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:
- “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!”
- “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.”
- “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
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:
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.
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 priests. It 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.
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:
- God is speaking to St. Catherine of Sienna in The Dialogue, Treatise on Prayer, ch. 26.
- It was suppressed by Pope John the XXIII.
- Encyclical Letter Studiorum Ducem, June 29, 1923, on the occasion of the 6th century canonization of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
- L. H. Petitot O.P. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Editions Revue des Jeunes, 1923, p. 52.
- This concerns the Blesseds John-the Teuton (1241-1252), Humbert-de-Romans (1254-1263) and Jean de Verceil (1264-1283).
- Archbishop Lefebvre, The spirit of our statutes, Retreat preached to the seminarians in Écône, September 1988, fourth conference.
- Joseph Ratzinger, My Life, Paris, Fayard, 1998, p.51.
- Pope Jean XXII, Allocution to the Consistory for the occasion of the canonization of Saint Thomas, 1328.
- Msgr. Lefebvre, Spiritual Journey following Thomas Aquinas in the Summa, Angelus Press, Preface.
- These courses were edited into a book, under the title: Against heresies (Angelus Press).
- Archbishop Lefebvre, The spirit of our statutes, Retreat preached to the seminarians in Écône, September 1988, fourth conference.
- Fr Garrigou-Lagrange O.P., The Three Ages of interior life, Volume II, Fourth Part, chapter IV.