St. Thomas: Servant of the Truth(1)
by Yves Congar

In Faith and Spiritual Life,
translated by A. Manson and L. C. Sheppard.
New York: Herder and Herder, 1968, pp. 67-85.

IT CAN BE SAID THAT A DETERMINATION TO be the servant of the truth permeates St Thomas's whole life; it forms its spiritual essence.

That this was his life's deliberate purpose is shown by his Dominican vocation -- I shall return to it later -- and by two documents that date from the beginning of his career as a teacher. When, in 1256, he was made master of theology, with a dispensation for his youth, he gave the customary inaugural discourse (principium), the text of which we still have. It is in praise of the Christian teacher or theologian, and it contains these words:

Thirdly, we may consider the power of communicating wisdom. God communicates it personally, but the Church's teachers only do so by a ministerial power.... We have to repeat St Paul's question: 'What is Paul and what are the others?' (I Cor 3:4f.), and his answer: 'Mere servants of him in whom you believe.' But we must proceed to ask with the apostle: 'who is sufficient for these things?' (2 Cor 2:16): For God requires innocence from his ministers, in the words of the psalmist: 'He who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me' (Ps 101 :6). He also requires intelligence: 'A servant who deals wisely has the favour of the King' (Pr 14:35). Lastly he asks for obedience: in the psalmist's words: 'his ministers are those who do his will' (Ps 102:21). No one, of course, would claim that on his own and from his own resources, he could fulfil such a ministry. . . . But to obtain it from God it must be asked for. . . .(2)
Almost two years later, at the beginning of his first great personal work, on one of the rare occasions when he spoke in his own name -- and even then only by sheltering under the authority of a saint -- he expressed the aim of his life in these words: 'For my own part, I envisage as the main duty of my life the working out of my debt to God in such a way that I express him in my every word and attitude.(3) This means that he intended to be God's servant as a theologian, as a servant of the Truth; his whole life was to be an utterance of God.

It is the heroic fulfilment of this resolution to be a servant of divine truth that we are now to observe in the spiritual development of St Thomas and in his life's work. I shall single out three great interconnected characteristics that are manifest both in his external and his inner life: poverty, purity and fidelity. And I shall conclude by noting that the hidden source of these three gifts is, and is bound to be, love.

The attitude of a servant is created by poverty. Anyone who is rich, a possessor, ipso facto, cannot be a servant. The possession of external things would intrinsically have little significance if it did not tend to create and develop a definite attitude, an absolute attitude as master and possessor, autonomous and self-sufficient. But the decisive factor in what we are now considering is whether we personally think of ourselves as rich or poor. A man can only be a servant if he is entirely his master's man and instrument, and this he cannot be unless he is poor in spirit, having withdrawn all personal seclusiveness and agreed not to be the master of his own life, retaining nothing as his own and inalienable, and devoting himself wholly to serve: St Paul exemplifies this when he begins his letters with the words: Paulus servus Jesu Christi: 'Paul the servant, Jesus Christ's labourer and his man'. Now, when the work in question is God's and particularly when that work consists in speaking about him, then the only possible way of taking part in it is as a servant, that is, primarily as a poor man. Only as a minister and for the work of service is one ever called to it. He who would try to manipulate the things of God as if they were his own -- whether in apostolic activity, contemplation, or the grace given for personal spiritual development -- refusing to remain poor and trying to become a possessor, immediately loses that personal poverty which is enriched by God (tantquam nihil habentes et omnia possidentes), and is stripped bare and left to that destitution which, under the deceptive glamour of outward success, is all that remains his own.

It was this attitude of a poor man which Thomas Aquinas, the son of a noble family, the cousin of the emperor Frederick, more princely in his intellect than in his rank, was to adopt and pursue with the clearest awareness of what God's call demanded from him.

He had a profound understanding of the fact that intellectual work, and theological work in particular, depends upon a gift from God; that if we are to serve the truth with loyalty, we need help and light from the Master of minds, and our need is utter. And therefore he, as it were, duplicated his work with prayer. It is a well-known fact that he spent much time in prayer; he prayed before he began working and if some difficulty held him up he turned to God with increased intensity as a beggar. The text of some of these prayers has come down to us. They show that he always approached God as a poor man needing everything to be given him, and, on admitting this, did not fear to ask for everything. 'Almighty and everlasting God, you see that I am coming to the sacrament of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I come to it as a sick man to the life-giving healer, as one impure to the fount of mercy, as one blind to the light of eternal brightness, as one who is poor and destitute to the Master of heaven and earth. 1 turn therefore to the abundance of your immense generosity, begging that you will deign to heal my infirmity, cleanse my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, clothe my nakedness.'(4) ' I come before you as a sinner, O God the Source of all mercy. I am unclean and beg you to cleanse me. O sun of justice give sight to a blind man. O everlasting healer give health to one who is sick. O King of kings, clothe one who is destitute. O mediator between God and men reconcile one who is guilty . . .' (5)

It is the prayer of a poor man who recognizes that he can do nothing but what he is given the power to do. It is the prayer of a servant who has no personal desire of his own, but simply those of his master.

