Presentation of Bishop Dom Thomas Aquinas O.S.B. (Part 1)
Miguel Ferreira da Costa (the future Father Thomas Aquinas) was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1954. He subsequently lived in Volta Redonda, where his father worked in an important steel factory, until 1962, when his family came back to Rio. After his instruction at St. Benedict’s College in Rio de Janeiro, he started his studies in law.
Around the age of 13 he attended one of the weekly conferences given voluntarily by the anti-modernist writer Gustavo Corção to a little group of faithful, desiring to better know the treasures of the Catholic faith:
“I came back during 7 years, encouraged by my mother who barely missed any of these conferences. My father always attended them when his work allowed him to. It’s in that occasion that I had the chance to know Mr. Julio Fleichman and his wife, etc..”
The young Miguel Ferreira da Costa went to see Gustavo Corção in 1972, to open his heart about his vocation and to ask him to which seminary he should go. At this time, Gustavo Corção did not yet know Archbishop Lefebvre:
«”Tell you where to go?”, answered Gustavo Corção, “I can’t. What I can tell you is where not to go. You’ll have a hard time finding where they don’t teach fooly things […]” It’s then that Mrs Pierotti, Corção’s secretary, spoke to me about Archbishop Lefebvre and Ecône: «If you were my son, that’s where I would send you».
Miguel Ferreira da Costa wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre who addressed him to the seminary of Bishop de Castro Mayer in Campos, a city in the State of Rio de Janeiro. He went there, but he was discouraged by the influence of the TFP movement (“Tradition, Family, Property”) in the seminary. Then, he heard about the priory that Dom Gérard founded in Bédoin, Provence (France), at the foot of Mount Ventoux. Gustavo Corção told him: «Go there. If it’s not good, come back.»
“Without realizing it, he had made a prophecy, because that’s how this adventure was going to finish, through ways ordained “mightly and softly” by Divine Providence. In the meantime, Dom Gérard wrote that he accepted me. From Ecône arrived a letter too. The director of the seminary, the canon Berthod, opened his doors too. To make a long story short, I went to Dom Gérard, which was not the best choice.”
Miguel Ferreira da Costa arrived in France in May 1974, in the little Provencal monastery of Bédoin, where Dom Gérard Calvet was following the traditional Benedictine monastic life since 1971. On October 2, he received the religious habit along with the religious name of Thomas Aquinas, and started his novitiate. On the occasion of his vows in 1976, Gustavo Corção came to the monastery to attend to the ceremony. At that time Dom Gérard and the monks were united in heart and thought with Archbishop Lefebvre who gave the Holy Orders to the monks of the monastery. In 1980, after his ordination in Ecône, Father Thomas Aquinas and the monks moved to the Barroux, leaving with sorrow, Bédoin, which had become too small.
Despite the enthusiasm which reigned at the monastery, Father Thomas Aquinas perceived a lack of philosophical and theological formation of the monks:
“There was already something very disturbing which explains, in my opinion, the drift which our community would have come to know some years later. […] The formation given in Bédoin, when I arrived and until my ordination, was pretty informal. Dom Gérard, it’s true, invited a few devoted and learned religious who came to give us some courses.
[…] But these conferences and even these courses didn’t form a structured whole, capable of giving us a true and solid formation. The courses, anyway, weren’t given in the correct order and, for the most part, they remained unfinished. Dom Gérard then improvised the role of professor to teach us some treatises […] but in a too summarized way, sadly. He also asked the monks to give each other some of the courses when we weren’t yet capable enough to do so. There were too few classes per week and the exams were very rare. And so, many subjects were more or less unknown or misunderstood by the first generation of Bédoin. […]
Dom Gérard’s way of going about things was more artistic than realistic. According to him, St. Thomas had his system. Other people had others. This left a doubt on the true value of a purely scholastic formation and of its real necessity, as St. Pius X presents it in the encyclical Pascendi, and in the Code of Canon Law. […] As a result, all we knew about the scholastic method was its name; and for the Summa Theologica, we learned the conclusions without understanding the argumentation. We contemplated from the outside the Church’s beautiful doctrinal edifice without truly penetrating in the interior, and if at times we entered a bit it was as lay men and not as professionals. One may say that the role of monks is not to become theologians, that contemplatives don’t need a lot of knowledge in order to devote themselves to contemplation. That could be true in some cases but, if we were destined to the priesthood, if we were monks and priests, if among us some were destined one day to teach, then, it can hardly be conceived not to be formed in the method of St. Thomas, according to the directives of the Holy See, most especially in the actual crisis. […]
Without falling into the excess of saying that in Bédoin and Barroux we were modernists, it’s certain that we didn’t have in Dom Gérard the same purity, vigilance and doctrinal assurance of Archbishop Lefebvre. If we weren’t modernists, the environment which reigned there didn’t protect us enough against their doctrines nor against a certain liberalism.”
It’s in 1975 that Father Thomas Aquinas saw for the first time Archbishop Lefebvre, who came to Bédoin to give the minor orders to the brothers Jean de Belleville and Joseph Vannier:
“The homily of Archbishop Lefebvre impressed me by its serenity. It radiated peace, that peace which is the motto of the Benedictines, and which he seemed to have more than us all.”
Father Thomas Aquinas attended at the ordinations in Ecône in 1976, which were a prelude to the «hot summer». However, it wasn’t until the year of study and rest which he passed at the seminary St. Pius X in Ecône in 1984-1985, that he had a personal contact with Archbishop Lefebvre:
“Taking advantage of the presence of Archbishop Lefebvre, I could see him often. His paternal goodness made his conversations easy. […] On March 12, 1985, Archbishop Lefebvre spoke to me about the question of an agreement with Rome.
