The Fioretti of St Thomas, from sworn testimonies at the canonisation enquiry – Part II: His Death13-min read (inc. footnotes)

St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas, Universal Doctor – Fr Edward Leen CSSP
The Holy Wrath of St Thomas Aquinas – G.K. Chesterton
On the Five Qualities of Prayer – St Thomas Aquinas
True Law – According to the Teaching of St Thomas Aquinas
What is Thomism? The Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses

The Fioretti of St Thomas:
Part I: His Life
Part II: His Death
Part III: The Miracles after his Death


This three-part series is a summary and re-ordering of the testimonies given in St Thomas’s 1319 canonisation enquiry.[1]

These are not just pious stories about St Thomas Aquinas written by hagiographers: they are sworn testimonies recounted under oath by respectable men, both from the clergy and from the nobility. We see amongst the laymen even civil officers such as a judge, a chancellor and a notary. Many of the witnesses were actually eyewitnesses to what they recount. Fr Kenelm Foster OP – who reproduces the enquiry in his book The Life of St Thomas Aquinas – Biographical Documents – also states that “the witnesses were interrogated separately and privately.”[2]

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Image: Van Veen, from Wiki Commons.

In the first part, I mentioned the informative witness, Lord Bartholomew of Capua, Chancellor and Protonotary of Sicily. He knew many of the Dominicans in Naples, and recounted under oath what they had told him.

I have selected the most interesting stories and reordered the material in a largely chronological way. The full enquiry – which we will make available shortly, but can also be found in Foster’s Life of St Thomas and on the Bellarmine Forums – contains many other details, which I have omitted for brevity. However, those omitted repetitions and other lists of witnesses show how compelling and serious these testimonies are.

All of the pictures in this series are taken from Othonis Vaeni’s Vita D. Thomae Aquinatis, which is available also for UK readers and at Internet Archive thanks to “M. M. Dan”.

I start this part with a few accounts of miracles or extraordinary events from St Thomas’s lifetime, before giving the testimonies of the time leading up to his holy death. These “lifetime miracles” are very brief compared to what took place in the 45 years between his death and the canonisation enquiry – which will be the subject of the next part.

PART II: HIS DEATH

A FEW MIRACLES IN HIS LIFETIME

St Thomas cures Reginald’s fever with the relics of St Agnes

[William of Tocco swore] that brother Tolomeo told him that once when Reginald, Thomas’s socius, was ill with recurrent fever, brother Thomas took some relics of St. Agnes, which he wore hanging from his neck, and placed them on Reginald’s chest, praying meanwhile to St. Agnes; and at once Reginald was cured. The witness heard this also at the Roman Curia.

William of Tocco, old Dominican Priest and Prior of Benevento, given Saturday 4 August 1319

St Thomas’s inability to speak cured by his prayer

Asked concerning miracles worked by brother Thomas, in life or after death, the witness gave the following as an example of those commonly remembered among the Friar Preachers.

Once, at Paris, Thomas, on rising in the morning, found that one of his teeth had grown in a way that hindered him in his speech. He had to conclude a public disputation that morning; so there was nothing for it, he thought, but to set himself to prayer. So he went and prayed, and after a while the tooth fell into his hand. He showed it to Reginald; and afterwards he used to carry it about as a reminder of God’s goodness to him.

This story, the witness said, he had from Lord Thomas of San Severino, count of Marsico, who was a nephew of brother Thomas, and also from brother Tolomeo, the bishop of Torcello, who is now in the Curia with the cardinal-bishop of Sabina, and who was once a student under brother Thomas, and has written much about his holiness.

William of Tocco, old Dominican Priest and Prior of Benevento, given Saturday 4 August 1319

A bright star enters St Thomas’s cell while he was ill

One day [the witness, a Notary of Naples] and his brother – a Friar Preacher called Bonfiglio – visited brother Thomas when he was lying ill in his cell; and during the visit the witness saw a very bright star come in through the window and hang over Thomas’s bed. It stayed there a short time and then vanished.

