In the kingdom of Naples, at Rocca
Secca, a child was born to the family of Landulph, the Count of Aquino and the Countess Theodora. This child was Thomas
who was later would become the “Angelic Doctor” of the Catholic Church. The year of his birth is not certain;
it is either 1225 or 1227, but something remarkable happened before this event. A hermit foretold his future: that he
would have great learning and sanctity.
At the age of five, Thomas
was sent to Monte Casino, the famous cradle of Benedictine learning. The abbot saw the boy was intellectually precocious,
so he wrote to Count Landulph, suggesting that Thomas be sent to Naples for his University training. Accordingly, in
1236, we find Thomas at the said University where he studied until he was sixteen. He made such rapid progress in his
studies that he was considered prodigy of intelligence. As he progressed in intellectual life, Thomas kept his heart
pure from the corrupting influences and loose morals that surrounded him.
When he decided to enter
the Order of Preachers, at the age of seventeen, his brothers were so enraged that they took him back forcibly and imprisoned
him in the of San Giovanni. For nearly two years he was detained in that prison but this was not able to change his
strong determination to join the Order.fortress Unsuccessful, his brothers introduced another stratagem. This
time, they sent a beautiful young girl into Thomas’ room for the purpose of alluring him. But as soon as the girl
came inside, he drew a burning brand from the fire and drove out the girl from his room. As soon as she had fled, Thomas
knelt in prayer, thanking God for having delivered him from such an occasion of sin. He asked God to grant him the grace
of unsullied purity for the rest of his life.
At the end of the two-year
imprisonment, his mother saw the futility of forcing him to pursue worldly ambitions. She therefore decided to let him
go his way. The long months of imprisonment, for Thomas, had not been long empty months. He had spent that the
period in reading some valuable books like the Bible, Aristotle’s Metaphysics and the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which
his king sister tried to procure for him. Upon his return to the Dominican novitiate, the Dominican priests had to ask
Pope Innocent IV to dissuade Thomas’ family from interfering with his religious vocation.
After taking his
religious vows, Thomas was s7ubsequently sent to Rome, and from Rome, he was sent to Cologne to study under Saint Albert the
Great. In 1245, when Albert the Great moved to Paris to teach in the University, the young Thomas was with him, there
to continue his studies. Three years later, they both returned to Cologne, for thew Dominicans had opened their Stadium
Generale there. Thomas was ordained priest in 1250 and remained in Cologne toll 1252.
Upon the advice of Albert
the Great, who knew that Thomas had already learned enough from him, Thomas was sent to teach in their new Study House in
Paris. It was then that Thomas began teaching, lecturing and writing. His superior, who had earlier detected his
intellectual capacities, left him free to pursue his inclination. He was set aside for teaching, thinking, meditating,
praying and writing, and diffusing truth, which is the ideal of the Dominican Order.
The fame of Thomas as a
Philosopher and theologian spread far and wide, and he was often invited to preach and give lectures. Kings, cardinals,
bishops, and his own superiors in the Order sought his advice. In 1265, Pope Clement IV wanted to appoint Thomas Archbishop
of Naples, but the saint with tears, requested the Pope to relieve him from such a responsibility. Thomas knew that
his vocation consisted of teaching, studying and writing.
In spite of his towering
intellectual attainment, Thomas never lost his child-like innocence. Once some friars tease him saying that a horse
was flying over their priory. Thomas, who was hurrying to courtyard for his physical exercises, ran to the window to
see the flying horse. When he asked where the flying horse was, they laughed at him saying: “if you were
not so childish, you could never believe that a horse could fly.” Then in simplicity Thomas replied: I thought
it was easier for a horse to fly than for a friar to utter a lie.” On another occasion, a young monk who just
arrived in the friary requested a stout monk to show him the way to different places of the city. The stout monk accompanied
the young monk, until the others recognized that the guide was no other than the far-famed Thomas Aquinas. Then the
young friar apologized for not having recognized Thomas earlier, but Thomas took at as a part of his duty to help0 him, and
did not consider it derogatory to his position.
The most enrapturing vision of Our Lord
came to Thomas in 1273 when he was in the Dominican priory at Naples. By this time, he had already composed the Office of
the Blessed Sacrament at the request of Pope Urban IV, his personal friend. He had also finished writing his treatise on the
Holy Eucharist. As Thomas was praying before the crucifix on the altar, three Dominican friars saw him raised above the ground
in a state of vision and ecstasy. Then a voice told Thomas: “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward will
thou have?” And Thomas replied: “Nothing but Thyself, O Lord.”
Visions and ecstasies became more
frequent as the earthly pilgrimage of Thomas drew to a close. On December 6, 1273, after having an ecstasy while celebrating
Mass, he revealed that he could not write any more. At that time he had only written up to the ninetieth question of the third
part of his monumental Summa Theological, which was left incomplete because he was called to his eternal home before completing
Early in 1274, he was commissioned
by Pope Gregory X to take part in the General Council at Lyons which was to take place in May of that same year. The Pope
had asked Thomas to take with him his treatise “on the Errors of the Greeks”. While he was on his way to Lyons,
he fell ill and was taken to the nearby castle of Maienza, where his niece, the Countess Francesca Cecano was living. Then
the Cistercian monks took him to the monastery of Fossa Nuova, wishing to avail themselves of the learning and wisdom of the
saint. They requested Thomas to make a commentary on the Canticle of Canticles, which was to be his last work. When the Holy
Viaticum was brought to him, he made an act of faith saying:
“ If in this world, there be any
knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I do firmly believe and know
a certain that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament. “
He died on March 7, 1274 in Cistercian
Monastery at Fossa Nuova. His body was given over to the Dominicans who preserved it in the Dominican church at Toulouse.
It was Saint Pius V who proclaimed Thomas “Doctor of the Church”. Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical “Aeterni
Patris”, issued on August 4, 1879, proclaimed Saint Thomas as the “ Prince and Master of all Scholastic Doctors”.
A year later, the same Pope proclaimed him as the Universal Patron of all Catholic Schools, Colleges and Universities.
The causes that produced the prodigy
of Saint Thomas, the most synthetic, systematic thinker, philosopher, theologian and saint of the Church are both natural
and supernatural. Thomas had an intelligent mind from birth which was trained and tuned to divine wisdom from his earliest
days. Then angelic purity made his mind clear, solid and penetrating. His spirit of prayer and his visions were supernatural
causes which helped him to write even such a stupendous work as the Summa, which was not only a summary of theology but a
summary of philosophy as well.
Young men, students, thinkers, scholars
and laymen, all must learn from the way of Saint Thomas, the way of innocence and purity. Purity will give us the wisdom to
understand the real value of things on earth; it will make us relish the things that are above.