A further factor is involved. Poverty and the petition of human prayer is the essential condition of all apostolic or even of ordinary Christian activity. But there is a kind of poverty and a form of dependence peculiar to a theologian and concerns his special scientific activity. What, in fact, is theology? It is a human activity that operates upon the datum of the mysteries of faith; it is a work of development, organisation, systematisation and of a more thorough understanding of everything that faith can make accessible to the human mind. It is a science, and therefore strictly scientific and rational in its initiatives, methods and conclusions. And yet it is a science and a rational activity at the root of which lies the whole mystery of the act of faith; a scientific elaboration of data which are not scientific and which only exist for the mind, is in fact only 'given', in an act of faith for which reason alone does not suffice. It is a science then, but one that is not content to begin in dependence on its data, which is the common procedure for every discipline; it begins by abdicating the right to verify anything and by receiving its data as children receive the rudiments of knowledge: by faith. Humanly, it is the poorest and most destitute of sciences, and in fact it no longer appears in the official list of sciences.(6)

This was the special kind of service which St Thomas rendered. He was a servant of God as a theologian. He was poor with the poverty of a servant of God who has nothing of his own; poor as a theologian who does not possess but receives even the principles of his science and who, in the sphere of his special work, may not conduct himself as a master without betraying the law governing his essential position and vocation. When asked for an explanation, the theologian must, sooner or later, drop every view that is merely personal; he must refer to another and point to God. For in the house which he is building he is not the master, but the servant; he is constantly referring to this fact and referring himself to it, for he is only enriched with the wealth of God's wisdom if he accepts the conditions of being himself poor and, in his actual scientific labours, becoming the man and servant of another.

St Thomas's resolution to be God's servant as a theologian entailed an acceptance of poverty even in the outward organisation of his life. Of course, every vocation and all fruitful work implies some renunciation and deprivation; every call to God's service includes in some form the command: 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you' (Gn 12:1). But we should realise that for St Thomas this call took on a particular and most definite characteristic. The history and circumstances of his vocation are well known. They are important and very significant as indicating the direction which the young Thomas Aquinas determined his life should take.

Thomas was nineteen when, as a student in Naples, he joined the Friars Preachers. From five to fourteen he had been a Benedictine oblate at Monte Cassino and his family intended that he should have a monastic career in that important abbey whose territory bordered on that of Aquino,(7) a career that would culminate in his becoming its governor. But what happened? He took the habit of the new order of the Friars Preachers. This means that what he chose, when he had reached adolescence, was not exactly the monastic life, but the life of a Friar Preacher. This was, very definitely, that form of religious life that was devoted to the absolute service of the Sacra Doctrina. For this purpose it had renounced the top-heavy alliance with the feudal structure of ecclesiastical organisms as expressed in Monte Cassino, and fairly generally elsewhere. In it the spiritual power and its ministry had become heavily bogged clown in the temporal order. The consequences of his decision are famous. When his family received the news that he had joined the Dominicans and also had immediately left for north Italy and France, they decided to capture the young novice, and did so. Thomas was waylaid, seized, confined in isolation and subjected to pressure -- of an infamous kind -- to make him give up the Dominican habit. But, as the documents show, what they wanted him to give up was not the monastic but the Dominican life, and that to which he held was not simply the monastic life -- this was not under dispute -- it was also and no less strongly, the Dominican life, the monastic life in its Dominican form.

Clearly, the young Thomas Aquinas had made a choice based on the soundest reflection, and with lucid determination. And it all points in one direction. At nineteen, as surely as in later life, he would not commit himself to anything secondary; this is all the more evident from the fact that throughout his career we can observe a definite series of such determined choices. What is the significance of this?

