Category Archives: My Inspirations

The Dish-Washing Saint Bonaventure

I love the Franciscans. Poverty, simplicity, humility and joy are a few things that we need a heck of a lot more of in our time. St. Bonaventure, one of my inspirations, was considered the “second founder” of the Franciscan order. He’s a doctor of the Church, referred to as the “Seraphic Doctor.” And interestingly, he and St. Thomas Aquinas got their degrees at the same ceremony.

saint_bonaventure

Thanks to the MyHopeBox blog for putting this photo online

Late in life, St. Bonaventure was appointed to be a cardinal by the pope. In those days, the message didn’t come in a phone call. Rather the pope would send out a delegation of Vatican officials to bring the red hat to the appointee. (The red hat, the galero, which back then looked more like a sombrero, was the most important symbol of the cardinal’s office. Since 1965, the galero is no longer in use.)

Anyway, when the delegation showed up at St. Bonaventure’s friary, they found him washing the dishes. He actually sent them outside to wait for him to finish the dishes. Legend has it, he asked them to leave the red hat on a tree outside. So the saint finished washing the dishes and then came to greet the papal delegation.

Doing dishes often feels more like an annoying necessity than the substance of holiness. I think most of us would be tempted to put the dishes down gratefully for someone else to do if a papal messenger were knocking on the door. But St. Bonaventure’s commitment to his task in the life of his community, even in the face of honors from the pope, shows something very simple and yet very deep: The path to sainthood does not lie in showy ostentation, in external honors and achievements, but in the mundane, humdrum tasks of daily living. It’s the way we do these things, the level of commitment to our personal missions, that changes us. No amount of external recognition can bring about that kind of holiness. St. Bonaventure was not disrespecting the papal messengers, but deeply respecting the calling God had placed on his life at that moment: Wash the dishes!

Maybe you could think of the Seraphic Doctor next time you wash the dishes and realize that doing the dishes can be your path to holiness!

(Oh, by the way, today, July 15, is St. Bonaventure’s feast day.)

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St. Thomas Aquinas Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge

About six years ago, I did a post on St. Thomas Aquinas’ “16 Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge.”  The precepts are from a letter that Aquinas wrote to a certain “John.” Now, some scholars doubt the authenticity of the precepts and I’m no Medievalist to argue over such things, so I’ll leave that up to you. I first became interested in the precepts upon reading A. G. Sertillanges’ book, The Intellectual Life, which is loosely based on the precepts. Last year, I used the precepts in an introductory course that I co-taught and for lack of a standard translation out there, I did my own. I’ll provide the Latin alongside my translation here so you can judge whether it’s a good one or whether there are errors. I hope you all find it useful. And this is the only place you’ll find it on the whole internet.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge (De modo studendi)

Because it was asked of me, John, my beloved in Christ, how you ought to study in the in acquiring of a treasury of knowledge, such counsel is delivered to you by me:

  1. That by rivulets, and not immediately into the sea, we choose to enter, because by the easier we must come at the more difficult. This is my warning then and your instruction:
  2. I bid you to be slow to speak
  3. and slow in coming to the place of talking.
  4. Embrace purity of conscience.
  5. Do not cease to pray.
  6. Love to keep to your cell on a regular basis if you wish to be admitted to the wine cellar.
  7. Show yourself amiable to all.
  8. Pay no heed to others’ affairs.
  9. Do not be overly familiar with anyone, because excessive familiarity breeds contempt and yields subtraction from the ability to study.
  10. In no way enter into the sayings and doings of secular persons.
  11. Above all, flee conversation; do not omit to imitate the footsteps of the saints and the good.
  12. Do not consider from whom you learn,
  13. but commit to memory whatever good is said.
  14. It is the same with what you read and hear, work so that you may understand; resolve each of your doubts.
  15. And busy yourself to store whatever you are able in the closet of your mind, as desiring to fill a vessel.
  16. do not seek what is too high for you.

