The General Chapter of the Order of Preachers has opened!

2013-07-22-Capitulum_Trogir-02-sOn the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, patroness of the Order of Preachers, little over a hundred Dominican friars from all over the world, elected by their brothers to represent them, celebrated holy Mass in the church of the Holy Cross on the island of Čiovo and thus started the General Chapter of the Order of Preachers in Trogir, Croatia.

The Master of the Order, fr. Bruno Cadore, OP, celebrated the holy Mass together with his predecessors fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP and fr. Carlos Aspiroz Costa, OP. All the members of the Chapter, diffinitors, guests, and hosts alike participated in the liturgical celebrations. The church of the Holy Cross and the Dominican convent of the same name were built on the 15th century. The builders of the church could have never imagined a General Chapter being held inside its walls.

During the first plenary session, the Provincial of the Croatian Dominican Province, fr. Anto Gavrić, OP, welcomed all the members of the Chapter. The Mayor of Trogir, Mr. Ante Stipčić, also welcomed the capitulars on behalf of all the citizens of Trogir and the surrounding area. The chapter’s work started in good spirits.

During the afternoon session Msgr. Želimir Puljić, Archbishop of the city of Zadar and President of the Croatian Bishops Conference visited the chapter and in a short address welcomed all the delegates to Trogir and to Croatia.

Some of the important topics that will be discussed by the delegates during the various plenary and work group sessions are: Jubilee of the Order in 1216, preaching, formation, study, common life, government and continued renewal of the Order.

The first day of the General Chapter ended with the solemn notes of vespers spreading through the hallways and the cloister of the convent of the Holy Cross. After evening prayer there was a Rite of Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration.

The Chapter is expected to convene and continue its work until August the 8th 2013.


The Spiritual Journey of the Nuclear Family

JUDEO-CHRISTIAN faith has always been thought of as a journey. The earliest biblical creeds sum up Israelite faith not in terms of a list of doctrines, not in ten commandments, but in the form of a journey. “I brought your father Abraham from the region beyond the River and led him through the entire land of Canaan . . . . Afterward I led you out of Egypt . . . . I brought you into the land of the Amorites” (Josh. 24:3, 6, 8). Exodus, exile, return form the leitmotif of Old Testament salvation history. And Yahweh is the Lord of all history. “Did I not bring the Israelites from the land of Egypt as I brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Aramenians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7). In and through the history of Israel, and not apart from it, the Lord was disclosed to the chosen people. By a faith-informed meditation on its national story, Israel came to understand who God is and what the destiny of Israel was meant to be.

Many classics of the spiritual life, from St. Augustine’s Confessions to Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, were conceived in the form of a journey. St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God, St. Teresa of Avila’s Way of Perfection, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and many other spiritual masterpieces are worked out along the lines of a journey. In fact, for medieval theology life here on earth was essentially in via — “on the way.” Vatican II, echoing the words of St. Augustine, says “the church, ‘like a pilgrim in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,’ announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes.”  The Christian family too, the “domestic church,” shares in its own ways in the great journey of faith, God’s people marching toward the kingdom of God. All Christian life is a participation in the great passover of the Son who came out from God, proclaimed the kingdom of God, suffered and died, and then was raised up by the Father.

happy-familyIn the following pages I would like to meditate on four themes from biblical tradition that illuminate the special spiritual journey of Christian marriage and family life. I will begin with the ideal suggested in the very first pages of Genesis, then move to the more prosaic Israelite reality of marriage as evidenced in Proverbs. Next, I will take the ecstatic dimensions of married love alluded to in the prophets and celebrated in the Song of Songs. Finally, I will point out how Christian marriage participates in the eschatological vision of Christian faith.

The first of these themes relates to the creation of the first couple recounted in Genesis, chapter 2. After the author has set out the delightful story of the formation of Eve from Adam’s side, and after Adam has recognized in her “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” the text concludes: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body’ (Gen. 2:23-24).

Several things about this passage are striking. First of all, there is the fact that the man is said to leave his father and mother, whereas in actual fact, just the reverse is what usually happened. That is, normally, the woman left her father’s household and joined that of her husband. The Old Testament world was very patriarchal, not to say male chauvinist. The woman passed from being part of the property, admittedly of a very special sort, of her father or guardian and became part of the possessions (almost) of her husband and his clan. But the text here says that the man leaves his parents, as presumably the woman does as well, and together they form a new “body.” In terms of the economic and social facts of ancient Israel, there is no question here of the new couple’s literally moving out of the patriarchal household and settling into an apartment in the Jerusalem suburbs. The leaving involved is metaphorical. Husband and wife do leave the dominant sphere of their parents and create their own new center of life.


This image speaks to the first stage in the spiritual journey of every new family, every marriage. Spouses must leave behind large aspects of their past lives. To some degree they have to get out from under mothers’ skirts; they must stand up on their own apart from fathers’ security. Young couples imagine this is easy. They think nothing more attractive than to get out from under the burden of parental authority. But it is not very long before they begin to realize that they have brought a great deal of their parents along with them. It is the classic story of “but my mother used to make Sunday breakfast this way” and “my father used to do jobs like this as a matter of course.” Naturally not all of this is bad. If every couple had to invent the wheel all over again, marriage would be a hopeless proposition. We learn from our parents and our family’s traditions and experience. We grow out of the nurture we have all received. Good families lead to good families, and shaky families do not readily produce strong new ones.

Still, it remains true that spouses have to make a serious journey when they get married. They have to go out of something comfortable in a thousand ways that they never really noticed and start building another world. This surrender demands a level of self-abnegation that challenges all couples in the first few years of marriage. When novices enter religious life, it is made very clear to them that they are leaving “the world” behind. They give up their possessions to a degree, they put on new clothes, they assume a wholly different discipline. Marriage too has its novitiate, its period of testing and surrender of worlds now past. As a Christian couple enters a new life together, as they take on a new Christian vocation, they are called to go out of other houses and into a new one. They are addressed as Abraham was: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your fathers house to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).

Another aspect of the Genesis account that evokes the spiritual journey of marriage is the writer’s saying that the man and woman “become one body.” The one body, the unity of marriage and of family love, is not something achieved in an instant. As the Genesis story is set up, Eve is indeed created for Adam, but the Bible does not just leave it at that. Adam and Eve are suited to each other in a large sense, but they do not constitute some sort of automatic, mechanical “fit.” A popular theory assumes that marital happiness depends on finding the right mate. It is as if one were going to a hardware store, looking for the right size fixture to go with what one already has. “We are right for each other.” Across the crowded ballroom of the world one catches sight of the perfect match for oneself, a person who just fits one’s personality. Or there is the tabloid write-up on the movie star’s marrying for the umpteenth time and remarking, “I think it’s the right one this time.” Surely there has to be a certain basic commonality for a realistic marriage; but in the final analysis, marriage and family unity is something the couple creates, not something it discovers. Spouses have to become one body. Of course, this growing together is something that should have started during courtship. There should be a great deal of oneness before the wedding. But unity does not just sit there. When it comes to interpersonal relations generally, and certainly when it comes to families with children, change is the rule, not the exception. Unity is something that has to be constantly nurtured. Becoming one is a lifelong task.