All the documentary evidence, as well as the historical circumstances relating to the idea behind the origin of the Friars Preachers (and in addition what St Thomas himself was later to express in one of those limpid phrases that leave nothing further to be said), shows that the order made its appeal to his youthful enthusiasm, as the order that was at the service of the truth. Of course all the orders serve the truth, but this one made the very reason for its existence the creation of a way of serving God through that work of charity which consists in contemplating the truth and communicating it. It was a religious life, adaptable without opportunism, broad-minded without false liberalism, passionate in defense of the faith without partisanship, amazingly adapted to a life that stemmed from the truth and for the truth, front the Word of God and for it, in which intellectual activity, applied to God himself, became the reality which was sanctified and offered to God as an act of worship.

Thomas chose the Preachers and clung to the scapular of St Dominic, because it was the order at the service of the truth, the order in which detachment from the world was best organised to serve the truth. He was later offered high ecclesiastical positions; in particular, after his family had been ruined as the result of its fidelity to the pope, he was offered, as a means to its assistance, the archbishopric of Naples, or the abbacy of Monte Cassino.(8) But even though his concern for his family stands out in a number of ways, he firmly refused and prayed for the grace not to change from the path he had chosen.(9) And to avoid all deception as to the real significance and implications of such a prayer, it is to be observed that St Thomas not only asked God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that he personally should be preserved in his calling as a Friar Preacher, but also that the nature of the order should never be changed.(10) Finally, at the end of his life, when he had left Naples and was on that unfulfilled last journey to the Council of Lyons and already gravely ill, his companion and friend Reginald expressed sorrow, for he had hoped, he said, that the pope would reward the services of Brother Thomas Aquinas (as he had those of St Bonaventure) by making him a cardinal. Thomas replied, 'Have no regrets about that, for among the petitions I have made to God -- and I thank him that they have been heard -- is a request that I may be taken from this world in the same humble state of life in which I now am, and that I may be given no dignity or office that would change it.'(11)

Similar quotations could be multiplied. One thing at any rate is certain: in the case of a man as fully conscious of what he did and of what he wanted as was Thomas Aquinas, such a prayer is packed with meaning. It signified that for him the order of St Dominic represented a state of poverty in the broadest and most positive sense, organised in a form of religious life: a state in which religious poverty not only produced freedom from temporal cares, but through an added spiritual refinement also produced freedom, even in the domain of the apostolate itself, from all the practical affairs of government and administration which still form a kind of island of the temporal within the spiritual. The poverty required for the service of the truth by one who is God's contemplative and theologian extends, in St Thomas's view, to this renunciation and abandonment of everything; to do with offices in the practical and administrative order. This, of course, throws no discredit on such offices and in no way denies that men may be faithful to the service of God and to contemplation, in the field of action or government. But we have to admit that, in his view, both his personal vocation and that of his order as a corporate body at the service of the truth, implies such absolute deprivation, such utter willingness to serve, a poverty so total that he, personally, and his order also, must remain in the condition of a simple servant of the unblemished truth, in the condition of the simplicity of life of a theologian. (12)

Purity is the positive aspect of this poverty understood as a broad and deep attitude of the soul. As poverty, this attitude makes service possible and gives one the disposition to be a servant; as purity, it is the total, integral and so to say, virginal characteristic of service. A pure man is one who is not tainted, not a mixture. of vice and virtue, not morally defective or contaminated, not reduced in stature, but integral, uncorrupted, whole and absolute. Poverty is therefore that which enables the unadulterated nature of purity to exist. St Thomas was a pure servant, a virginal and chaste servant because he was first of all personally poor, wholly the man of him whom he called Lord.

The service of the angelic doctor was regally pure.

To start with he had that bodily chastity which we usually identify with purity though often not realising; why the Christian mind attaches such importance to it. If we are to appreciate its worth we should perhaps envisage it not only in itself but in what it makes possible, or what its opposite prevents. In reality, purity understood in the narrow and ordinary sense as chastity of body, imagination and desire, involves the whole spiritual life, because it opens -- and its opposite closes -- every possible relationship with God. Consider a soul that is crude and impure: it will not deny the teachings of the faith, but it becomes hardened and ends by shutting itself off front the finest elements of that faith; its spiritual sensitivity dulls; it will not reject the central dogmas, but their noblest content no longer interests it: the Virgin, the angels, the sacraments, the religious life, contemplation; it comes to assert that nothing can be known about them and that they do not exist. A pure soul, on the contrary, instinctively opens itself out to these things; it experiences them to the extent in which it is sensitively pure. It would seem that faithfulness on this point opens its eyes and provides the evidence which crudity would instantaneously conceal. It realises with certainty that its development is an immediate relationship with the sensitivity and fidelity of its life.

