Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

· Putting aside the chimeras and aberrations of the Stagyrite, he drew from his writings all the truth it was possible to glean, he transformed and sublimed his materials, and without either prostrating or adoring the idol of his age, he opened up a philosophy which had still the blood of Aristotle in its veins, but mingled with and purified by his own, and that of his great predecessors in doctrine.

But time presses; and, besides, St. Thomas has no need of praise. Sovereign Pontiffs, councils, religious orders, universities, a thousand writers, in a word, have exalted him beyond the reach of praise from us. When the ambassadors of Naples came to solicit his canonization from John XXII., the Pope, who received them in full consistory, said, “St. Thomas has enlightened the Church more than all the other doctors put together, and you will derive more advantage from his books in one year, than from the works of others in a lifetime.”

St. Thomas died at Fossa Nuova, a monastery of the order of Citeaux, almost half way between Naples and Rome, his natural and his spiritual country, not far from the castle of Roccia-Secca, where it is probable he was born, and near Monte Cassino, where he passed a portion of his infancy. Death overtook him there on his road to the second general council of Lyons, in which the reconciliation of the Greek and Latin Churches was to be negotiated. He had been summoned thither by Gregory X. The religious crowded round his bed, besought him to give them a short exposition of the Canticle of Canticles, and it was on that song of love he gave his last lesson. He, in his turn, begged the religious to lay him on the ashes, that he might there receive the holy viaticum, and when he saw the lost in the hands of the priest, he said, with tears, “I firmly believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, only Son of the Eternal Father and the Virgin Mother, is present in this august sacrament. I receive thee, O price of the redemption of my soul; I receive thee, viaticum of her pilgrimage—thee for whose love I have studied, watched, labored, preached and taught. Never have I said any. thing against you; but if I ever did so without knowing it, I uphold no such opinion, but leave everything to the correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I depart this life.” Thus died St. Thomas, at the age of fifty, March 7, 1274, some hours after midnight at daybreak.

DOMINICANS AS ARTISTS, BISHOPS, POPES. Art, liko speech and writing, being the expression of the true and beautiful, is entitled to cultivation by all those who seek to raise the minds of their fellows to the contemplation of the invisible; and God himself, when giving to Moses the tables of the law, showed him on Sinai the model of the tabernacle and the Holy Ark. This was to teach us that the Architect of the Universe is the prime artist, and that the more a man imbibes of His spirit, the more capable and worthy is he of aspiring to the sacred functions of art. The religious of the middle ages were not ignorant of this truth. The cloisters contained architects, sculptors, musicians, just as they formed authors and orators. The Christian, as he passed under the sweet shadow of their arches, presented

to God, along with his soul and body, the talent God had given him, and whatever that talent might be, there was no lack of masters or predecessors in its exercise. At the altar all the brethren resembled each other in prayer: once in their cells the prism was decomposed, and from each brother streamed his own peculiar ray of divine beauty. All the resources of modern civilization are now unequal to the construction of a Christian church, while in the thirteenth century, poor obscure Brothers-Preachers, Fra Sisto, Fra Ristoro, and Fra Giovanna, built in Florence that church of Santa Maria Novella, which Michael Angelo went to visit every day, and said that it was lovely, pure, and simple as a bride-whence the name still given it by the Florentines, the sweet name of “La Sposa." The native and the stranger alike repeat that praise as they pass that church, but no one mentions the artists.

Fra Angelico. What name is more illustrious in painting than that of the Dominican, Fra Angelico de Fiesole. “Fra Angelico," says Vasari, "might have led a happy life in the world, but as he liad set the salva. tion of his soul above all price, he entered the order of St. Dominic without abandoning his art, and thus united with the care of his eternal salvation, the acquisition of eternal fame among men.” Never did Fra Angelico paint the images of Jesus Christ and His holy Mother, but on his knees, and tears often bedewed his cheeks, attesting the sensibility of the artist and the piety of the Christian. When Michael Angelo sa w in the church of St. Dominic at Fiesole, Fra Angelico's picture of the Annunciation, he gave vent to his admiration in these words: “A man cannot have painted those figures without having seen them in the skies.” Summoned to Rome by Eugene IV., Fra Angelico painted in the Vatican the grand frescoes representing the histories of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence; and the Pope, still more charmed with his soul than with his pencil, offered him the archbishopric of Florence, his native place. This was a recompense sometimes granted in that age, and the age preceding, for merit of this kind, nor was an architect deemed less worthy of an archbishopric than a preacher, for both of them say the same thing with the same faith, though each in a different art; but Fra Angelico obstinately refused the archiepiscopal crosier, and pointed out as more worthy than himself, Brother Antoninus, whom Nicholas V. afterwards raised to the see of Florence, and who is now known as St. Antoninus.

