|Contemplata Aliis Tradere: Spirituality and Thomas Aquinas, The Preacher by Mary Ann Fatula
Spring 1991, Vol.43 No.1, pp. 19-35
|Mary Ann Fatula, O.P., holds a doctorate in systematic theology from the Catholic University In America and is a professor of theology at Ohio Dominican College in Columbus, Ohio.|
Discovering God’s amazing closeness to us, Thomas Aquinas lavishly shares his contemplation of God’s words in his preaching.
A resurgence of contemporary interest in Thomas Aquinas has shown us that we need to meet Thomas as a living person whose life and thought bear great import for us today. As a preacher in Dominic’s community, Thomas knew by experience the truth of Isaiah’s words, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Is 52:7; Rom 10:15). In a phrase central to his entire theology and spirituality, Thomas expressed the heart of our call to speak about the God on whom our minds and hearts are meant to feast: contemplata aliis tradere. This article focuses on Thomas’ insights related to this phrase and underscores their import for us who are preachers of the Word and educated Christians called to share our faith with others today.
In the following reflections, we see two facets of Thomas especially thrown into relief. We find, first of all, Thomas the friend who discovered in our experience of intimate friendship in its dimensions of equality, reciprocality and mutual self-revelation — the deepest source for illumining the triune God’s closeness to us. It was this God whose riches of love Thomas, like St. Paul, could not keep pent up inside himself. “I am under compulsion; woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (I Cor 9:16). Yet Thomas the preacher was also and always Thomas the nobleman and beggar. Former member of the nobility, now a beggar in Dominic’s preaching community, Thomas poured out upon others not the gold and silver that might have filled his purse, but rather the treasure that now overflowed from his mind and heart: the Word of God. Thomas could be lavish with God’s Word only because he was at every moment literally the beggar, weeping and pleading to receive from the Holy Spirit’s anointing the Word he knew he could not produce from his own emptiness.
THE PREACHER’S CALL: A LIFE OF WISDOM DRAWN FROM THE SPIRIT”S JOY AND ANOINTING
Thomas does not use the modem word “spirituality,” but he does reflect on what it means to be a “spiritual person.” In his “Commentary on Galatians 5, lectio 7” and in his “Commentary on Jn 6, lectio 8” we see that for him, as for St. Paul, we are “spiritual” persons when we live our daily fives from the love, power, and anointing of the Holy Spirit. “Let us be led by the Spirit in everything,” Paul writes (Gal 5:15). Indeed, Thomas adds, let us draw our every breath from the Holy Spirit, for “only the Spirit gives life” Jn 6:64; In Gal 5, lect 7; In Jn 6, lect 8). Thus, for Thomas, the “spiritual” life is our own concrete life lived at every moment from the power and joy of the Holy Spirit. We therefore live as “spiritual persons” when the Spirit of God so illumines our mind and inflames our will (in I Cor 2, lect 3) that we are “full” of the Holy Spirit of love, “availing ourselves of the Spirit in all that we do” (In Gal 5, lect 7).
The concrete life which Thomas himself lived “from the Holy Spirit” was that of a preacher. And as he begins the Summa Contra Gentiles, he makes the words of Hilary proclaim his own call and meaning: “I owe this to God as the chief duty of my life, that my every word and sense may speak of God” (1, 2,2). In abandoning wealth and status, in handing himself over to Dominic’s community of begging preachers, Thomas surrendered his entire life to Jesus, and grasped Jesus’ mission as his own. In season and out, for his whole life long, with his every word and sense, he would speak of God.
Thomas could have chosen to exchange his noble life for simply another form of nobility — as his family had wanted him to do — by accepting the abbacy of Monte Cassino, or by saying yes to the bishopric held out to him. But he did not. “The Spirit has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). With Jesus and with the poor, Thomas laid aside his noble rank, and became a person “without social class,” a beggar with the freedom to speak the Word boldly to people in any station in life (Murray 386, 390). In joining Dominic’s community of preachers, Thomas chose
communion with Jesus in his own mission to “preach Good News to the poor;” in this life of preaching Thomas lived his “spirituality,” a life absolutely identical with who he was, drawn at every moment from the Spirit of love.