We can now have a somewhat clearer idea of what purity, bodily purity, meant for St Thomas in the work of service as a theologian to which he was called, and we can see to what extent it was a positive element in his soul as a servant of the truth. We need hardly stress here the famous scene of his temptation -- it has been in any case a little touched up -- or the testimony given after his death by his most intimate friend that he had always preserved the purity of a child.

There is, however, a deeper aspect of his purity as a servant of the truth; it is that of the inner purity of his soul, in the most positive and fullest sense of that word. As a correlative to poverty considered as a fundamental attitude of the soul, this purity of the servant of the truth consists in allowing no admixture of self to enter into this truth, no toning down, no rejection, but instead a complete self-surrender to its demands and an acceptance of the Other, the Master, as he really is in himself and not as we might have imagined him to be. It is he, the Master, who must be in control, he who must be affirmed in the truth of his own nature, and allowed to do what he wills, whereas I, his servant, affirm nothing of myself apart from him, but am totally at his service, entirely subject to him, wholly his 'minister'.

This purity of a servant shines out in the life of St Thomas.

It shines out in his prayers in which every phrase expresses his anxiety to give punctilious service and not to botch God's work by any of the many imperfections, of the pettiness, the offhandedness, the self-indulgence in which even the best intentions are squandered. 'Make me, my Lord and God, obedient without contradiction, poor without wavering, chaste without corruption, patient without protest, humble without pretense, joyful without becoming dissipated, sad without being wretched, grave but not unbending, active but not frivolous, living in thy fear without discouragement, sincere without affectation, doing good without presumption, correcting others without pride, building them up in word and deed without dishonesty.'(13) And there are many similar prayers. We should not be deceived by the concern shown for stylistic precision in them; what St Thomas is trying to express is not a faultless statement of moral theology, but the ideal of faultless service, service that reaches perfection and the utmost sensitivity, service that shall not in anyway botch God's work.

This purity of his service shines out also in its integral, unrestricted, unadulterated character. He was utterly a servant, waiting at his master's door with all available strength and every means at his disposal. In his life there was no division, not one part for his own purposes and another for God's service: he was utterly a servant, integrally serving. In himself, he was completely poor, and that this might be, he was, without qualification, the servant of the Other, of his Master. On our part we often fail in this, sometimes deliberately, because we prefer to control and enjoy things for our own sake, rather than put ourselves at God's disposal; more often we fail through weakness and forgetfulness, because we are seldom wholly engaged in what we are doing and therefore our effective service mobilises only a half or a third of our personality. Service that is total and wholly unqualified can only be given by great souls (and this is true of an absolute refusal to serve: Nietzsche). If we remember that, according to St Thomas, the need-resulting from a perfect insight into reality-of turning to God and of moving towards him with all our strength or of turning away from him completely and forever, is a privilege of the angels, we shall realize one of the soundest reasons why his integral and pure service has earned him the magnificent title of the 'angelic doctor'.

Lastly, the purity of his service of the truth shines out from the fact that he scrupulously refrained from intruding himself into what he had decided to serve, from adding or subtracting any-thing from the truth he served. In this service he was pure by aiming to become, as far as possible, a pure instrument. In his theological activity he was a 'minister' in the fullest meaning of the word; his teaching career was that of a priest. In his Summa alone, he wrote more than 3,000 articles, and in none of them, except here; and there when he wished to retract some statement, does he speak of himself; there is not one of them that is not like a monstrance behind which the theologian hides in order to exhibit his God. It is an unprecedented example of purity, of priestly detachment and virginity. This man certainly left his homeland and his relations. Apart from the truth, apart from the subject dealt with, it is difficult to know with whom we are in relationship. Is it a prince, a Frenchman, someone old, a partisan of the emperor, an Italian noble? It is not evident; but he is a priest, he exhibits his God and conceals himself; he is a theologian, a minister of the Word, a minister of the objective truth; as a person he is hidden. This is very moving; in fact nothing is more moving than this kind of impersonality in his teaching. It shows none of the characteristics of an individual nor displays his temperament. Hence its seeming lack of tragic conflict; no human sounds are audible, and only the radiation of objective reality is apparent. The Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum has once again been spoken and lived: I am only a servant; be it done according to thy word.

We can now see that this purity, the positive aspect of an attitude of personal poverty in a genuine servant, brings about the special virtue and perfection of a servant's soul: fidelity. 'Euge serve bone et fidelis.'

Fidelity is a servant's special virtue because it is a virtue of attachment to another, and a servant, as such, does the work of another, exists for another. Only if he is faithful can he truly serve and he will be faithful if he fulfils the expectation and the trust bestowed upon him. This involves two main qualities: constancy and probity; two qualities eminently present in St Thomas. His fidelity as a servant displayed itself principally as constancy in his external life and as probity in his inmost soul.

