Saint Thomas Aquinas in today’s combat for the faith

Saint Thomas Aquinas in today’s combat for the faith


A Sermon given in the Dominican Monastery of Avrillé (France)

“Thomas Aquinas was a light placed by Me over the Mystical Body of the Church in order to disperse the darkness of error.” 1

1. Saint Thomas, celestial patron of Catholic studies

On the feast of Saint Dominic, on August 4, 1880, and after having consulted the Sacred Congregation of Rites, Pope Leo III published the Brief, Cum hoc sit, designating St. Thomas the patron of universities, academies, Catholic colleges and schools. The feast was fixed on the 13th of November.2

The motives justifying the patronage of Saint Thomas for Catholic studies

This decision of the Pope, designating Saint Thomas patron of Catholic studies came immediately after his encyclical Aeterni Patris, dealing with the restoration of Catholic philosophy according to the principles of Saint Thomas Aquinas, written one year before, on August 4, 1879.  This patronage should have been its crowning point, and Leo XIII assigned three reasons for it.    Let us quote the Pope:

  1. The doctrine of Saint Thomas is so vast that it embraces, like an ocean, the entire wisdom of Antiquity.  Everything said in the past that was true, everything that was wisely discussed by the pagan philosophers and by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church as well as those superior individuals who existed before him; not only did he completely understand it, but he developed, completed and classified it with such an insight, with such methodical precision and with such a precise terminology, that he seems to have only left to his followers the ability to imitate him, while at the same time taking away their possibility of equaling him!”
  2. “There is yet a more important matter to consider: it is that his doctrine being formed and armed with principles containing a vast breadth of application corresponds to the necessities not only of one historical period but rather of all times and periods of history and is therefore very well suited to conquer the continually re-emerging errors.  Sustaining itself by its own strength, it remains invincible and causes a profound fear to its adversaries.  The perfect agreement between faith and reason [in the works of St. Thomas] must not be neglected, especially in regards to the judgment of Catholics.”
  3. “Finally, the Angelic Doctor, though great because of his doctrine, is no less great because of his virtue and holiness.  Consequently virtue is the best preparation for the work of the mind and the acquisition of knowledge; those who neglect virtue falsely imagine having acquired a solid and fruitful knowledge because ‘Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins’ (Wisdom 1:4).”

Furthermore, Pope Pius XI dedicated a very beautiful encyclical; Studiorum Ducem3, in order to demonstrate the link between ecclesiastical studies and holiness as exemplified by Saint Thomas.

Saint Thomas enjoyed a wisdom proportioned to his sanctity; furthermore he enjoyed a superior degree of sanctity which was especially true from the moment when the Angels bound his loins with the cincture of chastity.  The enlightenment of the intellect is, indeed, the special fruit of chastity while the result of impurity is to darken the mind.  Saint Thomas was so free from the fires of concupiscence that he was able to enjoy an understanding of divine things similar to that of the Angels who do not have a body.  That is why he is called the Angelic Doctor.

Saint Thomas is the fruit of the Dominican Order

At the same time, St. Thomas must not be separated from the religious order to which he belonged.  It was the soil of the Order of Preachers where he was allowed to show his true worth.  The necessary balance between the practice of the vows of religion, monastic observances, the choral singing of the divine office, and the contemplative study ordered to preaching for the salvation of souls: it is this entire wonderful ensemble that permitted him to develop his Angelic doctrine.  But, since a religious acts only out of obedience, Saint Thomas’ superiors must also be mentioned:

“Must we not acknowledge that they directed him as perfectly as possible in his scientific vocation?   For he was a superior intellect, a genius who during his period of development was not inhibited by his own brethren.   This is a

phenomenon rare enough throughout history even in Religious Orders to deserve to be mentioned and held up as an example.” 4

The Masters General under whose direction he lived his religious life5, and the great saint, Albert-the-Great (1206-1280) who directed him at Cologne are a few superiors of Saint Thomas who must be honored.

We can certainly claim that Saint Thomas is the most beautiful flower, the most beautiful fruit of the Order of Saint Dominic:  the Order whose mission in the Church is to spread the light of truth and combat error in order to save souls.

