|A Symposium: St. Thomas Aquinas and the Third Millennium:For Dominican Educators in Higher EducationDominican Conference Center
River Forest, Illinois
April 9-11, 1999
|This hour-long talk may be heard by clicking here.|
|Extraordinary Plenary Session: Friday, April 10, 7:30 p.m.|
Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Third Millennium
by Leonard Boyle, O.P.
Leonard Boyle, Dominican, retired Prefect of the Vatican Library, Medievalist, Professor of Palaeography, Chairman of the Leonine Commission, died of cancer in Rome at the age of 75 on October 25, 1999. This presentation may have been his last public paper, and so, a final encouraging word to his Dominican brothers and sisters.
[Replying to the introduction of Sr. Joan Franks, O.P.] Thank you very much Joan, I hope I haven’t lost my voice. When I brushed my teeth upstairs at 7 o’clock, I lost my voice! Thank you very much Joan, for this introduction, which wasn’t as embarassing as I thought it might be.
The Young Student, Thomas
And I’m beginning this with a classical captatio benevolentiae in the form of a handout, since I firmly believe that if you give people something to take away, they will go away firmly convinced that they really have got something to take away. The handout has very little to do with the content of this lecture, and nothing at all to do with the title, but it is simply a way of drawing attention to a young moment in the life of Thomas Aquinas.
Because of his towering reputation, it is easy to forget that Thomas was once an ordinary student, and that he was not at all perfect from the outset of his Dominican life. Recently I came across and published a fragment of a commentary on the Pseudo-Dionysian De caelesti hierarchia by Albert the Great, Thomas’ teacher, that Thomas had copied while a student at Paris, under Albert in 1245 to 1248, when he was in his 20’s. This fragment, of which you each now have a copy as a souvenir, is in a reliquary in Salerno Cathedral and it was taken centuries ago from an autograph manuscript of Thomas now in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples, a manuscript which once had belonged to the Dominicans of San Domenico, Naples, Thomas’ last abode.
Now it is reasonably certain that the commentary of Albert on the De caelesti hierarchia is from the years that he and the young Thomas of Aquino were together in the Dominican studium at Paris at Saint Jacques, 1245 to 1248. For the many scholars who have worked on this period of the careers of Albert and Thomas, this Naples autograph is the textual source, directly or indirectly the archetype, if you wish, of all the known copies of this commentary of Albert, and the editors of the recent Cologne edition — four or five years ago — of that commentary of Albert have taken this for granted.
Now I have never seen — examined — the whole autograph at Naples, but only this fragment of some 38 lines. What you’ve got in front of you is 19 lines on one side, 19 on the other I didn’t give you. Now from an examination of these 38 lines, against the surviving manuscripts of Albert’s commentary on the De caelesti hierarchia, all of which are supposed to depend upon that Naples manuscript, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Naples autograph is a very wayward copy of Albert’s commentary. It’s just not correct. Even in the short 38 lines here in the Salerno fragment, it’s quite clear that this is a very personal copy which Thomas made for himself, and that that less than brilliantly. There are notable lapses and at least one instance where he skipped a line, through homoioteleuton, which, as you all know, means “lines with similar endings”, so you skip, as you do in typing. On one occasion he added a phrase or two for his own benefit, to make more explicit what Albert had said. So in no way can the Naples manuscript be the exemplar, the archetype on which all these other manuscripts depend, as all scholars and the recent edition have maintained to that.
This is the young Thomas, industrious, but far from infallible. And it is one of the few occasions when we see Thomas as an ordinary Dominican, struggling along like the rest of us, and not always getting things right. He misspells horribly. Later on we shall see if he improved with age.
The Woman at the Well
Now having thus captured your benevolence, by putting Thomas on a level with all of us, I’m going to take off in this rambling address, from a passage in St. John’s Gospel, which had a very great appeal for me, ever since I chanced on the commentary of Thomas on it when I was a young student in Tallagh over fifty years ago. That’s the passage on the “woman at the well.”
