Patron saints and spirituality of Catholic education
Taken from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
Philosopher, theologian, doctor of the Church (Angelicus Doctor or the Angelic Doctor), patron of Catholic universities, colleges, and schools. Born at Rocca Secca in the Kingdom of Naples, 1225 or 1227; died at Fossa Nuova, March 7, 1274.
The great outlines and all the important events of his life are known, but biographers differ as to some details and dates. Death prevented Henry Denifle from executing his project of writing a critical life of the saint. Denifle’s friend and pupil, Dominic Prümmer, O.P., professor of theology in the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, took up the work and published the Fontes Vitae S. Thomae Aquinatis, Notis Historicis et Criticis Illustrati; and the first fascicle (Toulouse, 1911) has appeared, giving the life of St. Thomas by Peter Calo (1300) now published for the first time. From Tolomeo of Lucca we learn that at the time of the saint’s death there was a doubt about his exact age (Prümmer, op. cit., 45). The end of 1225 is usually assigned as the time of his birth. Father Prümmer, on the authority of Calo, thinks 1227 is the more probable date (op. cit., 28). All agree that he died in 1274.
Landulph, his father, was Count of Aquino; Theodora, his mother, Countess of Teano. His family was related to the Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, and to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France. Calo relates that a holy hermit foretold his career, saying to Theodora before his birth: "He will enter the Order of Friars Preachers, and so great will be his learning and sanctity that in his day no one will be found to equal him" (Prümmer, op. cit., 18). At the age of five, according to the custom of the times, he was sent to receive his first training from the Benedictine monks of Monte Cassino. Diligent in study, he was thus early noted as being meditative and devoted to prayer, and his preceptor was surprised at hearing the child ask frequently: "What is God?"
About the year 1236 he was sent to the University of Naples. Calo says that the change was made at the instance of the Abbot of Monte Cassino, who wrote to Thomas’s father that a boy of such talents should not be left in obscurity (Prümmer, op. cit., 20). At Naples his preceptors were Pietro Martini and Petrus Hibernus. The chronicler says that he soon surpassed Martini at grammar, and he was then given over to Peter of Ireland, who trained him in logic and the natural sciences. The customs of the times divided the liberal arts into two courses:
- the Trivium, embracing grammar, logic, and rhetoric;
- the Quadrivium, comprising music, mathematics, geometry, and astronomy.
Thomas could repeat the lessons with more depth and lucidity than his masters displayed. The youth’s heart had remained pure amidst the corruption with which he was surrounded, and he resolved to embrace the religious life.
Some time between 1240 and August 1243, he received the habit of the Order of St. Dominic, being attracted and directed by John of St. Julian, a noted preacher of the convent of Naples. The city wondered that such a noble young man should don the garb of poor friar. His mother, with mingled feelings of joy and sorrow, hastened to Naples to see her son. The Dominicans, fearing she would take him away, sent him to Rome, his ultimate destination being Paris or Cologne. At the instance of Theodora, Thomas’s brothers, who were soldiers under the Emperor Frederick, captured the novice near the town of Aquapendente and confined him in the fortress of San Giovanni at Rocca Secca. Here he was detained nearly two years, his parents, brothers, and sisters endeavoring by various means to destroy his vocation. The brothers even laid snares for his virtue, but the pure-minded novice drove the temptress from his room with a brand which he snatched from the fire. Towards the end of his life, St. Thomas confided to his faithful friend and companion, Reginald of Piperno, the secret of a remarkable favor received at this time. When the temptress had been driven from his chamber, he knelt and most earnestly implored God to grant him integrity of mind and body. He fell into a gentle sleep, and, as he slept, two angels appeared to assure him that his prayer had been heard. They then girded him about with a white girdle, saying: "We gird thee with the girdle of perpetual virginity." And from that day forward he never experienced the slightest motions of concupiscence.
The time spent in captivity was not lost. His mother relented somewhat, after the first burst of anger and grief; the Dominicans were allowed to provide him with new habits, and through the kind offices of his sister he procured some books — the Holy Scriptures, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and the Sentences of Peter Lombard. After eighteen months or two years spent in prison, either because his mother saw that the hermit’s prophecy would eventually be fulfilled or because his brothers feared the threats of Innocent IV and Frederick II, he was set at liberty, being lowered in a basket into the arms of the Dominicans, who were delighted to find that during his captivity "he had made as much progress as if he had been in a studium generale" (Calo, op. cit., 24).
Thomas immediately pronounced his vows, and his superiors sent him to Rome. Innocent IV examined closely into his motives in joining the Friars Preachers, dismissed him with a blessing, and forbade any further interference with his vocation. John the Teutonic, fourth master general of the order, took the young student to Paris and, according to the majority of the saint’s biographers, to Cologne, where he arrived in 1244 or 1245, and was placed under Albertus Magnus, the most renowned professor of the order. In the schools Thomas’s humility and taciturnity were misinterpreted as signs of dullness, but when Albert had heard his brilliant defense of a difficult thesis, he exclaimed: “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world."
In 1245 Albert was sent to Paris, and Thomas accompanied him as a student. In 1248 both returned to Cologne. Albert had been appointed regent of the new studium generale, erected that year by the general chapter of the order, and Thomas was to teach under him as Bachelor. During his stay in Cologne, probably in 1250, he was raised to the priesthood by Conrad of Hochstaden, archbishop of that city. Throughout his busy life, he frequently preached the Word of God, in Germany, France, and Italy. His sermons were forceful, redolent of piety, full of solid instruction, abounding in apt citations from the Scriptures.
In the year 1251 or 1252 the master general of the order, by the advice of Albertus Magnus and Hugo a S. Charo (Hugh of St. Cher), sent Thomas to fill the office of Bachelor (sub-regent) in the Dominican studium at Paris. This appointment may be regarded as the beginning of his public career, for his teaching soon attracted the attention both of the professors and of the students. His duties consisted principally in explaining the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and his commentaries on that text-book of theology furnished the materials and, in great part, the plan for his chief work, the Summa Theologica.
In due time he was ordered to prepare himself to obtain the degree of Doctor in Theology from the University of Paris, but the conferring of the degree was postponed, owing to a dispute between the university and the friars. The conflict, originally a dispute between the university and the civic authorities, arose from the slaying of one of the students and the wounding of three others by the city guard. The university, jealous of its autonomy, demanded satisfaction, which was refused. The doctors closed their schools, solemnly swore that they would not reopen them until their demands were granted, and decreed that in future no one should be admitted to the degree of Doctor unless he would take an oath to follow the same line of conduct under similar circumstances. The Dominicans and Franciscans, who had continued to teach in their schools, refused to take the prescribed oath, and from this there arose a bitter conflict which was at its height when St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure were ready to be presented for their degrees. William of St-Amour extended the dispute beyond the original question, violently attacked the friars, of whom he was evidently jealous, and denied their right to occupy chairs in the university. Against his book, De Periculis Novissimorum Temporum (The Perils of the Last Times), St. Thomas wrote a treatise Contra Impugnantes Religionem, an apology for the religious orders (Touron, op. cit., II, cc. vii sqq.). The book of William of St-Amour was condemned by Alexander IV at Anagni, October 5, 1256, and the pope gave orders that the mendicant friars should be admitted to the doctorate.
About this time St. Thomas also combated a dangerous book, The Eternal Gospel (Touron, op. cit., II, cxii). The university authorities did not obey immediately; the influence of St. Louis IX and eleven papal Briefs were required before peace was firmly established, and St. Thomas was admitted to the degree of Doctor in Theology. The date of his promotion, as given by many biographers, was October 23, 1257. His theme was "The Majesty of Christ". His text, "Thou waterest the hills from thy upper rooms: the earth shall be filled with the fruit of thy works" (Psalm 103:13), said to have been suggested by a heavenly visitor, seems to have been prophetic of his career. A tradition says that St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas received the doctorate on the same day, and that there was a contest of humility between the two friends as to which should be promoted first.
From this time St. Thomas’s life may be summed up in a few words: praying, preaching, teaching, writing, journeying. Men were more anxious to hear him than they had been to hear Albert, whom St. Thomas surpassed in accuracy, lucidity, brevity, and power of exposition, if not in universality of knowledge. Paris claimed him as her own; the popes wished to have him near them; the studia of the order were eager to enjoy the benefit of his teaching; hence we find him successively at Anagni, Rome, Bologna, Orvieto, Viterbo, Perugia, in Paris again, and finally in Naples, always teaching and writing, living on earth with one passion, an ardent zeal for the explanation and defense of Christian truth. So devoted was he to his sacred task that with tears he begged to be excused from accepting the Archbishopric of Naples, to which he was appointed by Clement IV in 1265. Had this appointment been accepted, most probably the Summa Theologica would not have been written.
Yielding to the requests of his brethren, he on several occasions took part in the deliberations of the general chapters of the order. One of these chapters was held in London in 1263. In another held at Valenciennes (1259) he collaborated with Albertus Magnus and Peter of Tarentasia (afterwards Pope Innocent V) in formulating a system of studies which is substantially preserved to this day in the studia generalia of the Dominican Order (cf. Douais, op. cit.).
It is not surprising to read in the biographies of St. Thomas that he was frequently abstracted and in ecstasy. Towards the end of his life the ecstasies became more frequent. On one occasion, at Naples in 1273, after he had completed his treatise on the Eucharist, three of the brethren saw him lifted in ecstasy, and they heard a voice proceeding from the crucifix on the altar, saying "Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?" Thomas replied, "None other than Thyself, Lord" (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 38). Similar declarations are said to have been made at Orvieto and at Paris.
On December 6, 1273, he laid aside his pen and would write no more. That day he experienced an unusually long ecstasy during Mass; what was revealed to him we can only surmise from his reply to Father Reginald, who urged him to continue his writings: "I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value" (modica, Prümmer, op. cit., p. 43). The Summa Theologica had been completed only as far as the ninetieth question of the Third part (De partibus poenitentiae).
Thomas began his immediate preparation for death. Gregory X, having convoked a general council, to open at Lyons on May 1, 1274, invited St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to take part in the deliberations, commanding the former to bring to the council his treatise Contra Errores Graecorum (Against the Errors of the Greeks). He tried to obey, setting out on foot in January 1274, but strength failed him; he fell to the ground near Terracina, whence he was conducted to the Castle of Maienza, the home of his niece the Countess Francesca Ceccano. The Cistercian monks of Fossa Nuova pressed him to accept their hospitality, and he was conveyed to their monastery, on entering which he whispered to his companion: "This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it" (Psalm 131:14). When Father Reginald urged him to remain at the castle, the saint replied: "If the Lord wishes to take me away, it is better that I be found in a religious house than in the dwelling of a lay person." The Cistercians were so kind and attentive that Thomas’s humility was alarmed. "Whence comes this honor", he exclaimed, "that servants of God should carry wood for my fire!" At the urgent request of the monks he dictated a brief commentary on the Canticle of Canticles.
The end was near; extreme unction was administered. When the Sacred Viaticum was brought into the room he pronounced the following act of faith:
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 firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament. I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and labored. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.
He died on March 7, 1274. Numerous miracles attested his sanctity, and he was canonized by John XXII, July 18, 1323. The monks of Fossa Nuova were anxious to keep his sacred remains, but by order of Urban V the body was given to his Dominican brethren, and was solemnly translated to the Dominican church at Toulouse, January 28, 1369. A magnificent shrine erected in 1628 was destroyed during the French Revolution, and the body was removed to the Church of St. Sernin, where it now reposes in a sarcophagus of gold and silver, which was solemnly blessed by Cardinal Desprez on July 24, 1878. The chief bone of his left arm is preserved in the cathedral of Naples. The right arm, bestowed on the University of Paris, and originally kept in the St. Thomas’s Chapel of the Dominican church, is now preserved in the Dominican Church of S. Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, whither it was transferred during the French Revolution.
A description of the saint as he appeared in life is given by Calo (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 401), who says that his features corresponded with the greatness of his soul. He was of lofty stature and of heavy build, but straight and well proportioned. His complexion was "like the color of new wheat": his head was large and well shaped, and he was slightly bald. All portraits represent him as noble, meditative, gentle yet strong. St. Pius V proclaimed St. Thomas a Doctor of the Universal Church in the year 1567. In the encyclical Aeterni Patris, of August 4, 1879, on the restoration of Christian philosophy, Leo XIII declared him “the prince and master of all Scholastic doctors". The same illustrious pontiff, by a Brief dated August 4, 1880, designated him patron of all Catholic universities, academies, colleges, and schools throughout the world.
IIa. WRITINGS (GENERAL REMARKS)
Although St. Thomas lived less than fifty years, he composed more than sixty works, some of them brief, some very lengthy. This does not necessarily mean that every word in the authentic works was written by his hand; he was assisted by secretaries, and biographers assure us that he could dictate to several scribes at the same time. Other works, some of which were composed by his disciples, have been falsely attributed to him.
In the Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum (Paris, 1719) Fr. Echard devotes eighty-six folio pages to St. Thomas’s works, the different editions and translations (I, pp. 282-348). Touron (op. cit., pp. 69 sqq.) says that manuscript copies were found in nearly all the libraries of Europe, and that, after the invention of printing, copies were multiplied rapidly in Germany, Italy, and France, portions of the Summa Theologica being one of the first important works printed. Peter Schöffer, a printer of Mainz, published the “Secunda Secundae" in 1467. This is the first known printed copy of any work of St. Thomas. The first complete edition of the Summa was printed at Basle, in 1485. Many other editions of this and of other works were published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially at Venice and at Lyons. The principal editions of all the work (Opera Omnia) were published as follows: Rome, 1570; Venice, 1594, 1612, 1745; Antwerp, 1612; Paris, 1660, 1871-80 (Vives); Parma, 1852-73; Rome, 1882 (the Leonine). The Roman edition of 1570, called "the Piana", because edited by order of St. Pius V, was the standard for many years. Besides a carefully revised text it contained the commentaries of Cardinal Cajetan and the valuable Tabula Aurea of Peter of Bergamo. The Venetian edition of 1612 was highly prized because the text was accompanied by the Cajetan-Porrecta commentaries. The Leonine edition, begun under the patronage of Leo XIII, now continued under the master general of the Dominicans, undoubtedly will be the most perfect of all. Critical dissertations on each work will be given, the text will be carefully revised, and all references will be verified. By direction of Leo XIII (motu proprio, January 18, 1880) the Summa Contra Gentiles will be published with the commentaries of Sylvester Ferrariensis, whilst the commentaries of Cajetan go with the Summa Theologica.
The latter has been published, being volumes IV-XII of the edition (last in 1906). St. Thomas’s works may be classified as philosophical, theological, scriptural, and apologetic, or controversial. The division, however, cannot always be rigidly maintained. The Summa Theologica, e.g., contains much that is philosophical, whilst the Summa Contra Gentiles is principally, but not exclusively, philosophical and apologetic. His philosophical works are chiefly commentaries on Aristotle, and his first important theological writings were commentaries on Peter Lombard’s four books of Sentences; but he does not slavishly follow either the Philosopher or the Master of the Sentences (on opinions of the Lombard rejected by theologians, see Migne, 1841, edition of the Summa, I, p. 451).
IIb. WRITINGS (HIS PRINCIPAL WORKS)
Amongst the works wherein St. Thomas’s own mind and method are shown, the following deserve special mention:
- Quaestiones Disputatae (Disputed Questions) — These were more complete treatises on subjects that had not been fully elucidated in the lecture halls, or concerning which the professor’s opinion had been sought. They are very valuable, because in them the author, free from limitations as to time or space, freely expresses his mind and gives all arguments for or against the opinions adopted. These treatises, containing the questions "De potentia", “De malo", “De spirit. creaturis", “De anima", “De unione Verbi Incarnati", “De virt. in communi", “De caritate", “De corr. fraterna", “De spe", “De virt. cardinal.", “De veritate", were often reprinted, e.g., recently by the Association of St. Paul (2 vols., Paris and Fribourg, Switzerland, 1883).
- Quodlibeta (may be rendered "Various Subjects", or "Free Discussions") — They present questions or arguments proposed and answers given in or outside the lecture halls, chiefly in the more formal Scholastic exercises, termed circuli, conclusiones, or determinationes, which were held once or twice a year.
- De Unitate Intellectus Contra Averroistas — This opusculum refuted a very dangerous and widespread error, viz., that there was but one soul for all men, a theory which did away with individual liberty and responsibility.
- Commentaria in Libros Sententiarum (mentioned above) — This with the following work are the immediate forerunners of the Summa Theologica.
- Summa de Veritate Catholicae Fidei Contra Gentiles (Treatise on the Truth of the Catholic Faith, against Unbelievers) — This work, written at Rome, 1261-64, was composed at the request of St. Raymond of Pennafort, who desired to have a philosophical exposition and defence of the Christian Faith, to be used against the Jews and Moors in Spain. It is a perfect model of patient and sound apologetics, showing that no demonstrated truth (science) is opposed to revealed truth (faith). The best recent editions are those of Rome, 1878 (by Uccelli), of Paris and Fribourg, Switzerland, 1882, and of Rome, 1894. It has been translated into many languages. It is divided into four books:
- Of God as He is in Himself;
- Of God the Origin of Creatures;
- Of God the End of Creatures;
- Of God in His Revelation.