2. Saint Thomas Aquinas in today’s combat for the faith

Therefore, it is clear from all that has been said how important Saint Thomas is in the contemporary battle for the Faith.  Let us quote Archbishop Lefebvre:

“We do not have the right to contradict the spirit of the Church which has always relied on Saint Thomas throughout its history.  God, Himself, raised up this admirable Doctor and the Church and the Popes have confirmed it, always proclaiming the power of Saint Thomas in rejecting error and heresy.  Since our contemporary age is one replete with heresy, error and paganism, we do not have the right to neglect papal directives. […]  It is very unfortunate that in today’s Roman Universities every possible and imaginable theory is floated without any correction from the authorities.  This is unfortunately due to the infiltration of ecumenism into philosophy as well as the idea of the equality of every theory.  Thomism is considered like everything else – relative – it was a system that was good during a certain period of time but, now we need something else more suited to the needs of the time.  (Archbishop Lefebvre)”6

Study

Saint Thomas is the remedy for the malicious illness of our time – which is Modernism

None other than Saint Pius X, in his encyclical Pascendi, written on the 8th of September, 1907, declares that the primary remediation for Modernism is the study of the philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas:

“Concerning the question of studies, We wish and order that Scholastic philosophy form the basis for the Sacred Studies. […] And when we prescribe Scholastic philosophy, We want to make it clear the We especially mean the philosophy left us by the Angelic Doctor. This is of paramount importance.”

Saint Pius X will again clarify his thought in his Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici of June 29, 1914, concerning the study of the doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas:

“It happened that since We said that the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas especially had to be followed without indicating that it had to be exclusively followed, a number of teachers convinced themselves that they were obeying Our desire, or at the very least, that it was not contradictory if they were to adopt indiscriminately what other scholastics taught about philosophy, even though it was directly in opposition to the principles of Saint Thomas.   But in doing this they were greatly deceived.  When we gave Our seminarians Saint Thomas as the sole leader of Scholastic Philosophy, it goes without saying, that we were talking especially about his principles upon which, as on its foundation, this philosophy rests. […] It is certainly not difficult to understand that if the doctrine of some author or some saint was ever recommended by Us or by Our predecessors with particular enthusiasm, […] it is not difficult to understand that they were recommended in so far as they were in agreement with the principles of Thomas Aquinas or at least they did not oppose his principles in the very least.”

Again, it is Saint Pius X who gives the reason for this:

We wanted to state to all those dedicated to teaching philosophy and sacred theology to be alerted that if they alienated themselves from Thomas Aquinas, in the slightest degree, especially in matters of metaphysics they would experience a tragic loss.”
 

Furthermore, the Church had taken precise measures concerning this matter.  The 1917 Code of Canon Law obliges seminary professors, as well as their students, to “adhere both in philosophy and theology to the method, doctrine and principles of Saint Thomas.” (C. 1366 # 2).  The Dominican Constitution even required professors, the Master of novices and the brothers during their course of study to take an oath to maintain that doctrine.   The doctrine of Saint Thomas is the Church’s doctrine, and the Church is suspicious of anyone straying from it.

The shipwreck of the Conciliar Church

Alienated from the Tradition of the Church, the intellect has no point of reference; it just wanders around (or it loses its way).  This is precisely the spectacle given by the Conciliar Church.

The new Code of Canon Law issued in 1983, does not even explicitly mention Saint Thomas when it comes to philosophical studies in the seminaries!   It only says:

“The philosophical formation ought to always relate to Tradition while at the same time keeping aware of on going philosophical research” (C. 251).

One cannot be more vague.

Let us also quote the incredible declaration of Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI:

“I had difficulty in understanding Saint Thomas Aquinas whose crystalline logic appeared much too enclosed on itself, too impersonal and too stereotyped.”7

At any other time in history, he would not have been ordained a priest.  And in our times, he became the Pope!

