, O Lord." He died at Fossa-Nuova, 1274, on his way to the General Council of Lyons, to which Pope Gregory X. had summoned him.
Reflection.—The knowledge of God is for all, but hidden treasures are reserved for those who have ever followed the Lamb.
The above text was published in February 2017.
Passages from the book:” Feau et lumiere” by Odile Haumontè
An incredible intelligence at the service of love
He is the saint patron of university students, high school students and Catholic schools from 1880. He comes to us from the far off thirteenth century, to reconcile faith and reason in us. He invites us to put our intelligence at the service of an increase of love. He says “It needs to Know to love”.
On the shelves of a library there are four aligned books: The “Summa Teologica”. The famous writing of Saint Thomas of Aquino. Still, this extraordinary work remains a sketch at the question of all life “Who is God?” “What is God?” The author stopped to write three months before dying , with his heart and spirit full of God – who was the object of all his wishes. “What I wrote seems all straw compared with what I saw and that was revealed to me”. He answered that to whom asked him why he decided not to write anymore.
The school boy from Montecassino
In the small town of Aquino in Sicily , the Rocca – Secca castle raises imposing opposite the famous Montecassino's Abbey. There, in 1224, countess Teodora gave birth to her eighth son, Thomas. Count Landolfo thought and delighted by the fate which predicted for that little soon. Because he decided Thomas will be the abbot of Montecassino. The godfather of Thomas was Papa Onorio III.
Since his childhood, Thomas distinguished for his goodness of heart and for his intelligence. If he wept, they gave him a book and he soothed and showed pleasure to leaf through it. When he was five years old, as most nobles of his time, he was invited at Montecassino's school. He was accompanied by his wet-nurse because his parents stayed at castle's to weep his separation.
He progressed quickly and showed virtues above-average his age. He was calm and thoughtful. He spent long moments in the chapel. He avoided futile and noisy amusements. He studied with care so people could see him always with a book in his hands. When he was six years old, one day, while he was sitting on his desk all absorbed in his silence – the teacher approached him and rising his eyes towards him Thomas asked: “Tell me, who is God?”
The student from Naples
After some years, Abbot Sinibab noticed Thomas's precocious sanctity and his ardour for studying, so recommended Count Landolfo to send Thomas to the University of Naples . Thomas spent some months at home with his family ad so everyone could admire the delicious qualities of his heart. They were afraid of his innocence because of pleasure – seeker life of this large town. In that period people said. “ Naples is heaven, but inhabited by devils.”
Thomas reached Naples in 1237. He was 13 years old. His intelligence left his teachers stunned. He supplied them with proof of his depth of wisdom, showing them shrewdness and penetration really incredible and he was able to repeat lessons with more clarity than teachers. When he was 17 years old he come there to know the Order of preacher monks founded by Saint Dominic in 1215. He lived in this town from 1231. Thomas attended assiduously the teaching given in Saint Archangel's Church. After three years of discernment he received Dominican clothes. He was 20 years old.
The Rocca-Secca's prisoner
This fact threw down Aquino's family and their relatives in consternation: the son of a so eminent family was becoming s simple religious beggar! John – the Teutonic – the master of the religious Order, having to go to Lombardy , brought Thomas with him in order to escape the anger of the family. Two of his brothers (the father died two years before) joined him – captured him and dragged him at Rocca – Secca castle.
For more than one year T. suffered a long imprisonment and had to suffer the attacks by maternal persuasion: promises, tender, reproaches, threats, abuses. Nothing scratched the conviction and the faithfulness of the young novice. He gain his sisters for his cause who were instructed to convince him. His brother tried to undress him from his frock but he clasped, with Knuckle duster, the edges of his clothing. They let a prostitute come in his room and Thomas grasped a brand from the fireplace and rolled it in front of her face. That wretched frightened and flee away. T. kneeled down with the brand, which made go away the prostitute, drew a big cross and asked The Lord the grace of the purity of the soul and the body. He fell down and saw two angels going down whose hips were surrounded by a white belt which was interwoven with extreme artistic refinement. He will put on that for all his life, taking care of hiding it to others eyes. This wonderful belt is kept still today in the Church of St. Domenic of Chieri.
This inflexible resistance, which had never lost mildness, respect, sweetness, won at last countess Teodora. One night, some preachers, who were called from Naples , saw a basket sliding along the wall. When he came down to earth T. was returned to the affection of his friars.
The student of Saint Albert the Great
Thomas. began theological studies at Paris . His teacher is Albert, the Great, which was Dominican since 20 years. In the monastery of Saint Jimmy, Thomas lead an ordained life dedicated at the prayer. He spoke a little, studied a lot, prayed non stop. His companions, maliciously, called him the big silent ox of Sicily . Master Albert confessed to be disappointed: They had spoken highly of the intelligence of that young boy so that he waited for the best. On the occasion of a particularly difficult lesson, a student was thinking T. was in difficulty so he offered to explain the lesson to him, but he muddled up, he confused. Then, Thomas offered his help by humility and clarified the obscure passage by so a perfect clear-headedness that the admired young man run to tell Master Albert all about it. He submitted the student to a public session and proposed to him four arguments to confute. T. did it by clarity and easily that Albert - The Great - spoke to the stupefied students “Ah, you call him: the silent ox. I tell you, when this ox will low his lowing will be listened from a side to another of the earth.