Finally, Adam and Eve become one body. This phrase touches on the fundamental antinomy of married life. Adam is still Adam, Eve is still Eve — they are even more fully themselves through this relationship — but at the same time they are also one. Many young people are afraid of marriage because they fear losing part of their autonomy, part even of their authentic selves. In many ways spouses do surrender things. Each takes a vow of obedience not altogether different from that of religious. There is a sense in which both consent to “obey” the other. Love, honor, and obey are reciprocal. Each agrees to be led by his or her spouse, to be open to the other’s needs and aspirations and to make them part of their common life project. Of course, no one can or should cease t be a unique self. No one should enter marriage abandoning that personal spiritual journey each person begins at birth and Christian baptism. Each spouse has a unique voice to contribute to the chorus of creation. Marriage simply means that each spouse undertakes to carry out that personal project, develop that unique melody, in concert with this special other. One’s own tastes, one’s own preferences, must be modulated to harmonize with those of one’s spouse. This adjusting at times means surrendering private preference to integrate family values into a greater whole. A husband tailors his career, his use of free-time, the way he spends the family purse in cooperation with, after discussion with, and sometimes in a difficult process of give-and-take with his wife. She too structures her own evolution, her own projects, her fulfillment of her own needs in relationship to, and in dialogue with, those of her husband. And both husband and wife constantly adjust their lives to cultivate the growing needs of their whole family. So being “one body” is not an easy task. It demands a level of generosity, of sympathetic insight, of sacrificial love that challenges the best of Christian spouses.


Another part of Old Testament tradition that helps us work out some of the dynamics of Christian family spirituality is the Book of Proverbs. This book is a part of a biblical wisdom that grew out of people’s practical experience. A good deal of it touches on aspects of marriage and family life. There are many passages, for example, that talk about the importance of marriage fidelity, though not always in terms we would today find wholly adequate. Adultery is bad, not because it goes against God’s law or is a violation of the marriage covenant, but rather because it leads to trouble and more trouble. Besides, adultery is an offense against the other husband’s property. Still, according to Proverbs, a happy marriage is one of the greatest goods of life. “A worthy wife is the crown of her husband,” and we would add, “A worthy husband is the crown of his wife.” There are also many passages in Proverbs about the proper formation of children, and this too is a great part of the journey of the Christian family. The famous advice, “He who spares his rod hates his son,” comes from Proverbs (13:24).

But I would particularly like to reflect on the concluding chapter of Proverbs with its picture of the ideal wife (31:10-31). We generally get a rather one-sided picture of the role of women from a quick reading of the Old Testament. It seems that men do all the legislating, all the ruling, most of the prophesying. Of course, there are important figures like Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was actually far more significant historically than the present state of the Bible lets on. There is Deborah, the heroine of the Book of judges; there are powerful queen-mothers, fleeting glimpses of soothsayers and the like, brave Esther in the court of Ahasuerus, and the marvelous if rather bloody story about Judith who chopped off the head of evil Holofernes. So, given a suppressed tradition of female heroism in biblical history, pretty generally the Old Testament is a male dominated book. The fact that it was written exclusively by men (the Holy Spirit had to work with what the culture provided) is probably not incidental to this fact.

Proverbs_ideal_wifeBut when we look at this picture of the ideal wife in Proverbs, we see something else. Here is a woman who is no abject wallflower, no mere appendage of her husband. She feeds and clothes her household with great skill and industry; she negotiates real estate deals, plants vineyards, engages in trade and generally runs a fairly complicated outfit. Furthermore, she is no fool: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel” (31:26). So she is obviously a very competent person and charged with substantial family responsibilities. She is no harem slave nor does she merely derive her identity from her husband. Of course, in our view, she seems to work like a demon, while her husband is pictured “prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land” (31:23). Finally, she is presented, not as some sexy Ms. Israel, but as a religious person with dignity deriving from inner values and not from standard sexist conventions. “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (31:30).

The point is that, when we look at the Book of Proverbs as a whole, there is a certain tension in the way the wife-husband relationship is presented. On the one hand, the woman is said to be either a worthy crown of her husband or as “rot in his bones” (12:4). Frequently woman is presented as temptress: “The lips of an adulteress drip with honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil” (5:3). In any case, in these passages woman is presented as deriving meaning from her relationship with men. The ideal wife of Proverbs’ thirty-first chapter, however, though doubtless a blessing to her husband, is riot — simply his profitable servant and compliant flatterer. She has dignity because she is a creative person in her own right. And her ultimate meaning comes from her relationship with God, not from her service to a husband.

Now an important part of the spiritual journey of Christian families today is connected with the women’s movement. To the consternation of some men, women are more and more insisting on growing up. They are not content with being a “total woman” when that means being a sycophant and toady to an egocentric husband. Though it is not a wholly new phenomenon, women more often today are striving to discover their own collective and individual personhoods, aside from their relationships with men, whether husbands or fathers. Becoming one body, as Genesis recommends, today demands something different from a woman’s becoming submerged in the personality and career of her husband. This evolution in contemporary culture demands growth in women, requires them to assume responsibility for their lives, but it also calls for at least as great growth on the part of men. Of course, there are those passages in Paul and the Pastoral Letters where wives are urged to “be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). But it is also Paul who insists that “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Whatever may have been true in the patriarchal world of ancient Judaism, Paul insists: “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation. The old order has passed away; now all is new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). That change ought to include the end of wives considered as family chattel.

But if in Christ all has been made new in principle, the fact is we have not worked that all out in the realities of our daily lives yet. There is a work of redemption within the structure of the family unit that still needs to be accomplished. Christian wives must be able to affirm all that is positive in the women’s movement today, without having to fight an antiquated world view dolled up in Christian slogans about “God’s chain of command” and the like. Here in another form we have the theme already touched on earlier — the need for spouses to develop as individual persons and their need to do that growing in union with each other. This process of growing together, when women are more and more assuming their rightful places in the worlds of work, politics, church, and family life, is a call to mutual growth that earlier generations of Christian spouses did not have to face quite as starkly. How to give women and men their Christian liberty without jeopardizing the “one body” of family unity is a journey of faith too.


The Song of Songs is surely one of the most astonishing parts of the Bible. Here is a whole book without a single mention of God, Moses, covenant, law, or any other typically biblical theme. In fact, to all intents and purposes, the whole thing is florid love poetry. Many scholars think the Song of Songs is a gathering of traditional marriage feast songs. When the rabbis of the early Christian era determined the canon of Jewish sacred scripture, the Song of Songs is said to have posed serious problems. Then, the story goes, Rabbi Akiba, after many days and nights of pious meditation, concluded that this love story was in fact a celebration of the love relationship between Yahweh and Israel. There can be little doubt that some such understanding is at the bottom of the Israelite will to include this text in the Bible. In fact, long before the composition of the Song of Songs in late biblical times, beginning with the prophet Hosea, it was considered especially apt to compare God’s love for Israel with that of a faithful spouse. Yahweh says to Israel: “I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos. 2:21-22).

The point is, if we want to know something about what God is, we should reflect on the nature and meaning of a good marriage. The more we come to really know, to experience in our bones, as it were, what human love really is, to that degree we can come to understand what God’s inner meaning is as the great lover of humanity. As the First Letter of John puts it: “Everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God . . . for God is love” (4:7-8). When Christian spouses, in fact when all members of a Christian family, grow in love, make love a tangible reality in their lives, they are growing in their knowledge of, their experience of, what God really is deep down within. The journey of love in family life is at the same time a journey of faith.