It is worthy of remark that the Fathers of the Vatican Council, treating the necessity of revelation (Coast. Dei Filius, c. 2), employed almost the very words used by St. Thomas in treating that subject in this work (I, cc. iv, V), and in the Summa Theologica (I:1:1).
- Three works written by order of Urban IV ―
- The Opusculum Contra Errores Graecorum refuted the errors of the Greeks on doctrines in dispute between them and the Roman Church, viz., the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, the primacy of the Roman pontiff, the Holy Eucharist, and purgatory. It was used against the Greeks with telling effect in the Council of Lyons (1274) and in the Council of Florence (1493). In the range of human reasonings on deep subjects there can be found nothing to surpass the sublimity and depth of the argument adduced by St. Thomas to prove that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son (cf. Summa I:36:2); but it must be borne in mind that our Faith is not based on that argument alone.
- Officium de festo Corporis Christi. Mandonnet (Ecrits, p. 127) declares that it is now established beyond doubt that St. Thomas is the author of the beautiful Office of Corpus Christi, in which solid doctrine, tender piety, and enlightening Scriptural citations are combined, and expressed in language remarkably accurate, beautiful, chaste, and poetic. Here we find the well-known hymns, “Sacris Solemniis", “Pange Lingua" (concluding in the “Tantum Ergo"), “Verbum Supernum" (concluding with the “O Salutaris Hostia") and, in the Mass, the beautiful sequence “Lauda Sion". In the responses of the office, St. Thomas places side by side words of the New Testament affirming the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and texts from the Old Testament referring to the types and figures of the Eucharist. Santeuil, a poet of the seventeenth century, said he would give all the verses he had written for the one stanza of the “Verbum Supernum": "Se nascens dedit socium, convescens in edulium: Se moriens in pretium, Se regnans dat in praemium" ― "In birth, man’s fellow-man was He, His meat, while sitting at the Board: He died his Ransomer to be, He reigns to be his Great Reward" (tr. by Marquis of Bute). Perhaps the gem of the whole office is the antiphon “O Sacrum Convivium" (cf. Conway, St. Thomas Aquinas, London and New York, 1911, p. 61).
- The Catena Aurea though not as original as his other writings, furnishes a striking proof of St. Thomas’s prodigious memory and manifests an intimate acquaintance with the Fathers of the Church. The work contains a series of passages selected from the writings of the various Fathers, arranged in such order that the texts cited form a running commentary on the Gospels. The commentary on St. Matthew was dedicated to Urban IV. An English translation of the Catena Aurea was edited by John Henry Newman (4 vols., Oxford 1841-1845; see Vaughan, op. cit., vol. II,) pp. 529 sqq.
- The Summa Theologica ― This work immortalized St. Thomas. The author himself modestly considered it simply a manual of Christian doctrine for the use of students. In reality it is a complete scientifically arranged exposition of theology and at the same time a summary of Christian philosophy. In the brief prologue St. Thomas first calls attention to the difficulties experienced by students of sacred doctrine in his day, the causes assigned being: the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments; the lack of scientific order; frequent repetitions, "which beget disgust and confusion in the minds of learners". Then he adds: "Wishing to avoid these and similar drawbacks, we shall endeavor, confiding in the Divine assistance, to treat of these things that pertain to sacred doctrine with brevity and clearness, in so far as the subject to he treated will permit." In the introductory question, “On Sacred Doctrine", he proves that, besides the knowledge which reason affords, Revelation also is necessary for salvation first, because without it men could not know the supernatural end to which they must tend by their voluntary acts; secondly, because, without Revelation, even the truths concerning God which could be proved by reason would be known "only by a few, after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors". When revealed truths have been accepted, the mind of man proceeds to explain them and to draw conclusions from them. Hence results theology, which is a science, because it proceeds from principles that are certain (Answer 2). The object, or subject, of this science is God; other things are treated in it only in so far as they relate to God (Answer 7). Reason is used in theology not to prove the truths of faith, which are accepted on the authority of God, but to defend, explain, and develop the doctrines revealed (Answer 8). He thus announces the division of the Summa: "Since the chief aim of this sacred science is to give the knowledge of God, not only as He is in Himself, but also as He is the Beginning of all things, and the End of all, especially of rational creatures, we shall treat first of God; secondly, of the rational creature’s advance towards God (de motu creaturae rationalis in Deum); thirdly, of Christ, Who, as Man, is the way by which we tend to God." God in Himself, and as He is the Creator; God as the End of all things, especially of man; God as the Redeemer — these are the leading ideas, the great headings, under which all that pertains to theology is contained.
The First Part (Pars Prima, I or Iae) is divided into three tracts:
- On those things which pertain to the Essence of God;
- On the distinction of Persons in God (the mystery of the Trinity);
- On the production of creatures by God and on the creatures produced.
The Second Part, On God as He is in the End of man, is sometimes called the Moral Theology of St. Thomas, i.e., his treatise on the end of man and on human acts. It is subdivided into two parts, known as the First Section of the Second (Prima Secunda, I-II, or Ia IIae) and the Second of the Second (Secunda Secundæ, II-II or IIa IIae).
The First of the Second. The first five questions are devoted to proving that man’s last end, his beatitude, consists in the possession of God. Man attains to that end or deviates from it by human acts, i.e., by free, deliberate acts. Of human acts he treats, first, in general (in all but the first five questions of the I-II), secondly, in particular (in the whole of the II-II). The treatise on human acts in general is divided into two parts: the first, on human acts in themselves; the other, on the principles or causes, extrinsic or intrinsic, of those acts. In these tracts and in the Second of the Second, St. Thomas, following Aristotle, gives a perfect description and a wonderfully keen analysis of the movements of man’s mind and heart.
The Second of the Second considers human acts, i.e., the virtues and vices, in particular. In it St. Thomas treats, first, of those things that pertain to all men, no matter what may be their station in life, and, secondly, of those things that pertain to some men only. Things that pertain to all men are reduced to seven headings:
- and Charity;
- and Temperance.
Under each title, in order to avoid repetitions, St. Thomas treats not only of the virtue itself, but also of the vices opposed to it, of the commandment to practice it, and of the gift of the Holy Ghost which corresponds to it. Things pertaining to some men only are reduced to three headings: the graces freely given (gratia gratis datae) to certain individuals for the good of the Church, such as the gifts of tongues, of prophecy, of miracles; the active and the contemplative life; the particular states of life, and duties of those who are in different states, especially bishops and religious.
The Third Part treats of Christ and of the benefits which He has conferred upon man, hence three tracts: On the Incarnation, and on what the Savior did and suffered; On the Sacraments, which were instituted by Christ, and have their efficacy from His merits and sufferings; On Eternal Life, i.e., on the end of the world, the resurrection of bodies, judgment, the punishment of the wicked, the happiness of the just who, through Christ, attain to eternal life in heaven.
Eight years were given to the composition of this work, which was begun at Rome, where the First Part and the First of the Second were written (1265-69). The Second of the Second, begun in Rome, was completed in Paris (1271). In 1272 St. Thomas went to Naples, where the Third Part (Pars Tertia or III) was written, down to the ninetieth question of the tract “On Penance" (see Leonine edition, I, p. xlii). The work has been completed by the addition of a supplement, drawn from other writings of St. Thomas, attributed by some to Peter of Auvergne, by others to Henry of Gorkum. These attributions are rejected by the editors of the Leonine edition (XI, pp. viii, xiv, xviii). Mandonnet (op. cit., 153) inclines to the very probable opinion that it was compiled by Father Reginald de Piperno, the saint’s faithful companion and secretary. The entire Summa contains 38 Treatises, 612 Questions, subdivided into 3120 articles, in which about 10,000 objections are proposed and answered. So admirably is the promised order preserved that, by reference to the beginning of the “Tracts and Questions", one can see at a glance what place it occupies in the general plan, which embraces all that can be known through theology of God, of man, and of their mutual relations:
The whole Summa is arranged on a uniform plan. Every subject is introduced as a question, and divided into articles. Each article has also a uniform disposition of parts. The topic is introduced as an inquiry for discussion, under the term Utrum, whether — e.g. Utrum Deus sit? The objections against the proposed thesis are then stated. These are generally three or four in number, but sometimes extend to seven or more. The conclusion adopted is then introduced by the words, Respondeo dicendum. At the end of the thesis expounded the objections are answered, under the forms, ad primum, ad secundum, etc.
The Summa is Christian doctrine in scientific form; it is human reason rendering its highest service in defense and explanation of the truths of the Christian religion. It is the answer of the matured and saintly doctor to the question of his youth: What is God? Revelation, made known in the Scriptures and by tradition; reason and its best results; soundness and fullness of doctrine, order, conciseness and clearness of expression, effacement of self, the love of truth alone, hence a remarkable fairness towards adversaries and calmness in combating their errors; soberness and soundness of judgment, together with a charmingly tender and enlightened piety — these are all found in this Summa more than in his other writings, more than in the writings of his contemporaries, for "among the Scholastic doctors, the chief and master of all, towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes (In II-II, Q. 148, a. 4) ’because he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all’" (encyclical, Aeterni Patris, of Leo XIII).
b. Editions and Translations
It is impossible to mention the various editions of the Summa, which has been in constant use for more than seven hundred years. Very few books have been so often republished. The first complete edition, printed at Basle in 1485, was soon followed by others, e.g., at Venice in 1505, 1509, 1588, 1594; at Lyons in 1520, 1541, 1547, 1548, 1581, 1588, 1624,1655; at Antwerp in 1575. These are enumerated by Touron (op. cit., p. 692), who says that about the same time other editions were published at Rome, Antwerp, Rouen, Paris, Douai, Cologne, Amsterdam, Bologna, etc. The editors of the Leonine edition deem worthy of mention those published at Paris in 1617, 1638, and 1648, at Lyons in 1663, 1677, and 1686, and a Roman edition of 1773 (IV, pp. xi, xii). Of all old editions they consider the most accurate two published at Padua, one in 1698, the other in 1712, and the Venice edition of 1755. Of recent editions the best are the ― following: the Leonine; the Migne editions (Paris, 1841, 1877); the first volume of the 1841 edition containing the “Libri quatuor sententiarum" of Peter Lombard; the very practical Faucher edition (5 vols. small quarto, Paris, 1887), dedicated to Cardinal Pecci, enriched with valuable notes; a Roman edition of 1894. The Summa has been translated into many modern languages as well.
IIc. WRITINGS (METHOD AND STYLE)
It is not possible to characterize the method of St. Thomas by one word, unless it can be called eclectic. It is Aristotelean, Platonic, and Socratic; it is inductive and deductive; it is analytic and synthetic. He chose the best that could he found in those who preceded him, carefully sifting the chaff from the wheat, approving what was true, rejecting the false. His powers of synthesis were extraordinary. No writer surpassed him in the faculty of expressing in a few well-chosen words the truth gathered from a multitude of varying and conflicting opinions; and in almost every instance the student sees the truth and is perfectly satisfied with St. Thomas’s summary and statement. Not that he would have students swear by the words of a master. In philosophy, he says, arguments from authority are of secondary importance; philosophy does not consist in knowing what men have said, but in knowing the truth (In I lib. de Coelo, lect. xxii; II Sent., D. xiv, a. 2, ad I). He assigns its proper place to reason used in theology, but he keeps it within its own sphere. Against the Traditionalists [Ed’s note: not to be confused with those faithful to Catholic Tradition] the Holy See has declared that the method used by St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure does not lead to Rationalism (Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 1652). Not so bold or original in investigating nature as were Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon, he was, nevertheless, abreast of his time in science, and many of his opinions are of scientific value in the twentieth century. Take, for instance, the following: “In the same plant there is the two-fold virtue, active and passive, though sometimes the active is found in one and the passive in another, so that one plant is said to be masculine and the other feminine" (III Sent., D. III, Q. ii, a 1).
The style of St. Thomas is a medium between the rough expressiveness of some Scholastics and the fastidious elegance of John of Salisbury; it is remarkable for accuracy, brevity, and completeness. Pope Innocent VI (quoted in the encyclical, Aeterni Patris, of Leo XIII) declared that, with the exception of the canonical writings, the works of St. Thomas surpass all others in "accuracy of expression and truth of statement" (habet proprietatem verborum, modum dicendorum, veritatem sententiarum). Great orators, such as Bossuet, Lacordaire, Monsabré, have studied his style, and have been influenced by it, but they could not reproduce it. The same is true of theological writers. Cajetan knew St. Thomas’s style better than any of his disciples, but Cajetan is beneath his great master in clearness and accuracy of expression, in soberness and solidity of judgment. St. Thomas did not attain to this perfection without an effort. He was a singularly blessed genius, but he was also an indefatigable worker, and by continued application he reached that stage of perfection in the art of writing where the art disappears. "The author’s manuscript of the Summa Contra Gentiles is still in great part extant. It is now in the Vatican Library. The manuscript consists of strips of parchment, of various shades of colour, contained in an old parchment cover to which they were originally stitched. The writing is in double column, and difficult to decipher, abounding in abbreviations, often passing into a kind of shorthand. Throughout many passages a line is drawn in sign of erasure" (Rickaby, op. cit., preface: see Ucelli ed., Sum. Cont. Gent., Rome, 1878).
III. INFLUENCES EXERTED ON ST. THOMAS
How was this great genius formed? The causes that exerted an influence on St. Thomas were of two kinds, natural and supernatural.
A. Natural Causes
- As a foundation, he "was a witty child, and had received a good soul" (Wisdom 8:19). From the beginning he manifested precocious and extraordinary talent and thoughtfulness beyond his years.
- His education was such that great things might have been expected of him. His training at Monte Cassino, at Naples, Paris, and Cologne was the best that the thirteenth century could give, and that century was the golden age of education. That it afforded excellent opportunities for forming great philosophers and theologians is evident from the character of St. Thomas’s contemporaries. Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, St. Bonaventure, St. Raymond of Pennafort, Roger Bacon, Hugo a S. Charo, Vincent of Beauvais, not to mention scores of others, prove beyond all doubt that those were days of really great scholars. (See Walsh, The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries, New York, 1907.) The men who trained St. Thomas were his teachers at Monte Cassino and Naples, but above all Albertus Magnus, under whom he studied at Paris and Cologne.
- The books that exercised the greatest influence on his mind were the Bible, the Decrees of the councils and of the popes, the works of the Fathers, Greek and Latin, especially of St. Augustine, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the writings of the philosophers, especially of Plato, Aristotle, and Boethius. If from these authors any were to be selected for special mention, undoubtedly they would be Aristotle, St. Augustine, and Peter Lombard. In another sense the writings of St. Thomas were influenced by Averroes, the chief opponent whom he had to combat in order to defend and make known the true Aristotle.
- It must be borne in mind that St. Thomas was blessed with a retentive memory and great powers of penetration. Father Daniel d’Agusta once pressed him to say what he considered the greatest grace he had ever received, sanctifying grace of course excepted. "I think that of having understood whatever I have read", was the reply. St. Antoninus declared that "he remembered everything be had read, so that his mind was like a huge library" (cf. Drane, op. cit., p. 427; Vaughan, op. cit., II, p. 567). The bare enumeration of the texts of Scripture cited in the Summa Theologica fills eighty small-print columns in the Migne edition, and by many it is not unreasonably supposed that he learned the Sacred Books by heart while he was imprisoned in the Castle of San Giovanni. Like St. Dominic he had a special love for the Epistles of St. Paul, on which he wrote commentaries (recent edition in 2 vols., Turin, 1891).
- Deep reverence for the Faith, as made known by tradition, characterizes all his writings. The consuetudo ecclesiae — the practice of the Church — should prevail over the authority of any doctor (Summa II-II:10:12). In the Summa he quotes from 19 councils, 41 popes, and 52 Fathers of the Church. A slight acquaintance with his writings will show that among the Fathers his favourite was St. Augustine (on the Greek Fathers see Vaughan, op. cit., II, cc. iii sqq.).
- With St. Augustine (II De Doctr. Christ., c. xl), St. Thomas held that whatever there was of truth in the writings of pagan philosophers should be taken from them, as from "unjust possessors", and adapted to the teaching of the true religion (Summa I:84:5). In the Summa alone he quotes from the writings of 46 philosophers and poets, his favourite authors being Aristotle, Plato, and, among Christian writers, Boethius. From Aristotle he learned that love of order and accuracy of expression which are characteristic of his own works. From Boethius he learned that Aristotle’s works could be used without detriment to Christianity. He did not follow Boethius in his vain attempt to reconcile Plato and Aristotle. In general the Stagirite was his master, but the elevation and grandeur of St. Thomas’s conceptions and the majestic dignity of his methods of treatment speak strongly of the sublime Plato.
B. Supernatural Causes
Even if we do not accept as literally true the declaration of John XXII, that St. Thomas wrought as many miracles as there are articles in the Summa, we must, nevertheless, go beyond causes merely natural in attempting to explain his extraordinary career and wonderful writings.