One must read the text of Saint Thomas

Following the thought of Saint Pius X we readily see that he insists on reading the text of Saint Thomas itself:

“It is absolutely necessary to return to the ancient custom which, should have never been abandoned, that there be courses taught on the Summa Theologica itself, for the obvious reason that this highly reasoned book renders the Solemn Decrees of the teaching Church and its Acts that naturally follow more easily intelligible.  Because in the wake of the most blessed saintly Doctor, the Church has never held a Council in which he himself were not present with all the richness of his doctrine.  It daily becomes clearer and the experience of so many centuries has made it known, how true the affirmation of Our predecessor John XXII8is right on: [Thomas] enlightened the Church more clearly than all the Doctors, and, in his books, man profits more in one year than if he spent his entire life span studying all the others.”

In addition to the necessity of reading the text of St. Thomas itself, two cogent things should be retained:

  • The Second Vatican Council is the only council which did not rely on the doctrine of the Angelic Doctor; hence the disaster that flows from this omission.
  • Saint Pius X links the study of St. Thomas, in our times, to none other than the Acts of the Holy See.  This is something that was sadly lacking to the Thomists in our times.  Leaning on the principles of the Angelic Doctor, the Popes – up to Pius XII included – assiduously studied modern errors and condemned them.  These lessons were too often ignored and the lack of knowledge of the pontifical texts is an important cause for the lack of reaction against these errors in the Church:  hence their triumph on the occasion of Vatican II.

That is why Archbishop Lefebvre, in order “to transmit in its entire doctrinal purity, as well as in all his missionary charity, just as Our Lord transmitted it to His Apostles as also the Roman Church transmitted it up until the middle of the XXth century,”9 inserted in the first year course on spirituality for the seminarians, courses on the Acts of the Magisterium concerning modern errors which he himself gave in the beginning10.

Preaching

The study of the doctrine of St. Thomas, in itself, ought to be the principal inspiration for preaching for priests.  It is very important to nourish the souls with this doctrine in order to sustain their contemplation and love of God.

Saint Thomas himself, as a true son of Saint Dominic, had consecrated himself to the salvation of souls.  Furthermore, it is Thomas himself who developed the logo for the Order of Preachers: “Contemplari, et contemplate aliis tradere,”:  to contemplate and transmit to others that which you have contemplated.

It would be a grave error and detriment for the faithful to think that Saint Thomas is only reserved for priestsIt would also be wrong to think that, for the faithful, it is only necessary to give moral exhortations or, what is worse, considerations that appeal only to feelings.

Let us quote again the Archbishop:

Let us not think that Saint Thomas is too much for the faithful and that he is distant from their faith, for this is not true and damaging to the faithful.  The philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas are truth.  Therefore let us not say that the truth explained in all its simplicity, and clarity, in addition to its profound logic, cannot be understood by the faithful.  That would be condescension on our part.  This would amount to abandoning and despairing of communicating to the faithful – a profound tragedy.  It goes without saying that one must know how to express and expose these admirable principles.”11

Father Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. tells of having known a little lay sister, who was a contemplative, and who did not possess any human culture to speak of but who had been interiorly enlightened by interior trials:

“She had discovered among the saints two great friends: Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Albert the Great.  In spite of the fact that she lacked any philosophical or theological culture, she, nevertheless, loved to read how these saints prayed and furthermore, addressed them saying: “They are great Doctors of the Church and they enlighten the souls of those who entreat them for help.”  As a matter of fact, Father Garrigou-Lagrange continues to explain that it was St. Thomas who showed her where the obscure tunnel she was crossing would lead her!  And Saint Thomas enlightened many souls, as he had done to the little lay sister, if these poor souls appealed to him.”12

It was well known at Econe, that Msgr. Lefebvre came for a spiritual conference with a single volume of Saint Thomas, and he gave a commentary on an article of the Summa.  These formed the most pleasing lectures experienced by the Seminarians, and especially by the brothers!

It was not something rare, at the Monastery of Avrille, to be surprised to find our (now deceased) brother Marie-Joseph O.P. plunged into one of these same volumes.  He was particularly in love with the treatise on charity.

Conclusion

Let us ask of Our Lord what the Church makes us specially ask for in the Collect and the Postcommunion for the feast of Saint Thomas:

Da nobis et quae docuit, intellectu conspicere:

give us the grace to contemplate what he taught – that is, to nourish ourselves with his doctrine,

et quae egit imitatione complere; ut actus exterius piae operationis excrescent:

give us the grace to resemble him, in order that there may be an increase in our good works,

knowing that the first work of spiritual mercy consists in teaching souls the truth:

Docere ignorantes.