As a mendicant friar of Dominic’s community Thomas chose an entirely new and different kind of life — and thus “spirituality” — than he might have pursued as a Benedictine monk. It was not solitude from the world and the pursuit of inner perfection that Thomas chose, but preaching in the heart of its cities, in a community of equals totally engaged with the world and its currents of thought. (1)
Yet Thomas knew by experience that, of himself, he was helpless even to “avail himself to the Spirit” in all that he was called to do and say as a preacher of God’s Word. This is why he stressed that the Holy Spirit must fill us with the gifts that make us docile to the Spirit’s own promptings. In the Summa Theologiae, he writes that through these gifts the very person of the Spirit leads and moves us (I-II, 93,6, ad 1). Our decisions and actions increasingly flow not simply from our own plans but even more deeply from the Spirit’s inclination within us, an inclination which becomes so “natural” to us that it seems like an “instinct” within us (ST I-II, 68, 4; cf. ST I-II, 68, 5; ST I-II, 68, 2, ad 2; In Rom 8, lect 1, lect 3).
EXPERIENCE OF INTIMATE FRIENDSHIP
For Thomas, the most intimate joy for us flows from the most intimate of the gifts, the Spirit’s wisdom which lies at the heart of all true preaching. To illumine the heart of this wisdom, Thomas reflects on our experience of intimate friendship. The more deeply we love another person, the more we want to “know intimately everything about our loved one, so as to penetrate our loved one’s very soul. Thus the Holy Spirit, God’s love in person, is said to ‘search all things, yes, the deep things of God'” (I Cor 2:10; ST I-II, 28, 2). The essence of intimate friendship is thus mutual self-revelation. And just as friends become intimate friends precisely by entrusting their hearts’ secrets to one another, God reveals the secrets of the divine heart to us through the gift of an intimate wisdom that “makes us friends of God” (Wis 7:27; In Jn 15, lect 3). Precisely through this friendship-love the Spirit’s wisdom unveils to us the secrets of God’s heart (ST II-II, 45, 5). “O how good and sweet is your spirit, O Lord, in us!” (Wis 12:1). Wisdom is like the precious wine whose sweetness inebriates us: when we hold the mouth of our desire to the font of the Spirit’s wisdom we become intoxicated
with God’s sweetness (In Ps 35:4).
Thomas thus considers love as essential to knowing God: “the charity of the knowledge of Christ which we possess with knowledge of Christ …. surpasses a love which is without knowledge” (Eph 3, lect 5). For the Word is always Verbum spirans amorem, the Word breathing forth the love that is the very person of the Spirit. And so the Son is sent to us not with any kind of knowing, but “only with the mind’s illumination which breaks forth into love’s affection” (ST I, 43, 5, ad 2). The Spirit’s love creates an endless, ever deepening spiral in us: the more we know, the more we
love, and the more we love, the more we seek to know (ST I-II, 27, 2; In Eph 3, lect 5). Love in this way teaches us secrets about God’s heart that we could never know by our reason alone (In Eph 3, lect 5).
And since “we are drawn by our own pleasure, how much more Strongly ought we to be drawn to Christ if we find our pleasure in truth, happiness, justice, eternal life: all of which Christ is! Therefore, if we would be drawn by him, let us be drawn through love for the truth: ‘Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart'” (Ps 36:4; In Jn 6, lect 5). For true wisdom is Jesus himself, God’s “truth in person” (I
CG 2, 4). Thus, “among all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, more noble, more useful, more full of joy” (I CG 2, 1). Since we were made to enjoy God (In Ps 13:2), wisdom itself is the gift to enjoy intimately knowing God (In Eph 1,lect 6).
PREACHING THE WORD
From this wellspring of “enjoying God,” Thomas studied, taught, wrote and preached. And from his own experience he learned that by “gazing” on God”s beauty in contemplation, our love so deepens that we cannot keep this love chained in our hearts. The infinitely good God allures us: the more we know, the more we love; and the more we love, the more we have to speak about the God we love. Since of its very nature God’s love fills us with joy (ST I-II, 23, 3, ad 2), the Spirit’s joy with us eventually must overflow to our lips. Our inner joy in the Holy Spirit cannot help erupting into exultant preaching about God’s greatness (In Ps 34:18). The Spirit’s love so permeates our hearts that this same Spirit’s joy spills out upon our lips. The Spirit who fills the earth, and our hearts, thus makes us both ardent and eloquent (In Ps 38:1).