- Purity of mind and body contributes in no small degree to clearness of vision (see St. Thomas, Commentaries on I Cor., c. vii, Lesson v). By the gift of purity, miraculously granted at the time of the mystic girdling, God made Thomas’s life angelic; the perspicacity and depth of his intellect, Divine grace aiding, made him the "Angelic Doctor".
- The spirit of prayer, his great piety and devotion, drew down blessings on his studies. Explaining why he read, every day, portions of the “Conferences" of Cassian, he said: "In such reading I find devotion, whence I readily ascend to contemplation" (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 32). In the lessons of the Breviary read on his feast day it is explicitly stated that he never began to study without first invoking the assistance of God in prayer; and when he wrestled with obscure passages of the Scriptures, to prayer he added fasting.
- Facts narrated by persons who either knew St. Thomas in life or wrote at about the time of his canonization prove that he received assistance from heaven. To Father Reginald he declared that he had learned more in prayer and contemplation than he had acquired from men or books (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 36). These same authors tell of mysterious visitors who came to encourage and enlighten him. The Blessed Virgin appeared, to assure him that his life and his writings were acceptable to God, and that he would persevere in his holy vocation. Sts. Peter and Paul came to aid him in interpreting an obscure passage in Isaias. When humility caused him to consider himself unworthy of the doctorate, a venerable religious of his order (supposed to be St. Dominic) appeared to encourage him and suggested the text for his opening discourse (Prümmer, op. cit., 29, 37; Tocco in Acta SS., VII Mar.; Vaughan, op. cit., II, 91). His ecstasies have been mentioned. His abstractions in presence of King Louis IX (St. Louis) and of distinguished visitors are related by all biographers. Hence, even if allowance be made for great enthusiasm on the part of his admirers, we must conclude that his extraordinary learning cannot be attributed to merely natural causes. Of him it may truly be said that he laboured as if all depended on his own efforts and prayed as if all depended on God.
IVa. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (ON SANCTITY)
The great Scholastics were holy as well as learned men. Alexander of Hales, St. Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas, and St. Bonaventure prove that learning does not necessarily dry up devotion. The angelic Thomas and the seraphic Bonaventure represent the highest types of Christian scholarship, combining eminent learning with heroic sanctity. Cardinal Bessarion called St. Thomas "the most saintly of learned men and the most learned of saints". His works breathe the spirit of God, a tender and enlightened piety, built on a solid foundation, viz. the knowledge of God, of Christ, of man. The Summa Theologica may he made a manual of piety as well as a text-book for the study of theology (Cf. Drane, op. cit., p. 446). St. Francis de Sales, St. Philip Neri, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Pius V, St. Antoninus constantly studied St. Thomas. Nothing could be more inspiring than his treatises on Christ, in His sacred Person, in His life and sufferings. His treatise on the sacraments, especially on penance and the Eucharist, would melt even hardened hearts. He takes pains to explain the various ceremonies of the Mass (De Ritu Eucharistiae in Summa III:83), and no writer has explained more clearly than St. Thomas the effects produced in the souls of men by this heavenly Bread (Summa III:79). The principles recently urged, in regard to frequent Communion, by Pius X (Sacra Trid. Synodus, 1905) are found in St. Thomas (Summa III:79:8, III:80:10), although he is not so explicit on this point as he is on the Communion of children. In the decree Quam Singulari (1910) the pope cites St. Thomas, who teaches that, when children begin to have some use of reason, so that they can conceive some devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, they may be allowed to communicate (Summa III:80:9). The spiritual and devotional aspects of St. Thomas’s theology have been pointed out by Father Contenson, O.P., in his Theologia Mentis et Cordis. They are more fully explained by Father Vallgornera, O.P., in his Theologia Mystica D. Thomae, wherein the author leads the soul to God through the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. The encyclical letter of Leo XIII on the Holy Ghost is drawn largely from St. Thomas, and those who have studied the “Prima Secundae" and the “Secunda Secundae" know how admirably the saint explains the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost, as well as the Beatitudes, and their relations to the different virtues Nearly all good spiritual writers seek in St. Thomas definitions of the virtues which they recommend.
IVb. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (ON INTELLECTUAL LIFE)
Since the days of Aristotle, probably no one man has exercised such a powerful influence on the thinking world as did St. Thomas. His authority was very great during his lifetime. The popes, the universities, the studia of his order were anxious to profit by his learning and prudence. Several of his important works were written at the request of others, and his opinion was sought by all classes. On several occasions the doctors of Paris referred their disputes to him and gratefully abided by his decision (Vaughan, op. cit., II, 1, p. 544). His principles, made known by his writings, have continued to influence men even to this day. This subject cannot be considered in all its aspects, nor is that necessary. His influence on matters purely philosophical is fully explained in histories of philosophy. His paramount importance and influence may be explained by considering him as the Christian Aristotle, combining in his person the best that the world has known in philosophy and theology. It is in this light that he is proposed as a model by Leo XIII in the famous encyclical Aeterni Patris. The work of his life may be summed up in two propositions: he established the true relations between faith and reason; he systematized theology.
1. Faith and Reason
The principles of St. Thomas on the relations between faith and reason were solemnly proclaimed in the Vatican Council. The second, third, and fourth chapters of the Constitution Dei Filius read like pages taken from the works of the Angelic Doctor. First, reason alone is no sufficient to guide men: they need Revelation; we must carefully distinguish the truths known by reason from higher truths (mysteries) known by Revelation. Secondly, reason and Revelation, though distinct, are not opposed to each other. Thirdly, faith preserves reason from error; reason should do service in the cause of faith. Fourthly, this service is rendered in three ways:
- reason should prepare the minds of men to receive the Faith by proving the truths which faith presupposes (praeambula fidei);
- reason should explain and develop the truths of Faith and should propose them in scientific form;
- reason should defend the truths revealed by Almighty God.
This is a development of St. Augustine’s famous saying (De Trin., XIV, c. i), that the right use of reason is "that by which the most wholesome faith is begotten is nourished, defended, and made strong". These principles are proposed by St. Thomas in many places, especially in the following: In Boethium, da Trin. Proem., Q. ii, a. 1; Sum. Cont. Gent., I, cc. iii-ix; Summa I:1:1, I:1:5, I:1:8, I:32:1, I:84:5. St. Thomas’s services to the Faith are thus summed up by Leo XIII in the encyclical Aeterni Patris: "He won this title of distinction for himself: that singlehanded he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put to rout those which might in after times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason and faith, he both preserved and had regard for the rights of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas." St. Thomas did not combat imaginary foes; he attacked living adversaries. The works of Aristotle had been introduced into France in faulty translations and with the misleading commentaries of Jewish and Moorish philosophers. This gave rise to a flood of errors which so alarmed the authorities that the reading of Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics was forbidden by Robert de Courçon in 1210, the decree being moderated by Gregory IX in 1231. There crept into the University of Paris an insidious spirit of irreverence and Rationalism, represented especially by Abelard and Raymond Lullus, which claimed that reason could know and prove all things, even the mysteries of Faith. Under the authority of Averroes dangerous doctrines were propagated, especially two very pernicious errors: first, that philosophy and religion being in different regions, what is true in religion might be false in philosophy; secondly, that all men have but one soul. Averroes was commonly styled "The Commentator", but St. Thomas says he was “not so much a Peripatetic as a corruptor of Peripatetic philosophy" (Opuse. de unit. intell.). Applying a principle of St. Augustine (see I:84:5), following in the footsteps of Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas resolved to take what was true from the "unjust possessors", in order to press it into the service of revealed religion. Objections to Aristotle would cease if the true Aristotle were made known; hence his first care was to obtain a new translation of the works of the great philosopher. Aristotle was to be purified; false commentators were to be refuted; the most influential of these was Averroes, hence St. Thomas is continually rejecting his false interpretations.
2. Theology Systematized
The next step was to press reason into the service of the Faith, by putting Christian doctrine into scientific form. Scholasticism does not consist, as some persons imagine, in useless discussions and subtleties, but in this, that it expresses sound doctrine in language which is accurate, clear, and concise. In the encyclical Aeterni Patris Leo XIII, citing the words of Sixtus V (bull Triumphantis, 1588), declares that to the right use of philosophy we are indebted for "those noble endowments which make Scholastic theology so formidable to the enemies of truth", because “that ready coherence of cause and effect, that order and array of a disciplined army in battle, those clear definitions and distinctions, that strength of argument and those keen discussions by which light is distinguished from darkness, the true from the false, expose and lay bare, as it were, the falsehoods of heretics wrapped around by a cloud of subterfuges and fallacies". When the great Scholastics had written, there was light where there had been darkness, there was order where confusion had prevailed. The work of St. Anselm and of Peter Lombard was perfected by the Scholastic theologians. Since their days no substantial improvements have been made in the plan and system of theology, although the field of apologetics has been widened, and positive theology has become more important.
IVc. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (HIS DOCTRINE FOLLOWED)
Within a short time after his death the writings of St. Thomas were universally esteemed. The Dominicans naturally took the lead in following St. Thomas. The general chapter held in Paris in 1279 pronounced severe penalties against all who dared to speak irreverently of him or of his writings. The chapters held in Paris in 1286, at Bordeaux in 1287, and at Lucca in 1288 expressly required the brethren to follow the doctrine of Thomas, who at that time had not been canonized (Const. Ord. Praed., n. 1130). The University of Paris, on the occasion of Thomas’s death, sent an official letter of condolence to the general chapter of the Dominicans, declaring that, equally with his brethren, the university experienced sorrow at the loss of one who was their own by many titles (see text of letter in Vaughan, op. cit., II, p. 82). In the encyclical Aeterni Patris Leo XIII mentions the Universities of Paris, Salamanca, Alcalá, Douai, Toulouse, Louvain, Padua, Bologna, Naples, Coimbra as "the homes of human wisdom where Thomas reigned supreme, and the minds of all, of teachers as well as of taught, rested in wonderful harmony under the shield and authority of the Angelic Doctor". To the list may be added Lima and Manila, Fribourg and Washington. Seminaries and colleges followed the lead of the universities. The Summa gradually supplanted the Sentences as the textbook of theology. Minds were formed in accordance with the principles of St. Thomas; he became the great master, exercising a world-wide influence on the opinions of men and on their writings; for even those who did not adopt all of his conclusions were obliged to give due consideration to his opinions. It has been estimated that 6000 commentaries on St. Thomas’s works have been written. Manuals of theology and of philosophy, composed with the intention of imparting his teaching, translations, and studies, or digests (études), of portions of his works have been published in profusion during the last six hundred years and today his name is in honour all over the world. In every one of the general councils held since his death St. Thomas has been singularly honoured. At the Council of Lyons his book Contra Errores Graecorum was used with telling effect against the Greeks. In later disputes, before and during the Council of Florence, John of Montenegro, the champion of Latin orthodoxy, found St. Thomas’ works a source of irrefragable arguments. The Decretum pro Armenis (Instruction for the Armenians), issued by the authority of that council, is taken almost verbatim from his treatise, “De fidei articulis et septem sacramentis" (see Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 695). "In the Councils of Lyons, Vienne, Florence, and the Vatican", writes Leo XIII (encyclical Aeterni Patris), "one might almost say that Thomas took part in and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics, and Rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results." But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of the conclave to lay upon the altar, together with the code of Sacred Scripture and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration. Greater influence than this no man could have. Before this section is closed mention should be made of two books widely known and highly esteemed, which were inspired by and drawn from the writings of St. Thomas. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, composed by disciples of the Angelic Doctor, is in reality a compendium of his theology, in convenient form for the use of parish priests. Dante’s Divina Commedia has been called "the Summa of St. Thomas in verse", and commentators trace the great Florentine poet’s divisions and descriptions of the virtues and vices to the “Secunda Secundae".
IVd. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (APPRECIATION)
1. In the Church
The esteem in which he was held during his life has not been diminished, but rather increased, in the course of the six centuries that have elapsed since his death. The position which he occupies in the Church is well explained by that great scholar Leo XIII, in the encyclical Aeterni Patris, recommending the study of Scholastic philosophy: "It is known that nearly all the founders and framers of laws of religious orders commanded their societies to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas. . . To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others, all testify that they are bound by this law." Amongst the "many others" the Servites, the Passionists, the Barnabites, and the Sulpicians have been devoted in an especial manner to the study of St. Thomas. The principal ancient universities where St. Thomas ruled as the great master have been enumerated above. The Paris doctors called him the morning star, the luminous sun, the light of the whole Church. Stephen, Bishop of Paris, repressing those who dared to attack the doctrine of "that most excellent Doctor, the blessed Thomas", calls him "the great luminary of the Catholic Church, the precious stone of the priesthood, the flower of doctors, and the bright mirror of the University of Paris" (Drane, op. cit., p. 431). In the old Louvain University the doctors were required to uncover and bow their heads when they pronounced the name of Thomas (Goudin, op. cit., p. 21).
"The ecumenical councils, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honour" (Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris). This subject has been sufficiently treated above. The Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum, published in 1729-39, gives thirty-eight Bulls in which eighteen sovereign pontiffs praised and recommended the doctrine of St. Thomas (see also Vaughan, op. cit., II, c. ii; Berthier, op. cit., pp. 7 sqq.). These approbations are recalled and renewed by Leo XIII, who lays special stress on “the crowning testimony of Innocent VI: `His teaching above that of others, the canons alone excepted, enjoys such an elegance of phraseology, a method of statement, a truth of proposition, that those who hold it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error (ibid.).’" Leo XIII surpassed his predecessors in admiration of St. Thomas, in whose works he declared a remedy can be found for many evils that afflict society (see Berthier, op. cit., introd.). The notable encyclical Letters with which the name of that illustrious pontiff will always be associated show how he had studied the works of the Angelic Doctor. This is very noticeable in the letters on Christian marriage, the Christian constitution of states, the condition of the working classes, and the study of Holy Scripture. Pope Pius X, in several letters, e.g. in the Pascendi Dominici Gregis (September 1907), has insisted on the observance of the recommendations of Leo XIII concerning the study of St. Thomas. An attempt to give names of Catholic writers who have expressed their appreciation of St. Thomas and of his influence would be an impossible undertaking; for the list would include nearly all who have written on philosophy or theology since the thirteenth century, as well as hundreds of writers on other subjects. Commendations and eulogies are found in the introductory chapters of all good commentaries. An incomplete list of authors who have collected these testimonies is given by Father Berthier (op. cit., p. 22).
2. Outside the Church
- Anti-Scholastics — Some persons have been and are still opposed to everything that comes under the name of Scholasticism, which they bold to be synonymous with subtleties and useless discussions. From the prologue to the Summa it is clear that St. Thomas was opposed to all that was superfluous and confusing in Scholastic studies. When people understand what true Scholasticism means, their objections will cease.
- Heretics and Schismatics — "A last triumph was reserved for this incomparable man -- namely, to compel the homage, praise, and admiration of even the very enemies of the Catholic name" (Leo XIII, ibid.). St. Thomas’ orthodoxy drew upon him the hatred of all Greeks who were opposed to union with Rome. The united Greeks, however, admire St. Thomas and study his works (see above Translations of the Summa). The leaders of the sixteenth-century revolt honored St. Thomas by attacking him, Luther being particularly violent in his coarse invectives against the great doctor. Citing Bucer’s wild boast, "Take away Thomas and I will destroy the Church", Leo XIII (ibid.) remarks, "The hope was vain, but the testimony has its value". Calo, Tocco, and other biographers relate that St. Thomas, traveling from Rome to Naples, converted two celebrated Jewish rabbis, whom he met at the country house of Cardinal Richard (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 33; Vaughan, op. cit., I, p. 795). Rabbi Paul of Burgos, in the fifteenth century, was converted by reading the works of St. Thomas. Theobald Thamer, a disciple of Melancthon, abjured his heresy after he had read the Summa, which he intended to refute. The Calvinist Duperron was converted in the same way, subsequently becoming Archbishop of Sens and a cardinal (see Conway, O.P., op. cit., p. 96). After the bitterness of the first period of Protestantism had passed away, Protestants saw the necessity of retaining many parts of Catholic philosophy and theology, and those who came to know St. Thomas were compelled to admire him. Überweg says "He brought the Scholastic philosophy to its highest stage of development, by effecting the most perfect accommodation that was possible of the Aristotelian philosophy to ecclesiastical orthodoxy" (op. cit., p. 440). R. Seeberg in the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia (New York, 1911) devotes ten columns to St. Thomas, and says that "at all points he succeeded in upholding the church doctrine as credible and reasonable" (XI, p. 427). For many years, especially since the days of Pusey and Newman, St. Thomas has been in high repute at Oxford. Recently the Summa contra gentiles was placed on the list of subjects which a candidate may offer in the final honor schools of Litterae Humaniores at that university (cf. Walsh, op. cit., c. xvii). For several years Father De Groot, O.P., has been the professor of Scholastic philosophy in the University of Amsterdam, and courses in Scholastic philosophy have been established in some of the leading non-Catholic universities of the United States. Anglicans have a deep admiration for St. Thomas. Alfred Mortimer, in the chapter “The Study of Theology" of his work entitled Catholic Faith and Practice (2 vols., New York, 1909), regretting that "the English priest has ordinarily no scientific acquaintance with the Queen of Sciences", and proposing a remedy, says, “The simplest and most perfect sketch of universal theology is to be found in the Summa of St. Thomas" (vol. II, pp. 454, 465).