But it works both way Just as our knowledge of human love tells us something special about what God is, so our reflection on God’s love gives us some notion of what human married love ought to be. Spouses should have the same faithful, forgiving, constant, creative, intimate, selfless, patient, everlasting love for each other as the history of God’s dealings with Israel displays. God’s love in biblical tradition, culminating in the sending of his Son, is the supreme model and goal of all Christian family love.

There is another dimension to the biblical notion of married love and its religious implications here. The Song of Songs is a very sensual book. It begins, “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth” (1:1), and goes on from there. One of my favorite passages is: “Your navel is a round bowl that should never lack for mixed wine” (7:3). A contemporary novelist might have some difficulty beating that. What I mean is that the love which constitutes married love and which mirrors God for us is not just some sort of ethereal, spiritual love. It includes a very earthy, sensual, even erotic, sexual love. Human married love becomes fully human, flowers as an earthly reality, when it vibrates in every fiber of the spouses’ selves. One of the tasks of the journey of married love is to make Christian married love reverberate in the very fleshly life of marriage too. Ever since St. Augustine at least, there has been a tendency to look on sexual love with suspicion in Christian circles. St. Augustine connected original sin with concupiscence, which included the all-absorbing tendencies of human sexuality. He thought that if it had not been for original sin, sexual intercourse would have transpired with the same calm indifference with which a farmer sows seed in a field.

Still, there is no gainsaying the chaotic tendencies of human sexuality. Perhaps these tendencies as well as Canaanite fertility rites lie behind the sexual overtones of the story of the fall in the third chapter of Genesis — the business about nakedness and the serpent symbol. Paul, too, inveighs against pagan sexual excess and warns Christians against slipping into that world. Certainly there is no need for proof that sexuality in our contemporary world is often deliriously out of kilter. Integrating sexuality into a truly Christian life is not an automatic or easy task. Orchestrating sexuality into married love, making erotic love an authentic extension of the spiritual communion of the spouses, is a considerable achievement. It is not just suppressing animal instincts; it is a matter of humanizing them, training them to dance to the music of human love.

He that finds a wifeToday there is a whole, mostly wrong-headed technology of sexual love which labors under the illusion that good sex depends on good technique. Reality is otherwise. The quality of sexual love in marriage depends directly on the quality of the love relationship overall. Though I do not know how reliable they are, some statistics seem to show that religious couples tend to have markedly more satisfactory sexual relations than nonreligious ones. I would not claim this universal, but it does stand to reason. Mature, religious spouses see their marriage relationship as an aspect of, or an implementation of, their total vocation to married love. The better that love is, the more highly motivated, the more satisfactory sexual expression of that love is likely to be. Several years ago journalists had a field day when Pope John Paul II suggested that Jesus’ saying from the Sermon on the Mount, “Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts” (Matt. 6:28), applied to married couples as well. Big joke — the celibate pope is against erotic love even in marriage. The fact is that the pope was defending a good feminist position. Women (and men for that matter) should not be treated as sexual objects in any circumstances. Even in marriage, sexual love ought to be a celebration of the unity of the married couple. Sexual love ought to echo the inner meaning of God’s own self. Egotistical, self-centered, exploitative love will not do.

But here too there is a marriage journey. No one has it all together in an instant. Lower life, insects and the like, have their whole sexual identity at the moment of maturity, but human beings have to grow into sexual integration over a long period of time. In fact, this too is a journey never totally complete. Sexual experience sometimes radiates divine love in the texture of Christian marriage; at other times it seems much less. Here too marriages are always on the way to becoming all they should be.


Finally, Christian marriage has an eschatological dimension. It points toward the final reconciliation of all creation in the kingdom of God. In the Book Revelation, heaven is pictured as one grand wedding feast: “Let us rejoice and be glad, and give him glory! For this is the wedding day of the Lamb” (12:7). Jesus too defends his frequenting banquets by picturing himself as a bridegroom at whose feast all should celebrate: “How can wedding guests go in mourning so long as the groom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). Jesus in his parables speaks of the kingdom of God in terms of a wedding feast to which all are invited, at which all should be wearing their wedding garments, and the like. Marriage, a good marriage I hasten to add, is a fitting image of the kingdom of God. The joy, intimacy, and ecstasy of human hearts in marriage will be universal characteristics of the end-time. Authentic married love is for Christians a foretaste, a proleptic sign, of the eschaton.

It is, of course, frequently said that consecrated virginity is an eschatological sign too. Jesus himself says that in heaven people “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt 22:30). Those who have chosen celibacy as a life-style “for the sake of God’s reign” (Matt. 12:12) show forth in the world the absolute universality of God’s love. Celibates try to share their love with all as equally as possible. In this way they anticipate the community of paradise where each will be tied to all others without excluding any. But both celibacy and Christian marriage mirror differing aspects of the end-time. Celibacy shows the selflessness, universality, and fidelity of God’s love. Married love, on the other hand, celebrates the intimacy and intensity of the love that will bind the universe together when “Christ is everything in all” (Col. 3:11).

Here on earth we can only gradually realize all that we will be. But Christian families, each in its own unique way, are traveling along that journey to the kingdom of God, becoming ever more and more one, radiating the inner reality of God in human flesh, and anticipating here below the final state of all creation, “beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband” (Rev. 21:2).

The article above was written by Dr. Francis, W. Nichols, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Louis University.  It was published in the Spring 1984 issue of SPIRITUALITY TODAY, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 4-14.

Blessed Giuseppe Girotti: Another Dominican Saint in the Making

On the 27th of March, 2013, the Holy Father Pope Francis received Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints. During that audience, the Roman Pontiff authorized the Congregation to Promulgate the Decree on the Martyrdom of the Servant of God Giuseppe Girotti, a professed priest of the Order of Preachers.

Fr Giuseppe Girotti was born in Alba, in the northern part of Italy on the 19th of July, 1905. He was born of a humble family that were esteemed for their hard work and godliness. At the age of 13, he was convinced of his aspiration for the priesthood which led him to enter the Dominican Seminary of Chieri (TO). He was a brilliant student, very lively and cheerful too. In 1923, he made his religious profession in “La Quercia”, near Viterbo and on August 3, 1930 he was ordained to the priesthood at Chieri.

He specialized in the interpretation of Scriptures at Angelicum, Rome and the Ècole Biblique of Jerusalem. At the Ècole Biblique, he was a student of the Servant of God Marie-Joseph Lagrange, OP and under him, he published his academic work, “Prolita in Sacra Scrittura” in 1934. He dedicated his life to the teaching of Scriptures at the Dominican Theological Seminary of Turin (S. Maria delle Rose). As a result of his extensive study of Scriptures, he published an extensive commentary on the Wisdom Books and the Prophet Isaiah.

Esteemed for his vast learning, he loved to exercise his priestly ministry among the poor and lonely especially at the hospice of the elderly which was close to his convent of S. Maria delle Rose, Turin. There came a period of trial and suffering for him, which he accepted in humility. He was deprived of further education and was transferred to the Convent of San Domenico in the historic centre of Turin. Despite this, he continued his research in Scriptures while intensifying the exercise of his priestly and charitable activities.

Everything I do is for charity”, he candidly said once, indicating his continued growth in the virtue of charity.

After September 8, 1943, with the German occupation and the birth of the Italian Social Republic, Girotti began a centre for a vast network of support for Jews. His cultural affinity to Jews was nourished during his years of study in Jerusalem and further deepened by his actual study of Scriptures. It is in this sense that we understand his expressions “Carriers of the Word of God” and “Elder brothers” as referring to Jews. At this time, many of them, while facing persecution and much suffering, sought for safe havens and false documents for a new identity. Girotti was able to assist them in many ways.