Those who knew Thomas testified how he himself was “continuously occupied with reading, writing, praying, or preaching” (Foster 117, 83, 93). Indeed, when, toward the end of his life, Thomas preached a series of Lenten sermons on the Lord’s prayer almost the whole city came to every sermon.
To the ordinary faithful he spoke the word of God with singular grace and power….
Subtleties he kept for the Schools….
He was a teacher who taught others to do what he himself was already doing….
His words had a warmth in them that kindled the love of God and sorrow for sin (I Can. 87; Foster 116).
Bernard Gui, in “Vita Sancti Thomae Aquinatis” writes that once, at Rome during Holy Week, Thomas preached on the Passion of our Lord, “moving his hearers to tears; the next day, preaching on the Resurrection, he stirred them wonderfully to joy in the Lord” (Foster 47-48). This ministry of bearing witness to Christ through preaching and teaching is “very great,” Thomas cries, out, “for we can testify about something only in the manner in which we have shared it” (In Jn 1, lect 4). In his sermon “Exiit qui seminat,” Thomas hears Christ speak the Canticle of Canticles to the heart of all who preach God’s Word. “Let us dwell together,” Christ tells the preacher, in this way showing his intimate familiarity with the preacher. And Christ urges the preacher, ‘Let us go out together, I by inspiring you, and you, by preaching.” Thus we are never alone in our preaching: Jesus dwells with us in our contemplation and hearing of the Word, and goes forth with us to inspire us in our preaching, and to inspire those, too, who hear the Word we preach (Kaeppeli, 77-79).
CONTEMPLATA ALIIS TRADERE
“We can bear witness only to what we have experienced. I can say that your precepts are sweet only because I love them and have experience them,” Thomas writes (In Ps 18:7). Thus our words are meant to pour out on others our heart’s wisdom, to give to others what we ourselves contemplate and treasure through the Spirit’s anointing within us (In Ps 44:1). Thomas thinks of how the best source of light does not simply shine but also enlightens others (III CG 21, 6). The sun itself, for example, floods other heavenly bodies with light so that they can shine with their own fight and
themselves illumine still others. So, too, we ourselves are most like God when we enlighten others so that they radiate their own light and in turn give light to others (Disputed Questions: “De Veritate,” q 5, a 8).
This key insight about preaching as the act of pouring out on others the fullness of what we ourselves lovingly contemplate flows from Thomas’ central intuition into the infinite largesse of a God who is the fullness of being itself. For each of us springs from the goodness of a God whose very nature is to give existence to what is not (ST I, 19, 2). And God lavishes life on us not only to make us rich and full, but also to make us a source of life to others (Truth, q 9, a 2; III CG 21, 8; III CG 70, 7).
This immense goodness of a God who pours out goodness on others is the pattern and archetype for each of us as preachers. In this theme of lavishing on others the riches in our own heart through the ministry of preaching, Thomas articulates the paradox of his own life. He was born a nobleman, and he chose to become a beggar. But in his way of living, of relating to others, he could never be other than he was, a member of
the nobility. As such, he had learned to imitate not the vices of nobility but its most characteristic virtue: that wonderful largesse that generously gives to others from its own abundance. In becoming a beggar in Dominic’s community, Thomas chose not to pour out on others an abundance of the material goods he had renounced, but rather the true riches which no earthly force can erode or wrest from us. In giving of this kind of wealth to others we most deeply imitate God.
And, paradoxically, by giving to others as God does, freely, lavishly, we attain our own true fullness (III CG 24, 9; I 22, 3). For since we can give to others only what we ourselves have (III CG 21, 8), true preaching is not simply words, but giving to others what is rich within us, what we treasure in our hearts (In Ps 36:21). Our preaching of the Word in this way truly shares in Jesus’ own mission: “A life of teaching and preaching, by which we give others the fruits of our contemplation, is more perfect than the life that stops at contemplation. For this life is built on an abundance of
contemplation, and such was the life Christ chose ” (ST III, 40, 1, ad 2).
When we begin truly to feast on the banquet of Scripture, to hear and live Gods Word with “perfect knowledge” we also begin to realize that all we give to others in our preaching “is above us,” Thomas writes in “De Perfectiones Spiritualis Vitae” (The Religious State, ch 14). The abyss of our hearts calls the depths of others’ hearts to Christ, not through any power of our own but only through the Holy Spirit, who alone gives power to the preacher’s tongue (In Ps 41:5).