V. ST. THOMAS AND MODERN THOUGHT
In the Syllabus of 1864 Pius IX condemned a proposition in which it was stated that the method and principles of the ancient Scholastic doctors were not suited to the needs of our times and the progress of science (Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 1713). In the encyclical Aeterni Patris Leo XIII points out the benefits to be derived from "a practical reform of philosophy by restoring the renowned teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas". He exhorts the bishops to "restore the golden wisdom of Thomas and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic Faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences". In the pages of the encyclical immediately preceding these words he explains why the teaching of St. Thomas would produce such most desirable results: St. Thomas is the great master to explain and defend the Faith, for his is "the solid doctrine of the Fathers and the Scholastics, who so clearly and forcibly demonstrate the firm foundations of the Faith, its Divine origin, its certain truth, the arguments that sustain it, the benefits it has conferred on the human race, and its perfect accord with reason, in a manner to satisfy completely minds open to persuasion, however unwilling and repugnant". The career of St. Thomas would in itself have justified Leo XIII in assuring men of the nineteenth century that the Catholic Church was not opposed to the right use of reason. The sociological aspects of St. Thomas are also pointed out: "The teachings of Thomas on the true meaning of liberty, which at this time is running into license, on the Divine origin of all authority, on laws and their force, on the paternal and just rule of princes, on obedience to the highest powers, on mutual charity one towards another -- on all of these and kindred subjects, have very great and invincible force to overturn those principles of the new order which are well known to be dangerous to the peaceful order of things and to public safety" (ibid.). The evils affecting modern society had been pointed out by the pope in the Letter Inscrutabili of April 21, 1878, and in the one on Socialism, Communism, and Nihilism (The Great Encyclicals of Leo XIII, pp. 9 sqq.; 22 sqq.). How the principles of the Angelic Doctor will furnish a remedy for these evils is explained here in a general way, more particularly in the Letters on the Christian constitution of states, human liberty, the chief duties of Christians as citizens, and on the conditions of the working classes (ibid., pp. 107, 135, 180, 208).
It is in relation to the sciences that some persons doubt the availability of St. Thomas’s writings; and the doubters are thinking of the physical and experimental sciences, for in metaphysics the Scholastics are admitted to be masters. Leo XIII calls attention to the following truths:
- The Scholastics were not opposed to investigation. Holding as a principle in anthropology “that the human intelligence is only led to the knowledge of things without body and matter by things sensible, they well understood that nothing was of greater use to the philosopher than diligently to search into the mysteries of nature, and to be earnest and constant in the study of physical things" (ibid., p. 55). This principle was reduced to practice: St. Thomas, St. Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, and others "gave large attention to the knowledge of natural things" (ibid., p. 56).
- Investigation alone is not sufficient for true science. "When facts have been established, it is necessary to rise and apply ourselves to the study of the nature of corporeal things, to inquire into the laws which govern them and the principles whence their order and varied unity and mutual attraction in diversity arise" (p. 55). Will the scientists of today pretend to be better reasoners than St. Thomas, or more powerful in synthesis? It is the method and the principles of St. Thomas that Leo XIII recommends: "If anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the Scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated; if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age or, in a word, is improbable in any way, it does not enter into our mind to propose that for imitation to our age" (p. 56). Just as St. Thomas, in his day, saw a movement towards Aristotle and philosophical studies which could not be checked, but could be guided in the right direction and made to serve the cause of truth, so also, Leo XIII, seeing in the world of his time a spirit of study and investigation which might be productive of evil or of good, had no desire to check it, but resolved to propose a moderator and master who could guide it in the paths of truth.
No better guide could have been chosen than the clear-minded, analytic, synthetic, and sympathetic Thomas Aquinas. His extraordinary patience and fairness in dealing with erring philosophers, his approbation of all that was true in their writings, his gentleness in condemning what was false, his clear-sightedness in pointing out the direction to true knowledge in all its branches, his aptness and accuracy in expressing the truth — these qualities mark him as a great master not only for the thirteenth century, but for all times. If any persons are inclined to consider him too subtle, it is because they do not know how clear, concise, and simple are his definitions and divisions. His two summae are masterpieces of pedagogy, and mark him as the greatest of human teachers. Moreover, he dealt with errors similar to many which go under the name of philosophy or science in our days. The Rationalism of Abelard and others called forth St. Thomas’s luminous and everlasting principles on the true relations of faith and reason. Ontologism was solidly refuted by St. Thomas nearly six centuries before the days of Malebranche, Gioberti, and Ubaghs (see Summa I:84:5). The true doctrine on first principles and on universals, given by him and by the other great Scholastics, is the best refutation of Kant’s criticism of metaphysical ideas (see, e.g., Post. Analyt., I, lect. xix; “De ente et essentia", c. iv; Summa I:17:3 corp. and ad II; I:79:3; I:84:5; I:84:6 corp and ad I; I:85:2 ad II; I:85:3 ad I, ad IV; Cf. index to Summa: “Veritas", “Principium", “Universale"). Modern psychological Pantheism does not differ substantially from the theory of one soul for all men asserted by Averroes (see De unit. intell. and Summa I:76:2; I:79:5). The Modernistic error, which distinguishes the Christ of faith from the Christ of history, had as its forerunner the Averroistic principle that a thing might be true in philosophy and false in religion.
In the encyclical, Providentissimus Deus (18 November 1893) Leo XIII draws from St. Thomas’s writings the principles and wise rules which should govern scientific criticism of the Sacred Books. From the same source recent writers have drawn principles which are most helpful in the solution of questions pertaining to Spiritism and Hypnotism. Are we to conclude, then, that St. Thomas’s works, as he left them, furnish sufficient instruction for scientists, philosophers, and theologians of our times? By no means. Vetera novis augere et perficere — "To strengthen and complete the old by aid of the new" — is the motto of the restoration proposed by Leo XIII. Were St. Thomas living today he would gladly adopt and use all the facts made known by recent scientific and historical investigations, but he would carefully weigh all evidence offered in favor of the facts. Positive theology is more necessary in our days than it was in the thirteenth century. Leo XIII calls attention to its necessity in his encyclical, and his admonition is renewed by Pius X in his letter on Modernism. But both pontiffs declare that positive theology must not be extolled to the detriment of Scholastic theology. In the encyclical Pascendi, prescribing remedies against Modernism, Pius X, following in this his illustrious predecessor, gives the first place to “Scholastic philosophy, especially as it was taught by Thomas Aquinas", St. Thomas is still "The Angel of the Schools".
Biography authored by D. J. Kennedy
Taken from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
Also known as Don Bosco or Giovanni Melchior Bosco, he was the founder of the Salesian Society. Born of poor parents in a little cabin at Becchi, a hill-side hamlet near Castelnuovo, Piedmont, Italy, 16 August, 1815; died January 31, 1888; declared Venerable by Pius X, July 21, 1907.
When he was little more than two years old his father died, leaving the support of three boys to the mother, Margaret Bosco. John’s early years were spent as a shepherd and he received his first instruction at the hands of the parish priest. He possessed a ready wit, a retentive memory, and as years passed his appetite for study grew stronger. Owing to the poverty of the home, however, he was often obliged to turn from his books to the field, but the desire of what he had to give up never left him. In 1835 he entered the seminary at Chieri and after six years of study was ordained priest on the eve of Trinity Sunday by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.
Leaving the seminary, Don Bosco went to Turin where he entered zealously upon his priestly labours. It was here that an incident occurred which opened up to him the real field of effort of his afterlife. One of his duties was to accompany Don Cafasso upon his visits to the prisons of the city, and the condition of the children confined in these places, abandoned to the most evil influences, and with little before them but the gallows, made such a indelible impression upon his mind that he resolved to devote his life to the rescue of these unfortunate outcasts. On the eighth of December 1841, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, while Don Bosco was vesting for Mass, the sacristan drove from the Church a ragged urchin because he refused to serve Mass. Don Bosco heard his cries and recalled him, and in the friendship which sprang up between the priest and Bartollomea Garelli was sown the first seed of the “Oratory", so called, no doubt, after the example of St. Philip Neri and because prayer was its prominent feature. Don Bosco entered eagerly upon the task of instructing thus first pupil of the streets; companions soon joined Bartholomeo, all drawn by a kindness they had never known, and in February 1842, the Oratory numbered twenty boys, in March of the same year, thirty, and in March 1846, four hundred.
As the number of boys increased, the question of a suitable meeting-place presented itself. In good weather walks were taken on Sundays and holidays to spots in the country to spots in the country about Turin where lunch was eaten, and realizing the charm which music held for the untamed spirits of his disciples Don Boso organized a band for which some old brass instruments were procured. In the autumn of 1844 he was appointed assistant chaplain to the Rifugio, where Don Borel entered enthusiastically into his work. With the approval of Archbishop Franzoni, two rooms were secured adjoining the Rifugio and converted into a chapel, which was dedicated to St. Francis de Sales. The members of the Oratory now gathered at the Rifugio, and numbers of boys from the surrounding district applied for admission. It was about this time (1845) that Don Bosco began his night schools and with the closing of the factories the boys flocked to his rooms where he and Don Borel instructed them in rudimentary branches.
The success of the Oratory at the Rifugio was not of long duration. To his great distress Don Bosco was obliged to give up his rooms and from this on he was subjected to petty annoyances and obstacles which, at times, seemed to spell the ruin of his undertaking. His perseverance in the face of all difficulties led many to the conclusion that he was insane, and an attempt was even made to confine him in an asylum. Complaints were lodged against him, declaring his community to be a nuisance, owing to the character of the boys he befriended. From the Rifugio the Oratory was moved to St. Martin’s, to St. Peter’s Churchyard, to three rooms in Via Cottolengo, where the night schools were resumed, to an open field, and finally to a rough shed upon the site of which grew up an Oratory that counted seven hundred members, Don Bosco took lodgings nearby, where he was joined by his mother. "Mama Margaret", as Don Bosco’s mother came to be known, gave the last ten years of her life in devoted service to the little inmates of this first Salesian home. When she joined her son at the Oratory the outlook was not bright. But sacrificing what small means she had, even to parting with her home, its furnishings, and her jewelry, she brought all the solicitude and love of a mother to these children of the streets. The evening classes increased and gradually dormitories were provided for many who desired to live at the Oratory. Thus was founded the first Salesian Home which now houses about one thousand boys.
The municipal authorities by this time had come to recognize the importance of the work which Don Bosco was doing, and he began with much success a fund for the erection of technical schools and workshops. These were all completed without serious difficulty. In 1868 to meet the needs of the Valdocco quarter of Turin, Don Bosco resolved to build a church. Accordingly a plan was drawn in the form of a cross covering an area of 1,500 sq. yards. He experienced considerable difficulty in raising the necessary money, but the charity of some friends finally enabled him to complete it at a cost of more than a million francs (about 200,000). The church was consecrated 9 June, 1868, and placed under the patronage of Our Lady, Help of Christians. In the same year in which Don Bosco began the erection of the church fifty priests and teachers who had been assisting him formed a society under a common rule which Pius IX, provisionally in 1869, and finally in 1874, approved.
Character and Growth of the Oratory
Any attempt to explain the popularity of the Oratory among the classes to which Don Bosco devoted his life would fail without an appreciation of his spirit which was its life. For his earliest intercourse with poor boys he had never failed to see under the dirt, the rags, and the uncouthness the spark which a little kindness and encouragement would fan into a flame. In his vision or dream which he is said to have had in his early boyhood, wherein it was disclosed to him what his lifework would be, a voice said to him: "Not with blows, but with charity and gentleness must you draw these friends to the path of virtue." And whether this be accounted as nothing more than a dream, that was in reality the spirit with which he animated his Oratory. In the earlier days when the number of his little disciples was slender he drew them about him by means of small presents and attractions, and by pleasant walks to favorite spots in the environs of Turin. These excursions occurring on Sunday, Don Bosco would say Mass in the village church and give a short instruction on the Gospel; breakfast would then be eaten, followed by games; and in the afternoon Vespers would he chanted, a lesson in Catechism given, and the Rosary recited. It was a familiar sight to see him in the field surrounded by kneeling boys preparing for confession.
Don Bosco’s method of study knew nothing of punishment. Observance of rules was obtained by instilling a true sense of duty, by removing assiduously all occasions for disobedience, and by allowing no effort towards virtue, how trivial soever it might be, to pass unappreciated. He held that the teacher should be father, adviser, and friend, and he was the first to adopt the preventive method. Of punishment he said: "As far as possible avoid punishing, try to gain love before inspiring fear." And in 1887 he wrote: "I do not remember to have used formal punishment; and with God’s grace I have always obtained, and from apparently hopeless children, not alone what duty exacted, but what my wish simply expressed." In one of his books he has discussed the causes of weakness of character, and derives them largely from a misdirected kindness in the rearing of children. Parents make a parade of precocious talents: the child understands quickly, and his sensitiveness enraptures all who meet him, but the parents have only succeeded in producing all affectionate, perfected, intelligent animal. The chief object should be to form the will and to temper the character. In all his pupils Don Bosco tried to cultivate a taste for music, believing it to be a powerful and refining influence. "Instruction", he said, "is but an accessory, like a game; knowledge never makes a man because it does not directly touch the heart. It gives more power in the exercise of good or evil; but alone it is an indifferent weapon, wanting guidance." He always studied, too, the aptitudes and vocations of his pupils, and to an almost supernatural quickness and clearness of insight into the hearts of children must be ascribed to no small part of his success. In his rules lie wrote: "Frequent Confession, frequent Communion, daily Mass: these are the pillars which should sustain the whole edifice of education." Don Bosco was an indefatigable confessor, devoting days to the work among his children. He recognized that gentleness and persuasion alone were not enough to bring to the task of education. He thoroughly believed in play as a means of arousing childish curiosity -- more than this, he places it among his first recommendations, and for the rest he adopted St. Philip Neri’s words: "Do as you wish, I do not care so long as you do not sin."
At the time of Don Bosco’s death in 1888 there were 250 houses of the Salesian Society in all parts of the world, containing 130,000 children, and from which there annually went out 18,000 finished apprentices. In the motherhouse, Don Bosco had selected the brightest of his pupils, taught them Italian, Latin, French, and mathematics, and this band formed a teaching corps for the new homes which quickly grew up in other places. Up to 1888 over six thousand priests had gone forth from Don Bosco’s institutions, 1,200 of whom had remained in the society. The schools begin with the child in his first instruction and lead, for those who choose it, to seminaries for the priesthood. The society also conducts Sunday schools, evening schools for adult workmen, schools for those who enter the priesthood late in life, technical schools, and printing establishments for the diffusion of good reading in different languages. Its members also have charge of hospitals and asylums, nurse the sick, and do prison work, especially in rural districts. The society has houses in the following countries: Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Palestine, and Algiers; in South America, Mexico, in South America, Patagonia, Terra del Fuego, Ecuador, Brazil, Paraguay, The Argentine Republic, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia. In the United States the Salesians have four churches: Sts. Peter and Paul and Corpus Christi in San Francisco, California; St. Josephs in Oakland, California; and the Transfiguration in New York City. Very Rev. Michael Borghino, Provincial for America, resides in San Francisco.
By E. F. Saxton
Taken from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
Bishop of Geneva, Doctor of the Universal Church; born at Thorens, in the Duchy of Savoy, August 21, 1567; died at Lyons December 28, 1622. His father, François de Sales de Boisy, and his mother, Françoise de Sionnaz, belonged to old Savoyard aristocratic families. The future saint was the eldest of six brothers. His father intended him for the magistracy and sent him at an early age to the colleges of La Roche and Annecy.
From 1583 till 1588 he studied rhetoric and humanities at the college of Clermont, Paris, under the care of the Jesuits. While there he began a course of theology. After a terrible and prolonged temptation to despair, caused by the discussions of the theologians of the day on the question of predestination, from which he was suddenly freed as he knelt before a miraculous image of Our Lady at St. Etienne-des-Grès, he made a vow of chastity and consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1588 he studied law at Padua, where the Jesuit Father Possevin was his spiritual director. He received his diploma of doctorate from the famous Pancirola in 1592. Having been admitted as a lawyer before the senate of Chambéry, he was about to be appointed senator. His father had selected one of the noblest heiresses of Savoy to be the partner of his future life, but Francis declared his intention of embracing the ecclesiastical life. A sharp struggle ensued. His father would not consent to see his expectations thwarted. Then Claude de Granier, Bishop of Geneva, obtained for Francis, on his own initiative, the position of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva, a post in the patronage of the pope. It was the highest office in the diocese, M. de Boisy yielded and Francis received Holy Orders (1593).