His activities with Jews which were contrary to the Laws of the Fascist and Nazi led to his arrest on the 29thof August, 1944. He was betrayed by a spy who disguised as someone in need of help and he was taken to Villa Cavorette, the place where Girotti had hidden the Jewish Professor Joseph Diena. Girotti was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in the new prison at Turin. Despite the efforts of his prior to have him released, he was transferred first to San Vittore prison in Milan, then to the camp of Gries, Bozano and finally on the 5th of October 1944, he was taken to Dachau, Germany. According to Don Angelo Dalmasso, another priest with whom he was imprisoned, Girotti stood out for his generosity and openness toward the other inmates with whom he frequently shared the Word of God. He was imprisoned in Cabin 26 with a thousand other priests in a space that was originally meant for 180 inmates. Due to this condition, he became ill and was admitted at the infirmary.

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, at barely 40years old, Girotti died. His death was probably aided by a lethal injection of gasoline as was the custom then. On his bunk, his fellow inmates wrote, “Here slept Saint Guiseppe Girotti”.

In 1988, the curia of Turin started the formal process for his canonization. On the 14th of February, 1995, 50years after his death, he received a posthumous medal as “Righteous Among the Nations”, a recognition from the State of Israel to all those who worked for the salvation of Jews during the Holocaust. His name is inscribed on the official list and a tree is planted in his honour at the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

On the 27th of March 2013, Pope Francis authorized a decree for his beatification. We anticipate that he will be formally beatified at Alba during the Spring of 2014.


The Postulator General of the Order


Source: Order of Preachers

The two blueprints of us

God, too, has within Himself blueprints of everything in the universe. As the architect has in his mind a plan of the house before the house is built, so God has in His Mind an archetypal idea of every flower, bird, tree, springtime, and melody. There never was a brush touched to canvas nor a chisel to marble without some great pre-existing idea. So, too, every atom and every rose is a realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.

All creatures below man correspond to the pattern God has in His Mind. A tree is truly a tree because it corresponds to God’s idea of a tree. A rose is a rose, because it is God’s idea of a rose wrapped up in chemicals and tints and life.

But it is not so with persons. God has to have two pictures of us: one is what we are, and the other is what we ought to be. He has the model, and He has the reality: the blueprint and the edifice, the score of the music and the way we play it. God has to have these two pictures because in each and every one of us there is some disproportion and want of conformity between the original plan and the way we have worked it out. The image is blurred; the print is faded. For one thing, our personality is not complete in time; we need a renewed body. Then, too, our sins diminish our personality; our evil acts daub the canvas the Master Hand designed. Like unhatched eggs, some of us refuse to be warmed by the Divine Love which is so necessary for incubation to a higher level.

We are in constant need of repairs; our free acts do not coincide with the law of our being; we fall short of all God wants us to be. St. Paul tells us that we were predestined, before the foundations of the world were laid, to become the sons of God. But some of us will not fulfill that hope.

Quotation from Fulton Sheen’s book, The World’s First Love

Motherhood is God’s Special Gift

1. Motherhood is a gift of God. “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord!” (Gn 4:1), Eve exclaims after giving birth to Cain, her first-born son. With these words, the Book of Genesis presents the first motherhood in human history as a grace and joy that spring from the Creator’s goodness.

2. The birth of Isaac is similarly described, at the origin of the chosen people. God promises Abraham, who has been deprived of children and is now advanced in years, descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven (cf. Gn 15:5). The promise is welcomed by the patriarch with the faith that reveals God’s plan to this man: “He believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gn 15:6).

This promise was confirmed in the words spoken by the Lord on the occasion of the covenant he made with Abraham: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Gn 17:4).

Extraordinary and mysterious events emphasize how Sarah’s motherhood was primarily the fruit of the mercy of God, who gives life beyond all human expectation: “I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Gn 17:15-16).

Motherhood is presented as a decisive gift of the Lord. The patriarch and his wife will be given a new name to indicate the unexpected and marvelous transformation that God is to work in their life.

The Lord gladdens with the gift of motherhood

3. The visit of the three mysterious persons, whom the Fathers of the Church interpreted as a pre-figuration of the Trinity, announced the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham more explicitly: “The Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him” (Gn 18:1-2). Abraham objected: “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gn 17:17; cf. 18:1113). The divine guest replies: “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Gn 18:14, cf. Lk 1:37).

The narrative stresses the effect of the divine visit, which makes fruitful a conjugal union that had been barren until then. Believing in the promise, Abraham becomes a father against all hope, and “father in the faith” because from his faith “descends” that of the chosen people.

4. The Bible relates other stories of women released from sterility and gladdened by the Lord with the gift of motherhood. These are often situations of anguish, which God’s intervention transforms into experiences of joy by receiving the heartfelt prayers of those who are humanly without hope. “When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children”, for example, “she envied her sister and she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!’. Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?'” (Gn 30:1-2).

But the biblical text immediately adds: “Then God remembered Rachel and God hearkened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son” (Gn 30:22-23). This son, Joseph would play a very important role for Israel at the time of the migration to Egypt.

In this as in other narratives, the Bible intends to highlight the marvelous nature of God’s intervention in these specific cases by stressing the initial condition of the woman’s sterility; however, at the same time, it allows us to grasp the gratuitousness inherent in all motherhood.

5. We find a similar process in the account of the birth of Samson. The wife of Manoah, who had never been able to conceive a child, hears the Lord’s announcement from the angel: “Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son” (Jgs 13:3). The conception, unexpected and miraculous, announces the great things that the Lord will do through Samson.

In the case of Hannah, Samson’s mother, the special role of prayer is underlined. Hannah suffers the humiliation of being barren but she is full of great trust in God to whom she turns insistently, that Le may help her to overcome this trial. One day, at the temple she makes a vow: “Oh Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant, and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give to your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life” (1 Sm 1:11).

Her prayer was answered: “The Lord remembered her” and “Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel” (1 Sm 1:19-20). Keeping her promise, Hannah offered her son to the Lord: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (1 Sm 1: 27-28). Given by God to Hannah and then given by Hannah to God, the little Samuel becomes a living bond of communion between Hannah and God.

Samuel’s birth is thus an experience of joy and an occasion for thanksgiving. The First Book of Samuel contains a hymn known as Hannah’s Magnificat, which seems to anticipate Mary’s: “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord” (1 Sm 2:1).

The grace of motherhood that God granted to Hannah because of her ceaseless prayers filled her with a new generosity. Samuel’s consecration is the grateful response of a mother who, recognizing in her child the fruit of God’s mercy, returns his gift, entrusting the child she had so longed for to the Lord.

God intervenes in important moments

6. In the accounts of miraculous motherhood which we have recalled, it is easy to discover the important place the Bible assigns to mothers in the mission of their sons. In Samuel’s case Hannah has a determining role in deciding to give him to the Lord. An equally decisive role is played by another mother, Rebecca, who procures the inheritance for Jacob (Gn 27). That maternal intervention, described by the Bible, can be interpreted as the sign of being chosen as an instrument in God’s sovereign plan. It is he who chooses the youngest son, Jacob, to receive the paternal blessing and inheritance, and therefore as the shepherd and leader of his people…. It is he who by a free and wise decision determines and governs each one’s destiny (Wis 10:10-12).

