Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Friar, 1274

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas is the greatest theologian of the high Middle Ages, and, next to Augustine, perhaps the greatest theologian in the history of Western Christianity. Born into a noble Italian family, probably in 1225, he entered the new Order of Preachers founded by Dominic (the Dominicans, or Blackfriars as they were known in England). He soon became an outstanding teacher in an age of intellectual ferment. Because of his size and slowness, Thomas was called “the Ox”. His first master, Albert the Great, is said to have prophesied that although Thomas was called “the dumb ox, his lowing would soon be heard all over the world.”

Perceiving the challenges that the recent rediscovery, through Jewish and Muslim scholars in Spain, of Aristotle’s works might entail for traditional catholic doctrine, especially in its emphasis upon empirical knowledge derived from reason and sense perception, independent of faith and revelation, Thomas asserted that reason and revelation are in basic harmony. “Grace” (revelation), he said, “is not the denial of nature” (reason), “but the perfection of it.” This synthesis Thomas accomplished in his greatest works, the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles, which continue today to exercise profound influence on Christian thought and philosophy. Thomas was considered a bold thinker, even a “radical”, and certain aspects of his thought were condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. His canonization as a Doctor (Teacher) of the Church on July 18, 1323, vindicated him.

Thomas understood God’s disclosure of his Name, in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM”, to mean that God is Being, the Ultimate Reality from which everything else derives its being. The difference between God and the world is that God’s essence is to exist, whereas all other beings derive their being from him by the act of creation. Although, for Thomas, God and the world are distinct, there is, nevertheless, an analogy of being between God and the world, since the Creator is reflect in his creation. It is possible, therefore, to have a limited knowledge of God, by analogy from the created world. On this basis, human reason can demonstrate that God exists; that he created the world; and that he contains in himself, as their cause, all the perfections which exist in his creation. The distinctive truths of the Christian faith, however, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are known only by revelation.

On December 6, 1272, after being recalled to Naples as regent of studies earlier that year, Thomas experienced a revelation of God, after which he dictated to his scribe no more. Of the experience he said that all he had written in comparison to what he had then seen was like so much straw.

Thomas died in 1274, just under fifty years of age. In 1369, on January 28, his remains were transferred to Toulouse. In addition to his many theological writings, he composed several eucharistic hymns, including Adoro te devote (“Humbly I adore thee”) and Pange lingua (“Now, my tongue, the mystery telling”).

    Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with additions from The Oxford Book of Saints

Collect

Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The propers for the commemoration of Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Friar, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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John Chrystostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 407

Saint John Chrystostom

John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, is one of the great saints of the Eastern Church. He was born about 354 in Antioch, Syria. As a young man, he responded to the call of desert monasticism until his health was impaired. He returned to Antioch after six years, and was ordained a presbyter. In 397, he became Bishop (Patriarch) of Constantinople. Twice exiled, dying in 407 during the second period of banishment, his episcopate was short and tumultuous. Many criticized his ascetical life in the episcopal residence, and he incurred the wrath of the empress Eudoxia, who believed that he had called her a “Jezebel”. Thirty-one years after his death, his remains were brought back to Constantinople and buried on January 27.

John, called “Chrysostom”, which means “golden-mouthed”, was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. People flocked to hear him, and they often dismayed him by applauding his sermons. His eloquence was accompanied by an acute sensitivity to the needs of his people. He saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care, and as a medium of teaching. He warned that if a presbyter had no talent for preaching the Word, the souls of those in his charge “will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm.”

His sermons provide insights into the liturgy of the Church, and especially into eucharistic practices. He describes the liturgy as a glorious experience, in which all heaven and earth join. His sermons emphasize the importance of lay participation in the Eucharist. “Why do you marvel,” he wrote, “that the people anywhere utter anything with the priest at the altar, when in fact they join with the Cherubim themselves, and the heavenly powers, in offering up sacred hymns.” To this day, the principal liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church is entitled, “The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom”.