 

Following these footsteps, you will put forth and bear branches and fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts as long as you have life. If you pursue this, you will be able to obtain that which you desire.

Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium:

  1. ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua.
  2. Tardi loquum te esse iubeo
  3. et tarde ad locutorium accedentem;
  4. conscientiae puritatem amplectere.
  5. Orationi vacare non desinas;
  6. cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci.
  7. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe;
  8. nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum;
  9. nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat;
  10. de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas;
  11. discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas;
  12. non respicias a quo audias,
  13. sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda;
  14. ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica;
  15. et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere;
  16. altiora te ne quaesieris.

 

 

 

Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas.

Latin text: Thomas Aquinas, De modo studendi (Textum Taurini, 1954), Corpus Thomisticum, http://www.josephkenny.joyeurs.com/CDtexts/Latin/ModoStud%28false%29.htm (accessed June 29, 2011). Translation is mine. Copyright 2011 CatholicBibleStudent.com.

I should note that the “wine cellar” (cellam vinarium) in Precept #6 is a quotation from the Vulgate rendering of Song of Songs 2:4, “introduxit me in cellam vinariam ordinavit in me caritatem” (He brought me into the wine cellar, he ordered charity in me). This little idea, which in the Hebrew is closer to “house of wine” and dynamically, “banquet hall,” becomes important in Medieval spiritual reading of the Song.

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The 33 Doctors of the Church

Who are the 33 doctors of the Church? Well, I was wondering too, so here they are:

1. St. Athanasius
2. St. Ephrem
3. St. Cyril of Jerusalem
4. St. Hilary of Poitiers
5. St. Gregory Nazianzen
6. St. Basil the Great
7. St. Ambrose
8. St. Jerome
9. St. John Chrysostom
10. St. Augustine
11. St. Cyril of Alexandria
12. St. Leo the Great
13. St. Peter Chrysologus
14. St. Gregory the Great
15. St. Isidore of Seville
16. St. Bede the Venerable
17. St. John Damascene
18. St. Peter Damian
19. St. Anselm
20. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
21. St. Anthony of Padua
22. St. Albert the Great
23. St. Bonaventure
24. St. Thomas Aquinas
25. St. Catherine of Siena
26. St. Teresa of Avila
27. St. Peter Canisius
28. St. Robert Bellarmine
29. St. John of the Cross
30. St. Lawrence of Brindisi
31. St. Francis de Sales
32. St. Alphonsus Ligouri
33. St. Therese of Lisieux

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My Inspirations #2: St. Thomas Aquinas

Life: 1225-1274
Profession: Friar, Theologian, Philosopher

St. Thomas was prolific to say the least. His most important work is the very famous Summa Theologica which attempts to sum up all of Christian theology concisely. I mean, it’s only five thick volumes. That’s not too bad, right?

The reason I enjoy Thomas is that he is a very systematic and honest thinker. He makes no bones about impressing people. He simply writes and argues through every bit of truth. He forces himself to honestly answer the toughest challenges to his own arguments. I wouldn’t say that most of his work is terribly enjoyable to read, but it certainly is profound. He goes over all sorts of questions and topics, but he approaches everything from within his whole system of thought. He doesn’t leave anything hanging.

I have read a decent amount of Thomas, but no one can read enough and few, if any, have ever read everything. His theology has become the gold standard of Catholic theology for the ages. While there are parts of his system that many contemporary thinkers have taken issue with, Pope Leo XIII encouraged Catholics to look to Thomas’ philosophy and theology in Aeterni Patris (1879).

There are some fun stories about Thomas Aquinas. I will relate a couple to you.

1.) One time a brother friar of his came into the place where Thomas was praying and found him levitating and looking intently at a crucifix. The corpus on the cross came to life and asked Thomas if there was anything he wanted in all the world in return for his theological work. And the saint replied simply, “Just more of you.” (I have not source-checked this story. So if anyone has any sources for it, please comment below.)

