Sunday, December 6, 2015

December 6: St. Nicholas and St. Thomas Aquinas

This year, the feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, falls on a Sunday, so we do not celebrate it.  However, I wanted to do another post on it because it is one of my favorite feasts in the Dominican Rite calendar.  It holds the liturgical rank of III Class, as in the Roman Rite, but unlike the latter rite the Dominican Breviary contains a complete set of propers, as if the feast were II Class (you can download the text of the propers here, taken from the 1967 English Translation of the Breviarium S.OP.).

For the second year in a row, I have stumbled across a connection between St. Nicholas and our holy Order.  Many of you may be aware of the mysterious silence that overtook St. Thomas, near the end of his life.  In his small book entitled "The Silence of St. Thomas", the great German philosopher and Thomist, Josef Pieper, drawing on accounts of his canonization, gives the following brief account of this event:

"On the Feast of St. Nicholas, in the year 1273, as Thomas returned back to this work after Holy Mass, he was strangely altered.  He remained steadily silent; he did not write; he dictated nothing.  He laid aside the Summa Theologica on which he had been working.  Abruptly, in the middle of the treatise on the Sacrament of Penance, he stopped writing.  Reginald, his friend, asks him, troubled: "Father, how can you want to stop such a great work?"  Thomas answers only, "I can write no more."  Reginald of Piperno seriously believed that his master and friend might have become mentally ill through his overwhelming burden of work.  After a long while, he asks and urges once again.  Thomas gives the answer: "Reginald, I can write no more.  All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw."  Reginald is stunned by this reply.  Some time later, as he had often done before, Thomas visits his younger sister, the Countess of San Severino, near Salerno.  It is the same sister who had aided Thomas in his escape from the castle of San Giovanni, nearly thirty years ago.  Shortly after his arrival, his sister turns to his travelling companion, Reginald, with a startled question: what has happened to her brother?  He is like one struck dumb and has scarcely spoken a word to her.  Reginald once more appeals to Thomas: "Would he tell him why he has ceased writing and what it is that could have disturbed him so deeply"  For a long time, Thomas remains silent.  Then he repeats "All that I have written seems to me nothing but straw...compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."
So it was on the feast of St. Nicholas that St. Thomas had the extraordinary mystical experience that caused him to stop writing and dictating his great works.  The Summa ends abruptly at Part III, Question 90 "Of the Parts of Penance, in General", apparently where he was prior to the event.  I wonder what part, if any the intercession of St. Nicholas played in St. Thomas receiving this vision that was so overwhelming that afterwards he seemed transported to Heaven while still here on earth?

On another note, a wonderful organization called The St. Nicholas Center, contact me during the summer to ask if they could include my post from last year on St. Nicholas and the Dominicans on their website.  I was happy to oblige.  (You can see the post here).  This organization seeks to promote and educate the world on this wonderful saint, who is the inspiration for Santa Clause.


O God, you adorned the blessed bishop Nicholas with countless miracles; grant, we beseech you, that through his merits and prayers, we may be delivered from the flames of hell.  Through our Lord...