Ten aids to mental prayer

Ten aids to mental prayer

By Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard

(1858-1935)

Abbot of the French Cistercian Monastery of Sept-Fons

This text is an appendix of the book “The soul of the Apostolate”, which was a favorite book of Pope Saint Pius X. The good Pope said he left this spiritual masterpiece by his night stand, so he could read it in his bed.

Mental prayer is the furnace in which we go to renew the custody of the heart.  By our fidelity to our mental prayer all the other exercises of piety will be rekindled.  The soul will gradually acquire vigilance and the spirit of prayer, that is, the habit of having recourse to God more and more frequently.

Union with God in mental prayer will produce an intimate union with Him, even amongst the most absorbing occupations.

The soul, living thus in union with our Lord, by its vigilance, will attract more and more the gifts of the Holy Ghost and the infused virtues, and perhaps God will call it to a higher degree of mental prayer.

That excellent volume, “The ways of Mental Prayer” by Dom Vital Lehodey (Lecoffre, Paris), gives an exact account of what is required for the ascension of the soul by the different degrees of mental prayer, and gives rules for discerning, whether higher mental prayer is truly a gift of God or the result of illusion.

Before discussing affective mental prayer (the first degree of the higher classes to which God as a rule calls only the souls that have reached the state of vigilance by meditation),  Fr. Rigoleuc, S.J., gives in his fine book (Œuvres Spirituelles, Avignon, 1843, page 1 ff.) ten ways of discoursing with God – when after a serious effort, one finds it a moral impossibility to meditate on a subject prepared the night before.

I sum up the pious author:

1st Way. – Take a spiritual book (New Testament or “Imitation of Christ”) – read a few lines at intervals – meditate a little on what has been read, try to fix the sense and impress it on your mind.    Draw from it some holy thought, love, penance etc., resolve to practice this virtue when opportunity offers.

Avoid reading or meditating too much.  Stop at each pause as long as the mind find agreeable and useful converse.

2nd Way. – Take some text of Scripture or some vocal prayer – Pater, Ave, Credo, for instance – repeat it, stopping after each word, drawing from it various sentiments of piety on which you dwell as long as it pleases you.

At the end, ask God for some grace or virtue, according to the subject meditated upon.

You are not to stop on any word if it wearies or tires you, but if you find nothing more to think on, pass on quietly to another.  When you are touched by some good thought, dwell on it as long as it lasts without troubling to go any further.   Nor is it necessary to make fresh acts always, it is sometimes enough to keep in God’s presence, reflecting in silence on the words already meditated or in enjoying the feelings they have already produced in your heart.

3rd Way. – When the prepared subject matter does not give you enough scope, or room for free action, make acts of faith, adoration, thanksgiving, hope, love, and so on, letting them range as wide and free as you please, pausing at each one to let it sink in.

4th Way. – When meditation is impossible, and you are too helpless and dried-up to produce a single affection, tell Our Lord that it is your intention to make an act, for example, of contrition, every time you draw breath, or pass a bead of the rosary between your fingers, or say, vocally, some short prayer.

Renew this assurance of your intention from time to time, and then if God suggests some other good thought, receive it with humility, and dwell upon it.

5th Way. – In time of trial or dryness, if you are completely barren and powerless to make any acts or to have any thoughts, abandon yourself generously to suffering, without anxiety, and without making any effort to avoid it, making no other acts except this self-abandonment into the hands of God to suffer this trial and all it may please Him to send.

Or else you may unite your prayer with Our Lord’s Agony in the garden of desolation upon the cross.   See yourself attached to the Cross with the Saviour and stir yourself up to follow His example, and remain there suffering without flinching, until death.

6th Way. – A survey of your own conscience. – Admit your defects, passions, weaknesses, infirmities, helplessness, misery, nothingness. – Adore God’s judgments with regard to the state in which you find yourself. – Submit to His holy will. – Bless Him both for His punishments and for the favors of His mercy. – Humble yourself before His sovereign Majesty. – Sincerely confess your sins and infidelities to Him and ask Him to forgive you. – Take back all your false judgments and errors. – Detest all the wrong you have done, and resolve to correct yourself in the future.

