The Ways to Wisdom
The Ways to Wisdom
Aquinas Day By Day


Topic: reaction to the death of Br. Thomas

Scripture: “The Lord opened his mouth in the assembly, and filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and clothed him in a robe of glory.” Entrance anitphon

Church calendar: Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

While on his way to the Council of Lyons, Br. Thomas of Aquino died at the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, Italy, on 7  1274. His feast was celebrated on this day from his canonization in 1323 until the Second Vatican Council transferred it to 28 , the day his relics had been transferred to the Dominicans in Toulouse in 1369. But concern about them had been expressed almost immediately upon his death. Notable is the following letter written by the Masters of Arts at the University of Paris, which had refused to admit Br. Thomas as a Theologian in 1256, to the Dominicans on 2 May 1274:

To the venerable fathers in Christ, the master and provincials of the Order of Friars Preacher, and to all the friars gathered in chapter general at Lyons. The Rector of the University of Paris, the Proctors, and the other Masters teaching in Arts at Paris: greetings in Him who disposes all things well and wisely provides for the entire universe.

With tears and sobbing voice we lament the loss to the universal Church and the desolation to the University of Paris, and in these days we choose not incorrectly to mourn in common. Alas, who can favor us with the lamentation of Jeremiah which affects the mind of all even more than the customary silent sadness and unthinking emptiness and finally pierces our innards, all the way to the heart, like some poison? We confess what we can hardly admit, for love draws us back but grief and anguish compel us to admit the common report and testimony of many: venerable Br. Thomas of Aquino has been called from this world. Who could think that divine providence would permit the morning star shining forth in the wold, light of the age, nay, to speak more truly, the major light presiding over the day, to have withdrawn its rays? Surely, we not unreasonably hold that the sun has called back its beams, suffering dark and unwanted eclipse, when a light of such splendor is withdrawn from the entire Church. And though we are not without knowledge that the Author of nature gave him for a time to the whole world as a kind of special privilege, yet if we were to follow the authority of the ancient philosophers, it would seem that nature had sent him to elucidate its secrets.

But why do we now vainly dwell on such words? Him whom your general chapter held at Florence would not return to us, though we requested him urgently, yet not being ungrateful and having devout affection for the memory of so great a clerk, so great a father, so great a doctor, whom alive we could not have again, now that he is dead we humbly ask his bones of you as the greatest gift. For it would be quite unbecoming and unworthy if another nation or another place than the city of Paris, with its most noble of all universities, which first educated, nourished, and cherished him, and afterwards received from him food and benefit beyond speaking, should not have his bones and be his sepulchre. For if the Church deservedly honors the bones and relics of the saints, not without cause it seems decent and holy to us that the body of so great a doctor be held in perpetual honor, so that the lasting memorial of his grave preserve forever in the hearts of our successors him whose fame his writings perpetuate among us.

With hope that you will oblige us to act on this our devout petition, we also humbly beg that certain writings in the area of philosophy, begun by him at Paris but unfinished at his departure, but completed, we believe, where he went, your good will shall cause soon to be sent to us, and in particular the commentary on Simplicius on De caelo et mundo, on the Timaeus of Plato, and the book on aqueducts and mechanical devices, which he especially promised to send us. If he composed anything similar on logic, which we humbly requested of him when he left, may your good will deign to send to our college. And as your discretion is well aware, in this evil age we are exposed to many perils, we send up brotherly prayers that in this your chapter you may in turn support us with special affection and suffer to pray for us.

This letter we have ordered to be sealed with the seals of the Rector and the Proctors. Given at Paris in the Year of the Lord 1274, the Wednesday before the feast of the discovery of the True Cross.

In response, Aquinas’s commentaries on two logical works, Aristotle’s On Interpretation and Posterior Analytics, were sent to the Arts Masters of Paris.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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