At the end of his four years as master at Paris, Thomas began his great Summa Contra Gentiles by confessing his own inadequacy and his total dependence on God. “In the name of the divine Mercy, I have the confidence to embark upon the work of a wise person, even though this may surpass my powers” (I CG 2, 2). Indeed, from his very first days as a master of theology, and faced with a life work he knew exceeded his ability, Thomas did what he would not stop doing until his death. With tears he pounded at the door of God’s heart, begging from God what he realized he could not produce from his own resources.
In his Commentary on the Gospel of John, written near the end of his life, Thomas reflects on the Gospel story of Jesus with the woman at the well (Jn 4:1-41). The well from which not only the woman but all of us long to drink is wisdom’s depths. But the only bucket which can draw forth this water’s riches for us is tears and prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, ask it of God” (Jas 1:5; In Jn 4, lect 2).
THOMAS AQUINAS, THE BEGGAR
For his entire life as a preacher in Dominic’s community, Thomas had done precisely this. In joining the Dominicans, Thomas the nobleman had become brother Thomas the beggar. But after his entrance into the Dominicans, Thomas had become a beggar in an
even deeper sense: everything he had said and written he had begged from God. At night “he would rise, after a short sleep, and pray, lying prostrate on the ground; it was in those nights of prayer that he learned what he would write or dictate in the day-time” (Foster, 37). When Thomas met with intellectual “difficulties he used to go to the altar and stay there while weeping and sobbing, and then return to his cell and his writing” (111). Preachers who know from experience what it is literally to weep and sob for a life-giving Word to well up from their poverty and emptiness recognize the truth in this description of Thomas the begging preacher. Thomas was the nobleman, rich and lavish in pouring out the treasure of God’s Word on others, only because at every moment and in every sense he was literally Thomas the beggar.
never set himself to study or argue a point, or lecture or write or dictate without first having recourse inwardly — but with tears — to prayer for the understanding and the words required by the subject. When perplexed by a difficulty he would kneel and pray and then, on returning to his writing or dictation, he was accustomed to find that his thought had become so dear that it seemed to show him inwardly, as in a book, the words he needed. All this is confirmed by his own statement to brother Reginald that prayer and the help of God had been of greater service to him in the search for truth than his natural intelligence and habit of study. This he told Reginald as a secret; but after his master’s death Reginald often mentioned it in his lectures or on other occasions. (Foster 37)
William Tocco gives Reginald’s own intimate account of this deep font of prayer from which Thomas drew all that he wrote, taught, and preached:
When Reginald returned to Naples from Fossanova, and resumed his lecturing (for he was a lector) he spoke thus, with many tears: ‘My brothers, while my master lived he would not let me reveal the wonderful things I knew about him, among which was this, that his amazing knowledge was not an effect of human intelligence but of prayer.’ Always, before he studied or disputed or lectured or wrote or dictated, he would pray from the heart, begging with tears to be shown the truth about the divine things that he had to investigate. [In every difficulty which arose Thomas] had recourse to prayer, whereupon the matter would become wonderfully clear to him. (Foster 70)
For, as Thomas himself stressed, we are made not only to know what is true, but also to know why it is true. Thus, if we give no reasons for the truth we speak, our hearers gain no real understanding and go away empty handed (QQL, q. 9, a. 3). It was these “reasons for the truth” that Thomas sought not only in his study but also in his prayer.
Yet we truly preach not only what we contemplate in our minds and hearts, but also what we actually live. In a sermon Thomas preached on the parable of the sower and the seed, he urges us, “Preachers, ought not preach to others what they themselves do not do” (“Exiit qui seminat;” in T. Kaeppeli, “Una Raccolta” p. 79). Truly to preach in this way is to be continually converted. If we faithfully give ourselves to our preaching task, the Word we preach will transform us: either we will begin to live what we are preaching, or we will stop truly preaching. Tocco writes of Thomas himself “What he was saying with his mouth he was fulfilling in his deeds; he was not daring to say anything except what God had given him to actually live in his life” (Foster, 122).
Always “genteel and approachable,” Thomas thus showed in his outward bearing and spoke only “what he really was” within himself (48). A humble man who “was never heard to use haughty or aggressive speech against anyone,” (93) Thomas was “gentle,” “generous,” a “wonderfully kind-hearted man.” His daily companions understood best that the God who “dwelt habitually in his mind” was wonderfully manifested in “the sweet graciousness” of his words (51).