This kind of prayer is very free and unhampered, and admits of all kinds of affections.  It can be practiced at all times, especially in some unexpected trial, to submit to the punishments of God’s justice, or as a means of regaining recollection after a lot of activity and distracting affairs.

7th Way. – Conjure up a vivid picture of the Last Things.  Visualize yourself in agony, between time and eternity – between your past life and the judgment of God. – What would you wish to have done?  How would you want to have lived?  – Think of the pain you will feel then. – Call to mind your sins, your negligence, your abuse of grace. – How would you like to have acted in this or that situation?  – Make up your mind to adopt a real, practical means of remedying those defects which give you reason for anxiety.

Visualize yourself dead, buried, rotting, forgotten by all.  See yourself before the Judgment-seat of Christ: in purgatory—in hell.

The more vivid the picture, the better will be your meditation.

We all need this mystical death, to get the flesh off of our soul, and to rise again, that is, to get free from corruption and sin.  We need to get through this purgatory, in order to arrive at the enjoyment of God in this life.

8th Way. — Apply your mind to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  Address yourself to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  With all the respect that His Real Presence demands, unite yourself to Him and to all His operations in the Eucharist, where He is ceaselessly adoring, praising, and loving His Father, in the name of all men, and in the condition of a victim.

Realize His recollection, His hidden life, His utter privation of everything, obedience, humility, and so on. – Stir yourself up to imitate this, and resolve to do so according as the occasions arise.

Offer up Jesus to the Father, as the only Victim worthy of Him, and by whom we offer homage to Him.   Thank Him for His gifts, satisfy His justice, and oblige His mercy to help us.

Offer yourself to sacrifice your being, your life, your work.  Offer up to Him some act of virtue you propose to perform, some mortification upon which you have resolved, with a view to self-conquest, and offer this for the same ends for which Our Lord immolates Himself in the Holy Sacraments.  – Make this offering with an ardent desire to add as much as possible to the glory He gives to His Father in this august mystery.

End with a spiritual Communion.

This is an excellent form of prayer, especially for your visit to the Blessed Sacrament.  Get to know it well, because our happiness in this life depends on our union with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

9th Way. — This prayer is to be made in the name of Jesus Christ.  It will arouse our confidence in God, and help us to enter into the spirit and the sentiments of Our Lord.

Its foundation is the fact that we are united to the Son of God, and are His brothers, members of His Mystical Body; that He has made over to us all His merits, and left us the legacy of all the rewards owed Him by His Father for His labors and death.  And this is what makes us capable of honoring God with a worship worthy of Him, and gives us the right to treat with God, and, as it were, to exact His graces of Him as though by justice.  – As creatures, we have not this right, still less as sinners, for there is an infinite disproportion between God and creatures, and infinite opposition between God and sinners.  But because we are united to the Incarnate Word, and are His brothers, and His members, we are enabled to appear before God with confidence, and speak familiarly with Him and oblige Him to give us a favorable hearing, to grant our requests, and to grant us His graces, because of the alliance and union between us and His Son.

Hence, we are to appear before God either to adore, to praise, or to love Him, by Jesus Christ working in us as the Head in His members, lifting us up, by His spirit, to an entirely divine state, or else to ask some favor in virtue of the merits of His Son.  And for that purpose we should remind Him of all that His well beloved Son has done for Him, His life and death, and His sufferings, the reward for which belongs to us because of the deed of gift by which He has made it over to us.

And this is the spirit in which we should recite the Divine Office.

10th Way. – Simple attention to the presence of God, and meditation.

Before starting out to meditate on the prepared topic, put yourself in the presence of God without making any other distinct thought, or stirring up in yourself any other sentiment except the respect and love for God which His presence inspires.  – Be content to remain thus before God, in silence, in simple repose of the spirit as long as it satisfies you.  After that, go on with your meditation in the usual way.

It is a good thing to begin all your prayer in this way, and worth while to return to it after every point. – Relax in this simple awareness of God’s presence. – It is a way to gain real interior recollection. – You will develop the habit of centering your mind upon God and thus gradually pave the way for contemplation. – But do not remain this way out of pure laziness or just to avoid the trouble of making a meditation.