Those who want the Church to evolve beyond the point of recognition as quickly as possible suggest that “orthodoxy” enshrined in the teachings of the Middle Ages offers an inadequate response to the complexities of modern life. They promote a new theology, claiming complete autonomy from the past. Modernism, hailed as the new source of religious enlightenment and progress, has displaced traditional theology and the results have been disastrous for the Church. The unprecedented decline of the last 40 years is no doubt due to “a blind and unchecked passion for novelty,” as Pope Gregory XVI said in his own time.
The remedy is quite simple—a return to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who offer true enlightenment—a deeper understanding of things Divine without the slightest compromise with worldliness. One of the greatest Doctors to whom the devotees of the new theological trend need to return is Saint Thomas Aquinas. The story of this exceptional defender and glory of the Church reveals both the great genius of Scholasticism and an exceptional holiness that earned him the title Angelic Doctor.
The Young Thomas
Thomas, son of Landulph, Count of Aquino, and Theodora, Countess of Teano, was descended of a long line of European nobility. His father and mother were related to Saint Louis of France, the kings of Sicily, the nobility of Aragon and the imperial family of Germany. Of their six children, three sons and three daughters, Thomas was the youngest.
The saint was born about the year 1226 in the castle of Rocca Secca, not far from the town of Aquino. Unlike his brothers, who were destined to join the military exploits of their cousin, the Emperor Frederick II, there was no doubt that Thomas was made for the service of the Most High and for the conquests of the mind. Thomas is said to have had a disposition so amiable as to leave the impression that he was exempted from the effects of original sin.
His parents strove to preserve his innocence and the better to do so entrusted his primary education to the monks of Monte Cassino. This, the greatest and most famous of Saint Benedict’s abbeys, was just six miles from Rocca Secca and had as its abbot Thomas’ uncle. There the boy remained from the age of five to his twelfth year. Thomas advanced rapidly in his studies all the while a shining example of every virtue. This precocious child was gifted far beyond his years. His teachers learned with surprise that he was already absorbed with the great question, “What is God?”
The children under Benedictine tutelage did more than study. They were consecrated to God as oblates. They lived, according to their age, the religious life with the option of remaining and professing their vows when they had reached maturity. The Benedictine life was much to Thomas’ liking. The monastic rule merely developed the virtues he possessed from his earliest years—love of silence, meditation, prayer, fraternal charity and obedience. It seems certain that Thomas would have remained at Monte Cassino had not circumstances beyond his control forced him to leave. In 1238, Frederick II, in his on-going attempt to dominate all Italy, swept through the northern regions leaving a trail of slaughter, devastation and desecration of churches. Excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX the following year, he continued his attacks right up to the gates of Rome but could not take the city. During this campaign his army looted, pillaged and desecrated Monte Cassino and made it their garrison.
Thomas took refuge with his family at their castle in Loreto, the town made famous by the shrine containing the Holy House of Nazareth. Here, during a famine, he distinguished himself for his constant devotion to the poor, giving them food and alms whenever possible. He might have distributed the entire substance of the house had he not been prevented from doing so. His father began receiving complaints that Thomas’ generosity was becoming extravagant. On one occasion he happened to catch the boy carrying a cloak full of food to the castle gate. The Count stopped him and demanded to know what he was carrying. Thomas thereupon opened his cloak and what fell to the ground were not the provisions he had taken from the kitchen, but a cascade of beautiful, fragrant flowers. Seeing the hand of God in this, Landulph blushed with embarrassment and tearfully encouraged the saint to continue his works of charity.