2.) It is said that St. Thomas was so fat that a half-circle had to be cut out of the table where he normally ate. (Also, not checked)

3.) Thomas was of a noble family and his family members were none too happy when he announced he wanted to be a Dominican friar, so they locked him in a tower and sent in a prostitute to steal away his purity. (This is the stuff of legend.) Supposedly, Thomas chased her out of his room with a hot poker from the fireplace and was later lowered from the tower in a basket.

A few little factoids about St. Thomas: He studied in Sicily where he met people from across the Mediterranean, including Muslims. He was good friends with St. Bonaventure and received his doctorate at the same ceremony as Bonaventure. He died in transit to the Fifth Lateran Council in 1274–the same year Bonaventure died. He was tall and large and quiet so he got the nickname “Dumb Ox.” He taught at the University of Paris. He wrote the “Panis Angelicus,” sung as a sequence for the feast of Corpus Christi.

——
Books about St. Thomas Aquinas that I have read:
St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton
-This book is a short introduction to Thomas’ life and thought. I found it fun to get into the spirit of his thought, but it does not give a lot of the biographical details you expect from a biography. It’s not really a biography, but a portrait. I also find Chesterton’s prose to be rather laborious sometimes.

Knowing the Love of Christ by Matthew Levering and Michael Dauphinais.
-This short book is a helpful introduction to the Summa Theologica. It presents Thomas’ thought as a unity and tries to outline the content to orient the new reader before he dives in and gets lost in the labyrinth of the Summa.
——-
Websites about St. Thomas Aquinas:
The Wikipedia Article
A Bibliography of Aquinas’ works in English
Complete Works of St. Thomas Aquinas in Latin
Works by Aquinas on CCEL

Updated! 12-3-2007
Aquinas Bible Commentaries
Texts by and about Aquinas at archive.org
——-

Many books have been written about his thought–too many. In fact there are whole schools of thought and journals just about “Thomistic” thought. So be careful. Don’t get lost in the shuffle. Thomas is good to read, but you have to take it slow and use easy introductory material to prevent you from getting lost!

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Thomas Aquinas’ “16 Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge”

Since I am a student and a Catholic one at that, I try to learn how to be a better student constantly. Thomas Aquinas once wrote a letter to a certain Brother John about the principles of good study. Aquinas lays out his philosophy of how to study. A lot of it has to do with avoiding social contact, which I find more applicable to a more monastic approach to study. It should be noted that Aquinas was not a monk, but a mendicant. Yet he did live a religious life in community as a priest. Despite the hermit/monk flavor of some of the precepts, this list is extremely helpful in learning to think like a professional. Some of the shortest maxims are the most helpful. Let me know what you think of it.

“My Very Dear Brother,
Since you have asked me how you ought to study in order to amass the treasures of knowledge, listen to the advice which I am going to give you.
As a mere stripling,

1. Advance up the streams, and do not all at once plunge into the deep: such is my caution, and your lesson. I bid you to

2. Be chary of speech,

3. Slower still in frequenting places of talk:

4. Embrace purity of conscience,

5. Pray unceasingly,

6. Love to keep to your cell if you wish to be admitted into the mystic wine-cellar.

7. Show yourself genial to all:

8. Pay no heed to other folk’s affairs:

9. Be not over-familiar with any person, because over-much familiarity breeds contempt, and gives occasion to distraction from study.

10. On no account mix yourself up with the sayings and the doings of persons in the outside world.

11. Most of all, avoid all useless visits, but try rather to walk constantly in the footsteps of good and holy men.

12. Never mind from whom the lesson drops, but

13. Commit to memory whatever useful advice may be uttered.

14. Give an account to yourself of your every word and action:

15. See that you understand what you hear, and never leave a doubt unsolved:

16. Lay up all you can in the storehouse of memory, as he does who wants to fill a vase. ‘Seek not the things which are beyond thee’.

Following these ways, you will your whole life long put forth and bear both branches and fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth. If you take these words to heart, you will attain your desire.”

-Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring the Treasure of Knowledge by St. Thomas Aquinas

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