Asked how he knew this, the witness said he was in the cell and saw the star. Asked when this happened, he said it was in the same year that Thomas died, about forty-five years ago, he thinks. Asked who was present, he said brother Bonfiglio was there and that he saw the star too… Asked whether this Bonfiglio were still alive, he said he was not. Asked about the size of the star, he said it measured about a foot and a half across. […] It was like the stars in the sky, with rays and a great brilliance; and it hung over the bed for as long as one might say a “Hail Mary” slowly. It was silvery-white in colour.

John Coppa, Notary of Naples, given under oath 9 August 1319

St Thomas beats a devil with his fist

One day, while visiting Thomas in his cell, the latter went out on to an open terrace.

Then the witness [Lord John di Blasio, judge of Naples] saw a devil, in the form of a black man clothed in black; and Thomas also saw it, and rushed at it with his fist raised and struck it, crying, “Why do you come to tempt me?” Whereupon the devil vanished.

Lord John di Blasio, judge of Naples in the service of the Queen of Sicily, given under oath 6 August 1319

A revelation of the state of St Thomas’s executed brother

The witness further reported his having heard from one who lived on intimate terms with Thomas (the same John of Caiazzo) that it was his constant prayer to God to keep him from all ambition and always a simple friar; and also that he might be shown what had become of the soul of his brother Reginald whom the Emperor Frederick – unjustly as Thomas believed – had put to death.

These prayers were answered: it was shown him that his status would not be altered nor his soul defiled by worldly pride, and that his brother’s name was in the Book of Life.

Lord Bartholomew of Capua, Chancellor and Protonotary of Sicily, given under oath 8 August 1319

THE END OF ST THOMAS’S LIFE

So much straw

[Lord Bartholomew] went on to recall that while brother Thomas was saying his Mass one morning, in the chapel of St. Nicholas at Naples, something happened which profoundly affected and altered him.

St Thomas in Ecstasy

After Mass he refused to write or dictate; indeed he put away his writing materials. He was in the third part of the Summa, at the questions on Penance.

And brother Reginald, seeing that he was not writing, said to him: “Father, are you going to give up this great work, undertaken for the glory of God and to enlighten the world?”

But Thomas replied: “Reginald, I cannot go on.”

Then Reginald, who began to fear that much study might have affected his master’s brain, urged and insisted that he should continue his writing; but Thomas only answered in the same way: “Reginald, I cannot – because all that I have written seems to me so much straw.”

[St Thomas went] to see his sister, the countess of San Severino, whom he loved in all charity; and hastening there with great difficulty, when he arrived and the countess came out to meet him, he could scarcely speak. The countess, very much alarmed, said to Reginald: “What has happened to brother Thomas? He seems quite dazed and hardly spoke to me!” And Reginald answered: “He has been like this since about the feast of St. Nicholas – since when he has written nothing at all.”

Then again brother Reginald began to beseech Thomas to tell him why he refused to write and why he was so stupefied; and after much of this urgent questioning and insisting, Thomas at last said to Reginald: “Promise me, by the living God almighty and by your loyalty to our Order and by the love you bear to me, that you will never reveal, as long as I live, what I shall tell you.” Then he added: “All that I have written seems to me like straw compared with what has now been revealed to me.” So Thomas, leaving [his sister] the countess very sad, returned to Naples; and then set out for the Council to which he had been summoned.

Lord Bartholomew of Capua, Chancellor and Protonotary of Sicily, given under oath 8 August 1319

After banging his head shortly before his death, St Thomas reaffirms that he will always remain a friar.

While on the way to the Council of Lyons, in obedience to Pope Gregory X […] and going down from Teano to Borgonuovo, Thomas chanced to bang his head against a tree that had fallen across the road, and was half stunned and hardly able to stand.

Reginald of Priverno, his companion, ran up at once and asked him whether he was injured, and Thomas answered “not much”. (There were present also William, then dean and later bishop of Teano, and Roffredo, William’s nephew who was later dean.)

Then Reginald thought he would provide (as he hoped) a little relaxation; so he said to Thomas: “Master, you are going to the Council where much good will be done for the whole Church and for our Order and for the Kingdom of Sicily.”