His treatise, Six Books on the Priesthood, is a classic manual on the presbyteral office and its awesome demands. The priest, he wrote, must be “dignified, but not haughty; awe-inspiring, but kind; affable in his authority; impartial, but courteous; humble, but not servile; strong but gentle….”

    Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

Collect

O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The propers for the commemoration of John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, are published at the Lectionary Page.

Another biographical sketch of Saint John Chrysostom may be found here.

The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle

Saint Paul the Apostle

Paul, or Saul as he was known until he became a Christian, was a Roman citizen, born at Tarsus, in present-day Turkey. He was brought up as a devoted Jew, studying in Jerusalem for a time under Gamaliel, the most famous rabbi of the day. Describing himself, he said, “I am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1).

A few years after the death of Jesus, Saul came in contact with the new Christian movement, and became one of the most fanatical of those who were determined to stamp out this “dangerous heresy”. Saul witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He was on the way to Damascus to lead in further persecution of the Christians when his dramatic conversion took place.

From that day, Paul devoted his life totally to Jesus Christ, and especially to the conversion of Gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles describes the courage and determination with which he planted Christian congregations over a large aread of the land bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

His letters, the earliest of Christian writings, reveal him as the greatest of the interpreters of Christ’s death and resurrection, and as the founder of Christian theology. He writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Paul describes himself as small and insignificant in appearance: “His letters are weighty and strong,” it was said of him, “but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10). He writes of having a disability which he had prayed God to remove from him, and quotes the Lord’s reply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore Paul went on to say, “I will al the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul is believed to have been martyred at Rome in the year 64, during the persecution under the emperor Nero.

    Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

Collect

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The propers for the commemoration of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle are published on the Lectionary Page website.

Prayers to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen.

Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Cadoc of Llancarfan, Abbot, 577

Saint Cadoc (Belz, Brittany)

Born of royal parentage about the year 497, Cadoc (Cymric, Cadog) was a leading figure among the monastic saints of South Wales in the early sixth century and the founder of the church of Llancarfan. He was probably a contemporary of David of Menevia and Gildas the Wise. He was educated at the monastic school of Llantathan, founded by Saint Tathyw at Caerwent.

The twelfth century Life of Saint Cadog tells us: “There eagerly flowed together, from various districts of the whole of Britannia, every many clerics to Saint Cadog, like rivers to the sea, that they might attain to imitate his wisdom and practice; for he always welcomed eagerly all, who steadily toiled in the service of God and paid heed to the divine scriptures.”

Cadoc made visits to Ireland to study in the monastery of Lismore, and there was a frequent interchange between Llancarfan and Irish monasteries. With the coming of the Yellow Plague in the year 547, Cadog fled to Brittany and established churches there. He returned to Llancarfan to rule as abbot-king of Glamorgan. In his old age he retired to Beneventum, where he died a martyr at the hands of a warrior who murdered him as he entered the church there.

    Adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and Celebrating the Saints (compiled by Robert Atwell).

Collect

O God, by whose grace your servant Cadoc, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Cadoc is commemorated on this day in the calendar of the (Anglican) Church in Wales. The choice of this date may actually be owing to a confusion of the British saint with a Scottish saint of the same name, commemorated on January 24. Saint Cadog of Llancarfan was traditionally commemorated on September 25.

Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, 1893

Bishop Phillips Brooks

Writing about Phillips Brooks in 1930, William Lawrence, who as a young man had known him, began, “Phillips Brooks was a leader of youth…His was the spirit of adventure, in thought, life, and faith.” To many who know him only as the author of “O little town of Bethlehem,” this part of Brooks’ life and influence is little known.

Born in Boston in 1835, and educated at Boston Latin School, Harvard University and Virginia Theological Seminary, Brooks began his ministry in Philadelphia. His impressive personality and his eloquence immediately attracted attention. After ten years in Philadelphia, he returned to Boston as rector of Trinity Church, which was destroyed in the Boston fire three years later. It is a tribute to Brooks’ preaching, character, and leadership that in four years of worshiping in temporary and bare surroundings, the congregation grew and flourished. The new Trinity Church was a daring architectural enterprise for its day, with its altar placed in the center of the chancel, “a symbol of unity; God and man and all God’s creation,” and was symbol of Brooks’ vision – a fitting setting for a great preacher.