From the time of the Reformation the seat of the Bishopric of Geneva had been fixed at Annecy. There with apostolic zeal, the new provost devoted himself to preaching, hearing confessions, and the other work of his ministry. In the following year (1594) he volunteered to evangelize Le Chablais, where the Genevans had imposed the Reformed Faith, and which had just been restored to the Duchy of Savoy. He made his headquarters in the fortress of Allinges. Risking his life, he journeyed through the entire district, preaching constantly; by dint of zeal, learning, kindness and holiness he at last obtained a hearing. He then settled in Thonon, the chief town. He confuted the preachers sent by Geneva to oppose him; he converted the syndic and several prominent Calvinists. At the request of the pope, Clement VIII, he went to Geneva to interview Theodore Beza, who was called the Patriarch of the Reformation. The latter received him kindly and seemed for a while shaken, but had not the courage to take the final steps. A large part of the inhabitants of Le Chablais returned to the true fold (1597 and 1598). Claude de Granier then chose Francis as his coadjutor, in spite of his refusal, and sent him to Rome (1599).
Pope Clement VIII ratified the choice; but he wished to examine the candidate personally, in presence of the Sacred College. The improvised examination was a triumph for Francis. “Drink, my son", said the Pope to him. “from your cistern, and from your living wellspring; may your waters issue forth, and may they become public fountains where the world may quench its thirst." The prophesy was to be realized. On his return from Rome the religious affairs of the territory of Gex, a dependency of France, necessitated his going to Paris. There the coadjutor formed an intimate friendship with Cardinal de Bérulle, Antoine Deshayes, secretary of Henry IV, and Henry IV himself, who wished “to make a third in this fair friendship" (être de tiers dans cette belle amitié). The king made him preach the Lent at Court, and wished to keep him in France. He urged him to continue, by his sermons and writings, to teach those souls that had to live in the world how to have confidence in God, and how to be genuinely and truly pious - graces of which he saw the great necessity.
On the death of Claude de Granier, Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva (1602). His first step was to institute catechetical instructions for the faithful, both young and old. He made prudent regulations for the guidance of his clergy. He carefully visited the parishes scattered through the rugged mountains of his diocese. He reformed the religious communities. His goodness, patience and mildness became proverbial. He had an intense love for the poor, especially those who were of respectable family. His food was plain, his dress and his household simple. He completely dispensed with superfluities and lived with the greatest economy, in order to be able to provide more abundantly for the wants of the needy. He heard confessions, gave advice, and preached incessantly. He wrote innumerable letters (mainly letters of direction) and found time to publish the numerous works mentioned below. Together with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded (1607) the Institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, for young girls and widows who, feeling themselves called to the religious life, have not sufficient strength, or lack inclination, for the corporal austerities of the great orders. His zeal extended beyond the limits of his own diocese. He delivered the Lent and Advent discourses which are still famous - those at Dijon (1604), where he first met the Baroness de Chantal; at Chambéry (1606); at Grenoble (1616, 1617, 1618), where he converted the Maréchal de Lesdiguières. During his last stay in Paris (November, 1618, to September, 1619) he had to go into the pulpit each day to satisfy the pious wishes of those who thronged to hear him. “Never", said they, “have such holy, such apostolic sermons been preached." He came into contact here with all the distinguished ecclesiastics of the day, and in particular with St. Vincent de Paul. His friends tried energetically to induce him to remain in France, offering him first the wealthy Abbey of Ste. Geneviève and then the coadjutor-bishopric of Paris, but he refused all to return to Annecy.
In 1622 he had to accompany the Court of Savoy into France. At Lyons he insisted on occupying a small, poorly furnished room in a house belonging to the gardener of the Visitation Convent. There, on 27 December, he was seized with apoplexy. He received the last sacraments and made his profession of faith, repeating constantly the words: “God’s will be done! Jesus, my God and my all!" He died next day, in the fifty-sixth year of his age. Immense crowds flocked to visit his remains, which the people of Lyons were anxious to keep in their city. With much difficulty his body was brought back to Annecy, but his heart was left at Lyons. A great number of wonderful favours have been obtained at his tomb in the Visitation Convent of Annecy. His heart, at the time of the French Revolution, was carried by the Visitation nuns from Lyons to Venice, where it is venerated today. St. Francis de Sales was beatified in 1661, and canonized by Alexander VII in 1665; he was proclaimed Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX, in 1877.
The following is a list of the principal works of the holy Doctor:
- Controversies, leaflets which the zealous missioner scattered among the inhabitants of Le Chablais in the beginning, when these people did not venture to come and hear him preach. They form a complete proof of the Catholic Faith. In the first part, the author defends the authority of the Church, and in the second and third parts, the rules of faith, which were not observed by the heretical ministers. The primacy of St. Peter is amply vindicated.
- Defense of the Standard of the Cross, a demonstration of the virtue
- of the True Cross;
- of the Crucifix;
- of the Sign of the Cross;
- an explanation of the Veneration of the Cross.
- An Introduction to the Devout Life, a work intended to lead “Philothea", the soul living in the world, into the paths of devotion, that is to say, of true and solid piety. Every one should strive to become pious, and “it is an error, it is even a heresy", to hold that piety is incompatible with any state of life. In the first part the author helps the soul to free itself from all inclination to, or affection for, sin; in the second, he teaches it how to be united to God by prayer and the sacraments; in the third, he exercises it in the practice of virtue; in the fourth, he strengthens it against temptation; in the fifth, he teaches it how to form its resolutions and to persevere. The Introduction, which is a masterpiece of psychology, practical morality, and common sense, was translated into nearly every language even in the lifetime of the author, and it has since gone through innumerable editions.
- Treatise on the Love of God, an authoritative work which reflects perfectly the mind and heart of Francis de Sales as a great genius and a great saint. It contains twelve books. The first four give us a history, or rather explain the theory, of Divine love, its birth in the soul, its growth, its perfection, and its decay and annihilation; the fifth book shows that this love is twofold - the love of complacency and the love of benevolence; the sixth and seventh treat of affective love, which is practiced in prayer; the eight and ninth deal with effective love, that is, conformity to the will of God, and submission to His good pleasure. The last three resume what has preceded and teach how to apply practically the lessons taught therein.
- Spiritual Conferences; familiar conversations on religious virtues addressed to the sisters of the Visitation and collected by them. We find in them that practical common sense, keenness of perception and delicacy of feeling which were characteristic of the kind-hearted and energetic Saint.
- Sermons; ― These are divided into two classes: those composed previously to his consecration as a bishop, and which he himself wrote out in full; and the discourses he delivered when a bishop, of which, as a rule, only outlines and synopses have been preserved. Some of the latter, however, were taken down in extenso by his hearers. Pius IX, in his Bull proclaiming him Doctor of the Church calls the Saint "The Master and Restorer of Sacred Eloquence". He is one of those who at the beginning of the seventeenth century formed the beautiful French language; he foreshadows and prepares the way for the great sacred orators about to appear. He speaks simply, naturally, and from his heart. To speak well we need only love well, was his maxim. His mind was imbued with the Holy Writings, which he comments, and explains, and applies practically with no less accuracy than grace.
- Letters; mostly letters of direction, in which the minister of God effaces himself and teaches the soul to listen to God, the only true director. The advice given is suited to all the circumstances and necessities of life and to all persons of good will. While trying to efface his own personality in these letters, the saint makes himself known to us and unconsciously discovers to us the treasures of his soul.
- A large number of very precious treatises or opuscula.
Migne (5 vols., quarto) and Vivès (12 vols., octavo, Paris) have edited the works of St. Francis de Sales. But the edition which we may call definitive was published at Annecy in 1892, by the English Benedictine, Dom Mackey: a work remarkable for its typographical execution, the brilliant criticism that settles the text, the large quantity of hitherto unedited matter, and the interesting study accompanying each volume. Dom Mackey published twelve volumes. Father Navatel, S.J., is continuing the work. We may give here a brief résumé of the spiritual teaching contained in these works, of which the Church has said: "The writings of Francis de Sales, filled with celestial doctrine are a bright light in the Church, pointing out to souls an easy and safe way to arrive at the perfection of a Christian life." (Breviarium Romanum, January 29, lect. VI.)
There are two elements in the spiritual life: first, a struggle against our lower nature; secondly, union of our wills with God, in other words, penance and love. St. Francis de Sales looks chiefly to love. Not that he neglects penance, which is absolutely necessary, but he wishes it to be practiced from a motive of love. He requires mortification of the senses, but he relies first on mortification of the mind, the will, and the heart. This interior mortification he requires to be unceasing and always accompanied by love. The end to be realized is a life of loving, simple, generous, and constant fidelity to the will of God, which is nothing else than our present duty. The model proposed is Christ, whom we must ever keep before our eyes. "You will study His countenance, and perform your actions as He did" (Introd., 2nd part, ch. i). The practical means of arriving at this perfection are: remembrance of the presence of God, filial prayer, a right intention in all our actions, and frequent recourse to God by pious and confiding ejaculations and interior aspirations.
Besides the Institute of the Visitation, which he founded, the nineteenth century has seen associations of the secular clergy and pious laymen, and several religious congregations, formed under the patronage of the holy Doctor. Among them we may mention the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, of Annecy; the Salesians, founded at Turin by the Venerable (Ed’s note: now Saint) Don Bosco, specially devoted to the Christian and technical education of the children of the poorer classes; the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, established at Troyes (France) by Father Brisson, who try to realize in the religious and priestly life the spirit of the holy Doctor, such as we have described it, and such as he bequeathed it to the nuns of the Visitation.
MACKEY, Oeuvres de St François de Sales (Annecy, 1892-); CHARLES-AUGUSTE DE SALES, Histoire du Bienheureux François de Sales (2nd ed., Paris, 1885); CAMUS, Esprit de S. François de Sales (2d ed., Paris, 1833); and in Collection S. Honore d’Eylau (Paris, 1904); Vie de S. François de Sales by HAMON (Paris); PÉRENNÈS (Paris); DE MARGERIE (Paris); STROWSKI, St. François de Sales (Paris); Annales Salesiennes in Revu Mensuelle (Paris, 1906, etc.). MACKEY has given an English translation of the Letters to Persons in the World, and of the Letters to Persons in Religion (London); he has also published noteworthy articles on “St. Francis de Sales as an Orator" (London) and “St. Francis de Sales as a Director" in the American Ecclesiastical Review. (1898).
By Raphael Pernin
Taken from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, educational reformer, and father of modern pedagogy, was born at Reims, April 30, 1651, and died at Saint-Yon, Rouen, on Good Friday, April 7, 1719.
The family of de la Salle traces its origin to Johan Salla, who, in the early part of the ninth century, was Commander-in-chief of the Royal forces of Alfonso the Chaste. It was not, however, until about 1350 that the younger branch of this family, from which our saint is descended, removed to France and settled in Champagne. John Baptist was the eldest child of Louis de la Salle and Nicolle de Moet de Brouillet. His parents were very solicitous in the care they bestowed upon their child, especially in regard to is moral and intellectual development. After due preparation, he was sent to the College des Bons Enfants, where he pursed the higher studies and, on July 10, 1669, he took the degree of Master of Arts. Canon Pierre Dozet, chancellor of the University of Reims, was the presiding officer at the academic sessions, and in the discharge of his function had opportunity to study the character of his young cousin, de la Salle, with the result that he determined on resigning his canonry in his favor. Louis de la Salle, however, cherished the hope that John Baptist would select the profession of law, and thereby maintain the family tradition. But young de la Salle insisted that he was called to serve the Church, and accordingly he received the tonsure March 11, 1662, and was solemnly installed as a canon of the metropolitan See of Reims January 7, 1667.
When de la Salle had completed his classical, literary, and philosophical courses and had read the Schoolmen, he was sent to Paris to enter the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice on October 18, 1670. While residing here he attended the lectures in theology at the Sorbonne. There, under the direction of Louis Tronson, he made such rapid progress in virtue, that M. Lechassier, superior general of the Congregation of Saint-Sulpice, renders this testimony of him: "De la Salle was a constant observer of the rule. His conversation was always pleasing and above reproach. He seems never to have given offence to any one, nor to have incurred any one’s censure." While at the seminary de la Salle distinguished himself by his piety as well as by the vigor of his intellectual progress and the ability with which he handled theological subjects. Nine months after his arrival in Paris, his mother died, July 19, 1671, and on April 9, 1672, his father died. This circumstance obliged him to leave Saint-Sulpice, April 19, 1672. He was now twenty-one, the head of the family, and as such had the responsibility of educating his brothers and sisters. His whole attention was devoted to his domestic affairs, and he provided for every circumstance by his discreet, businesslike administration. Canon Blain says that he underwent at this time many mental struggles. Distrusting his own lights, de la Salle had recourse to prayer and the guidance of discreet advisers, among them, Nicolas Roland, canon and theologian of Reims, a man of great spiritual discernment. Acting upon the advice of the latter, the future founder was ordained subdeacon at Cambrai, by Archbishop Ladislas Jonnart June 2, 1672.
When not occupied with the duties of his canonry or with his theological studies, he was engaged in good works, under the guidance of his spiritual director. After four years, he was ordained deacon at Paris March 21, 1676, by Francois Batailler, Bishop of Bethlehem. On this occasion de la Salle sought to obtain the permission of Maurice Le Tellier, Archbishop of Reims, to resign his canonry and prepare for parish work. Nicolas Roland urged him to take this step, alleging that a rich canonry was little in harmony with youthful zeal and activity. His archbishop, however refused his request. With humble submission, de la Salle accepted the decision and returned to Reims to pursue his studies and to make final preparations for his ordination to the priesthood. He was ordained priest by the Archbishop of Reims, on Holy Saturday April 9, 1678. The young priest was a model of piety, and his biographers say that persons went to assist at his Mass to be edified, and to share his piety. After Mass there were many who sought his counsel and put themselves under his spiritual guidance. De la Salle never omitted Holy Mass, save when prevented by sickness. In June 1680, he submitted to his final examination and took his doctorate in theology. At this period of his life de la Salle evinced a docility of spirit, a self-diffidence, that bespoke the character of the man and saint. In physical appearance he was of commanding presence, somewhat above the medium height, and well-proportioned. He had large, penetrating blue eyes and a broad forehead. His portraits present a picture of sweetness and dignity, beaming with intelligence and breathing an air of modesty and refined grace. A smile plays about the finely chiseled lips and illumines a countenance to which the large lustrous eyes give an air of commanding intelligence.
During the few years that intervened between his ordination to the priesthood and the establishing of the institute, de la Salle was occupied in carrying out the last will and testament of Nicolas Roland, who, when dying, had confided to him the newly established Congregation of the Sisters of the Child Jesus. "Your zeal will bring it to prosperity", said Nicolas Roland to him. "You will complete the work which I have begun. In all this, Father Barre will be your model and guide." Thus was de la Salle imperceptibly drawn towards his life-work. "The idea never occurred to me", de la Salle wrote in a memoir. "if I had ever though that what I did out of pure charity for the poor school teachers would make it incumbent upon me to live with them, I would have given it up at once." This sentiment he again expressed towards the close of his life in these emphatic words: "If God had revealed to me the good that could be accomplished by this institute, and had likewise made known to me the trials and sufferings which would accompany it, my courage would have failed me, and I would never have undertaken it." At this period de la Salle was still occupied with his functions as canon. He was, however, aroused to the higher calling by a message from Madame Maillefer, in March 1679, requesting him to aid Adrien Nyel in opening a free school at Reims. But hardly had he succeeded in establishing the school of St-Maurice when he quietly withdrew from the work, as if it were not his mission. Shortly afterwards the opening of another free school in St-Jacques parish lured him again from his seclusion, but he soon retired again.
Although instrumental in opening these elementary free schools at Reims, de la Salle seemed to allow Adrien Nyel to share all the honors resulting therefrom, while he was content to labor assiduously for the real progress of both schools. He was unconsciously attracted to the work. Daily he visited the teachers to encourage the or suggest practical methods to attain definite results. But when he found that the teachers became discouraged, owing to the lack of proper guidance after school hours, he undertook to house them, that he might be able to direct them and give them practical lessons in the useful employment of time, and to prevent weariness and disgust. Not only did he aid them in class and after class, but he made good any deficit in the cost of living. He even admitted them to his own table and later on sheltered them under his roof. Thus was he drawn closer and closer to them, forming an intimate fellowship with the teachers of the poor. "It was, indeed", says Mgr. Guibert, "his love that induced de la Salle to devote himself to the young teachers of Reims. They were like abandoned sheep without a shepherd. He assumed the responsibility of uniting them." As yet de la Salle had no definitive plans for the future, even as late as June 2, 1682, when he transferred his little community to the vicinity of rue Neuve. He simply kept himself in readiness to follow the guidance of Providence. He resigned his canonry in July 1683, and he distributed his fortune to the poor in the winter of 184, thus giving convincing proofs that he would not hesitate to make any sacrifices necessary to complete the good work he had begun. Pere Barre counseled de la Salle to give up whatever might divert his attention from procuring God’s glory. In reply to the earnest remonstrances of his friends and kinsfolk, he meekly answered: "I must do the work of God, and if the worst should come to pass, we shall have to beg alms." Reliance upon Providence was henceforth to be the foundation of the Christian Schools.