The Bible’s message regarding motherhood reveals important and ever timely aspects: indeed, it sheds light on the dimension of gratuitousness, which is especially apparent in the case of barren women, God’s particular covenant with woman and the special bond between the destiny of the mother and that of the son.

At the same time, the intervention of God, who, at important moments in the history of his people, causes certain barren women to conceive, prepares for belief in the intervention of God who, in the fullness of time, will make a Virgin fruitful for the Incarnation of his Son.


Text taken from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s General Audience on March 6, 1996.

St. Vincent Ferrer and the Divided Papacy

The resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis have set the eyes of the world on the papacy, and in the midst of the great joy of Catholics everywhere, there have been no lack of prognostications and concerns, often from those who know little of the spiritual dynamics of the Kingdom, about the needs of our time. The Church, we are told, is in crisis: corruptions within, enemies without, challenges of all kinds to deal with, her own members to keep happy, non-members to mollify and perhaps bring into her communion. Underlying much of this talk is the unasked but implicit question: can the Church survive? At least, can she survive as something more than a meaningless artifact of history? Can she retain vitality and significance in this swirling and complex modern world?

At such a time it can be good to remember that the Church, from its beginnings, has always been in crisis. There has never been a time when a Judas was not betraying her, when a Peter was not denying her, when a crowd of those who should be honoring Christ were not instead shouting “Crucify him!” Touch the history of the Church at any point, and one finds overwhelming external challenges to her mission, and paralyzing internal rot threatening to destroy her most profound life. We can sometimes miss this by a kind of historical optical illusion. When we look to the past the true lines of the Church emerge: her saints grow larger and clearer as one recedes from them; the superfluous falls away and the Divine form, which is the Church’s true life, gains clarity. But like certain paintings that seem no more than meaningless splotches of color when viewed up close, but that resolve into intelligible patterns and shapes as one steps back, so the life and fortunes of the Church seem chaotic and troubled when viewed in their immediacy, and only sort themselves out by a retrospective gaze. Many seeming successes have thus ended in oblivion, and many seeming failures have become windows of light and heavenly life.

Identifying this pattern in the mode by which the Church makes her way through time is not to make light of such internal and external threats. It is precisely by honestly facing them and responding to them with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom that the Church’s inner life is renewed, and her foes diminished or brought into her fold. Rather, it is to remember that this is one of the notes of the Church: she seems ever to be dying, and yet she lives; she seems always to have become outmoded, and yet she springs up again young and fresh; she seems ever about to be overcome, and yet she sees all her enemies buried. Crucifixion and resurrection mark the Church in every age.

One such age of crisis unfolded in the fourteenth century, a seemingly grim time for the Church and for Western Christian civilization as a whole. That time witnessed the Hundred Years War between the English and the French, when France, Europe’s most populous and influential state, was repeatedly ravaged by battles and by the disease and famine that always accompany them. Intellectually, the great achievement of St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas looked to be breaking into pieces, as nominalist philosophies arose that questioned the sacramental vision of the Christian world. The Ottoman Turkish empire was on the rise and becoming an increasingly potent external threat. And for three horrible years at mid-century the Black Death stalked Europe, leaving a third of its population, tens of millions, dead. In the midst of this dissolution of Medieval Society, its most significant institution, the one that gave the civilization its fundamental unity, the key to the whole of its religious system, the Papacy, went into crisis. Europe found itself looking at not one successor of Peter, but two, and for a brief time even three, with half of the European states backing one of the claimants, and half backing another.

Juanes_Juan_de-St_Vincent_FerrerInto this maelstrom, while the Black Death was raging, Vincent Ferrer was born in Valencia, in the Kingdom of Aragon, now Spain. He entered the Dominican order as a young man; he was ordained in 1378, the year the Papacy went into schism. He died in 1419, having lived just long enough to see that schism healed at the Council of Constance. His priestly life was coterminous with this grave crisis in the life of the Church.

St. Vincent is among those saints whose life was so characterized by the miraculous that stories and legends of all kinds grew up around him. At the time of his canonization in 1455, those looking into his cause identified 873 miracles confirmed by direct evidence. His miracles were various and constant. He healed the sick, cast out demons, discerned hidden thoughts of those around him, correctly prophesied many events both large and small, controlled the weather, raised the dead. Many of his miracles were public, seen by thousands at a time. He would preach in his native tongue, and his listeners would sometimes hear the words in their own, a repetition of the miraculous preaching of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. St. Vincent was the greatest preacher of his age, and during the last twenty years of his life he wandered up and down Europe, leading huge crowds too large to fit into a Church to embrace repentance and a life of virtue. He understood himself to have been given the task of preparing his hearers for the coming Day of Judgment. Many thousands were converted to or renewed in their faith by his strenuous labors.

His evident holiness of life, his contemplative spirit, his mastery of Catholic theology, and the miraculous signs of God’s presence that followed him everywhere, gained St. Vincent a place of great influence in his native Aragon and beyond. He was sought after for counsel by Kings and Popes as well as by the simplest of folk. And all along the way he steadfastly refused ecclesial honors, whether of a bishopric or a cardinal’s hat.

This kind of celebrity and these kinds of miracles might lead one to think of St. Vincent as something of a fanatic: a man of extreme views and of strange, if amazing, powers. But in this, St. Vincent was a true son of St. Dominic. His life and his teaching were characterized by a remarkable balance. He was a deeply prayerful man, and yet a man of action who was to die on the road, far from home, preaching. He led an austere life, but he would not let his followers go into excess in the practice of physical penances, insisting that it was rather the mind and the will that needed to be purified much more than the body. He spoke of the things of God with great feeling, but he was also a Doctor of Theology who took great pains to teach the truth accurately. He preached compellingly of God’s coming judgment, yet he was noted for his kindness, his compassion, his insistence on forgiveness as the very heart of God’s dealings with humanity. St. Vincent’s life and teaching expressed not the extremism of the fanatic, but the balance of the disciple: the truly human life.

If there was anything St. Vincent might be said to have been consumed by, it was the hope that the Papal Schism might be resolved and the grievous wound of disunity in the Church be healed. The situation was a complex and bewildering one. Since 1305, and for seventy years after, the Papacy had been situated in Avignon, still in Papal territory but surrounded by the kingdom of France. Largely by the influence of Saints Catherine of Siena and Bridget of Sweden, Pope Gregory XI had returned to the city of Rome in 1376. When he died two years later, a conclave was held and Pope Urban VI was elected his successor. There is no doubting that it was a difficult conclave; a great deal of pressure was put on the electors by the Roman populace, who insisted on an Italian pope even to the point of death threats. Nonetheless it seems clear that the cardinals acted not in fear but with resolve, and elected the man whom they thought should be Pope. Some three months later, a group of the Cardinals, intensely disliking Urban’s papal policy and claiming that the first conclave was invalid due to the duress under which it was held, elected another Pope who took the name Clement VII. There were now two Popes, both elected in conclave, both claiming to be the rightful descendant of St. Peter. The question turned on whether the first conclave was essentially free and therefore legitimate, or forced and therefore invalid. England, the Holy Roman Empire and northern Italy stood by Urban and the Roman line of Popes. France, Spain, Scotland and the Kingdom of Naples stood by Clement and the Avignon line. It is a sign of the genuine complexity of the case that two of the Church’s saints, both of whom were renowned for gifts of spiritual discernment, disagreed. St. Catherine of Siena upheld the claims of Urban, while St. Vincent was convinced that Clement and the Avignon line was the true one.