His service was no outward show or gilded idleness. The fullness of his life and the intensity of his work are almost incredible. He died at forty-nine, leaving a life's work which fills thirty large quarto volumes in which there is no slip in the process of his thought or in his reasoning. If we read his biography or the depositions made during the preparations for his canonisation (depositions which in other cases are sometimes lacking in real content), we observe that all the witnesses emphasize the impressive way in which every day of his life formed an unbroken continuity of work and prayer: Vacabat sine otio orationibus, studio et scripturae;(14) Tota vita eius fuit aut orare et contemplari, aut legere, praedicare et disputare aut scribere aut dictare.(15) All these depositions are unanimous in reporting, together with the testimony on his purity, this characteristic which seems to have left an abiding impression: he was a man who did not give a minute of his life to any other thing than the immediate service of the truth through the contemplation and teaching of doctrine. It is manifest that when he became aware of his vocation as a theologian he not only allowed himself no further waste of time (16) but also would have nothing to do with anything that he considered would prove to be a distraction from his wholehearted service of the truth and from his consecration to it. He carried out to the letter his words in the Contra Gentiles: 'For my own part, I envisage as the main duty of my life, the working out of my debt to God to such a way that I express him in my every word and attitude.' This was his personal asceticism, his fidelity as a servant. He let none of the little things with which his Lord had entrusted hire be pushed aside. 'Quia super pauca fuisti ftdelis' : we shall soon discover his reward.

And yet what is perhaps most moving in his fidelity as the servant of truth, is his soul's infinite sensitivity and immense respect for that truth, to which he owed and gave loyal service, and which was his master's property and not his own. Fidelity in the sense of probity, integrity, disinterestedness, is, in fact, the special and decisive virtue of a servant. It presupposes an attitude of both poverty and purity and is its consummation. Through this St Thomas achieved his perfect service.

His utmost respect was given to the whole data of revelation and extended to its furthest reaches, for he had received it as a deposit from God. He held the stewardship of property that was his master's, not his own, and what is expected of a steward and a servant is that he should be faithful. Hence it is that we can observe in St Thomas that extraordinary sensitivity in avoiding the least betrayal of the truth, in not exaggerating and not minimising what had been given, or rather, committed to him, that extraordinary prudence in thought, assertion and mode of expression. His work and teaching, as is well known, are characterised by its establishment of an equilibrium of every point of view; it has a breadth and power that can incorporate and coordinate all things. This does not mean that he was not one of those who, having a deeper penetration than others, are more conscious of the differences between things; but he also belonged to those who, from a higher altitude, can see what is universal and multiple in an idea; and, most importantly, he belonged to those servants who have a reverential care to lose nothing and to bring out the true worth of all the things which their master has confided to them. He was an eminently Catholic genius, because he served the very principle of Catholicity.

As a result of this he could combine a most acute appreciation of God's absolute pre-eminence and of the total primacy of his initiative in the soul's activity, with a steady and sensitive respect for the different natures in the created world and for the laws that govern them. For this reason also he was able to unite at the highest level the sense of the reasonableness of the faith and of its mystery. He did not believe that everything could be demonstrated, or penetrated by the mind, but neither did he underestimate the activity of the believing mind in contemplating and working out the implications of the revealed data. For instance, when he is explaining the test of St John: Cuius non sum dignus ut solvam corrigiam calceamenti, he notes that St Gregory and some other Fathers interpret it as indicating our powerlessness to penetrate the mystery of the incarnation and explain the secret of the union between the divine and human natures, but he respectfully adds this comment: Intelligendum est 'plene et perfecte', nam quoquo modo et Joaunes et alii praedictores, licet imperfecte, solvunt, corrigiatn calceamenti.(17) He was only a servant, but he would not be forced to say that a theologian's contribution is nothing.

He also held together in unity the validity of the speculative intelligence and its rational conclusions, the absolute value of a metaphysical knowledge, the inescapable reality of a fact, the importance of a critical control of documentary sources. In his theological work he incorporated with equal reverence the eastern testimonies of the Christian tradition with those of the West. Throughout his work he combines an unparalleled sense of the unity of things and the wisdom corresponding to this unity, with the strictest methodological requirements, a scrupulous honesty with regard to the object under consideration and the special treatment it' demands. When this is lacking, he says, believers tend to affirm that something has been demonstrated when in fact it has not, and thus provoke the mockery of unbelievers at themselves, and what is more important, at the faith. And this danger deeply disturbed his loyal sense of service.