And Thomas replied, “Please God, that will be so.”

Refusing ecclesiastical honours

Then Reginald took another step, saying: “And you and brother Bonaventure will be made cardinals – an honour for the two Orders!”

To which Thomas answered, “I can serve the Order best as I am.”

But Reginald insisted: “Father, I am not thinking of your advantage but of the common good….”

But Thomas cut him short: “Reginald,” he said, “you may be quite sure that I shall go on exactly as I am.”

All this was repeated to the witness by his friend Roffredo, who was there and heard everything, as did the bishop of Teano.

Lord Bartholomew of Capua, Chancellor and Protonotary of Sicily, given under oath 8 August 1319

ST THOMAS’S FINAL DAYS

St Thomas retreats to a religious house for his death and shows great humility and piety

[The abbot of the monastery where St Thomas died recounts:] In the time of Pope Gregory X of happy memory, brother Thomas, while on his way through the Campagna on the way to the Council of Lyons, fell ill at the castle of Maenza which belonged to the lord Annibaldo of Ceccano; and his condition worsening, he was heard by several people to say:

“If the Lord has chosen this time to come for me, I had better be found in some religious house.”

St Thomas on his deathbed at Fossanova

So he got himself carried to Fossanova, about six miles distant from the castle and there he lay sick for about a month. And on arriving at the monastery door he was heard to say (so it was reported to the witness): “Haec requies mea in saeculum saeculi, hic habitabo quoniam elegi eam”. [This is my rest forever and ever; here will I stay, for I have chosen it. Ps 131.14]

And while he lay ill there the monks, much impressed by his reputation for holiness, used themselves to carry in faggots from the wood for his fire; for they thought it hardly fitting that animals should render this service to such a man. But when Thomas saw them doing this he would struggle to his feet, protesting, “Who am I that holy men should bring me my fire-wood?”

Asked how he knew this, the witness said that he was there at the time, and saw and heard for himself. He added that he saw brother Thomas receive the sacraments of the Church, with much fervour and reverence and tears, lying there with the sickness that caused his death.

Nicholas, Cistercian Abbot of Fossanova, given under oath 24 July 1319

Fresh Herrings: God’s great kindness to St Thomas on his deathbed

Asked if he knew of other miracles attributed to brother Thomas, the witness [Abbot Nicholas] said that he had heard of many; and in particular that when Thomas lay sick in the castle of Maenza and was urged to eat something, he answered: “I would eat fresh herrings, if I had some.”

Now it happened that a pedlar called just then with salted fish. He was asked to open his baskets, and one was found full of fresh herrings, though it had contained only salted fish. But when the herrings were brought to Thomas, he would not eat them. […]

Asked how he knew of these two miracles, he replied that that about the fish he had from brother William of Tocco, prior of the Friar Preachers at Benevento, who himself had it from several people at Maenza, where the event occurred […] And in the monastery these miracles were common knowledge.

Nicholas, Cistercian Abbot of Fossanova, given under oath 24 July 1319

Patience on his sickbed

Brother Thomas (the witness continued) was patient in his sickness, always gentle and no trouble to anyone. Asked if he had received the Sacraments during his illness, the witness said he had heard from other monks of the abbey that he had done so, and with reverence and devotion and many tears. Asked whether this was the illness that Thomas died of, he answered that it was.

Octavian of Babuco, priest and monk of Fossanova, given under oath 25 July 1319

St Thomas submits all his work to the Roman Church, and dies.

In the monastery he lay ill many days. And he desired to receive the body of our Saviour; and when It was brought to him, he greeted It on his knees with wonderful expressions of praise, reverence, and adoration.

“I receive Thee,” he said, “the price of my soul’s redemption, the food of my pilgrimage. For love of Thee I have studied and kept vigil and worked and prayed and taught. Never have I spoken against Thee, unless it was in ignorance. And I don’t wish to insist on my opinions; but if I have said anything amiss, I leave it all to the correction of the Roman Church.”