In its own right it is a marvelous story, well and marvelously told. The setting of the story is one of the most detailed of the New Testament. It may well be that the evangelist has taken up an historical moment in the life of Jesus and fleshed it out in order to press home the teaching of Jesus. Certainly he presents the story brilliantly. His use of a wide range of rhetorical techniques: misunderstanding, irony, a Greek chorus of villagers, makes this one of the most vivid and dramatic scenes in the gospels. The whole passage is full of rich symbolism and doctrine. But here I shall confine myself to a brief consideration of the woman at the well as such.
At one level she is a paradigm of a soul struggling to rise from a preoccupation with material things, to a belief in Jesus and his word. What is more, she is, as a Samaritan, the first recorded non-Jewish convert and the first fruit of the mission to the gentiles. It matters little that her belief is at best imperfect. What is important for us as Dominicans as it seems to have been for Thomas is that the gentle, deft and tolerant manner in which Jesus sows in her the seed of belief is in itself a model for preachers and teachers of the word.
The woman at the well is the first known non-Jewish apostle. At this level she is indeed as she was for Thomas in his commentary, the model of an apostle. For, as Thomas says, as soon as she had come to some understanding of what Jesus had to say to her, she rushed off, full of excitement, leaving her precious water jar behind her, to convey the good, exhilarating news to her fellow villagers. “Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did. Could this be the messiah?”(John 4:28f)
It’s an excitement about the word that is the heart and soul of the Order of Preachers. We are preachers of the word. That is our being and purpose. As Humbert of Romans, the fifth master, said some seven and a half centuries ago: “Ours is a name which should not be treated as an empty title, best forgotten. But rather one to which we should live up fully everywhere.” Non est secaliendum sed potius authenticandum ubique.
Technlology and the Word
Because of this vocation of ours, everything that can possibly be brought into the service of the word should be sought out, and harnessed unashamedly to our needs as preachers. This is not to suggest something innovative. From the earliest days of the order the search for the most effective means of communicating the word, was not just a priority, but one of the hallmarks of the order. To take only a few examples from the many possible ones, as early as the 1230’s Hugh of St. Cher and his students at Saint Jacques in Paris, produced the first concordance to the bible, and this in order to make the richness of the bible as accessible as possible to the brethren in their preaching. A little later, Dominicans at Paris and Oxford divided each age of the bible into seven parts, numbered A to G, so that references in the concordances could be located more readily.
These two seemingly trivial moments in the history of the Order, are as it happens, highly regarded by historians of technology. From this point of view Dominicans should not be at a distance from technological advances, but rather should attempt as adroitly as possible to press them into the service of the word. We were in the forefront once; we should not lag behind now, or as the General Chapter in Rome in 1983 nicely put it, with respect to the communications explosion, [we should not] give ourselves over to fear where there is nothing to be feared. And from this point of view it is good to read in a recent issue of I.D.I., of the initiatives of St. Martin’s province called “Preachers’ Exchange,” on the internet, and in the wake of proposals made of the General Chapter of Bologna last summer, of steps being taken in the Province of Toulouse, to set up a Dominican Internet University.
It was indeed in a similarly fearless way, that the then hazardous means of intense study, in every possible branch of knowledge, was worked into the service of the word, from the outset of the Order. As Humbert again says: “For one’s salvation a modest amount of learning is sufficient. But it is not enough if one wishes to teach others the way of salvation.” Hence he goes on:” Study within the Dominican Order is engaged in more principally with respect to its usefulness to others, and in respect of ourselves, or of our own interests. Accordingly the secular sciences are not to be excluded from our training for the service of the word.” For as he says, “By these sciences, our intellect is sharpened, the better to penetrate divine things.” The supreme example here, of course, is Thomas himself, reaching as he did, tirelessly into the pluralistic treasury for secular sciences, Aristotle, particularly, the better to penetrate divine things.
Study and the Dominican Order
But no matter how much the Order was in the vanguard of communication and study in medieval times, these were never looked upon as ends in themselves. Like study, communication is a means, not an end, for a Dominican. The end is the spreading of the saving word of God. And only when that word has been grasped as fully as possible, may one effectively begin to communicate.
To return for a moment to the woman at the well, what is notable about her as a convert, Thomas says, is not how she spread the word about Jesus, but rather when she began to spread it. She did not rush off headlong. She waited until she had heard Jesus out. In other words, before one rushes to communicate, one should have something to communicate.