But St. Vincent’s main concern was that the two popes come to peace, mutually resign if need be, and a conclave be held to heal the deadly division. His authority and saintliness were so evident that his support of the Avignon line did much to secure its legitimacy. But when his own good friend, the Avignon-line Benedict, proved to be intractable and unwilling to take any steps towards unity, St. Vincent publicly withdrew his support, paving the way for an ending of the schism and a restoration of the unity of the Church.

If crisis is one of the marks of the Church, so also is the appearance of saints. St. Vincent Ferrer was one such bright light in the midst of the chaos of his time, a sign that Christ rules his Church even from the cross, then as now. And as with all the saints, St. Vincent’s light has not gone out, but continues to shine as a perpetual source of life and hope. A favorite teaching of his may be found to be of particular pertinence to our time: “The least desire for worldly greatness, no matter under what pretext of charity it arises, is the head of the serpent of hell. We must crush it with the cross.”

Source of Article: St. Vincent Ferrer and the Divided Papacy by Fr. Michael Keating, published online at Crisis Magazine on April 4, 2013.

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Annunciation

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(In Four Articles.)

WE now have to consider the Blessed Virgin’s Annunciation, concerning which there are four points of inquiry: (1) Whether it was befitting that announcement should be made to her of that which was to be begotten of her? (2) By whom should this announcement be made? (3) In what manner should this announcement be made? (4) Of the order observed in the Annunciation.



We proceed thus to the First Article:—

Objection 1. It seems that it was unnecessary to announce to the Blessed Virgin that which was to be done in her. For there seems to have been no need of the Annunciation except for the purpose of receiving the Virgin’s consent. But her consent seems to have been unnecessary: because the Virginal Conception was foretold by a prophecy of predestination, which is fulfilled without our consent, as a gloss says on Matth. 1:22. There was no need, therefore, for this Annunciation.

Obj. 2. Further, the Blessed Virgin believed in the Incarnation, for to disbelieve therein excludes man from the way of salvation; because, as the Apostle says (Rom. 3:22): The justice of God (is) by faith of Jesus Christ. But one needs no further instruction concerning what one believes without doubt. Therefore the Blessed Virgin had no need for the Incarnation of her Son to be announced to her.

Obj. 3. Further, just as the Blessed Virgin conceived Christ in her body, so every pious soul conceives Him spiritually. Thus the Apostle says (Gal. 4:19): My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you. But to those who conceive Him spiritually no announcement is made of this conception. Therefore neither should it have been announced to the Blessed Virgin that she was to conceive the Son of God in her womb.

On the contrary, It is related (Luke 1:31) that the angel said to her: Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shall bring forth a son.

I answer that, It was reasonable that it should be announced to the Blessed Virgin that she was to conceive Christ. First, in order to maintain a becoming order in the union of the Son of God with the Virgin—namely, that she should be informed in mind concerning Him, before conceiving Him in the flesh. Thus Augustine says (De Sancta Virgin. iii.): Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ, than in conceiving the flesh of Christ; and further on he adds: Her nearness as a Mother would have been of no profit to Mary, had she not borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh.

Secondly, that she might be a more certain witness of this mystery, being instructed therein by God.

Thirdly, that she might offer to God the free gift of her obedience: which she proved herself right ready to do, saying: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

Fourthly, in order to show that there is a certain spiritual wedlock between the Son of God and human nature. Wherefore in the Annunciation the Virgin’s consent was besought in lieu of that of the entire human nature.

Reply Obj. 1. The prophecy of predestination is fulfilled without the causality of our will; not without its consent.

Reply Obj. 2. The Blessed Virgin did indeed believe explicitly in the future Incarnation; but, being humble, she did not think such high things of herself. Consequently she required instruction in this matter.

Reply Obj. 3. The spiritual conception of Christ through faith is preceded by the preaching of the faith, for as much as faith is by hearing (Rom. 10:17). Yet man does not know for certain thereby that he has grace; but he does know that the faith, which he has received, is true.



We proceed thus to the Second Article:—

Objection 1. It seems that the Annunciation should not have been made by an angel to our Blessed Lady. For revelations to the highest angels are made immediately by God, as Dionysius says (Cœl. Hier. vii.). But the Mother of God is exalted above all the angels. Therefore it seems that the mystery of the Incarnation should have been announced to her by God immediately, and not by an angel.

Obj. 2. Further, if in this matter it behoved the common order to be observed, by which Divine things are announced to men by angels; in like manner Divine things are announced to a woman by a man: wherefore the Apostle says (1 Cor. 14:34, 35): Let women keep silence in the churches; … but if they would learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. Therefore it seems that the mystery of the Incarnation should have been announced to the Blessed Virgin by some man: especially seeing that Joseph, her husband, was instructed thereupon by an angel, as is related (Matth. 1:20, 21).

Obj. 3. Further, none can becomingly announce what he knows not. But the highest angels did not fully know the mystery of the Incarnation: wherefore Dionysius says (Cœl. Hier. vii.) that the question, Who is this that cometh from Edom? (Isa. 63:1) is to be understood as made by them. Therefore it seems that the announcement of the Incarnation could not be made becomingly by any angel.

Obj. 4. Further, greater things should be announced by messengers of greater dignity. But the mystery of the Incarnation is the greatest of all things announced by angels to men. It seems, therefore, if it behoved to be announced by an angel at all, that this should have been done by an angel of the highest order. But Gabriel is not of the highest order, but of the order of archangels, which is the last but one: wherefore the Church sings: We know that the archangel Gabriel brought thee a message from God (Feast of Purification B.V.M., ix. Resp., Brev. O.P.). Therefore this announcement was not becomingly made by the archangel Gabriel.

On the contrary, It is written (Luke 1:26): The angel Gabriel was sent by God, etc.

I answer that, It was fitting for the mystery of the Incarnation to be announced to the Mother of God by an angel, for three reasons. First, that in this also might be maintained the order established by God, by which Divine things are brought to men by means of the angels. Wherefore Dionysius says (Cœl Hier. iv.) that the angels were the first to be taught the Divine mystery of the loving kindness of Jesus: afterwards the grace of knowledge was imparted to us through them. Thus, then, the most god-like Gabriel made known to Zachary that a prophet son would be born to him; and, to Mary, how the Divine mystery of the ineffable conception of God would be realized in her.

Secondly, this was becoming to the restoration of human nature which was to be effected by Christ. Wherefore Bede says in a homily (on the Annunciation): It was an apt beginning of man’s restoration that an angel should be sent by God to the Virgin who was to be hallowed by the Divine Birth: since the first cause of man’s ruin was through the serpent being sent by the devil to cajole the woman by the spirit of pride.

Thirdly, because this was becoming to the virginity of the Mother of God. Wherefore Jerome says in a sermon on the Annunciation (cf. Ep. ad Paul. et Eustoch.): It is well that an angel be sent to the Virgin; because virginity is ever akin to the angelic nature. Surely to live in the flesh and not according to the flesh is not an earthly but a heavenly life.

Reply Obj. 1. The Mother of God was above the angels as regards the dignity to which she was chosen by God. But as regards the present state of life, she was beneath the angels. For even Christ Himself, by reason of His passible life, was made a little lower than the angels, according to Heb. 2:9. But because Christ was both wayfarer and comprehensor, He did not need to be instructed by angels, as regards knowledge of Divine things. The Mother of God, however, was not yet in the state of comprehension: and therefore she had to be instructed by angels concerning the Divine Conception.