PREACHING FROM THE SPIRIT’S FIRE OF CHARITY
Thomas found in Denys’ De Divinis Nominibus IV the words to explain why he had made the radical decision when he was nineteen to join Dominic’s community of begging preachers. It is the very nature of love that “lovers belong not to themselves, but to the beloved” (cf. II Cor 5:25). “God’s love causes us to go out of ourselves; it suffers us to belong no longer to ourselves but to the one we love.” And so, with Paul, Thomas writes, “for Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of everything and count it all as garbage, if only I can gain Christ” (Phil 3:7-8). “In perfect love,” Thomas urges us, we need to surrender to our beloved Lord “not only our exterior possessions but also, in a sense, our very selves” (Rel St, ch 10).
As those who surrender themselves to God’s love discover, Thomas found that when we truly love God, we begin to love also God’s “entire family, relatives and friends,” because they are related to our beloved God. Yet for all of those we love, there is only one formal notion of love, the good of our beloved Lord, whom we love for his own sake. In a certain way, we thus love God in all those who belong to God (Disputed Questions, “De Caritate” a 4). Thus it is specifically the same act whereby we love God and others: the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God but also to
one another (ST II-II, 25, 1). Even more radically put, the charity with which we love God is the very same charity with which we love each other. (ST II-II, 81, 4, ad 3; Char, a 4). And since charity is the most perfect friendship, it extends itself to God and to all who are able to know God, including not only our friends, but also our enemies (Char, a 4, ad 11).
Thus the measure of charity is this, that it has no measure (Char, a 2, ad 13). For perfect love for God includes love of one another; as our love for God deepens, this very love pushes us to care for the needs of our brothers and sisters (ST II-II, 27, 8). But it is precisely preaching, giving others the fruits of our wisdom, which Thomas sees as the deepest form of friendship and self-giving we can bestow on others (III (2) CG 134, 4). In place of material goods which pass away, we give to those we love what can never pass away (Rel St, ch 14). If we center our lives on God’s Word, this
Word will become for us the Good News we preach, the best possible gift we give to others, because the Good News saves us (In Eph 1, lect 5).
And since “no virtue has such as strong inclination to its act as charity has, nor does any virtue perform its act with so great pleasure”(ST II-II, 23, 2), perfect charity impels us to sacrifice even our very life for others (Jn 1:3). Indeed, the more intense our love, the more easily we sacrifice everything else for our beloved Lord’s sake, and the more willingly, therefore, we sacrifice also for love of our brothers and sisters (Rel ST, ch 14).
This truth Thomas had learned by his own experience. He was the youngest son of a family of knights — a family of nobility, wealth and status. But Thomas turned the vices of nobility to which he could have succumbed into the virtues of nobility: “magnificence,” largesse, liberality — but now liberality with the one gift he had to give. Thomas lavished the Word of God on others, poured out with unrestrained generosity in his writings, teaching and preaching the Word he contemplated, studied and loved. For, as Chesterton observes, Thomas inhabited not only a large body but
also a large mind and a large heart, “like one inheriting a large house, and exercised there an equally generous if rather more absentminded hospitality” (23).
A LIFE OF UNRESTRAINED LOVE
And so Thomas made his preacher’s life an act of unrestrained love, not only for God, but also for others. Thus, while his writings give forth the aroma of peace and tranquility, he himself, as Foster notes, “lived very hard and was capable of exertions that would seem prodigious today.” Like other thirteenth-century itinerant preaching friars, Thomas walked across Europe, unprotected from the elements and brigands, for
weeks and months at a time (Foster 76).
And what drove Thomas to traverse these myriads of miles by foot, enduring sickness, anxiety and even terror on the way? Even more, what pushed him, in his final years, to writing, teaching, and preaching tasks which in the end robbed him of his health, and finally of his life? “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor 5:24) Thomas would surely tell us. For Thomas, lover of Jesus, became also Thomas, lover of those who belong to Jesus; Thomas’ writing, teaching, and preaching became immense acts of love for others. As he himself stresses, since “the charity with which we love one another is a participation in God’s own charity” (ST II-II, 23, 2, and 10), “the aspect under which we love one another is God, for what we ought to love in one another is that we may be in God” (ST II-II, 25, 1). By this charity alone we truly live, just as our body lives by our soul’s life-breath. Charity joins us in an unbreakable bond to each other as members of the Church, uniting us not only to the living, but also to those who have
died in charity (ST II-II, 23, 4). Poured into our hearts by the Spirit of love, (Rom 5:5) charity’s friendship makes us share with God and one another even now a foretaste of the intimate life together which is heaven (ST II-II, 24,2).