For a Dominican above all, communication cannot be other than reflection shared — contemplata aliis tradere — and reflection shared at all sorts of levels of communication . But no matter what the level, we may not lose sight of our origin, of our reason for being, of the reason why, as Humbert says, “Study is in comparison with other orders, a prerogative of ours.”
The Twin Mission
We are preachers as envisioned by the Fourth Lateran Council, whose creature we are. In the light of IV Lateran our preaching mission is rather wider than it is generally presented. Of course the original mission of the Order was preaching the word. And it was a direct result of the Constitution Inter cetera of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 under Pope Innocent III, according to which bishops who were overworked, or who were not up to the demands of preaching, should establish groups of preachers in their dioceses as their helpers and co-workers in the pastoral care.
Dominic Guzman who was at the council with his Diocesan bishop, Foulques of Toulouse, was convinced that in the band of preachers he had set up shortly before at Toulouse, he had a means of making sure that this constitution, Inter cetera, would not remain a dead letter.
A little more than a year later in January 1217, he obtained from the new pope, Honorius III, a mandate, Gratiarum omnium, that gave general approval to the work of preaching, already begun at Toulouse.
Now preaching, as such, was not the only function specified in the Latin constitution, Inter cetera. For the constitution had explicitly joined the office of hearing confessions to that of preaching. In other words, preaching, for the Fourth Lateran Council, that constitution, is twofold: the word as presented in preaching, the word as effective in purifying hearts, or calling them to penance. But it was not so in fact. What Dominic brought in 1217 was only the first part, preaching. It was not until four years later, in an encyclical Cum qui recipit prophetam (4 Feb. 1221), that Honorius III, Innocent’s successor, also committed the further preaching function of confessing and counseling to the Order of Dominic.
This twin papal mission, and this wider view of preaching, cause and effect, hardly gets a mention in histories of the Order, or indeed in discussions of the place of study. There are those, indeed, who question the authenticity of Cum qui recipit, and counseling of 1221, yet the earliest constitutions of the Order clearly envisage both prongs of Inter cetera.
So does Humbert in his Commentary on the Rule of St. Augustine, when echoing that mandate of 1221, he states, “The fruit of preaching is garnered in confessing and counseling.” Fructus praedicationis colligitur in confessionibus et in consiliis animarum, which is straight from Cum qui recipit.
Now here Thomas is a very compelling witness, and I shall return to this time and again. Thomas in his defense of study and teaching by religious orders in his Contra impugnantes of 1260, he quotes Inter cetera, that’s the constitution of the Fourth Lateran, he quote it several times on preaching and confession. And starting from the fact that many secular priests are unprepared for preaching and counseling, as in that constitution of IV Lateran, Imperitia multorum sacerdotum, Thomas sets out to prove, and I quote him, that “Happily there can be a religious order instituted to aid bishops in both these areas”. And then, a little further on, he drives the point home when he states, “Indeed, such an order was instituted by the Apostolic See for this purpose in praedicatione, in confessionibus audiendis as one may see from its name.”
Preaching and counseling. From this point of view the Dominican Order is very much a child of its time. And Thomas was nothing if not aware of it.
Pastoral Care, the Cura Animarum
The thirteenth century has been described as one of the greatest intellectual centuries in the life of the Church. True indeed. But it is more than that. It is the first century in the life of the Church when there was a general pastoral sensitivity. In the twelfth century, a sense of the pastoral care, the cura animarum, had begun to take shape from the time of the parochial or parish priest is first mentioned by name at the Second Lateran Council of 1123, the first time the word parish priest occurs.
By 1179 at the Third Lateran Council parishes and parishioners are being discussed at the level of a council for the very first time. By the time of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the first explicitly pastoral council in the history of the Church, the pastoral care had come to be a force, and priests engaged in this cura animarum had acquired an identity that was acknowledged and sanctioned by the Church. For the Council, the ars artium [art of all arts] was the regimen animarum [regulation of souls].
The upsurge of various well-meaning but unorthodox groups in the twelfth century had shown how threadbare was the preparation of the parochial clergy for the pastoral care at the very moment when high and relevant teaching was being developed in the schools, especially on penance and matrimony.