Up to this period (1684) the institute had lacked the characteristics of a permanent organization. From 1694 to 1717, the struggle for existence was most critical. In 1692 the institute was so weakened by deaths and defections that de la Salle could hardly find two Brothers who were willing to bind themselves by vow to maintain the free schools. The death of Henri L’Heureux in December, 1690, materially affected the rules of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. De la Salle, intending this gifted young Brother to be the future superior of the congregation, entertained the hope of having him ordained priest, and with this view he sent him to Paris to pursue his theological studies at the Sorbonne. After a brilliant course, Brother Henri L’Heureux was ready for ordination, but before this event took place the young candidate fell sick and died. The loss of this Brother was a blow to the founder. After passing the whole night in prayer, he rose up, not only comforted but strengthened, but also enlightened as to the character of his future institute. He then determined that there should be no priests among the members of his institute. Although there were priests and lay brothers in nearly all existing religious orders, de la Salle was convinced that the time had come for a change in this matter in the new congregation. Brother Lucard, the Annalist of the institute, thus sums up the matter: "Since the death of Henri L’Heureux, de la Salle was firmly convinced that his institute was to be founded on simplicity and humility. No Brother could, without compromising his congregation, allow himself to be diverted from his functions as a teacher, by devoting himself to special studies, the saying of the Divine Office, or the fulfillment of other duties obligatory on the sacred ministry." Therefore, no Brother can aspire to the priesthood nor perform any priestly function, and no ecclesiastic can become a member of the institute. This is the new rule that de la Salle added, and it is embodied in the Constitution of the institute.
From 1702 the founder began to endure a long period of trial, aggravated by persecution on the part of certain ecclesiastical authorities. In November 1702, he was deposed by Cardinal de Noailles, and supplanted for a time by the Rev. B. Bricot. In 1703 one of his most trusted disciples, Nicolas Vuyart, treacherously deserted him. For the next ten years the holy founded was engaged in a series of struggles for the preservation of his institute, in the course of which his name was attacked, and justice denied him before the civil tribunals. After thirty-five years of hard labor, his work seemed to be almost on the verge of ruin. His confidence in God was so firm and unshaken that he was never really discouraged. In 1671 he convoked a chapter for the purpose of solidifying the work and for the election of a superior general. His aim was to have a Brother elected during his lifetime and thus perfect the government of the institute in accordance with the rule he had formulated. The choice of the assembled Brothers fell upon Brother Barthelemy, a man whom all esteemed for his learning and virtue. The institute was now an accomplished fact. And from the first interview with Adrien Nyel, in 1679, de la Salle belonged wholly to the Brothers, sharing with them the burden of labor and observing the common rule. He never left them to engage in other works.
De la Salle was too prudent and too well inspired by God, not to give his institute a positive character in its twofold object: the Christian education of youth and the cultivation of that spirit of faith, piety, mortification, and obedience which should characterize its members. His gift of gaining souls to God, and of leading them to make great sacrifices, was supplemented by the splendid executive ability that enabled him to found an institute and to supervise and direct its gradual development. A study of the extraordinary religious, social, and educational conditions, at the time the institute was founded by de la Salle, will show the peculiar character of the difficulties he had to encounter and overcome. Jansenism had gained the ascendancy in France and spread broadcast its pernicious doctrines; it fostered internal dissensions and promoted Gallicanism, to the great detriment of the Faith and of loyalty to the Holy See. In the social order, a spirit of exaggerated independence was abroad, condemning authority or thrusting it aside. When such conditions prevailed in the upper classes, one may well ask, what must have been the condition of the masses? The incessant foreign and internal wars, with their consequent evils, told with disastrous effect upon the people. Exorbitant demands on the part of army officials, the violence of the soldiery, the rapine of supervisors, the wholesale plunder of crops, followed by famine and ruin, left whole provinces of France under the weight of terrible sufferings and untold misery. The peasants frequently had no bread, and when they had it the circumstances were such as to deprive them of any hope of sustenance for the morrow. Even when the gloom of internal turmoil had been momentarily brightened by the splendid victories abroad, the sad effect of the glory of the reign of Louis XIV made the mourning in cottages only the more bitter owing of the loss of the loved ones on foreign battlefields. Evidently, morals among the masses under these dire circumstances were threatened with ruin, as were the social and economic conditions; for false doctrines were spread and took hold among the people, destroying their faith and stultifying their consciences. Schools there were, but they were poorly attended and shamefully neglected. The children and the people generally were ignorant, and vice, according to contemporary authorities, was rampant among all classes. De la Salle carefully studied these conditions and, moved to compassion for the poor, resolved to improve their social and moral status. The founder grasped the situation and proposed as a remedy, popular free schools thoroughly graded and supplied with zealous teachers, who would implant in the hearts of the children the germs of those virtues that would tend towards the regeneration of both the pupils and the parents. He saw that a religious congregation composed of enlightened men, eager for the salvation of souls, could alone stem the tide of irreligion, vice, and ignorance. He clearly perceived that, in the peculiar conditions which surround any institute at the period of its origin, the work proposed to be done should embody in its ends the special requirements of the age in which it originates. He also foresaw that, while the guiding spirit of such an institute must ever remain fundamentally the same, its scope, as a permanent organization working for the welfare of humanity, should have the character of a social force answering to the needs and conditions of any age and country.
The various educational reforms which de la Salle introduced prove that he legislated wisely. The courses of study for elementary free schools, technical schools, and colleges are evidences of his broad culture and wide grasp of educational problems. Hence, if the needs of a certain locality called for special branches, or if the times and conditions demanded certain advanced studies, de la Salle was not slow in responding nor in giving these subjects a place commensurate in importance with their educational value. De la Salle, furthermore, displayed his genius in giving is institute a distinctive character, that of a teaching body, consecrated to the work of popular education. Thus he became the author of a system of psychologic pedagogy which included the essential principles adopted by later workers in the field of educational reforms, notably by Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Herbart, and others. In making the vernacular the basis of all instruction, de la Salle appealed to the intelligence of the child, prepared the way for the study of national literature, and opened up to the grown man those avenues of real knowledge and delight that had hitherto been closed against the eager multitude. With true scientific insight he perceived the absurdity of retaining Latin texts to teach the art of reading. For this change he gave the following reasons:
- The teaching of the art of reading, in primary and elementary schools, through the vernacular, is of greater and wider utility than by Latin texts.
- The vernacular is more easily taught to children, who already possess some knowledge of it, than the Latin of which they are wholly ignorant.
- It requires considerably less time to learn the art of reading through the vernacular than through a foreign tongue.
- The boys and girls attending the primary and elementary schools, can spend only a few years under instruction. Now, if thy are taught reading from a Latin text, they generally leave school without being able to read the vernacular, and with only an imperfect knowledge of how to read the Latin. Hence, they will soon forget the little they have learned, and, perhaps, even how to read the vernacular.
- Reading is one of he most efficacious means of acquiring knowledge. With due care in the selection of books, children who can read in the vernacular could spread the Christian doctrine in the family circle, and, on evenings, read some useful or instructive books to the assembled household; whereas, if they could read the Latin only, without understanding it, they would be deprived of many valuable benefits resulting from the intelligent reading of a good book.
- It is impossible for children in primary and elementary schools to master the reading of Latin texts, because they are not acquainted with its subject matter. It is, therefore, the part of wisdom to train children thoroughly to the intelligent reading of works written in the vernacular. Thus, having mastered the art of reading in the vernacular, a few months would suffice to make them read the Latin fluently, whereas, if the traditional method were followed, it would require at least several years [Annales de l’Institut, I (1883), pp. 140, 141].
This fact proves that de la Salle was a profound thinker, a genius in the work of popular education. He embraced all classes, all conditions of society. By making the free schools popular, he grasped the growing needs of society in his own day and for all times. No phase of the educational problem escaped his penetrating vision.
As de la Salle is especially identified with the “Simultaneous Method" of teaching, an explanation of the method and its history will prove of interest to the educator. By the “Simultaneous Method" the pupils are graded according to their capacity, putting those of equal attainments in the same class, giving them the same text-books, and requiring them to follow the same lesson under one and the same teacher. This method has best stood the test of time and experience, and is that which the Brothers of the Christian Schools employ in all grades of instruction even at the present day. Like all fruitful ideas, the “Simultaneous Method" is not the exclusive property of any one man. Others besides de la Salle discerned its value, and even partially applied its essential principles, long before the founder of the Christian Schools made it live in his institute. It had no place in the university system of the Middle Ages. The plan adopted n those time was that which prevails to a great extent in the universities of our own day, namely, listening to lectures, taking notes thereon, and holding disputations upon the subject-matter. The Jesuits organized each class in subdivisions; each division being headed by an advanced pupil called a decurion, to whom the boys recited their lessons at stated times, while the teacher corrected exercises or heard the lessons of particular pupils. The whole class afterwards received explanations form the teacher. St. Peter Fourier (1565-1640) saw in Christian education the remedy for many of the disorders existing among the poor and laboring class. He was far-seeing, and anticipated more than one of our modern educational improvements. Indeed, he was one of the first to apply some of the principles of the “Simultaneous Method". In his constitutions he prescribes that, as far as it can possibly be carried out, all the pupils of the same mistress shall have each the same book, in order to learn and read therein the same lesson; so that, whilst one is reading hers in an audible and intelligible voice before the mistress, all the others, hearing her and following this lesson in their books at the same time, may earn it sooner, more readily, and more perfectly. Herein the principle of the “Simultaneous Method"s for the first time, clearly stated. Yet, when he enters into the details of practice he seems to lose sight of the principle which he lays down. In the very next paragraph of the Constitutions, it is provided that the mistress shall call up two pupils at a time, and place them one at each side of her desk. The more advanced pupil shall read her lesson; the other shall listen to her, shall correct all the faults she may make, in the use of words, in pronunciation, or in the observance of pauses. This is the individual method. For the smaller pupils he recommends that four or six at a time come to her desk, and to make use of some graded cards, containing letters and syllables. (Sommaire des Constitutions des Religieuses de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, 1649, 3rd part.)
Cornelius (or Amos Komensky, 1592-1674), in his Didactica Magna, requires the teacher to instruct his pupils semel et omnes simul, "all together at one and the same time" (edit. 1647, cap. xix, Probl. I, Col, 102, 103). Mgr. de Nesmond (1629-1715) divided the class into four or five groups, each having the same book, "in order that all the children of the same group or bench may receive the same lesson, and when one begins to read, the others are to read in a low voice at the same time" (Méthode pour Instruire en peu de temps les Enfants, p. 59). About 1674, Charles Démia, of Lyons, adopted the method of Mgr. de Nesmond. Like him, he gave the same reading-book to each group, requiring that each one follow, holding his finger or a marker on the words that are being read. The immediate precursor of St. John Baptist de la Salle was a theorist, the anonymous author of "Avis Touchant les Petites Exoles" (Bibl. Nat., 40 R. 556). In this little work, which Leopold Delisle places prior to 1680, the author complains of the condition of the primary schools and proposes a method by which a large number of pupils might be taught, by one teacher, one book, and one voice. The school, he tells us, should be so regulated that one and the same book, one and the same teacher, one and the same lesson, one and the same correction, should serve for all, so that each pupil would thereby possess his teacher wholly and entirely, and occupy all his care, all his time, and all his attention, as if he were the only pupil (pp. 14 and 19). It is reasonable to presume that de la Salle frequented the schools taught by the Congregation of Notre-Dame, which were founded at Reims in 1634, and observed the method of teaching employed in that congregation. We can have no doubt that he was equally well acquainted with the defects which rendered such methods useless. In 1682 de la Salle had organized the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and had given them the “Simultaneous Method". Brother Azarias says: "What St. Peter Fourier touched, what Komensky and Mgr. de Nesmond and Charles Démia had glimmerings of, what the anonymous author could nowhere find and thought to realize, had become a fact". De la Salle applied the “Simultaneous Method" not only to reading, as was done by his predecessors, but also to catechism, writing, spelling, and arithmetic in the elementary classes, and then to all the specialties taught in the colleges which he founded. He is, therefore, the genius who introduced and perfected the “Simultaneous Method" in all its practical details. De la Salle definitely points out the “Simultaneous Method" as the one which he wished his disciples to follow. It is no longer the one teacher governing a whole school; it is two or three, or more, according to the number of pupils, each taking those of the same capacity and teaching them together. His instructions on these heads are exact:
The Brothers shall pay special attention to three things in class: 1. During the lessons, to correct every word that the pupil who is reading pronounces badly; 2. To make all who read in the same lesson to follow therein; 3. To have silence strictly observed in the school. (Common Rules)
The pupils follow in the same lesson, they observe strict silence, the teacher in correcting one, is correcting all.
Here is the essence of the “Simultaneous Method". De la Salle generalizes the principles for all lessons, thus:
In all the lessons from alphabet-cards, syllabaries, and other books, whether French or Latin, and even during arithmetic, while one reads, all the others of the same lesson shall follow; that is, they shall read to themselves from their books without making noises with their lips, what the one reading pronounces aloud from his book. (Conduite des Ecoles Chrétiennes, Avignon, 1724)
With truth has Matthew Arnold said, in speaking of this handbook of Method: "Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction." In the management of Christian schools, de la Salle states concisely the following practical rules for teaching methodically:
1. The teacher determines the relative intelligence of every pupil in his class. 2. He adapts his language and explanations to the capacity of his class, and is careful never to neglect the duller pupils. 3. He makes sure that the pupils know the meaning of the words they employ. 4. He advances from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the difficult. 5. He makes it a special point to insist greatly on the elementary part of each subject; not to advance until the pupils are well grounded on what goes before . . . 9. To state but few principles at a time, but to explain them well . . . 10. To speak much to the eyes of the pupils, making use of the blackboard . . . 11. To prepare every lesson carefully. 12. To place no faulty models or standards before the pupils; always to speak to them in a sensible manner, expressing one’s self in correct language, good English, and with clearness and precision. 13. To employ none but exact definitions and well-founded divisions . . . 18. To assert nothing without being positively certain of its truth, especially as regards facts, definitions, or principles. 19. To make frequent use of the system of question and answer. (Chap. V, art. ii, pp. 31-33)
It is true that de la Salle, in establishing his institute, had in mind principally the primary and elementary school, which was the real raison d’etre for the existence of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He was the organizer of the public instruction of his time, and no master of pedagogical science will deny him that distinction. But, if the primary and elementary school was the principal masterwork of de la Salle, there was yet another field of labor which likewise reveals his creative genius. At the opening of the eighteenth century, he was confronted with singularly perplexing conditions. The rising generation was weary of past glories, disgusted with the present and was ambitious to achieve renown in hitherto unexplored fields of activity. As education was gradually extending to the masses, with the light of instruction came new ideas, new occupations, new ventures, and a breaking away from the old civilization, with the desire to wrestle with the problems born of the new conditions. Even those who were trained in traditional methods became aware of a mighty change in men and things. They felt that there was a desideratum in the actual educational system. With their sons, they experienced the world-spirit breathing upon the moribund civilization of Louis XIV. The political horizon had changed, society became more degenerate, the intellectual world was awakened and cast off its lethargy, assuming a bolder attitude and aspiring to greater freedom in the realm of thought and research. De la Salle had been struck with the serious hiatus in the instruction reserved for the wealthy children, who were destined for the liberal professions. So, while organizing the primary and elementary school, he also created, in 1705, a special establishment until then unknown in the educational world. This new creation was the boarding college at Saint-Yon, wherein he inaugurated the system of modern secondary instruction. Saint-Yon became the type of all such colleges, and that of Passy, Paris, became the modern exemplar of similar institutions in France and elsewhere. M. Drury, in his report upon technical education, states that France is indebted to de la Salle for the practical installation and popularization of that form of instruction.
Hence, from the origin of the institute, there was a constant adaptation of programs to the needs created by the social transformations which were taking place. This flexibility, which contrasted with the fixedness of the university programs, excited surprise and no little opposition among the representatives of academic authority in those days. The instruction given in the college founded by de la Salle and his successors was peculiarly adapted of the needs of a very interesting class of young men. The educational reforms thus planned and carried out by him give unmistakable evidence that Providence had raised him up to be the lawgiver of primary and elementary teaching, as well as the creator of a new system of intellectual training, combining the precision of the traditional method with the wider scope of the new one. It was but natural that de la Salle, who had assimilated the best that the seventeenth century could give, and who had become cognizant of the inefficiency of the old system to meet the requirements of the new conditions, should create schools which were then, and have been since, the admiration of educators. The boarding colleges founded by de la Salle for the modern secondary instruction are, therefore, a distinct creation. The date of the Saint-Yon college is 1705. He later added a technical school to develop the mechanical skill of the students, and also a special garden for botany.
There were Sunday schools prior to the seventeenth century. But the Christian Academy, founded by de la Salle for adults in the parish of Saint-Sulpice, in 1699, was of a different character, the first of its kind in the history of education. The program of this academy, or Sunday school, included not only the ordinary branches taught in the other Sunday schools, but it added geometry, architecture, and drawing.