A little later he died and was buried near the high altar of the abbey church – a marshy spot because it is not far from the monastery garden where a stream runs (which they use to turn a wheel there), making the whole place damp, as the witness himself has carefully and frequently observed.

Lord Bartholomew of Capua, Chancellor and Protonotary of Sicily, given under oath 8 August 1319

THE FIRST OF A FLURRY OF MIRACLES

But before he was buried… sight restored to a blind sub-prior by the body of St Thomas

The witness, [an old monk of Fossanova] said that while the corpse still lay in the bed in which he had died, and before it was washed, the then sub-prior of the monastery, John of Ferentino, who had lost his sight, was about to kiss the dead man’s feet – as they all were doing because of his holiness – when it was suggested to brother John that he should lay his eyes against the eyes of Thomas.

Miracles before he was buried

So he did this; and at once he recovered his sight fully and clearly.

Asked how he knew this, the witness said that he was present and saw this happen, in fact he was one of those who advised brother John to do as he did.

Peter of Montesangiovanni, old monk of Fossanova, given under oath 1 August 1319


In the final part we will see the many miracles granted in just the 45 years between his death and the canonisation enquiry – again, all given under oath by men who either knew St Thomas, saw the miracles, or were reporting the testimonies of those who had.

ST THOMAS AQUINAS: PRAY FOR US!

St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas, Universal Doctor – Fr Edward Leen CSSP
The Holy Wrath of St Thomas Aquinas – G.K. Chesterton
On the Five Qualities of Prayer – St Thomas Aquinas
True Law – According to the Teaching of St Thomas Aquinas
What is Thomism? The Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses

The Fioretti of St Thomas:
Part I: His Life
Part II: His Death
Part III: The Miracles after his Death


SELECTED TEXTS FROM ST THOMAS AQUINAS

Summa Theologica Trans. by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (5 vols.) Ave Maria Press, Hardback (and UK readers) and Paperback (and UK readers). Also online at New Advent and iPieta.

Summa Theologiae, Aquinas Institute (8 vols.) Latin-English, based on the English Fathers’ translation, without the Supplementum parts. (And for UK readers) Supplementum I-68 (and UK readers) Supplementum 69-99 (and UK readers)

St Thomas Aquinas – Summa Contra Gentiles. Aquinas Institute in 2 vols: Vol. I (Books I-II) and Vol. 2 (Books III-IV) and for UK readers here and here. Budget single-volume from Aeterna Press (and for UK readers) and online at iPieta or Aquinas.cc

Aquinas – Opuscula I, from the Aquinas Institute (UK readers), containing the following:

St Thomas Aquinas – Catena Aurea (and for UK readers). 4 vols, line-by-line commentary on the four Gospels from the Fathers of the Church, assembled by St Thomas Aquinas and translated by Cardinal John Henry Newman. Published by Baronius Press.

Tradivox VI: Aquinas, Pecham, and Pagula (UK readers), including St Thomas Aquinas’s Catechetical Instructions. An arrangement of other Opuscula in catechetical form. (ca. 1260)

St Thomas Aquinas’s scriptural commentaries are being published by the Aquinas Institute in English and Latin. Here are some of the options below – they are online here, and it is possible to buy single volumes of the commentaries below:

Anger – The Doctrine of the Mystical Body According to the Principles of St Thomas Aquinas (and for UK readers). Internet Archive. Draws together several texts for which there is a bit of a lacuna in the Summa itself.

Glenn – A Tour of the Summa. A compressed one-volume account of the Summa. (UK readers)

Pegues – Catechism of the Summa Theologica for the use of the Faithful (and for UK readers)

G.K. Chesterton – St Thomas Aquinas. Classic biography. (UK link)

Foster – The Life of St Thomas Aquinas – Biographical Documents (UK readers). Online at Internet Archive.

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[1] This can be found in Kenelm Foster OP, The Life of St Thomas Aquinas – Biographical Documents, Longmans, Green and Co, London 1959, pp 82-119. UK readers click here, and available online at https://archive.org/details/lifeofsaintthoma0000fost/

[2] Foster 119 n.2

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