Literature of the Cura Animarum
By 1200 the clergy in the parishes are aware of but uninformed in these new developments at Bologna, and Paris, where as the theologian Robert Curçon put it in 1209: “Hammering at the gates of theology.” As a result a manualist literature to meet this demand began to appear around 1200 and would blossom tremendously after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
It was in this awakening and in this new, shall we call it, literacy of the pastoral care that the Dominican Order came to be, and with its twin mission of preaching and counseling became the mainstay of a new, vibrant literature of the pastoral care. Manuals for confessors, aids to preachers, visual aids, biblical concordances, lives of the saints, tracts on virtues and vices, anything, anything whatever that would bring the word of God more vividly to souls and enhance them in the image of God. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the whole intellectual mission of the Dominican Order owes as much, de facto, to this literature of the cura animarum, as it does to the straight mission of preaching. There are oodles of manuals on hearing confessions and counseling souls. There isn’t one on the art of preaching until much, much later.
For the most part these manuals and aids were aimed at the pastoral education of the so-called “fratres communes” of the Order, the “rank and file”, although it doesn’t sound good, that is, the general body of the brethren whose chief occupation was preaching and counseling of souls. These “fratres communes” are the “iuniores [youngsters],” the “simplices [unsophisticated]” to whom preface after preface is dedicated by the picked brethren who had had the benefit of higher education at a studium generale or a studium provinciale and who now attempted in manuals or small tracts to communicate their learning to those of their brethren, the vast majority of the Order, engaged directly in the cura animarum or cure of souls, contemplata aliis tradere very concretely, indeed.
This was not a chance occurrence, this sort of dissemination. From the earliest days of the Order the greatest care was taken to see that all of the brethren, the communes [ordinary]with the docibiles [teachable], the lectores and doctores had a formal training, and that that training had pastoral bearing.
As the prologue to the very first Constitutions puts it, “All our study should be principally towards this, to attempt to be as useful as possible to the souls of our neighbors.” Now look, the context here is dispensations from any observance impeding study, preaching and the good of souls. So it is hardly correct, as is sometimes done, and Tugwell does it in his “Sources” book, to render “studium” as “zeal” or “goal” or “thrust”. It’s “study”.
The Doctrinal Gap
For all its brilliance and pastoral sensitivity, there is a negative side to this “summist” tradition that sprang from the mission to council souls. Although study of the scriptures was in the foreground, there is a notable lack of what one may term dogmatic or systematic theology. In the earliest constitutions, 1220-1228, it was laid down that each province had to provide every student sent to Paris with at least three books of theology, which they were to study and understand. The Historia Scholastica, or continuous history from Creation to the Ascension, of Peter Comestor, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and thirdly, a Bible with Glosses. These are the three texts which according to Humbert, each lector should teach in each house, and which Thomas taught when he was lector at Orvieto. But neither here, nor in Humbert’s famous list of 1260 of the books which should be in the ready reference area of each convent, is there a trace of, for example, a Summa de sacramentis, not to speak of a Summa of sacra doctrina. Scientific theology insofar as it occurs in Humbert’s list is represented by Raymond’s Summa de casibus and the Summa de vitiis et virtutibus of William Peraldus, the two wellsprings as it happens of Dominican practical or moral theology.
This gap in the “summist” system, a doctrinal gap, if you wish, is precisely what Thomas aimed at closing with his Summa. All Dominican authors of summae previous to Thomas, had striven valiantly, and at times brilliantly, to cover various areas of learning for their confreres and fratres communes. Raymond and his fellow summists for confessional practice and counseling in general, Peraldus for vices and virtues, Og [?] of Denmark for missionaries, William of Tournai for the instruction of children, James of Verraze and his Legenda Aurea for the lives of saints and preaching, Simon of Hinton for the theological needs of his English brethren as they went the rounds of England. Now Thomas went further than anything hitherto attempted, he provided a summa of general theology, a manual which dealt with God, Trinity, creation and Incarnation, as well as with man, in the image of God, his strengths and his weaknesses.