Thanks to his blameless service St Thomas did not exclude the least ray, the least speck of the sun. Not a single aspiration of the soul was dealt with lightly or superficially by him, or treated harshly or brushed aside. No one in contact with this dialectical giant would be made to lose his simplicity of mind and heart; he himself, on a level with the sages of the world, confronted the gospel with the simplicity of St Francis of Assisi.

Moreover, it is because he was in this way a faithful servant that he truly is the 'common doctor' and that in his writings we find such phrases as communis veritas, communis claritas, communis illuminatio, communis ordo et doctrina.(18) Certainly he is the common teacher, the man who belongs to all men, because he does not belong to himself, but to the truth, which all have a right and to which all men belong. This is why he is universally trusted; no one is afraid that he will snatch anything that is theirs, that he will want to grab something for himself. Everyone knows that he will give only one thing: truth.

It is to this absolute faithfulness as a servant that he owed the courage and the spirit of adventure that is expressed in his work. This servant, this supporter of continuity, this traditionalist, this disciple of all previous thinkers, is also astoundingly venturesome. Ile takes up Aristotle whom the hierarchy still suspect; he writes an apparently simple phrase -- and it proves to have explosive consequences; he lays down principles whose conclusions and infective power have not yet reached their consummation.

In reality he was bold because he was simple and courageous, because he was a servant. A man who does not work for his own ends, but in the service of someone greater than himself, far from being enslaved is delivered from everything beneath him. Nothing braver can be found than a young heart, not loaded with wealth, but pure and faithful, with nothing to fear and nothing to lose. A servant of this kind is endowed with pride, certainty and audacity. But it is a pride coupled with personal humility, a certainty that is wholly mistrustful of self, an audacity that knows its own limitations. It has no personal fear, nothing personal to lose, but he is in charge of a treasure for which everything else may be abandoned.

Such a man was St Thomas. His life has a profound message for us. We must be authentic servants in order that we may become free and independent of everything which, in our master's service, should be employed only as a means and an instrument. We must be authentic servants in order that we may become prudent and able to avoid even the slightest misuse of that which does not belong to us.

It is time that in order to bring this consideration of St Thomas as a servant of the truth to a close, we should penetrate even deeper and uncover the true and living root of this service. Its quality is such that it can only have been achieved through love and in a mutual relationship of love.

A bodily submission to another person is possible from fear and necessity, and without love. But it is impossible, without love, to submit one's soul to another person, or to give oneself in spiritual service. Unadulterated service is incompatible with lovelessness. For such service implies working for another without keeping back anything for oneself, and that means that the others interests have been made one's own, and no wish, no pleasure is indulged apart from those of the master. It is such an absolute donation, uncontaminated with self, that in fact the other's life becomes one's own, more real than the sell itself. Only love can do this, for only love produces ecstasy, the exodus from self, only love can allow a master, the mastery of one's soul.

The source, therefore, of that perfect service of the truth to which St Thomas devoted his life, was this warm, personal and vital relationship with the truth which we call love, or in Christian terminology, charity.

This was due to the fact that, for him, the truth was not merely an object of knowledge, not merely an idea, not even a thing, but a living person to be loved, a living and merciful person who begins by offering himself to our love and by inserting in our frozen souls the warm and vital seed of friendship. This 'truth' is, in reality, 'the gentle primal truth', the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the adorable Trinity, the Saviour-God, indeed the incarnate Word, the truth who is Jesus Christ.

Here is a prayer which St Thomas said each day before a crucifix: 'Grant me, merciful God, ardently to desire that which you approve, to seek it prudently, to accept it honestly, to carry it to perfection, for thy praise and the glory of thy name . . .'.(19) It continues in this way for several paragraphs. The servant has no desire, either of pleasing or displeasing, which is not that of his master-because he loves him.

When St Thomas was dying at Fossanova, 'he wanted to receive our Lord's body and when it was brought to him, he knelt down and hailed and adored it, saying at length these wonderful words, "I receive thee, the price of my soul's redemption, I receive thee, Viaticum, the journey money of my pilgrimage, for whose love I have studied, watched, laboured, preached and taught . . .".'(20) Thus he tells us the secret of that lifelong service, at the beginning of which he had said, 'For my own part, I envisage as the main duty of my life the working out of my debt to God in such a way that I express him. in my every word and attitude'. That secret, the motive of his life, was -- love, 'pro cuius amore, for whose love'. He did not carry out this overwhelming work of service, those thirty years of incredible labour without a moment's infidelity, for any other reason than his love of this most hidden friend, for this sacrament before which we have less resources than for any other reality, because our conviction of its truth depends upon faith alone. And when the dying saint, who had never spoken an idle word, explained the reason for all that he had done, it was that he had loved.

