VITA D. THOMAE AQUINATIS is a pictorial history of the life of St. Thomas Aquinas comprising thirty engravings, by Cornelius Galle, Cornelius Boel, E. van Paenderen and G. Swanenburg. Using both history and apocryphal stories with accompanying Latin text the work creates a compelling account of an intellectual giant who was humble enough to become a saint. Compiled by Otto van Veen, the original was published in 1610 in Antwerp. Blackfriars Gallery holds an edition republished by Antoine Collaer and printed by Cornelius Galle, in Brussels, 1873.
Larger images of the folios can be found in the Blackfriars Art Collection Catalog.
The Life of Div. Thomas Aquinas (English translations by DSPT alumnus, Joshua Kenz)
LIKENESS of Div. Thomas Aquinas
Whom the Church has held a Doctor, master of the school, scourge of heretics and whom Pope Pius V named the fifth Doctor of the Church. Italy saw him born; it has glorified the nobility of his blood. His grandfather was the Count of Sommocolonia, who begot Landulph with the sister of Emperor Fredrick II, to whom Theodora, daughter of the Count of Teano, bore Saint Thomas.
Before Div. Thomas was born, an anchorite, outstanding in holiness, rewarded the pregnant mother with joyful news; a boy, namely the future child, and the glorifying of the whole family by his splendor. And showing by an image of the Mother of God at whose feed the Div. Dominic was weeping, with his finger pointed to that blessed man, he announced a similar future for the son.
On the same day which he was born, were born both St. Ambrose of Sienna and St. James from Mevania (Bevagna), both belonging to the Order of Div. Dominic. In the city of Mevania, in the full of the day, three half-moons were seen in which each religious appeared in his Order. Which being seen, boys ran through the cross-roads crying “To the schools”, “to the schools;” they discovered, namely, that three extraordinary men had now come into the world.
When at some time the wet-nurse wanted to give him a bath, the infant picked up a scrap of paper from the ground (on which the Angelic Salutation was written). He was able to hold it with great force in a closed fist. Which paper, when the wet-nurse violently snatched it away, the infant demanded back by crying and screaming. Having received it, he threw it in his mouth and swallowed it: that already from a tender age he was seen to cherish the Mother of God.
(The paper in the image says “Ave Maria”, “Hail Mary”)
Aquinas, consumed by the fire of love, was left in Cassino, a monastery of the Order of Div. Benedict. Where already then from a young age he exhibited a certain ray of future holiness. He was sent thence to Naples, to be given over to the work of studies, in the middle course of which, namely his 14th year of age, after having long been prevented, he received the habit of Div. Dominic, without his parents knowing, as had been predicted.
His mother being hit hard by the news, hastened immediately to Naples. But Thomas, having heard that his mother had come, left his brethren to go to Rome, lest he should meet his mother. He hid this from his mother, who having learned that her son sought Rome, went to the same place. But the pious youth, avoiding all occasions by which he could be moved from his intention, asked to be sent to Paris, for the sake of security.
His mother deemed her son as having devised contumely against her. She incited by letters his brothers, Landulph and Arnold, famous soldiers, by a change of mind, to intercept Thomas on his way from Italy to France through an ambush. They, having read the letters, were gravely provoked by the matter and acted with favorable success. They found Thomas in a meadow, by a fountain with one of his confreres. Holding him abusively, they sent him back to his mother.
His mother assailed him with favors and with every effort strove to make him take off the holy habit. But when she saw that his resistance was on a greater foundation than to be moved by favors, she handed him into the custody of a certain castle. His sisters also came, that they might move him away from his intentions, but with him their words were confounded and they were changed repentantly thus that the elder of them, esteeming the world less, attached herself to a group of holy virgins.
His brothers were so provoked greater still against Thomas by such a pious intention of his sister, they returned to the castle by horse in a fury, that after many injuries inflicted upon St. Thomas with remarkable contempt, they tore his sacred habit; which the pious youth bore not only patiently but with great joy in his soul, preparing himself to endure yet greater things.