To me the Summa is Thomas, the Dominican’s own and very personal and very pointed contribution to the exclusively practical and hence lopsided system of education for the cura animarum which had prevailed in the Dominican order since its earliest days through these small manuals.
In one of his Quodlibets at Paris between 1268-1271, Thomas is very clear on what the role of the theologian should be in relation to the cura animarum. Doctors of theology, are, as it were, he says, the chief architects of the spiritual edifice that is the cura animarum. “They find, and then teach, how other should advance the spiritual foundation of souls,” inquirent et docent qualiter alii debeant salutem animarum procurare. This, I submit, is what Thomas, the Doctor Veritatis, was about in his Summa. Not, I hasten to add, theology in the service of the cura animarum, but theology as the cura animarum. Sacra doctrina, not in the abstract, but in the concrete. To adapt his own words in that Quodlibet, he composed his Summa from what he had found out in his own studies, in order to teach his own brethren, and I quote, “…how they should advance the salvation of souls. How they should and could better engage in that never-ending development and safeguarding of the image of God in God’s creatures that is the cura animarum.”
Study then was, is, and always should be of prime importance to the Dominican way of life at any level. As Humbert nicely says: “Study belongs to our profession as religious.” Or as Thomas has it in reference surely to his own order in the Contra impugnantes : “There are some religious who have teaching as a goal by the very constitution of their order,” Aliqui religiosi sunt qui doctrinam ex institutione sui ordinis habet.
We all know of the early and to some shocking injunction in our constitutions to recite the Divine Office, breviter et succincte so as not to encroach too much on study time. But perhaps not everyone is aware of the manner, playful it may be, in which Thomas makes more or less the same point in introducing his study of the angels in his prologue to his De substantiis separatis. He says: “The fact that we are not in a position to join in the liturgical celebrations of the angels does not mean that we are now in a position to fritter away the time that’s gained. Rather we should make up for what has been snatched from the recital of psalms with the angels by devoting the time to writing about them.”
The “Societas Studii”
For Thomas a Dominican convent or house is a societas studii, as he puts it in his Contra impugnantes. Study should not be in isolation, or looked upon as something geared to the perfection of the individual. The convent is a place for teamwork, a collegium studii or cooperative, engaged in teaching and learning. It’s in this vein that he dedicates his De ente et essentia “ad fratres socios,” to his brothers who has worked with him as a team.
Societas studii. Thomas certainly was the beneficiary of such a concept. Without the assistance of a number of socii, five at least, Thomas hardly could have accomplished all that he did accomplish. As a Doctor Veritatis he looked for truth or a trace of truth wherever it was to be found, for the bettering of his brethren, and for the bettering of their cura animarum. And knowing this his brethren did not let him work in isolation. They may not always understood just what he was up to, and most notably in the case of the Summa Theologiae, but at least they supported him to the best of their ability. Societas studii, but a societas studii not for its own sake but in the service of the cura animarum.
To scholars of Avicenna, Aristotle, Averroes, and all the other great thinkers commented on or used by Thomas, this approach of Thomas is sometimes hard to take. It is easier, more palatable, to think of Thomas as functioning on two levels. One level, he is the splendid, independent, original thinker. On another level he acknowledges from time to time, the pastoral care, the cura animarum because he is involved in an order which is working in that area.
This is indeed easier than seeing him as he really was, a theologian who always had in mind the cura animarum, and the twin purpose of his order in everything that he did. From Aristotle to Pseudo-Dionysius. Perhaps if one were looking for some lead from Thomas for the next millennium this idea of a societas studii in service of the cura animarum would not come amiss.
It might be no harm, however, that Thomas is not speaking of just one societas studii or something such as a studium generale or a studium provinciale. But he is talking of each house, unit, convent of the order. Each one is, can be, should be a societas studii. Every house can be a societas studii, though on occasion a given [house of the] province could be a more general societas, now especially these days, that the regent of studies is not tied to a particular house but is rather of the whole province.
One result of this idea of societas studii might be the breaking down of reputed antagonisms in some provinces between those engaged directly in the pastoral care, in preaching and counseling, and the doctors or “back room boys,” engaged indirectly through study, research and teaching.
