A philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas was born circa 1225 in Roccasecca, Italy. Combining the theological principles of faith with the philosophical principles of reason, he ranked among the most influential thinkers of medieval Scholasticism. He was an authority of the Roman Catholic Church and a prolific writer, but how did he have such a clear mind? We read in the Catholic Encyclopedia that part of this clarity is a direct gift from God after a fervent prayer.
The Story of His Girding
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. 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 (with a burning log that he grabbed with his bare hand out of the fire), 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.
Pope John XXII, once said that St. Thomas wrought as many miracles as there are articles in the “Summa”, and we can clearly see that Thomas was granted numerous supernatural experiences.
First: Purity of Mind
The first among them was the purity of mind and body, and this contributes in no small degree to his clearness of vision. By the gift of purity, miraculously granted at the time of the mystic girdling (story above), God made Thomas’s life angelic; the perspicacity and depth of his intellect, Divine grace aiding, made him the “Angelic Doctor”.
Second: The Spirit of Prayer
The spirit of prayer, his great piety and devotion, drew down blessings on his studies. In 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.” 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.
Third: Assistance from Heaven
Facts narrated by persons who knew St. Thomas 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. 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. 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 labored as if all depended on his own efforts and prayed as if all depended on God.
These are just a couple of the lessons we can learn from this great saint. For more to read, check below:
- Prümmer, op. cit., p. 29 – 37
- St. Thomas, “Commentaries on I Cor., c. vii”, Lesson v)