His mother from then onward was so agitated against the youth that she persuaded his brothers to incarcerate him and transfer him into a strict custody. Therefore, thrust into a citadel called the Dry Cliff (Rupes Siccus), he was guarded by many soldiers, lest some path of flight should be opened. But the courageous novice weakened by all these things persisted and gave singular proof of fortitude and strength of soul.
This prison was to him as if a paradise of delight, and the solitude a likeness of the joys in which he besought God by unrelenting prayers that He should infuse him with constancy in his holy intention. Meanwhile his brothers tried extreme measures. They sent to him an impudent harlot, that she might solicit the chaste youth to commit the deed. The chaste soul of the youth did not consider the allurements of the unchaste woman, but snatching a firebrand from the hearth he drove away the frivolous woman.
Closing the door, he painted the figure of the cross of the house wall with the firebrand by which he sent the impudent woman to flight. And prostrated on the ground he besought the Lord for the gift of perpetual continence. And lo! He was caught by a gentle sleep and two Angels shining with singular splendor were seen present, who tying his waist with a cincture, took away every motion of lust: this was done with such a great pain that by his cry he stirred up his guards.
When he had tolerated the annoyances of incarceration for two years, his mother dreading divine judgment, gave power to the Dominican brothers who wished to educate him, although she still feinted to be angry with them. Who, with the help also of his sisters, the jailers transferring him from the castle, sent him down the window in a basket and immediately to Naples, where he discharged his monastic vows. And then they returned to Rome.
He assiduously listened to Albert the Great on theological matters, keeping continuous silence. Whence it happened that this was reckoned a vice in him and therefore he was called the Dumb Ox by his fellow students. However when at a certain time, with Albert presiding, he defended some question with the authority of a Doctor, he did this with such ability of genius, that the President said that he discharged the duty not so much as a respondent, but as an eminent Doctor, adding: You have called him the Dumb Ox, but he will give forth such a bellowing that the whole world will be made to hear him- which very thing then happened.
Afterward, in Cologne, under Albert the Great, he proceeded in sacred studies in an unordinary fashion. He came to Paris in the year of the Lord 1246 where he was marked with the name and office of Doctor, being thirty years old. In which office he spent the whole time of his life such that he left an exceptional monument of his learning to the whole world.
Meanwhile that grave tempest began to rage in Paris against the mendicant religious, who held lectures publicly with great honor at that time. And therefore Thomas and his colleague, Div. Bonaventure, were publicly ejected from the schools with great contempt. But Thomas manfully shone forth tranquility upon his opposition not only with his speech but also with his pen until finally, through the diplomacy of Pope Alexander, the matter was settled in favor of the vow of the religious.
When a great dispute arose concerning the Venerable Sacrament of the Eucharist, Thomas established his teaching in writing and set it down on the altar before the cross. And he prayed that Christ confirm it with some sign. Lo! Immediately Thomas was lifted from the earth and the figure on the Cross said to him in a clear voice, “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas, what reward wilt thou therefore accept?” To which Thomas replied, “Nothing else except Thee, O Lord.”
When, to understand the sense of a passage in Isaiah, he pursued fasting and prayers for three days, his confrere Reginald heard two people speaking with him on a certain night. When they had left, Thomas called the brother in and dictated right away the commentary on that passage. When finished Reginald resolutely asked him to explain who they were with whom Thomas had spoke to at such a time. Thomas, relenting, said that they were the most holy Apostles Peter and Paul, who often used to teach him, along with the Virgin Mother of God, about doubtful things.
The Div. Bonaventure entered into Thomas' room, who always appeared to him in his studies and a pious colleague. He saw Thomas was rapt with great attention, and occupied in writing, and the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove was also present to his ear, Who dictated to Thomas what should be written. Seeing This, Div. Bonaventure, lest he should give an impediment to Thomas' writing, immediately rushed out of the room.
When on the day of the Nativity of the Lord he digressed to the household of Cardinal Richardi, and in the same place there were two wealthy Jews and they were singular experts on the Law. A great disputation arose concerning the advent of the Messiah which, when it dragged on though much of the night and the Jews confessed their defeat, the matter was deferred to the next day. Meanwhile with Thomas commending the matter to God in prayer, the Jews returned to the same place and abjured their unbelieving Judaism, and being given a name in Christ they were cleansed by baptism.