The teacher of theology
T began to teach when he was 30 years old. Ordained priest he always distinguished for his devoutness and love for Saint Eucharist. All his life was consecrated to urge, stimulate, explain, and fight heresies. He took ahead his courses, the sermons, wrote books. When he composed a mass to the Holy Sacrament, as well as the magnificent “Pange Lingua” he sang the sublime mystery of the Eucharist. He worked dictating to two or three secretaries in the same time. He spent most of the night in church and came back before dawn so that nobody could see him not to have slept. He was never absent at recital of the office of hours, even if he had had the dispensation of it, because of masses of work and numerous visit
she had to receive. His thought never went away from thinking of God. He said “The true happiness consists in the contemplation of God. One of his prayers says “Jesus, it is only with you that I attend the knowledge of truth that I have to teach to others”. When he was not able to grasp a concept or to clarify some difficult points of the doctrine, he left everything, went down to the chapel, opened the tabernacle, he slipped his head in it and stayed so till when he received light.
When he celebrated the Eucharist, tears went on to get down along the cheeks. A few times, people saw him lifted off the ground and sometimes he went into ecstasies. When he was at table, he didn't often see what he saw eating: one day they give him some olives so salty that nobody was able to eat them. Thomas, collected in God, ended his portion without realizing that. Another day, he was invited to eat at Saint King Louis with his prior. Suddenly, Thomas shouted and beat his fist on the table: “Ah, at the end, I have found the subject to confute the Manicheans.” The prior, so confused tugged him at his sleeve. Thomas excused himself with humility. But, the King, so admired, made the secretary called so that he could write as soon as possible the intuition he had had. On 6 December 1273 , when he was 49 years old, during an ecstasy, he saw Christ “you wrote so well of me, Thomas, what would you like any rewards for?” “Only you, my God.” The Saint answered.
He was fascinated by eternal truth he had contemplated. He stopped writing and prayed. “So that the end of his life could go on after stopping his writing.”
Before concluding this short Saint's profile we write some episodes to exalt Thomas's virtues.
The obedience of Thomas
One day, according to custom in use in the monasteries, he was reading at table. The corrector made him noticed a pronunciation mistake in a sentence. Immediately, Thomas corrected himself according the corrector's suggestion. When the meal was over, a monk went up to him and expressed his discontent.” You got wrong to pronounce that sentence, as he suggested you because the corrector made a mistake – not you. Immediately Thomas replied “the pronunciation is not important, the important is to be humble and obedient.”
A foreign monk who had to go to a town received the permission to be accompanied by the first monk he had met. He saw Thomas and told him to follow him. Thomas suffered from pains in his legs; therefore he walked slowly so he was reproached by the monk.
In the town, people were shocked by seeing that scene and told the monk who was the person near to him who followed him like a little boy. The poor man excused himself of the mistake and received the teaching of the Saint about the perfection of the obedience. “Man is submitted to man for love of God, as God obey to man for love of man”.
Even if he was busy in important things, he was always present in acts of the community. He said that it needed to run immediately at the ring of the bell which called. One day he succeeded in clarifying difficult point of work which was writing (as that time at table with King Louis). The bell rang calling the monks to the prayer. Thomas got immediately up from the desk, without ending the word which he was writing and made his way towards the chapel. When he came back to work he found the word written by golden characters. So God wanted to reward the humble obedience of Thomas.
Humble and mild
Thomas, for his high lineage and for his exceptional abilities by which he was enriched by God, as well as the divine illumination he benefited by, he could had to became proud; but like a young Mosè nobody was humbler and milder than him.
A young boy, moved by anger, reproached him with telling he was not so learned as they believed. Thomas answered sweetly “It is really true, my boy, that's because I never stop studying. When he heard to speak of proud and self-esteem, Thomas made the sign of the cross on his heart. In his prayers he asked only two things: “God likes his doctrine and to be able to live and die as a simple religious. One day, he was coming back from the Abbey of St. Denis with his disciples, Thomas stopped and everybody admired the magnificent landscape of Paris . One of his disciples, thinking about the glorious fate that the son of Count of Aquino could have had, asked to Thomas: “Would you not like to be the sovereign of this beautiful town?” “All that I would like really to have is the sermon of saint John Crisostomo on Saint Matteo!”
He was so charitable. He didn't think never badly of anybody. When he discovered some failings in people, he cried their faults as he had committed himself, them. He never got angry with anybody and never reproached anybody. He disputed only when it was necessary for reasons of zeal or for the truth; if others made a mistake, he groaned secretly, prayed, and cried ahead the cross. He invited the guilty to recognize his mistake with tranquillity and great moderation of language, which soothed the souls - the most worried – and he aroused the admiration by whom hard him.
Nevertheless, a graphologist, studying his hand writing, was surprised to discover Thomas had had a violent character. Instead, with grace of God, he was all tenderness. Bartholomew of Capua said about him: “The soul of Brother Thomas was the radiant tabernacle of Holy Ghost, because on his face you could see always shining joy and sweetness. A contemporaneous expressed so about him “What he taught with his mouth, he made with works; he had never dared to teach what God had not allowed him to practise.
Coming back to history
He was called by Pope Gregorio X to participate in the council of Lione. During the Journey he became ill. When he arrived in Sicily he made himself taken to Cistercian monastery of Fossa Nova. “There is the place of my rest”. He exclaimed. His last confession seemed the child's one. On 7 March 1274, surrounded by Dominicans and Cistercians, he received the Extreme Unction, preached for his last time about Canticle of Canticles, the voice became a breath.
He whispered the “Creed” than he said murmuring “I entrust everything to church judgment” after these words he was dying.
At down, with serenity, far away from ephemeral honours of this world he reached his God whose he had told “You have only a teacher: Christ.” (Mt. 23,8).
The above text was published in July 2019.