Brooks’ sermons have passages that still grasp the reader, though they do not convey the warmth and vitality which so impressed his hearers. James Bryce wrote, “There was no sign of art about his preaching, no touch of self-consciousness. He spoke to his audience as a man might speak to his friend, pouring forth with swift, yet quiet and seldom impassioned earnestness, the thoughts of his singularly pure and lofty spirit.”

Brooks ministered with tenderness, understanding, and warm friendliness. He inspired men to enter the ministry, and taught many of them the art of preaching. Conservative and orthodox in his theology, his generosity of heart led him to be regarded as a leader throughout the Church.

In 1891, he was elected Bishop of Massachusetts. The force of his personality and preaching, together with his deep devotion and loyalty, provided the spiritual leadership needed for the time. His constant concern was to turn his hearer’ thoughts to the revelations of God. “Whatever happens,” he wrote, “always remember the mysterious richness of human nature and the nearness of God to each one of us.”

    Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

Collect

O everlasting God, you revealed truth to your servant Phillips Brooks, and so formed and molded his mind and heart that he was able to mediate that truth with grace and power: Grant, we pray, that all whom you call to preach the Gospel may steep themselves in your Word, and conform their lives to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The propers for the commemoration of Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, are published at the website of the Lectionary Page.

Vincent, Deacon of Saragossa and Martyr, 304

Saint Vincent of Saragossa

Vincent has been called the protomartyr of Spain. Little is known about the actual events surrounding his life, other than his name, his order of ministry, and the place and time of his martyrdom. He was a native of Huesca, in northeastern Spain, and was ordained deacon by Valerius, Bishop of Saragossa. In the early years of the fourth century, the fervent Christian community in Spain fell victim to the persecution ordered by the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian. Dacian, governor of the province of Hispania (Spain), had Valerius and his deacon Vincent arrested and imprisoned at Valencia.

According to one legend, Valerius had a speech impediment, and Vincent was often called upon to preach for him. When the two prisoners were challenged to renounce their faith amid threats of torture and death, Vincent said to his bishop, “Father, if you order me, I will speak.” Valerius is said to have replied, “Son, as I committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend.” The young deacon then told the governor that he and his bishop had no intention of betraying the true God. The vehemence and enthusiasm of Vincent’s defense showed no caution in his defiance of the judges, and Dacian’s fury was increased by this exuberance in Christian witness. Valerius was exiled, but Dacian ordered that Vincent should be tortured. While in prison, he is said to have converted his jailer. At one point, he was offered release on the condition that he burn the holy Scriptures that had been committed to his safekeeping, but he refused.

Accounts of his martyrdom were embellished by the early Christian poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. Augustine of Hippo writes that Vincent’s unshakeable faith enabled him to endure grotesque punishments and, finally, death.

Devotion to Vincent spread rapidly throughout early Christendom as he was venerated as a bold and outspoken witness to the truth of the living Christ.

    Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Collect

Almighty God, your deacon Vincent, upheld by you, was not terrified by threats nor overcome by torments: Strengthen us to endure all adversity with invincible and steadfast faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The propers appointed for the commemoration of Vincent, Deacon of Saragossa and Martyr, are found on the Lectionary Page website.

The icon of Saint Vincent is from a painting in the Chiesa di San Vincenzo in Cucciago, in the Diocese of Milan.

Louis of France, King and Martyr, 1793

January 21st is also kept as a remembrance of Louis the Sixteenth, King of France, executed during the French Revolution.

James Kiefer’s biographical sketch may be read here. The history is mixed – as perhaps is the biography of any saint whom we commemorate whose life may be more closely examined because of near-contemporaneity with us – but Louis is rightly remembered for the conscientious acts of his last year or so of earthly life, as a faithful Catholic against the anticlericalism and antichristian persecution that marked much of the French Revolution.

My apologies that pressure of work has me posting these few entries a day late.