Finally, a witness records that one evening during the last months of St Thomas's life, he followed him in order to observe him. 'He came into the back of the chapel of St Nicholas where St Thomas was deep in prayer. He then saw that he had been raised from the ground.... Suddenly, from the direction towards which our master had turned, a voice from the crucifix was heard: "Thomas, you have written well of me, what reward would you receive from me for your labours?" He answered, "Lord, nothing but thyself." (21) These words are the last words; the service of the truth, of God, has been consummated. Thomas had been a faithful servant; he had written well, worked well. What was his reward to be?

The good servant's reward, the servant who has been unreservedly true and served from love alone, is his master's intimate friendship, the sharing of his joy (Euge, serve bone at fidelis ... intra in gaudium Domini tui). For the only reward of love is love, and if a man will remain poor and chaste and faithful in his service, because he is the Bridegroom's friend (Jn 3:24), then his reward will be the Bridegroom's joy.


On a September evening in the solitude of Clairvaux, during the liturgical celebration of our Lady's birthday, St Bernard received a letter from his friend William of Saint-Thierry. The courier who brought it was anxious to depart. But Bernard, on such a feast, could not think of anything else than our Lady. he refused to write his answer until the feast was over on 9 September, having with great difficulty persuaded the messenger to wait.(23)

At Clairvaux the aim was to put into practice the Rule of St Benedict with no relaxations: Operi Dei nihil praeponetur. 'Nothing may have precedence over divine worship.' It was in the name of this principle that the Cistercian author of the famous Dialogus (1159-74) rebuked the Cluniac monk because at Cluny those brothers whose occupation was writing were, at least partially, dispensed from the choir office.(24)

Some 140 years after William of Thierry's letter to St Bernard, at the great Dominican priory of St James in Paris, during High Mass on the Wednesday in Holy Week (1 April 1271), a messenger arrived with a letter from the Master-General requesting the opinion of Thomas Aquinas on a number of disputed issues and statements. His reply was apparently urgently needed; Brother Thomas was to have it ready 'at least on the day following, and should put aside all other business'.(25) Now Maundy Thursday in a Dominican priory is a very busy .day; the round of ceremonies, the washing of the altars, the Mandatum, the Sermo Domini and Tenebrae, leaves no free time, even in the afternoon. It looks as though Thomas must have asked to be dispensed from these services in order that he might prepare his reply to the forty-two questions sent by the Master-General John of Vercelli.

Another incident is also most instructive. At the end of his life, St Thomas having come back to Italy, and, as the executor of his brother-in-law's will, had to attend the court of Charles of Anjou for the settlement of some outstanding matters. There he began to write a short treatise on the angels which he dedicated to his companion Raynauld, but his death prevented his finishing it. This is how it begins: 'Since we are unable to take part in the feasts of the holy angels we ought not to let these holy days pass without some special work and thus make up for the time we are unable to spend in psalmody . . .'.(26)

The incidents thus recorded are revealing; they show us the concrete behaviour of the saints. St Bernard puts off to the morrow a letter to his friend; St Thomas spends Maundy Thursday in correcting theses and consoles himself by intellectual work for being unable to take. part in the sacred solemnities of God's service. May this not enlighten, encourage or console those workers who often have to sacrifice the happiness of public worship in order to finish an urgently needed book, prepare a course of lectures, or correct proof-sheets? For work, too, can provide material for religion and become a liturgy; it is intrinsically a liturgy when by vocation and in fulfilment of a vow hallowed by the Church one is carrying out the duties of one's state of life. The little incidents I have just discussed show that the great and beloved St Thomas very definitely held this view.

l. Panegyric on St Thomas Aquinas preached in the church of the Institut Catholique, Paris, 7 March 1936, published in Vie Sp., March 1937, pp. 259-79.

2. S. Thomas d'Aquin. Sa vie, by William de Tocco, and Les témoins au procès de canonisation. Transl. by Pègues-Maquart, Paris, Téqui, 1925, pp. 376-7.

3. 'Ut enim verbis Hilarii utar, ego hoc vel praecipuum vitae meae officium debere me Deo conscius sum, ut eum omnis sermo meus et sensus loquatur', Contra Gentiles, Lib. 1, cap. 2 (quoting St Hilary, De Trinitate, Lib. 1, cap. 36: PL, 10, 48 C).