Alain claims that the first normal schools were the novitiates of the teaching orders. But there were no normal schools for lay teachers. De la Salle had been frequently asked by clergy to send a Brother to take charge of their school. This request was refused, for he had established the rule that not less than two Brothers teach in any school. Accordingly, he offered to open a seminary for teachers, an institution in which young men would be trained in the principles and practices of the new method of teaching. The normal school was opened at Reims in 1684. Indeed, thirteen years before Francke organized his teachers’ class at Halle, and fifty years before Hecker founded the Prussian normal college at Stettin, de la Salle had given a program which is even today deemed excellent. In the same year he established for youths who were destined to enter the brotherhood, a Christian academy, or preparatory novitiate, in which they were taught the sciences, literature, and the principles of scientific pedagogy.
De la Salle is entitled to be ranked among the advanced educators of the eighteenth century and among the greatest thinkers and educational reformers of all time. His system embraces the best in the modern educational methods. He gave an impetus to the higher educational progress which is the distinctive mark of modern times, and bequeathed to is own disciples, and to educators in general, a system of teaching which is adaptable to the wants of school-going youth in every country. But it was especially as a priest that John Baptist de la Salle loved his vocation as an educator. Like St. Ignatius Loyola, he taught letters that he might have the right to teach Christian doctrine. In claiming this privilege de la Salle was actuated by the highest and purest motives. There was nothing narrow in his educational plans. He was too wise not to realize the necessity that the truest and best children of the Church should be among the most skilled in human affairs. His view was from the summit, therefore, broad and comprehensive. Intellectual training was supplemented by a complete course of Christian morals. Man had a destiny, and the teacher was to inculcate this truth by cultivating and developing the theological virtues in the souls of the children.
This thought seemed to be uppermost in the mind and to haunt the soul of de la Salle, when he drew up those excellent programs for his schools, colleges, and technical institutions. His pedagogic principle was that nothing human should be foreign to the students, and the teaching of science and letters appeared to him to take nothing from the teacher in his ministry as an apostle. In September 1713, Clement XI issued the bull Unigenitus, condemning the errors of Quesnel, culled from his Moral Reflections. M. de Montmartin, Bishop of Grenoble, promulgated the bull in a circular letter, in February 1714. De la Salle was then making a retreat at Parmenie. When he left this place, he entered the arena to defend the Church against Jansenism. He assembled the Brothers of Grenoble and explained the meaning of the bull, in order to safeguard the purity of their faith. Not satisfied with this manifestation of loyalty, he published several articles in defense of the true doctrine. This irritated the Jansenists, but their opposition only served to give greater luster to the purity of his faith and zeal. He was a fearless and uncompromising champion, and he seemed to forget his habitual calm and reserve when there was question of the integrity and purity of the Faith. To show his inviolable attachment to the Church and to the Sovereign Pontiff, he always signed himself Roman Priest. "Hold fast to what is of faith", he writes to the Brothers; "shun novelties; follow the traditions of the Church; receive only what she receives; condemn what she condemns; approve what she approves, either by her Councils or by the Sovereign Pontiffs. In all things render her prompt obedience". He was even eager to go to Rome to cast himself at the feet of the pope and request his blessing for the institute. However, not being able to go himself, he sent Brother Gabriel Drolin to establish a school there in 1700. Even the consolation of seeing his rule approved by the Holy See was denied the saint, for he had been dead nearly six years when, on February 26, 1725, Benedict XIII, by his bull, In Apostolicae Dignitatis Solio, placed the seal of approbation upon the institute, empowering the members to teach and explain Christian doctrine, and constituting them a religious congregation.
The last years of de la Salle were spent in close retirement at Saint-Yon. There he revised his rule before giving it to Brother Barthélemy, the first superior general. During the last days of his life he showed the same spirit of sacrifice which had marked his earlier years. In Holy Week of 1719, he gave unmistakable signs that the end was near. On Holy Thursday, at the request of Brother Barthelemy, he blessed the Brothers assembled at his bedside, and gave them his last words of counsel. His final words were: "In all things I adore the will of God in my regard." On Good Friday morning, April 7, 1719, he breathed his soul into the hands of his Creator. He was canonized by Leo XIII on May 24, 1900. His feast is celebrated on May 15.
The principal writings which he has bequeathed to his spiritual children are:
- Conduite des écoles (1717), a treatise on pedagogic method, presenting fundamental principles in a scientific manner. It is remarkable that the methods herein given have not been considerably changed since the time of its author, and that the principles laid down are as applicable today as when they were written.
- Les Règles de la Bienséance et de la Civilité Chrétiennes, is a volume written in 1695, and used as a treatise on politeness and as a text in the reading of manuscripts. The style is simple and direct. It contains excellent rules for cultured manners.
- Les Devoirs du Chrétien (1703), a simple and precise exposition of Christian doctrine is remarkable for its accuracy, and for the practical lessons it inculcates. It was intended as a reader and a catechism. It still retains its place in many schools and colleges.
- Recueil de Différents Petits Traités à Pusage des Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes" (1711) is a noteworthy treatise, stating in remarkably simple terms the fundamental principles of the religious life. It abounds in Scriptural quotations and is a valuable guide for persons striving after perfection.
- Explication de la Méthode D’oraison (1st printed ed., 1739). In point of clearness and adaptation, this method of mental prayer is eminently suited to the needs of the Brothers. It appeals to every degree of capacity, for all can find therein the spiritual food necessary for their special condition and state of perfection.
- Méditations pour le temps de la Retraite (1st printed ed. 1730), written for the exercises of the annual retreat, and, combining he principles of the spiritual life with pedagogics, tends to promote the Christian Apostolate in the school. These méditations contain some of the soundest principles of pedagogy ever enunciated.
- Meditations pour tous les Dimanches de Panée, avec les Evangiles de tous les Dimanches; Meditations pour les Principales Fetes de Panee (Rouen, 1710?), is an epitome of spiritual doctrine, based upon the Gospels of the year and applied to the needs of the teaching profession and the principles of the religious life. This treatise reveals the greatness of de la Sale and shows him to be a man of deep religious conviction. His language is always simple, direct, and vigorous.
The spirit of de la Salle has even permeated other religious families, either in giving them a special character or suggesting their rules. Thus:
- the Brothers of St. Gabriel, founded by Blessed Grignon de Montfort and M. Deshayes, in 1795 and 1821;
- the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Ploërmel, founded by J.-M. de Lamennais, in 1816;
- the Brothers of Christian Doctrine of Nancy, founded by Father Fréchard, in 1817;
- the Little Brothers of Mary (Marists), founded by Père Champagnat, in 1817;
- the Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Paradis, founded by Father Coindre, in 1821;
- the Brothers of the Society of Mary, founded by Père Chaminade, in 1817;
- the Brothers of the Holy Family, founded by Brother Gabriel Taborin, in 1821;
- the Brothers of the Cross of Jesus, founded by Père Bochard, in 1824;
- the Clerics of St-Viateur, founded by Père Guerbes, in 1829;
- the Congregation of the Holy Cross, founded by M. Moreau and M. Dujarris, in 1835;
- the Congregation of the Holy Ghost and the Sacred Heart of Mary, founded by Father Liebermann, in 1841;
- the Brothers of Mercy, founded by M. Delamare, in 1842;
- the Christian Brothers of Ireland, founded by Brother Ignatius Rice, in 1805;
- and the Institute of the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy, founded by Ven. Julie Postel, in 1802
― all exemplify in the character of their work and in the rules adopted, a striking similarity to the methods and aims proposed by Saint John Baptist de la Salle in founding the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
BLAIN, Vie de M. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (Rouen, 1733); CARRON, Une Vie (Paris, 1885); IDEM, L’Esprit et les Vertus du bienheureux J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1890); The Spirit and Virtues of Bl. J.-B. de la Salle (Tours, 1895); GARREAU, Vie de M. J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1875); CARRON, Le Tendre Ami des Enfants du Peuple (Lyons, 1828); L’Ami de l’Enfance (Lille, 1831); Le Veritable Ami de l’Enfance (Paris, 1838); DUROZIER, L’Abbe de la Salle (Paris, 1842); SALVAN, Vie de M. Ven de la Salle (Toulouse, 1852); AYMA, Vie de M. de la Salle (Aix, 1858); LUCARD, Vie du Ven. de la Salle (Paris, 1876); RAVELET, Vie du B. J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1888); GAVEAU, Vie de M. de la Salle (Paris, 1883); Life of M. de la Salle (Italian) (Rome, 1888); KREBS, Leben von J.-B. de la Salle (Ratisbon, 1859); GUIBERT, Histoire de Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (Paris, end ed., 1901); IDEM, Vie et Vertus de S. J.-B. de la Salle (Tours, 1901); DELAIRE, Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle (4th ed., Paris, 1902); BAINVEL, Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle (Paris, 1901); GUIBERT, Renouvellement religieux (Paris, 1903); IDEM, Doctrine spirituelle de Saint J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1900); BROTHER NOAH, Life and Work of the Ven. J.-B. de la Salle (New York, 1878); WILSON, The Christian Brothers, their Origin and their Work (London, 1883); DE DONCOURT, Remarques Historiques (Paris, 1773); FELLER, Dictionnaire Historique (Paris, 1797); CERF, Maison ou dut naitre le B. J.-B. de la Salle (Reims, 1870); CHEVALIER, Les Freres des ecoles chretiennes (Paris, 1887); RAVELET-O’MEARA, The Life of Bl. J.-B. de la Salle (Tours, 1888); BONVALLET, Sur la Noblesse de la Salle in La Revue de Champagne (December, 1888); PIN DE LA GUERIVIERE, Les aieuls maternels du Bienheureux J.-B. de la Salle (Reims, 1897); KNECHT, Leben von Johan Baptist de la Salle (Freiburg, 1879); SPEH., Der Heilige Johannes Baptista de la Salle und sine Stiftung (Kaufbeuren, 1907); HUBERT, Leben von Johan Baptist de la Salle (Mainz, 1887); LUCARD, Annales de l’Institut des Freres des Ecoles Chretiennes (Tours, 1883); CONSTANTIUS (M.M. GRAHAM) in American Catholic Review (July, 1900); IDEM, in Catholic World (August, 1900); BEDEL, La Vie du Rev. Pierre Fourier (Paris, 1666); ARNOLD, The Popular Education of France (London, 1861); SAINT-SIMON, Memoires (Paris, 1886); ALAIN, L’Instruction primaire avant la Revolution (Paris, 1881); ARNOLD, Notes et Documents sur les Etablissements d’Instruction Primaire de la Ville Reims (Reims, 1848); BABEAU, L’Instruction Primaire dans les campagnes avant 1789 (Paris, 1896); BUISSON, Dictionnaire de Pedagogie (Paris, 1887); RENDU, De l’Instruction Publique (Paris, 1819); BARNARD, De l’Enseignement elementaire en France (Paris, 1894); H. BARNARD, Normal Schools and other Institutions (Hartford); JUSTINUS, The Educational System of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in France; Report of the Commissioner of Education (Washington, 1898-1899).
By Brother Constantius
Published originally as the District Superior’s Letter to Friends & Benefactors in the September 2004 Regina Coeli Report
Dear friends and benefactors of the Society of St. Pius X,
On the front of this report [“Educational Conferences"] you have news about the educational seminars held this summer for our principals and teachers. Many topics were covered during these two weeks, but all, as you might expect, had a common end in view — how best to educate or train our youth.
To have the best education or training is a concern not only for our principals and teachers but also for our parents, who have this primary duty in raising their children. Nor does this concern end with parents. In many ways the training of youth concerns us all. These children will one day be adults and take their part in society where they will help or harm the common good. If they have not been taught how to train themselves, which is the task of education, how will they continue the self-training needed to lead good lives?
Thus it is good for all of us to occasionally take a few moments and consider some important questions which pertain to any scheme of training or self-training. What results do we want our training to produce? What materials are available to produce the result? And how can we best handle the material to bring about the result?
The result we want from our training is, in or out of school, men and women of the best and noblest character possible according to capacity and circumstances. Proper training seeks to produce men and women whose lives are dominated by good principles, deeply rooted in the mind and elevated into standards of judgment, taste, feeling, action, and which are consistently referred to throughout life. To do this an all-round development of knowledge, intelligence, judgment, moral and religious uprightness, strength and stamina, energy and enterprise, refinement and culture is needed. Such lives, based on good principles, will be quite distinct from those dominated by mere impulses from within and circumstances from without. We only need to look around or maybe even within to see how lives dominated by such impulses and circumstances create anything but men and women of virtue.
Thus we need to lay before our children the noblest ideals, with a proper subordination, so that we properly construct in them the noblest character and do justice to all that goes into perfecting them. To do this, we need to have a solid foundation of natural virtue. Grace builds upon nature and so this foundation of character must be firmly established to support the building which is to stand upon it.
As the firm foundation is being established we can already begin to build and we do so by the Christian ideals or supernatural virtues which perfect and elevate the natural virtues to a higher plane so that the child is capable of living in harmony with God’s will.
To finish off our building, all that remains is to add the trimmings. These trimmings, when speaking of character, are the various other physical, mental and practical qualities, which develop body and mind (e.g., knowledge, judgment, manners, taste, health and every possible kind of activity whether of business or pleasure.) Thus we seek to produce proper Christian gentlemen and ladies of all-round capability who, for the rest of their lives will act according to the Catholic principles instilled in them.
Every kind of training contributes to accuracy of observation and judgment, to judiciousness of action and self-restraint in moral matters. He who is taught to act on sound principles concerning things on a natural level, will also acquire greater facility in proceeding on sound principles in those things which pertain to the salvation of his soul. Natural development may, it is true, be accompanied by neglect of spiritual development and so lose all higher value. But, given that spiritual development is not neglected, it will certainly not be impeded but rather helped by every form of natural development.
In training we must also consider the material we have available to work with and from which we hope to produce the desired result. As man moves from infancy to childhood, then on to boyhood, and finally to adulthood, he passes through different developmental stages. In each stage he reaches a level of development which gives us certain material to work with. The main concern for the parents of a helpless newborn babe is to see that plenty of food and rest is provided. As the baby grows into childhood, the beginnings of judgement and will are manifest in the child’s observations and impulses. What parent has not had the question "Why?" put to them by their little two or three year old?
As the child develops into the boyhood stage, there is a consciousness of the power of choice, its proper use and the duty of making the right choice. Here the training must focus on the intellect and the will. In the training of youth this is the real breaking point. Here the boy should be considered as an incipient man and the girl as an incipient woman and thus opportunities should be given for him or her to develop by ruling them with adult methods as far as they are able rather than with child methods. Motives of pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, or the will of the parent must be superseded by the idea of duty, which must be again elevated into personal service of God, and this not just out of fear but out of love. Thus ethical conduct will be placed on a sound footing of religious principles and these must be cultivated until they become habit.
In the training process, once again, let us bear in mind that all real training is self-training; we have no power to force the will. Success will be achieved only in so far as we can induce the child to take his own self-training in hand according to the lines laid out for him. For this purpose it is important that we watch each child’s development so that we neither hold the child back nor push too quickly.
Finally the means or method for producing the desired result of our training must be considered. These methods must consist of removing obstacles and providing opportunities as well as providing incitements where development is deficient and imposing restrictions where it is excessive until the child is able to do so for himself.
The first means we can consider is the training of the intellect, otherwise known as instruction. Whether it be formal as in the set tasks systematically imposed, or informal resulting from the interaction of such things as conversation, sightseeing or reading, instruction concerns the communication between the intellects of teacher and student in order to convey thoughts and facts.
There is also the training of the will known as discipline. Discipline is able to instigate and direct actions and thus enforce principles, and, like instruction, has also formal and informal parts. Rules and regulations make up what we call formal discipline, while informal discipline, which is just as important, comes from suggestion rather than law and is derived from the tone of the circle, family or school in which the child lives.
A final means to consider, for producing character, is the influence or example of persons. Example covers the whole ground of instruction and discipline and is a more potent factor of influence than the other two. The reason for this is that we humans, especially when children, have a natural instinct of imitation. The possibilities of achievement are revealed by example thus exciting our aspirations and helping to form our ideals and focus our energies down to a definite line of self-development.
This scheme, as I said, applies to any training. Unfortunately in today’s modern world the result, material and means have been changed. The result sought today are men and women who will be useful to our industrial society, able to make money or able to contribute to the pleasures most seek.
As to the material, modern educators try to force it to fit this same utilitarian mold. Instead of a well-rounded education, given according to the normal developmental stages of man, they try to force specialized education upon children before they are ready. Children, like vessels of clay, must be shaped slowly and given time to dry before firing otherwise they will (and have) become warped or burst apart when put into the fire, being unable to handle the pressure.
The means have suffered even greater attack. Modern educators say instruction between two intellects is no longer necessary. Children can teach themselves or machines can better train them. Discipline or training of the will, what is that? And the icons for imitation today are men and women dominated by impulses or circumstances who seek to fit the subjective result of the utilitarian society.
As Catholics, we know the result expected of us: "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." We also know too well how faulty are the material and means we have to work with. But too often we fall victim to the erroneous thinking of the modern world, misusing this material or destroying the proper means. However it is not too late for us to change the trend. To make sure our children have proper education we all must do our part. For most of us, as adults, this can be accomplished simply by taking our own self-training seriously. Let us start with proper instruction and self-discipline. Then our example will give our youth something to shoot for and we will all be working toward the perfection God demands of us.