Thomas thus studied and wrote, taught and preached not in self-centered isolation but in utter self-giving to God and to his brothers and sisters in God. Here it is significant to note that in his phrase defending the Dominican life of preaching, contemplata aliis tradere, Thomas chooses the word “tradere,” — not “praedicare,” or “docere,” or “dare” or a host of other words he could have used to signify what we are to do when we preach the Word we contemplate and love. In the Corpus Christi liturgy attributed to Thomas, the verb used for Jesus’ total surrender of himself to his disciples in the eucharist is “tradere.” The Corpus Christi hymn “Verbum Supernum.” sings out, “About to be handed over by a disciple to those jealous of him, Jesus first handed himself over to his disciples on a tray of life.” The Matins hymn for Corpus Christi, “Sacris solemnis,” uses the same verb: “He gave to the weak a tray holding his body; he gave to the sorrowing a drinking cup of his blood, saying, “Take what I hand over (“trado”) to you and drink from this cup.”
In using the same verb “tradere” in his phrase “contemplata aliis tradere,” Thomas urges preachers to “hand over,” “surrender” totally to others what they hold in their minds and hearts, in the same way that Jesus “handed himself over” in love even to those who hated him, in the same way that Jesus “handed himself over” to his disciples at the Last Supper, in the same way that he surrenders himself to us today in the
At the end of his own life Thomas showed how truly he himself had “handed over” to others what he had lovingly contemplated. He had been able to do as Jesus had done only because he had feasted not only with his mind, but also with his heart, soul, and body on the Word made flesh and given as food to us in the eucharist. Thomas, preacher of the Word, became also “Eucharistic Doctor;” he “held it in his hands, that Truth” he loved and contemplated and proclaimed (Maritain 118).
Precisely because of his intimate friendship with us, Jesus has become flesh of our flesh; this is why he gives himself to us as our bodily food, and why he is impatient to lavish on us the gift of his “bodily presence as our final reward” (ST 111, 75, 1). The Corpus Christi hymn for Lauds, “Verbum Supernum,” with its concluding verses used for Benediction, “O Salutaris” cries out in praise of this Word who becomes everything for us: our food, intimate companion, and final reward.
Yes, Thomas had not only contemplated but also eaten the Word of life, and countless times had tasted its tenderness in the depths of his being, for the eucharist “inebriates us with God” (Jn 6, lect 7). And having held in his own hands the Word made flesh, the Word he had contemplated and preached, Thomas hungered for him with vehemence at the end. Nicholas of Fresolino, a Benedictine novice at Fossanova when Thomas had died there, told of how Thomas received his last eucharist “with much devotion and tears” (Foster 86).
The words of Ladislas Boros describing the vocation of the theologian come to mind as we picture in our mind’s eye these last hours of Thomas:
[For preachers,] theology is a mental effort to make life more beautiful and more luminous, to help their friends to overcome the sin of existential weakness. Thinking is for them a humble service to being, a welcoming and protecting of everything worthy of welcome and protection. They have experienced in themselves the suffering and poverty of human existence and therefore they try to think from those experiences. This they seek and this is important to them, not their own success or their own prestige…. With their thought [they] must try to do their friends some good. They must clearly think that ‘their salvation hangs on what they think and on what they say to others’ (10).