When Pope Clement offered him the Archbishopric of Naples, the holy man rejected it, asking persistently, lest he be burdened in the future by dignities of this sort, for he heroically spurned the riches and honors of the world beyond those that were provided for the discharge of his soul. Just as he, later on, answered someone praising Paris that he rather have the incomplete work of Chrysostom on Matthew than possess Paris itself.
On a certain day in Bologna, contemplating, he walked up and down the convent, when a certain brother, foreign to him, met him and asked that he prepare himself as a companion for a journey, to meet certain persons for business, by the authority of the Prior, taking up the meeting for him. Thomas prepared, but when he was not able to follow because of an infirmity of his feet, the other brother began to chide him harshly which Thomas bore with a kind soul. But to countrymen who saw this, dumbfounded at his submission, Thomas said that this was done to perfect monastic discipline.
At the time when he was fighting the teachings of the Manicheans, St. Louis, King of France, invited him to supper. Certainly by command of the prior Thomas conversed with him, but between courses he was so intent on his studies that hitting the table with his hand he said, “It is defined against the Manicheans,” and calling by name a confrere, he said “arise and write.” The prior reminded him that he was not at home but at the royal table, and Thomas asked forgiveness from the king.
He suffered a frequent ecstasy of his mind that those who were not accustomed to these were astonished, fearing lest something humanly befell him. It then happened that while, by the counsel of physicians, a branding iron was applied to his leg, in an ecstasy of this sort a marvel happened. Extending, of course, his leg, his mind was so elevated to God that he was alienated from every sense and felt no pain.
Having been summoned and journeying to the Council of Lyons, he was seized by a sickness on the journey and detoured to the monks of the Cistercian order at Fossa Nuova, where, when he foresaw that the last day had arrived for him, he expounded to the brethren of that place the Canticle of Canticles. However, when he came to the words “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field [Cant. 7:11]”, lifting his eyes to heaven, he gave his spirit to God. In the same moment, a certain Religious saw St. Peter the Apostle who was seen leading Thomas from the schools into heaven. And although Albert the Great was at Cologne, weeping he said to those present, “Brother Thomas de Aquino, the light of the Church, has died today.”
Incredible to say, his death left such a great desire for him that all the inhabitant of that region and as many as who were earnest in true piety lamented, who in a great number came to the funeral. Thomas was placed before the high altar, and at his tomb God permitted very many miracles to be done. The blind Prior of the monastery recovered his sight, the dead brought to the tomb were restored to life, and a great many possessed by the devil were liberated.
As his holy body was committed to the earth, the Abbot and the monks of that place dreading lest such a treasure be at some time taken away, transferred him at night. But when the sainted man appeared to the Abbot in a dream, and made threats of danger if his body were not returned to its first place, they again opened the tomb, from whence a marvelous fragrant smell arose, and they found his body and clothing still whole.
And when it was seen that the day to day, through the Lord, His Saint worked new and great miracles, at the insistence of many Princes and of the whole world, after a mature and sincere examination was made by the Archbishop of Naples and the Bishop of Viterbo, in communion with the whole Church, and the consent of Pope John XXII, Thomas was elevated to the number of the Saints at Avignon, in the year 1323.
The whole Order of Preachers sorrowed that such a treasure was had by other caretakers. Whence in the name of the whole order, the General begged from the Pope that for many reasons the holy and most powerful body be transferred to Toulouse. The brother of the king of France, the Duke of Anjou, accompanied this holy translation, which was crowded with such a great multitude of men that over 150,000 were said to have accompanied it.
A great number of men assembled at his tomb in Toulouse, not only to obtain the grace of health but also to fulfill vows. Whence it happened that Pope Clement, by indult of the Apostolic See, gave indulgences to those who on the anniversary of Thomas' burial, having made confession and received the holy Eucharist, visited a Church of the Dominican brothers.