Sincerely yours in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts,
Fr. John D. Fullerton
This conference was given in August 1984 by Fr. Herve De La Tour
What is the ultimate end you must consider in your apostolate as teacher in a Catholic school? Is it merely a question of arranging courses and giving grades, of making students recite well their lessons in grammar and arithmetic? All this is commendable, but it is not the final purpose of your activity. If God placed you as a teacher in a Catholic school, it is, after all, to help souls to develop their spiritual life.
Even though the proximate end of education is the intellectual life, the ultimate end of education is to create conditions so that the supernatural life of our students will be able to blossom. We want our children to make progress in the love of God, we want them to become saints.
The life of grace (also called the interior life) is the great reality of which so many men and women do not think because no one has ever impressed them with its importance. The Gospel compares the gift of grace to a great treasure, a precious pearl; it is indeed a participation in the intimate life of God. Here is where your responsibility lies: to help your students to understand, despite the pagan atmosphere of the modern world, the "primacy of the spiritual."
Remember this principle of psychology: Children attach the same importance to things as do the older people with whom they are associated or whom they love. Therefore the knowledge of religion and love that the children have for it will depend on you. It is not only the priest’s job!
God intends to use you as an instrument to draw souls to Him. The more united you will be with Him, the more fruitful your activity will be.
Your vocation as a teacher makes you like the salt of the earth and the light which illuminates the house. You should have a great desire to become saints. Your mission as a leader of souls is an invitation to aim high.
You owe it to God… to the Church…
You owe it to your students… to their parents…
The fruitfulness of your activity will be in proportion to your holiness. Teaching is indeed an apostolate. Listen to the words of Dom Chautard:
Is it not a fact that too often, because of a lack of interior life, we are unable to produce in souls anything more than a surface piety, without any powerful ideals or strong convictions? Those of us who are teachers: have we not, perhaps, been more ambitious for the distinction of degrees and for the reputation of our schools than to impart a solid religious instruction to souls? Have we not worn ourselves out on less important things than forming of wills, and imprinting on well-tried characters the stamp of Jesus Christ? And has not the most frequent cause of this mediocrity been the common banality of our interior life?
If the teacher is a saint (the saying goes), the students will be fervent; if the teacher is fervent, the students will be pious; if the teacher is pious, the students will at least be decent. But if the teacher is only decent, the students will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life that those who beget Christ.
The teacher who has not interior life imagines he has done all that is required of him if he keeps within the limits of the program of his examination. But if he is a man of prayer some word will now and again slip out, not only from his lips but from his heart: some sentiment or other will show itself in his expression, some significant gesture will escape him, yes, the mere way he makes the sign of the Cross, of says a prayer before or after class ― even a class in mathematics! ― may have a more profound influence on his students than a whole sermon.
Sanctity is difficult, but the important thing is to realize that God has truly called you to it and that in this call is implied the promise of the divine help. So pray for humility and confidence.
Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things, but in fulfilling the will of God with the greatest love possible. Sanctity is not a matter of “bent heads" and “devout demeanor." It is loving God through our sufferings, serving Him faithfully amidst trials.
The smallest part of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and more profitable to the Church in its apparent inactivity, than all the other works taken together. (St. John of the Cross)
This year, you will work with dedication, but God alone does solid, enduring good. Therefore if you wish sincerely that your work be supernatural, you must be united with Him.
How can one be Martha and Mary at the same time? Here is a little advice:
- Outside the hours of activity properly so called, set aside some minutes of prayer.
- Silence is necessary, even physically (relaxation). Even more so spiritually ― to find God. Remember the example of Our Lord (30 years of hidden life before his life of teaching) of Our Lady (only seven words in the Gospel).
- Through mental prayer, the soul regains its poise, distinguishes the accessory from the essential, sees all things from God’s perspective.
- Rely on the grace of God and not in your own efforts alone.
- See your students as members of the mystical body. In each of them Our Lord is living. "As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me."
- Take the means in order to develop your own interior life by means of the Mass, the Divine Office (Vespers, Compline), Rosary Confession, Spiritual Guidance, Retreats.
- Pray for your students.
Listen to what a great teacher had to say about the spiritual life.
Even those of us in the active life are called to a tithe of the contemplative as well. The strictly cloistered monk and nun lead that life in the highest degree, but each of us in his station must pay his due. There are three degrees of prayer: The first, of the consecrated religious, is total. They pray always, according to the counsel of our Lord. Their whole life is the Divine Office, Mass, spiritual reading, mental prayer, devotions and the minimum work necessary to maintain physical health. They pray eight hours, sleep eight hours and divide the other eight between physical work and recreation. The second degree is the mixed life in the active orders and secular priesthood, which is still primarily devoted to prayer. These pray four hours, sleep eight, work eight ― preaching, teaching, caring for the sick and poor, and have four hours for recreation. The third degree is for those in the married state (or single life) who offer a tithe of their time for prayer ― about two and one-half hours per day ― with eight hours for work, eight for sleep and the remaining five and one-half for recreation with the family.
Prayer is the proximate end of every immediate work; it is the humble soil, the humus of our common humanity, irrigated by tears of contrition. Works without prayer are dead. Prayer and work are not the same thing ― you cannot use the one as a substitute for the other, in the heresy of good works on the one hand or the Quietism on the other. Work needs prayer as dry cracked leather needs oil, prayer fills the pores of work and makes it flexible, useful to God. (Dr. John Senior)
To finish, let us pray together to Our Lady with this beautiful prayer written by a teacher:
O Admirable Virgin, source of calm and serenity, we love thee for the immense light in thy downcast eyes; for the peaceful expression on thy tranquil face; and the supernatural beauty which flows from the wealth of thy interior fullness. Thou art the Virgin of the Eternal Unseen.
O Mother, detach us from all that is material and tangible so as to lead us back to that which is supernatural and which thine eyes behold: the Invisible and Eternal Presence, Life and Love.
During our distracted and busy days, keep our minds focused on the Sacred Heart of Thy Divine Son. In spite of the worldly distractions that often seduce us, Thou will inspire within us the thirst for God.
A conference given by Father Herve de la Tour, September 15, 1987
The teacher is a father. Pope Pius XII said that teachers should be "fathers of souls" rather than “propagators of sterile information." The Benedictine spirit is a family spirit. The first words of the Rule are “Listen, my son, and with your heart hear the principles of your Master. Readily accept and faithfully follow the advice of a loving Father." The teacher represents Christ the Good Shepherd. Our Lord entrusts to us a little flock of students so that we may lead them to Him. Jesus says to us: “I give you these souls. I bought them at a dear price, since I shed all my blood for each of them. I want you to take care of these children. Your mission as a teacher is to lead them to MY Heart."
Our mission as teachers implies a great responsibility. "We should always remember that we will be held accountable on Judgment Day for our teaching" and “any lack of good in our students will be held as our fault." In the same way as a father will have to render account for the souls of his children, a teacher will have to render account for the souls of his students. How frightening to realize that we may go to Hell because of the sins of our students! However, "we shall be held innocent in the Lord’s judgment if we have done all within our power to overcome the corruptness and disobedience of our students." Yes, we will only be responsible for the loss of our students if we are guilty of a grave negligence (e.g., showing them bad example, not teaching them the truth ― and being aware of it). So let us be faithful to our mission.
A teacher should be a leader by his words, his example and his prayer. It is how St. Bernard describes St. Benedict: he was feeding his flock "by his doctrine, by his whole life and by his intercession." Our classes have to be interesting, enriching, inspiring and uplifting. We have to bring forth the life of the intellects of our students. Then we have to live what we preach, "to show our students by deeds more than by words what is good and holy." “To those who understand, we may expound verbally the Lord’s directions: but to the stubborn and dull, we must exhibit the Divine commandments by our actions in our everyday life." And finally we must pray for our children. Kneel down before the tabernacle and beg Jesus to have mercy on them, e.g., to help this one who is unhappy or to help that one who is disobedient.
As teachers, we should not show preference (i.e., have favorites). If we must care for someone in the class, it should be first for the slow, the stubborn, the skeptical, and the selfish child. He is the one who needs attention, he is the lost sheep that we have to seek. It is indeed easy to love the kind, the gentle, the one who gets good grades or the one who pleases his teachers. It is difficult to love the others, the ones who are not so attractive. So we have to love them out of love for Jesus, seeing Him in all these souls.
St. Benedict exhorts the teacher to "mix encouragement with reproof. He should show the sternness of a master and the love and affection of a father. He must reprove the unruly and undisciplined with severity, but he should exhort the obedient and patient for their own betterment." Here we see another trait of the Rule, which is its great balance. Firmness and fairness should go hand in hand. Teenagers especially are prone to get discouraged. We need to make ourselves loved. We have to win their hearts. If there is no confidence, we will only have exterior discipline but no interior motivation for good. Our Lord did not say: "I am the Master. You have to obey Me." He said: "Behold the Heart which has loved you so much." Listen to St. John Bosco: “Human nature is prone to evil and at times must be dealt with severely. Yet charity should prompt all our actions, for, indeed, the inspiration of my whole life, of my priestly efforts and ideals has been my love for poor, abandoned youth. We are the friends of our boys; we take the place of their parents. You will obtain anything from your boys if they realize that you are seeking their own good. To gain their confidence, act towards them as a good father, who punishes and checks his children only from a sense of duty, when reason and justice manifestly require it."
The teacher "should recognize the difficulty of his position ― to care for and guide the spiritual development of many different characters. One must be led by friendliness, another by sharp rebukes, and another by persuasion." Yes, we have in our classes many different characters, many different temperaments; one is a leader, the other a follower; this little boy is a whiz, this other one is a slow learner; this teenage girl is outgoing and that one is timid and quiet. We have to adapt ourselves and practice patience and understanding. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus says the same thing: "I told you, dear Mother, that I had learned very much when I was teaching others. I saw first of all that all souls have very much the same struggles to fight, but they differ so much from each other in other aspects that I have no trouble in understanding what Father Pichon was saying: ‘There are really more differences among souls than there are among faces.’ It is impossible to act with all in the same manner. With certain souls, I feel I must make myself little, not fearing to humble myself by admitting my own struggles and defects; seeing I have the same weaknesses as they, my little Sisters in their turn admit their faults and rejoice because I understand them through experience. With others, on the contrary, I have seen that to do them any good I must be very firm and never go back on a decision once it is made. To abase oneself wound not then be humility but weakness. God has given me the grace not to fear the battle; I must do my duty at all costs."
Let us not lose sight of what is essential in our mission of educators. "The teacher must always remember his task is the guidance of souls (for which he will be held accountable) and he must put aside the worldly, transitory and petty things. And if he complains of less abundant earthly goods, he ought to remember: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all things shall be given to you’" (Matt. 6:33). And "Nothing is wanting to them who fear God" (Ps. 34:10). We have to overlook the material drawbacks (e.g., low salary, difficult parents, old textbooks, etc.) to see the greatness of our mission of Catholic education.
St. Benedict finishes this chapter of the Rule by reminding the teacher in a Catholic school that "He will be cleansed of vice himself by helping others through admonition and correction." Teaching is an "ars perficiens", an activity which perfects not only the student but the teacher himself. Teaching makes us better persons. Teachers obtain a great reward already here below and later in Heaven. St. John Baptist de la Salle, in his meditations for teachers says: "What a consolation for those who have procured the salvation of others, to see in heaven a great number whom they have helped attain so great a happiness! This will happen to those who have taught many the truths of religion, as the prophet Daniel has said: ‘Those who instruct many in Christian justice will shine like stars for all eternity.’ They will shine, indeed, in the midst of those they have taught, who will eternally bear witness to the great gratitude they have for the valuable instructions of their teachers, whom they will regard as the cause, after God, of their salvation." To finish, he continues: "what joy a teacher will have when he sees a great number of his students in possession of eternal happiness, for which they are indebted to him by the grace of Jesus Christ! What a sharing of joy there will be between the teacher and his disciples! What a special reunion among them in the presence of God! It will be one great celebration for them, sharing together the blessings for which the call of God had given them hope, the wealth of the glorious heritage God has given them with all saints."
From a Lenten conference given by Father de la Tour to students
A recent survey among young people asked them to name their heroes. Of the top ten persons they regarded as “heroes," nine were movie stars ― movie stars, persons often of loose morals. No, these are not real heroes. It is good to have true heroes, and these we find among the saints.
One of these is St. Catherine. Usually when we hear this name, we think of St. Catherine of Siena, but there are other saints who bear this name, and St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, is one of them.
This St. Catherine has been a very popular saint, especially in the Middle Ages. In the 12th century the Crusaders returning from the East brought back her story and introduced devotion to her in Europe. She became patroness of maidens, women students, philosophers, preachers and apologists, wheel-makers and millers.
You will remember how, in the 15th century, St. Joan of Arc was guided by voices she heard. She had apparitions of the saints whose voices these were: St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine.
It was at St. Catherine’s of Fierbois, a shrine to the martyr, that St. Joan found her sword. She dug beneath the stone and found the old sword used by Charles Martel when he fought the Moslems, and which Joan would take in battle to free her French people from the English invaders.
St. Catherine’s Life
Catherine was a young girl of 18 who had attended the schools of Alexandria in Egypt in the early days of Christianity. She was both holy and learned. And she was also brave. When she saw that Maximin, the local prince, was executing Christians, she boldly went to him and reproached his evil actions, shaming him by giving him many good reasons in support of the truths of the Christian faith. Maximin was amazed at her wisdom. He could not answer her arguments against his gods, so he tried to get her to give up her faith. He used three methods:
- First, he gathered the most learned men from all parts of the country and promised them a reward if they could refute Catherine’s arguments and lead her to give up her faith and worship idols. The men got up to convince Catherine of how man could be independent of the One True God. And what happened? Just the opposite of what Maximin thought. Catherine explained her points so well that many of the pagan philosophers who had come to refute her were so struck by the force of her reasoning that they became Christians ready to die for Our Lord!
- When Maximin saw that his first attempt had failed, he then tried to seduce Catherine by flatteries. He also promised her many things of the world. "If you give up Christ," he said, “I will give you a fine house and riches." The first attack had been directed toward Catherine’s intellect. Now, his second attack was more toward the passions of the young girl. But it failed as the first did.
- Then Maximin tried finally to conquer Catherine by torture of her body. He had her scourged with whips which were tipped with lead. And then he locked her up in prison for 11 days without food or drink. Imagine 11 days without food! We are so weak if we fast without food for just one whole day.
During this time an amazing thing happened. Maximin’s wife and Porphyrius, the leader of the army, went to see Catherine ― maybe out of curiosity ― and were converted by her ardent faith. Both of them later became martyrs.
Maximin was furious. He had Catherine brought to a wheel -she is usually shown in pictures with this wheel ― and the wheel had sharp knives attached around it. But at her prayer the wheel was broken. Seeing this miracle, many of the soldiers became Christians.
Maximin became more obstinate, and finally ordered to have Catherine beheaded and be done with her. She offered her head bravely to the sword, and at her death her soul went straight to heaven.
Catherine as a Model of the Spiritual Combat
The life of St. Catherine illustrates well the spiritual combat. She fought for God and won. We too have to fight for God, and we too hope to win this spiritual battle. We cannot avoid fighting against our enemies. The Holy Ghost told us, "none shall be crowned who has not fought well." Yes, life is a combat.
- Our first enemy is the DEVIL who profits by our pride, our desire for independence from God. This is illustrated in St. Catherine’s life by the pagan philosophers who tried to put false reasonings in her mind. But she defeated her enemies through HUMILITY. Let us imitate her when we practice obedience to God and to the persons over us to whom God gives His authority. Sometimes we think it is not so hard to obey God, but it is hard to obey the persons He puts in authority over us. But, by obeying them we draw humility from the meek and humble Sacred Heart Himself, and we crush the head of the devil.
- Our second enemy is the WORLD which acts upon our selfishness, our desire for worldly success. Maximin attacked Catherine by flattering her passions. She overcame this enemy through PRAYER. Her soul was steeped in the interior life so she did not care for the world and all its riches. Let us imitate her by acquiring a good spiritual life. Practice some time of silence and recollection each day. This will be the best means to keep our mind turned toward the things of Heaven instead of getting wrapped up in the things of the world.
- Our third enemy is our own FLESH, which draws us down through our desire for comfort. We hear the voice of our fallen nature, "Take it easy; don’t be too hard on yourself. To become a saint is too difficult; God does not want you to go that far." Maximin tortured Catherine’s body, but she was victorious through her LOVE for Our Lord. Let us imitate her in making an effort to be generous in our love for Jesus, rather than selfish in our love for ourselves. Love is the most powerful weapon against mediocrity. Love renders all things easy. To deny ourselves will not seem so difficult if we do it for Our Lord’s sake.
So, during our life, let us be brave in the spiritual combat as St. Catherine was. Let us fight our enemies: the DEVIL, the WORLD, and OUR FALLEN NATURE with the weapons of HUMILITY, PRAYER, and GENEROSITY.
And if we pray to the Blessed Virgin often as her children, Our Lady ― Our Mother ― will give us the victory.