4. Prierès de saint Thomas d'Aquin, translated and edited by Fr Sertillanges, Paris, Art Catholique, pp. 48 and 49.

5. Ibid., pp. 62 and 63. Cf. also pp. 78 and 79 etc.

6. This is noted without prejudice to the function of 'Apologetics' which provides the critical guarantee of the data of faith if it is approached by an unbiased mind.

7. Cf. L. Fabiani, La terra di S. Benedetto, 1950.

8. Cf. Pègues-Maquart, op.cit., p. 104

9. Ibid., p. 284. Can we hear in the following prayer an echo of that petition: 'Impetra mihi etiam, o Domina mea dulcissinia, . . . ut puro corde et casto corpore, dilecto Filio tuo et tibi in tuo Ordine valeam deservire.' (Sertillanges, p. 94.)

10. '... Et quod non mutaret statum sui Ordinis sicut frequenter in oratione petiverat.' (Tocco, ed. Prümmer, ch. 22, p. 107; trad. Pègues-Maquart, ch. 33, p. 89.) Cf. in the Prières (Sertillanges, p. 80): 'Ordina statum meum . . .'. On the rich meaning of this word statum in St Thomas, cf. J. A. Robilliard, OP, Sur la notion de condition (status) en Saint Thomas, in RSPT, 1936, pp. 104-7.

11. Cf. Pègues-Maquart, pp. 139-40.

12. The fact that St Dominic had considered entrusting the entire government and administration of the order to laybrothers, shows that this was his conviction and intention also. He meant them to be concerned not only with the cookery and the housework, but in the administrative function of the priorship as well. It was an almost unbelievably bold conception; it could not be put into practice, but it shows clearly the extent to which the vocation of a servant of the truth in the form chosen by the founder of the Preachers for its incorporation in his order, pre-supposed a radical disengagement and 'poverty' of a most sensitive kind.

13. Prières, ed. Sertillanges, pp. 81 and 83.

14. Pègues-Maquart, op. cit., p. 20.

15. Ibid., p. 260.

16. St Thomas writes: 'Nulla est gravior jactura quam temporis': Quodl. I, q. 14, obj. 1.

17. Saint Thomas, comm. in Joan., ch. 1, lect. 13, n. 4.

18. Noted by Giles of Rome as reported by James of Viterbo. Cf. Pègues-Maquart, p. 296, n. 1.

19. Prières, ed. Sertillanges, pp. 78 and 79; cf. pp. 98 and 99.

20. Pègues-Maquart, op. cit., q. 289.

21. Published in L'Année Dominicaine, March 1931, pp. 65-7.

22. Ibid.., p. 91. Cf. St Thomas, Comm. in Hebr., ch. 9, lect. 2 (Marietti, p. 411): '(Credere enim oportet accedentem ad Deum, quia est, et inquirentibus se remunerator sit.) Ecce Dominus veniet, ecce coerces ejus cum eo (Is 40). Merces autem est illud quod homo quaerit in labore. Voca operarios, et redde illis mercedem (Mt 20). Quae merces nihil est aliud quam Deus, quia nihil extra ipsum debet homo quaerere. Ego protector tuus sum et merces tua magna nimis (Gn 15). Deus enim nihil aliud dat nisi seipsum. Dominus pars haereditatis meae et calicis mei (Ps 15). Pars mea Dominus, dixit anima mea...'. (Thren., 3)

23. This information is given by St Bernard in his reply: Epist. 86, 1 ; PL 182, 210. The letter can be dated approximately 1130.

24. Dialogus inter Cluniacensem et Cisterciensem Monachum, part 3, if, in Martène and Durant, Thesaurus novus anecdot., vol. 5, 1629.

25. This information is given in St Thomas' reply: Declaratio XLII quaestionum ad magistrum ordinis (ed. Parma 16, 163; Vivès 27, 248). Cf. J. Destrez, La lettre de S. Thomas d'Aquin, dite lettre au lecteur de Venise, d'aprés la tradition nianuscrite, in Mélanges P. Mandonnet, 1. (Bibl. thomiste, 13), pp. 103-89.

26. De substantiis separatis seu de angelorum natura, ed. Parma, 16, 18;1; ed. Vivès 27, 273. if we may see a reference to the feast of the Holy Angels (2 October), then St Thomas must have begun this treatise on the very day when the documents relating to the affair of the succession on which he was engaged, were signed (2 Oct. 1272); a slight coincidence not without significance.