Reply Obj. 2. As Augustine says in a sermon on the Assumption (De Assump. B.M.V.) a true estimation of the Blessed Virgin excludes her from certain general rules. For neither did she ‘multiply her conceptions’ nor was she ‘under man’s—i.e., her husband’s’—power (Gen. 3:16), who in her spotless womb conceived Christ of the Holy Ghost. Therefore it was fitting that she should be informed of the mystery of the Incarnation by means not of a man, but of an angel. For this reason it was made known to her before Joseph: since the message was brought to her before she conceived, but to Joseph after she had conceived.

Reply Obj. 3. As may be gathered from the passage quoted from Dionysius, the angels were acquainted with the mystery of the Incarnation: and yet they put this question, being desirous that Christ should give them more perfect knowledge of the details of this mystery, which are incomprehensible to any created intellect. Thus Maximus says that there can be no question that the angels knew that the Incarnation was to take place. But it was not given to them to trace the manner of our Lord’s conception, nor how it was that He remained whole in the Father, whole throughout the universe, and was whole in the narrow abode of the Virgin.

Reply Obj. 4. Some say that Gabriel was of the highest order; because Gregory says (Homil. de Centum Ovibus): It was right that one of the highest angels should come, since his message was most sublime. But this does not imply that he was of the highest order of all, but in regard to the angels: since he was an archangel. Thus the Church calls him an archangel, and Gregory himself in a homily (De Centum Ovibus) says that those are called archangels who announce sublime things. It is therefore sufficiently credible that he was the highest of the archangels. And, as Gregory says (ibid.), this name agrees with his office: for Gabriel means ‘Power of God.’ This message therefore was fittingly brought by the ‘Power of God,’ because the Lord of hosts and mighty in battle was coming to overcome the powers of the air.



We proceed thus to the Third Article:—

Objection 1. It seems that the angel of the Annunciation should not have appeared to the Virgin in a bodily vision. For intellectual vision is more excellent than bodily vision, as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii.), and especially more becoming to an angel: since by intellectual vision an angel is seen in his substance; whereas in a bodily vision he is seen in the bodily shape which he assumes. Now since it behoved a sublime messenger to come to announce the Divine Conception, so, seemingly, he should have appeared in the most excellent kind of vision. Therefore it seems that the angel of the Annunciation appeared to the Virgin in an intellectual vision.

Obj. 2. Further, imaginary vision also seems to excel bodily vision; just as the imagination is a higher power than the senses. But the angel … appeared to Joseph in his sleep (Matth. 1:20), which was clearly an imaginary vision. Therefore it seems that he should have appeared to the Blessed Virgin also in an imaginary vision.

Obj. 3. Further, the bodily vision of a spiritual substance stupefies the beholder; thus we sing of the Virgin herself: And the Virgin seeing the light was filled with fear (Feast of Annunciation B.V.M. ii. Resp., Brev. O.P.). But it was better that her mind should be preserved from being thus troubled. Therefore it was not fitting that this announcement should be made in a bodily vision.

On the contrary, Augustine in a sermon (De Annunt. iii.) pictures the Blessed Virgin as speaking thus: To me came the archangel Gabriel with glowing countenance, gleaming robe, and wondrous step. But these cannot pertain to other than bodily vision. Therefore the angel of the Annunciation appeared in a bodily vision to the Blessed Virgin.

I answer that, The angel of the Annunciation appeared in a bodily vision to the Blessed Virgin. And this indeed was fitting, first in regard to that which was announced. For the angel came to announce the Incarnation of the invisible God. Wherefore it was becoming that, in order to make this known, an invisible creature should assume a form in which to appear visibly: forasmuch as all the apparitions of the Old Testament are ordered to that apparition in which the Son of God appeared in the flesh.

Secondly, it was fitting as regards the dignity of the Mother of God, who was to receive the Son of God not only in her mind, but in her bodily womb. Therefore it behoved not only her mind, but also her bodily senses to be refreshed by the angelic vision.

Thirdly, it is in keeping with the certainty of that which was announced. For we apprehend with greater certainty that which is before our eyes, than what is in our imagination. Thus Chrysostom says (Hom. iv. in Matth.) that the angel came to the Virgin not in her sleep, but visibly. For since she was receiving from the angel a message exceeding great, before such an event she needed a vision of great solemnity.

Reply Obj. 1. Intellectual vision excels merely imaginary and merely bodily vision. But Augustine himself says (ibid.) that prophecy is more excellent if accompanied by intellectual and imaginary vision, than if accompanied by only one of them. Now the Blessed Virgin perceived not only the bodily vision, but also the intellectual illumination. Wherefore this was a more excellent vision. Yet it would have been more excellent if she had perceived the angel himself in his substance by her intellectual vision. But it was incompatible with her state of wayfarer that she should see an angel in his essence.

Reply Obj. 2. The imagination is indeed a higher power than the exterior sense: but because the senses are the principle of human knowledge, the greatest certainty is in them, for the principles of knowledge must needs always be most certain. Consequently Joseph, to whom the angel appeared in his sleep, did not have so excellent a vision as the Blessed Virgin.

Reply Obj. 3. As Ambrose says on Luke 1:11: We are disturbed, and lose our presence of mind, when we are confronted by the presence of a superior power. And this happens not only in bodily, but also in imaginary vision. Wherefore it is written (Gen. 15:12) that when the sun was setting, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great and darksome horror seized upon him. But by being thus disturbed man is not harmed to such an extent that therefore he ought to forego the vision of an angel. First because from the very fact that man is raised above himself, in which matter his dignity is concerned, his inferior powers are weakened; and from this results the aforesaid disturbance: thus, also, when the natural heat is drawn within a body, the exterior parts tremble. Secondly, because, as Origen says (Hom. iv. in Luc.): The angel who appeared, knowing hers was a human nature, first sought to remedy the disturbance of mind to which a man is subject. Wherefore both to Zachary and to Mary, as soon as they were disturbed, he said: Fear not. For this reason, as we read in the life of Antony, it is not difficult to discern good from evil spirits. For if joy succeed fear, we should know that the help is from the Lord: because security of soul is a sign of present majesty. But if the fear with which we are stricken persevere, it is an enemy that we see.

Moreover it was becoming to virginal modesty that the Virgin should be troubled. Because, as Ambrose says on Luke 1:20: It is the part of a virgin to be timid, to fear the advances of men, and to shrink from men’s addresses.

But others say that as the Blessed Virgin was accustomed to angelic visions, she was not troubled at seeing this angel, but with wonder at hearing what the angel said to her, for she did not think so highly of herself. Wherefore the evangelist does not say that she was troubled at seeing the angel, but at his saying.



We proceed thus to the Fourth Article:—

Objection 1. It seems that the Annunciation did not take place in becoming order. For the dignity of the Mother of God results from the child she conceived. But the cause should be made known before the effect. Therefore the angel should have announced to the Virgin the conception of her child before acknowledging her dignity in greeting her.

Obj. 2. Further, proof should be omitted in things which admit of no doubt; and premised where doubt is possible. But the angel seems first to have announced what the Virgin might doubt, and which, because of her doubt, would make her ask: How shall this be done? and afterwards to have given the proof, alleging both the instance of Elizabeth and the omnipotence of God. Therefore the Annunciation was made by the angel in unbecoming order.