A societas studii is not the academy over against or indeed in contrast to the pastoral care. The societas studii is the pastoral care as a cooperative effort at the level of study and teaching. But if that societas studii looks on itself as the studia were inclined to look upon themselves in the past as something above, or beyond or wholly distinct from the pastoral care and the unwashed “fratres communes” out there, then there is an inevitable condescension in relation to the pastoral care which can lead only to dissension.
Some cooperative efforts, it may be argued, hardly fit into this scheme of a societas studii. The Leonine Commission, for example, since it is too refined and unappetizing to merit the name of a societas studii. However a societas studii does not mean that every member of a given community has to take part actively in whatever project the societas has in hand. All that is asked is that the community welcomes, supports, stands by the project, to the extent that the project and its participants do not feel themselves isolated and unappreciated. In the case of the Leonine, this, what I may call, affective support, is essential, since the work is as lonely as it is demanding and may not show any visible, or at least intelligible result for years.
Another result of the societas studii might be a greater understanding of the means and aspirations of younger Dominicans on the part of those who are older, and hence, uti dicitur, wiser.
The Fate of the Preacher
Here, for a moment, I shall come back to the woman at the well. At the moment of her triumph, when she seems to feel that she has become of importance in her village community, she is thrust aside rudely as more and more villagers become believers of what they themselves had heard from the lips of Jesus. “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe,” they told her, “for we have heard him ourselves.” (John 4:42)
Now it is indeed the fate of the apostle or teacher, to become at some point or other, redundant. As others reap or sow afresh where he or she once sowed and plentifully reaped. The fate is all the harder if as sometimes happens, the apostle in her or his success is prone to forget that all apostles and ministers, no matter how successful, and seemingly enduring their mission, are, in the long run, or for that matter the short, only instruments in the economy of salvation.
It’s a plain inescapable fact that we who claim to be apostles, preachers, teachers, are simply instruments of God’s word. It is that word, that spirit and truth, that reaches out to and searches the heart, in our preaching, not us. It is also a plain, inescapable fact that at some point or other, we cease to be even the imperfect instruments that we are. Our methods become encrusted and perfunctory, or simply outworn.
The most harrowing thing then is not that we find ourselves overtaken by new ideas where we thought we were eternal, or by fresh vigorous and imaginative younger apostles who inexplicably are not in our measured footsteps, but that all too often we seem to be thrust aside, like, need I add, the woman at the well. Should we therefore fall into a decline, or become crippled with despair? Not at all. If we have always thought of ourselves as instruments of God’s word, and not its masters, then there will be no room for despondency. Rather there will be rejoicing that a new generation of instruments is at hand, to take over from the old as is so marvelously clear in the case of Fr. William Hill.
What unites, vivifies and consolidates the old with the new generation of instruments? The ripening with the seasoned apostles. Is that all? The young with the waning. The community of the word, the societas verbi, that makes good ministers and good ministry. It is love of the word that makes good preachers and good preaching. It is love of the word that makes for good community. And it is love that springs like spring water from hearts and minds that are always open, always listening to the word and to one another. It is a love that is so sensitive to its instrumental role that it never loses sight of this fact, and is ever ready to acknowledge, ever ready to support any new expressions of the love of the word, and above all the fumbling steps of new practitioners of that love. Societas studii, for Thomas. For Albert, who, after all stood up for they young Thomas when he was being twitted by his fellows, for Albert in dulcedine societatis quaerere veritatem, to see the truth in the sweetness of society.
In turn, the love of the word that drives the neophyte apostles and animates their ministry is a love that is so attuned to the fragile subordinate role that they have to play in respect of this word that they will always look to and take courage from the old, the old, perhaps now fading, apostles who went before them. And these neophyte apostles will pray from the depths of their heart that they will never fall into the devilish trap of imagining themselves to be indispensable to the word or having the only viable approach to it. That they will always keep their hearts and minds as open as possible to the spirit of truth of the word. And that they too, when their time comes to be seemingly thrust aside by those for whom they have been instruments of the word, will take it all not dejectedly but happily, not in sorrow, but in hope and joy.
One never knows just when the stark truth of one’s inevitable inadequacy, vis à vis the word, will hit one, but come it will and possibly when one is glowing all over at some silly accomplishment.
