Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Angelic Doctor

Bartolomeo degli Erri (Modena, active by 1460-1476) and Agnolo degli Erri, Italian, Modena, (active 1448-1482)
The Birth of St Thomas Aquinas ca. 1470
Tempera and gold on panel
Overall: 44 x 32.7cm (17 5/16 x 12 7/8in.) Framed: 49.213 x 36.195cm (19 3/8 x 14 1/4in.)
Yale University Art Gallery,

Bartolomeo degli Erri (Modena, active by 1460-1476)
Scene from the Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Debate with the Heretic, c1465 -1470
Tempera on panel
17 7/8 x 13 1/8 (45.4 x 33.3 cm)
Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation
The Legion of Honor, de Young Museum, San Francisco

Bartolomeo degli Erri (Modena, active by 1460-1476)
Scene from the Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Vision of Fra Paolino, c 1465-70
Tempera on panel
17 3/4 x 13 3/8 (45.1 x 34 cm)
Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation
The Legion of Honor, de Young Museum, San Francisco

Bartolomeo degli Erri (Modena, active by 1460-1476)
Saint Thomas Aquinas Aided by Saints Peter and Paul
Tempera on wood
17 x 12 in. (43.2 x 30.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Agnolo degli Erri, Italian, Modena, (active 1448-1482)
St Thomas Aquinas Preaching, c. 1470
Tempera on panel
overall: 43 x 34 cm (16 15/16 x 13 3/8 in.) framed: 65.1 x 55.6 x 7.6 cm (25 5/8 x 21 7/8 x 3 in.)
Gift of Frieda Schiff Warburg
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

These panels were once part of a group of possibly nine scenes from a fifteenth-century altarpiece dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas in the church of San Domenico in Modena.

They originally surrounded an image of Saint Thomas Aquinas which is now lost. They are thought to have been painted by Bartolommeo and his older brother Agnolo. The church was demolished and rebuilt in 1708, and its paintings perhaps dispersed at that time

The scenes show the birth of the saint, and scenes from his life as an infant. He is also shown twice: consulting a book, and seated between Saints Peter and Paul, who have miraculously appeared to help him interpret sacred texts in this case a passage in Isaiah.

He is also shown preaching

In his Encyclical Aeterni Patris (4th August 1879) Pope Leo XIII discussed the importance of St Thomas Aquinas to the Church:

"17. Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because "he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all."

The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith.

With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching.

Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.

18. Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield.

And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.

19. For these reasons most learned men, in former ages especially, of the highest repute in theology and philosophy, after mastering with infinite pains the immortal works of Thomas, gave themselves up not so much to be instructed in his angelic wisdom as to be nourished upon it.

It is known that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders commanded their members to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas, fearful least any of them should swerve even in the slightest degree from the footsteps of so great a man.

To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others all testify that they are bound by this law.

20. And, here, how pleasantly one's thoughts fly back to those celebrated schools and universities which flourished of old in Europe - to Paris, Salamanca, Alcalá, to Douay, Toulouse, and Louvain, to Padua and Bologna, to Naples and Coimbra, and to many another!

All know how the fame of these seats of learning grew with their years, and that their judgment, often asked in matters of grave moment, held great weight everywhere. And we know how in those great homes of human wisdom, as in his own kingdom, Thomas reigned supreme; and that the minds of all, of teachers as well as of taught, rested in wonderful harmony under the shield and authority of the Angelic Doctor.

21. But, furthermore, Our predecessors in the Roman pontificate have celebrated the wisdom of Thomas Aquinas by exceptional tributes of praise and the most ample testimonials.

Clement VI in the bull In Ordine; Nicholas V in his Brief to the friars of the Order of Preachers, 1451; Benedict XIII in the Bull Pretiosus, and others bear witness that the universal Church borrows lustre from his admirable teaching; while St. Pius V declares in the bull Mirabilis that heresies, confounded and convicted by the same teaching, were dissipated, and the whole world daily freed from fatal errors; others, such as Clement XII in the bull Verbo Dei, affirm that most fruitful blessings have spread abroad from his writings over the whole Church, and that he is worthy of the honor which is bestowed on the greatest Doctors of the Church, on Gregory and Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome; while others have not hesitated to propose St. Thomas for the exemplar and master of the universities and great centers of learning whom they may follow with unfaltering feet.

On which point the words of Blessed Urban V to the University of Toulouse are worthy of recall:

"It is our will, which We hereby enjoin upon you, that ye follow the teaching of Blessed Thomas as the true and Catholic doctrine and that ye labor with all your force to profit by the same."

Innocent XII, followed the example of Urban in the case of the University of Louvain, in the letter in the form of a brief addressed to that university on February 6, 1694, and Benedict XIV in the letter in the form of a brief addressed on August 26, 1752, to the Dionysian College in Granada; while to these judgments of great Pontiffs on Thomas Aquinas comes the crowning testimony of Innocent VI:

"His teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language, an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error."

22. The ecumenical councils, also, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor.

In the Councils of Lyons, Vienna, Florence, and the Vatican one might almost say that Thomas took part and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers, contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics and rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results.

But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.

23. A last triumph was reserved for this incomparable man-namely, to compel the homage, praise, and admiration of even the very enemies of the Catholic name.

For it has come to light that there were not lacking among the leaders of heretical sects some who openly declared that, if the teaching of Thomas Aquinas were only taken away, they could easily battle with all Catholic teachers, gain the victory, and abolish the Church. A vain hope, indeed, but no vain testimony."

More recently on 28th January 1999, Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Inter Munera Academiarum again emphasised the importance in modern times of St Thomas Aquinas and his works:

"In my recent Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, I put great importance on the dialogue between theology and philosophy and clearly expressed my appreciation of the thought of St Thomas Aquinas, recognizing its enduring originality (cf. nn. 43-44).

St Thomas can rightly be called "an apostle of the truth" (n. 44). In fact, the insight of the Angelic Doctor consists in the certainty that there is a basic harmony between faith and reason (cf. n. 43). It is necessary therefore that the mind of the believer acquire a natural, consistent and true knowledge of created realities - the world and man himself - which are also the object of divine Revelation.

Still more, reason must be able to articulate this knowledge in concept and argument. (n. 66).

2. At the dawn of the third millennium, many cultural conditions have changed. Very significant progress has been made in the field of anthropology, but above all substantial changes have occurrred in the very way of understanding the human being's condition in relation to God, to other human beings and to all creation.

First of all, the greatest challenge of our age comes from a growing separation between faith and reason, between the Gospel and culture. The studies dedicated to this immense area are increasing day by day in the context of the new evangelization. Indeed, the message of salvation encounters many obstacles stemming from erroneous concepts and a serious lack of adequate formation.

3. A century after the promulgation of the Encyclical Letter Aeterni Patris of my Predecessor Leo XIII, which marked the beginning of a new development in the renewal of philosphical and theological studies and in the relationship between faith and reason, I would like to give a new impetus to the Pontifical Academies working in this area, in accordance with the thought and tendencies of the present day as well as the pastoral needs of the Church."