I think Archbishop Lefebvre broached this topic because of Dom Gérard who, at that time, […] was trying to obtain the support of Archbishop Lefebvre for what he wanted to do.”
Thanks to the notes that he had the habit of writing up after each meeting, Father Thomas Aquinas reveals to us some enlightening words of Archbishop Lefebvre:
“Be subject to men who have not the fullness of the Catholic faith? Submit to men who proclaim principles contrary to the principles of the Church? Either we will be obliged to break with them once more and the situation will become worse than before or we will be lead imperceptibly to the lessening and to the loss of the faith. There is also a third possibility. A very difficult life because of frequent contact with men who do not have the Catholic faith, leading to the disorientation and to the decrease of the spirit of combat of the faithful.(..) Our position, such as it is now, allows us to remain united in the faith. All those who have wanted to compromise with the modernists have veered off course. I think that we must not submit to them. I am very distrustful. I spend whole nights thinking about that. It is not we who must sign something. It is they who must sign something guaranteeing that they accept the doctrine of the Church. They want our submission but they do not give us doctrine.”
Reverend Father Thomas Aquinas also noted that as early as 1984 or 85, Dom Gérard went to Rome to negotiate for the regularization of the monastery of Le Barroux:
He went to see Cardinal Ratzinger and came back dazzled by him. ²The Cardinal, he said, is someone with whom one can work. Archbishop Lefebvre is too withdrawn.” And he imitated the attitude of the Archbishop as someone sulking in his corner. “Moreover it is not necessary that it be Archbishop Lefebvre who ordains our priests. Another bishop can do it just as well, provided that it is with the old rite”. We had cold shivers down our backs when we heard all that. (…) At the end of 1986, I set off for Brazil with Father Joseph Vannier to look at a plot of land with a view to a new foundation. I was rather relieved to be leaving Le Barroux where the atmosphere was becoming more and more oppressive. You could feel that the monastery was on a slippery slope.
On May 3rd, 1987 the monastery of Santa Cruz was officially founded and Father Thomas Aquinas became the prior. The monastery is situated near Nova Friburgo, a town situated in the north-central part of the State of Rio de Janeiro. Relations between the new foundation and Le Barroux deteriorated rapidly as Dom Thomas Aquinas recounts:
“Next came the years of the foundation of Santa Cruz, during which time Archbishop Lefebvre helped us with his precious counsel. My conscience was very disturbed because of the liturgical modifications introduced into the Mass by Dom Gérard.[…] So I wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre who, although not approving Dom Gérard, advised me to maintain good relations with the monastery of Le Barroux in France. But these good relations with our monastery in France were not going to last long. Dom Gérard, after the consecrations, was to make an agreement which was going to put our monasteries under the authority of the modernists.”
Here is the judgment of Father Thomas Aquinas on Le Barroux and its founder:
“In this way Dom Gérard destroyed his work. This work, despite its deficiencies, was for all that a beautiful work . The offices were said there with much care, the monastic virtues were held in honour there and we had very good vocations which came to us from families who were truly Catholic and traditional. Dom Gérard had wanted to form a traditional monastery but he lacked an in-depth understanding of the present crisis. Dom Gérard saw the necessity of keeping the Mass of all-time; of keeping the monastic observances but he did not see with sufficient clarity the dangers of modernism and liberalism. The most profound aspect of the present crisis eluded him. All that allows us to measure more accurately the value of Archbishop Lefebvre and his work. It is the Archbishop who saw correctly, it is he who discerned the evil, it is he who understood all the gravity of the situation. The Archbishop had a vision of faith, a vision which was theological in the most precise sense of the word. This was lacking in Dom Gérard who, like Jean Madiran, saw the defection of the diocesan bishops rather than that of the conciliar Popes, alas.[…] When the news of the agreements reached us, we were already expecting it. At first we thought of leaving Santa Cruz and leaving everything for Dom Gérard and those who wanted to follow him.
A letter from Archbishop Lefebvre made us change our minds and we kept Santa Cruz in the bosom of Tradition. […] Dom Gérard, when he came to Brazil, had to leave again without obtaining what he was hoping for. After these painful events we had no more contact with him. On the other hand Archbishop Lefebvre became more and more what he is for all faithful Catholics, i.e. the faithful successor of the apostles who gave us the doctrine and the sacraments of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls. To him we owe our eternal gratitude.
August 18, 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre wrote a letter to Father Thomas Aquinas in which he said:
“ How much I regretted that you had left before the events at Le Barroux. It would have been easier to consider the situation provoked by Dom Gérard’s disastrous decision. […] Dom Gérard, in his declaration, reports what is given to him and accepts putting himself under obedience to modernist Rome, which remains fundamentally anti-traditional, which was the cause of my estrangement. At the same time he would like to keep the friendship and support of traditionalists, which is inconceivable. He accuses us of “ resistance-ism”. Yet I warned him. But his decision was taken a long time ago and he no longer wanted to listen to reason. From now on the consequences are inescapable. We will have no further links with Le Barroux and we will warn all our faithful to no longer support a work which is now in the hands of our enemies, the enemies of Our Lord and His universal Reign.
The Benedictine sisters are in anguish. They came to see me. I advised them what I advise you also: keep your liberty and refuse all links with this modernist Rome. Dom Gérard uses all the arguments to lull the resisters. […] You should have a meeting with Fathers Laurent and the Argentinian Father John of the Cross as well as with the novices. With the three of you and the novices of Campos you can continue and constitute a monastery independent of Rome. You must not hesitate to affirm this publicly. God will bless you. And you could then, after some time, set up a monastery again in France, you would be very well supported and would have vocations. Dom Gérard has killed his own work. Father Tam will tell you in person what I have not written. I beg Our Lady to come to your aid in defence of the honour of her divine Son. May God bless you and your monastery.”
(To be continued)