Perhaps none understood this better than Thomas himself. True preachers of the Word do not seek their own success or prestige …. At the end, Thomas the nobleman humbly watched his brothers, Benedictine monks, carry in on their own shoulders the firewood needed to keep him protected from the winter cold. And Thomas the Dominican beggar could not help crying out, “Who am I that the servants of God should wait on me like this?” (Foster 55). But even more, Thomas spoke the meaning of his life in a gesture that showed how deeply he realized that our salvation as
preachers hangs on what we live and think and say to others. As his death drew near, Thomas “devoutly asked for the most holy body of Christ.” He had become so weak that he had been unable to move from his bed, but when the abbot brought him the eucharist, Thomas stunned those present by an action in which he gathered up the meaning of his entire life. With extreme effort he raised himself out of bed, knelt down on the floor, and prostrated himself in adoration (Foster 55). “Falling prostrate on the ground, let us venerate so great a sacrament…” (Corpus Christi Vespers hymn, “Pange Lingua”). “Prostrate on the ground, weak in body, but with his mind, as it were, running strongly to meet his Lord” (Foster 55), Thomas surrendered himself to the God who had continually fed him with his own flesh. “O loving pelican, Jesus Lord …”
According to custom Thomas was asked if he believed that this was the body of the Son of God, “With intense devotion and tears, and in a strong voice Thomas cried out that he did” (Foster 55). “O marvelous, extraordinary wonder! A servant, poor and humble feeds on God his Lord” (Panis Angelicus, from the Corpus Christi Matins hymn, Sacris Solemnis.) With his face bathed in tears, Thomas received the “life-giving sacrament.” Those around him could hear him pray, “O price of my redemption and food for my pilgrimage. I receive You. For Your sake I have studied and toiled and kept vigil. I have preached you and taught you” (Foster 55). “Jesus, whom I now behold veiled, I ask you to grant what I so thirst for: that I may see your face unveiled, and that the sight of your glory may be my bliss…”(Adoro Te). Thomas died on the morning of March 7, 1274 in the beginning of his fiftieth year.
I owe this to God as the chief duty of my life, that my every word and sense may speak of God” (I CG 2, 2). This Thomas had done with his every breath. In season and out, for his whole life long, with his every word and sense, he had spoken of God. And precisely in doing so, he had lived his “spirituality,” a life absolutely identical with who he was, drawn at every moment from the Spirit of love. In his sermon “Exiit qui seminat,” Thomas cried out with wonder over the grace of being called to the preaching mission: “O human race, how many have sown the Word in you, and what a
precious seed! The whole Trinity has sown this seed in you — the Father has sown peace; the Son, truth; the Spirit, charity. The angels, and apostles, the martyrs and confessors and virgins have all sown their seed in you!” Therefore, Thomas would surely add today, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Pioneer and perfecter of our faith, so that we may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:1-3).
May we recognize and claim with joy our own call in these sowers of the Word, and in Thomas himself. For “if, when even one person preaches, such an abundance of the Spirit’s love is poured out upon the world,” Thomas urges us, “how much more will this be so when an entire Order of Preachers fills the world with the Word of God!”
(Rel St, ch 14).
1. See Michel Mollat, The Poor in the Middle Ages, trans. A. Goldnammer (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 5-131; Michael Goodrich, Vita Perfecta:The Ideal of Sainthood in the Thirteenth Century (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann,
1982), 71, 91-95, 123-130, 154-155; Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the
Middle Ages (Oxford: Claredon, 1978) 346-359.
_______________. “Commentary on Jn 6, lectio 8” in Commentary on the Gospel of John. Translated by J. A. Weisheipl and F.R. Larcher. Albany: Magi Books, 1980.
_______________. Commentary on Lombard’s Sentences.
_______________. Disputed Questions: “De Veritate,” 3 vols. Translated by Mulligan, McGlynn, Schmidt. Chicago: Regnery, 1952-54.
_______________. Quaestiones Quodlibetales. 8th rev. ed. Edited by Raymond Spiazzi, OP. Rome: Marietti, 1949.
_______________. Summa Contra Gentiles: On the Truth of the Catholic Faith. 5 vols. Trans. Pegis, Anderson, Bourke, O’Neill. New York: Doubleday, 1955-57.
_______________. Summa Theologiae. Latin text and English trans. 61 vols. London, Blackfriars in conjunction with Eyre & Spottiswoode; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963-1981.
_______________. The Religious State, the Episcopate and the Priestly Office. Ed. by F. Procter. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1950. Boros, Ladislas. Faith: Conversations with Contemporary Theologians. Trans. by Donald D. Walsh. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1980.
Chesterton, G. K. St. Thomas Aquinas. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1957.
Foster, Kenelm, trans. and ed. The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: Biographical Documents. Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959.
Kaeppeli, T. “Una raccolta di prediche attribuite a S. Thommaso d’Aquino,” Archivum Fratrum Praedictorum 13, 1943.
Maritain, Jacques. St. Thomas Aquinas. London: Sheed & Ward, 1931.
Murray, Alexander. Reason and Society in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Claredon, 1978.