St. Thomas Aquinas


   

Thomas was the son of the Count of Aquino and was born in the family castle in Lombardy near Naples, Italy. Thomas was one of nine children and was very clever; he felt that his mind was a gift from God.

His parents hoped that he would become a Benedictine abbot some day. The family castle was in Rocca Secca, just north of Monte Cassino where the monks lived. Thomas was sent to school at the abbey when he was five and he was educated by the Benedictine monks there. When he was eighteen, he went to the University of Naples to finish his studies.

There he met a new group of religious men called the Order of Preachers. Their founder, St Dominic, was still living. Thomas knew he wanted to become a priest and felt that he was called to join these men. So he secretly joined the Dominican order in 1244.

His parents were angry with him. When he was on his way to Paris to study, his brothers kidnapped him and kept him a prisoner in one of their castles for over a year. During that time, they did all they could to make him change his mind.

One of his sisters, too, came to convince him to give up his vocation. But Thomas spoke so beautifully about the joy of serving God that she changed her mind. She decided to give her life to God as a nun. After fifteen months, Thomas was finally allowed to follow his call.

St Thomas wrote so well about God that people all over the world have used his books for hundreds of years. His explanations about God and the faith came from his great love for God. His writings touched the hearts of people because he was not trying to impress anyone, he just wanted with all his heart to offer the gift of his life to Jesus and the Church.

St Thomas is one of the greatest Doctors of the Church and is considered the universal patron of universities, colleges, and schools.

Around the end of 1273, Pope Gregory X asked Thomas to be part of an important Church meeting called the Council of Lyons. While travelling to the meeting, Thomas became ill. He had to stop at a monastery at Fossanova, Italy, where he died. It was 7 March 1274. He was only forty-nine.


Panis Angelicus

Most of us have heard the beautiful hymn Panis Angelicus. Did you know that this hymn was written by St. Thomas Aquinas? The words mean ‘bread of angels’. The Latin root for bread is pan. In the Slavic languages the word pan means Lord. For example, in Polish ‘Pan Jezus’ means ‘Lord Jesus’.

Looking deeper into the word and its Greek origins, pan means ‘all’ or ‘every’. For example, we are familiar with such words as ‘panacea’ for cure-all. Still another meaning for the word pan comes from its French connection. The French word for bread is pain, a direct derivative of the Latin pan, but with a new dimension added because of our English word “pain” means suffering or hurt.

When you take a minute to reflect, all of these connotations of the word pan come together when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.  Jesus gives Himself to us in the form of bread. Jesus is our Lord, the one sent by God, the one who is fully human and fully divine and suffered the pain of death on the cross for us. In the Eucharist we find all fulfilment. As Christians we know that when we celebrate the Eucharist together we are entering into communion with God, ourselves and each other, we find peace and communion in the words of St Thomas Aquinas, the ‘Panis Angelicus’. 

Latin Text                                                                     

Panis Angelicus fit panis hominum

Dat panis coelicus figuris terminum

O res mirabilis! Manducat Dominum

Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis

Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis

English Translation

The angel's bread becomes the bread of humanity

The heavenly bread the culmination of all symbols

Oh, miraculous thing! The body of the Lord will nourish

The poor, poor, and humble servant

The poor, poor, and humble servant


FOR YOU TO DO

  1. Name five new things you have learned about St Thomas Aquinas.
  2. In your opinion do you think that Thomas was a quiet and obedient son? Give reasons for your answer.
  3. Why do you think St Thomas Aquinas’ writings are so well known and respected?
  4. Write a short paragraph explaining the meaning of Panis Angelicus.
  5. What does the hymn tell us about the Eucharist?

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