There may have been such a moment in Thomas Aquinas’ life, when, in a quite exalted state, the cold wind of truth brought him down to earth. You may remember the episode in William of Tocco’s Storia, when Thomas was called upon by his fellow masters at Paris in 1268-1271, to give a magisterial reply, dicere sententialiter, to questions which were more than agitating the schools there and notably that of the dimensions of the body of Christ in the Eucharist, and that of the existence of the accidents without a subject. Since the story comes from Thomas’ long-standing assistant, socius continuus, Reginald of Piperno there is no good reason to pooh-pooh it out of court. According to Reginald, when Thomas had written out his answers to these questions, he took the quire, notebook, to the altar, placed it before Christ on the cross, and asked Christ if what he had written was true.
Reginald, who was nearby with some others of the societas studii, the community of Saint Jacques then saw Christ come down, stand on top of the quire and say, “Bene de hoc mei corporis sacramento scripsisti, et de quaestione tibi praeposita, bene et veraciter determinasti.” These words of Christ as reported by William of Tocco are celebrated and known to every student of Thomas, “Well indeed have you written of the sacrament of my body, and well and truthfully have you replied to the question put to you.” But what is not as well known and is hardly ever quoted is the qualifier that follows: “sicut ab homine in via potest intelligi, et humanitus diffinire.” “Well indeed have you written of the sacrament of my body, and well and truthfully have you replied to the question put to you, to the extent that that question can be understood by a man in this life, and can be resolved in human terms.”
Any apostle, such as the woman at the well, any teacher, such as Thomas here, in general, any purveyor of the word and the good news of the Gospel, or any practitioner of the twin mission of the Dominican Order has to face up at some point or other to the cruel fact that at best one is a feeble, and not only a fleeting instrument, here today, gone tomorrow. “Venit finis scripturae meae,” Thomas would say to Reginald of Piperno, “That’s an end to my writing,” when some three months before his death he described all that he had written as so much chaff. It is something that we professional preachers, teachers all too readily forget, and which, I suspect, Thomas may have forgotten for a moment at Paris, when writing on the Eucharist.
We do not have an inside track to Divine Revelation, though now and then we may have an insight that excites a few students, or colleagues for an hour or so. But we have to be prepared always for misunderstanding, or even, as in the case of the woman at the well, for rejection. In the case of Thomas, at Paris, in his case, we have to be prepared always to face the hard truth, that we are human and in the long run, irremediably at a disadvantage when faced with the divine.
Like Thomas, and whether in this millennium or the next, we are all in via and hemmed in by our humanity. In such circumstances all we can manage is our human best; “sicut ad homine via potest intelligi et humanitus diffiniri.” That’s all we can manage. Yet all the while fully aware that it is not the best nor the last word and completely and charitably and sensibly aware also that there is room too for what others deem to be their best, even though we ourselves may more often than not totally fail to see why.
If as I have suggested, Thomas may have fallen a little into a trap of self-esteem at Paris, we Dominicans, we “Thomists”, if I may use that term, are in turn prone to fall into a greater trap, and it has been mentioned elsewhere, this morning or last evening, All too often we turn St. Thomas into a guru, and his Summa into some sort of bible, losing sight completely of the fact that the Summa is nothing more than the highest expression ever of the manualist or summist tradition of the Order, a tradition that from its beginnings, never forgot, even in its weaker moments, that the end of the order was the cura animarum, and that the only missions ever confided by the Church to the Order as a whole, were preaching the word, and counseling souls.
In spite of the fact that the Dominican Order never fully understood what Thomas was up to in his Summa, Thomas is in fact the greatest representative of the Dominican tradition of the pastoral preparation of his brethren. For the cura animarum entrusted to the Order through preaching, and counseling — confession — it was not enough merely to know what to do. It was necessary first and foremost to know why, and then to be always up to date, the better to understand what is man. What spurs him on? What are the forces, intellectual or otherwise that form him and sway him, and that change from generation to generation? Thomas was supremely aware of all of this. Perhaps we could consider him in this light, as we enter the next millennium of the cura animarum. Thank you.