Obj. 3. Further, the greater cannot be adequately proved by the less. But it was a greater wonder for a virgin than for an old woman to be with child. Therefore the angel’s proof was insufficient to demonstrate the conception of a virgin from that of an old woman.

On the contrary, It is written (Rom. 13:1): Those that are of God, are well ordered (Vulg., Those that are, are ordained of God). Now the angel was sent by God to announce unto the Virgin, as is related Luke 1:26. Therefore the Annunciation was made by the angel in the most perfect order.

I answer that, The Annunciation was made by the angel in a becoming manner. For the angel had a threefold purpose in regard to the Virgin. First, to draw her attention to the consideration of a matter of such moment. This he did by greeting her by a new and unwonted salutation. Wherefore Origen says, commenting on Luke (Hom. vi.), that if she had known that similar words had been addressed to anyone else, she, who had knowledge of the Law, would never have been astonished at the seeming strangeness of the salutation. In which salutation he began by asserting her worthiness of the conception, by saying, Full of grace; then he announced the conception in the words, The Lord is with thee; and then foretold the honour which would result to her therefrom, by saying, Blessed art thou among women.

Secondly, he purposed to instruct her about the mystery of the Incarnation, which was to be fulfilled in her. This he did by foretelling the conception and birth, saying: Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, etc,; and by declaring the dignity of the child conceived, saying: He shall be great; and further, by making known the mode of conception, when he said: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.

Thirdly, he purposed to lead her mind to consent. This he did by the instance of Elizabeth, and by the argument from Divine omnipotence.

Reply Obj. 1. To a humble mind nothing is more astonishing than to hear its own excellence. Now, wonder is most effective in drawing the mind’s attention. Therefore the angel, desirous of drawing the Virgin’s attention to the hearing of so great a mystery, began by praising her.

Reply Obj. 2. Ambrose says explicitly on Luke 1:34, that the Blessed Virgin did not doubt the angel’s words. For he says: Mary’s answer is more temperate than the words of the priest. She says: How shall this be? He replies: Whereby shall I know this? He denies that he believes, since he denies that he knows this. She does not doubt fulfilment when she asks how it shall be done.

Augustine, however, seems to assert that she doubted. For he says (Qq. Vet. et Nov. Test.): To Mary, in doubt about the conception, the angel declares the possibility thereof. But such a doubt is one of wonder rather than of unbelief. And so the angel adduces a proof, not as a cure for unbelief, but in order to remove her astonishment.

Reply Obj. 3. As Ambrose says (Hexæmeron v.): For this reason had many barren women borne children, that the virginal birth might be credible.

The conception of the sterile Elizabeth is therefore adduced, not as a sufficient argument, but as a kind of figurative example: consequently in support of this instance, the convincing argument is added taken from the Divine omnipotence.


Directions for how to read the Summa:

Every “article” in the Summa has the same basic structure. Every section of the article opens with a particular phrase, and has a particular purpose.

  • “It seems that….” In this section Aquinas first states the position he will end up disagreeing with, and then gives what he thinks are the three best arguments against his own position.
  • “On the contrary….” This section states Aquinas’ own position, and usually cites some authoritative text in support of his position.
  • “Response” This part presents Aquinas’ argument in favor of his own position.
  • “Reply to…. “ Here, Aquinas gives a reply to each of the arguments against his own position that he presented in the first part of the article. Often, the replies are counterarguments, but sometimes Aquinas simply tries to show that the apparent objections and his own position can be reconciled with one another, if both are properly understood.

This structure might seem forced and artificial to you, but Aquinas uses it for several reasons. He wants to make sure that he has given serious consideration to every objection to his own view, and that he has clearly stated his argument for believing in his own position, and that he has clearly stated his response to the major objections to his own position. However, sometimes it is easier to understand an article if you read the parts in the following order:

  1. Read the Question heading and the Article heading so that you know what topic is under discussion.
  2. Read the “On the contrary,” so that you know what Aquinas’ answer is to the question posed in the Article heading.
  3. Read the “Response,” so that you know what Aquinas’ argument is for his answer to the question.
  4. Go back and read the first argument against Aquinas’ position in the “It seems that” section.
  5. Now read the “Reply” to the first argument.
  6. Go back and read the second argument in the “It seems that” section, followed by Aquinas’ reply to that argument. Repeat this for the third argument and reply.

Three things concerning the Passion of the Lord

WE ought to consider three things concerning the Passion of the Lord — firstly, its nature; secondly, its power; thirdly, its benefit.

I. On the first head it is to be noted, that the Passion of Christ was very bitter for three reasons — (1) On account of the goodness of Him suffering. (2) On account of the indignity of His Passion. (3) On account of the cruelty of those carrying out the sentence. The goodness of Him suffering is manifest from three circumstances — Firstly, because He harmed no one: 1 S. Peter ii. 22, “Who did no sin.” Secondly, because He most patiently sustained the injuries laid upon Him: 1 S. Peter ii. 23, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again;” Jer. xi. 19, “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter.” Thirdly, He was doing good to all: Acts x. 38, “Who went about doing good;” S. John x. 32, “Many good works have I shewed you from My Father.” The indignity of His Death is manifest from three things — Firstly, he was judged, which was the most wicked of all: S. Luke xxiii. 21, “But they cried, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Secondly, because of the many indignities which He suffered: S. Matt, xxvii. 27-30, “Gathered unto Him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand ….. And they spit upon Him.” Thirdly, because He was condemned to a most shameful death: Wisd. ii. 20, “Let us condemn Him to a most shameful death.” The cruelty of those who crucified Him is seen from three things — Firstly, very cruelly flagellated Him before death: S. Matt, xxvii. 26, “When he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Secondly, in giving Him at the point of death vinegar and hyssop to drink: S. John xix. 29, “They filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth;” Ps. Ixix., “In My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” Thirdly, in wounding Him even after death: S. John xix. 34, “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side.”

II. On the second head it is to be noted, that the power of His Passion appeared in three things — (1) In heaven; it took away the light from it, S. Luke xxiii. 44, 45, “There was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened.” (2) In earth, for it trembled, S. Matt, xxvii. 51, “The earth did quake and the rocks rent.” (3) In Hades, who delivered up its dead, S. Matt, xxvii. 52, “Many bodies of the Saints which slept arose.” The heavens declare the power of the Passion of Christ; the earth proclaims it; Hades announced it. Phil. ii. 8, 9, “Obedient unto death ….. That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”

III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the benefit of the Passion extended to inhabitants of heaven, earth, and hell. By the Passion of Christ the heavenly ones were recruited; earthly men were liberated from the hand of the Devil; and the holy fathers who were in Hades, were delivered from that place. Of the first, Coloss. i. 20, “To reconcile all things unto Himself by Him, whether things in earth or things in heaven.” Of the second, S. John xii, 31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the princes of this world be cast out;” Coloss. ii. 15, “Having spoiled principalities and powers.” Of the third, Zech. ix. 11, “I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas, Lenten Homily #12

A thought on suffering

We can if, in each personal suffering and in those of others, we recognize a shadow of his infinite suffering, an aspect, an expression of his.  Then, each time this suffering shows itself, we do not distance ourselves from it, but accept it fully as if we were accepting him.  Forgetting ourselves, we cast our whole being into what God asks of us in the present moment, in the neighbor he places before us, motivated only by love.  Then, very often we will see our suffering vanish as if by some magic, and only love remains in the soul.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope, pg 93.