The annals of painting record with pride the triumphs of Fra Bartoloméo, whose name in the world was Baccio de la Porta. Closing up to twenty years of age, when his talent was becoming known to himself and others, he heard the preaching of Jerome Savonarole, and espoused the cause of the reform which that great orator labored to introduce into Florence. At the moment of his master's arrest he was in the cloister of St. Mark, among the five hundred citizens who had assembled to defend Savonarole, and he was so thunderstricken by his death that he at once took the habit of St. Dominic at Prato, resolved to bury himself there for the remainder of his life, and never more to put pencil to canvas.

Neither let us forget Fra Benedetto, a miniature painter in the convent of St. Mark, not known for his talent, but immortalized by the fact that on the day of Savonarole's arrest, he was armed cap-à-pie to defend him, and was only restrained from using the sword by the remonstrances of his master, who told him a religious should have no other arms than those of the spirit. He wished at least to accompany him and suffer with him ; but Savonarole kept him back with these words: “ Brother Benedetto, in the name of obedience do not come, for I must this day die for the love of Jesus Christ.”

Church Dignitaries. The order of Preachers has given to the Church a great number of bishops, many of whom played an important part. Six hundred years after the death of Dominic, in 1825, there had been under his habit seventy cardinals, four hundred and sixty archbishops, two thousand one hundred and thirty-six bishops, four presidents of general councils, twenty-five legates à latere, eighty apostolic nuncios, and a prince elector of the Holy Roman Empire. Most of the Friars-Preachers thus exalted had been simple monks, without birth or fortune, and owed to their virtues alone the choice made of them by sovereign pontiffs and temporal princes. The Roman Church has always preserved her custom of drawing from the dust of the cloister poor mooks, and placing them at the head of nations, while in their turn men of eminent rank are advanced to the same place. This Church, the mother and mistress of all others, has no exclusiveness against any kind of superiority; she accepts alike patricians and plebeians, and when all assist at the sacred ceremonies, you see under the same sackcloth or under the same purple all ranks, undistinguished in the equality of merit or self-denial.

More than one Brother-Preacher also received and did honor to the tiara. The first was Pierre de Tarantaise, Archbishop of Lyons, thence translated to Tarantaise, named Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Vellitri, Grand Penitentiary, and lastly Pope in 1276, under the title of Innocent V. Although his pontificate lasted only five months, he had time to reconcile the republics of Lucca and Pisa, and give peace to Florence.

The pontificate of Nicholas Boccasini, elected in 1303, and who took the name of Benedict XI., was also short, but remarkable for the grave nature of the circumstances in which he received it, and to which he was not unequal. No sooner was he elected than he labored for the peace of the Church with as much meekness as he had shown firmness in danger, and France owes to him her extrication from a most critical position without the loss of one drop of blood.

In 1556, Brother Michael Ghisleri, called the Alexandrine Cardinal, because he was born near Alexandria in Piedmont, was elected Pope, and took the name of Pius V. He crowded so many illustrious actions into a reign of six years, that his death was followed by an universal mourning. No one is ignorant of his league with Venice and Spain against the Turks in 1571, the result of which was the famous battle of Lepanto, where the Christian arms obtained one of the most memorable and timely triumphs that has ever earned the gratitude of Europe.

Benedict XIII., elected in 1724, could not, like Innocent V., act as mediator between Lucca and Pisa ; nor, like Benedict XI., give peace to France; nor, like St. Pius V., gain the battle of Lepanto; nor was it his fate to endure the imprisonment and exile in store for his successors, Pius VI. and Pius VII. His day was marked down between the two epochs, and he was everything that a Pope of the eighteenth century ought to be a man of worth, a saint. A member of the illustrious family of Gravina Orsini, he quitted the world in early youth, was always a model of simplicity, which covered with an amiable veil his other virtues; and when the tiara dropped of itself upon his brow, he loved to hide it from the gaze of men, going on foot to visit the churches and lospitals of Rome. He preferred to the solemn traditions of the apostolic court, sentiments well-beseeming the heart of him who aban. doned the palace of his fathers for the cell of the Friar-Preacher.

Personal Sanctity. But all religious orders, whatever be the peculiar character of each, whatever be the diversity of origin, end, and means, must have one rallying point where all can meet, and that is sanctity. To this must converge everything on which the breath of God has breathed. There assemble all those who have given their lives to God and man, under whatever form of donation. The spotless virgin, the Christian mother, the apostle, the doctor, the martyr of truth, the workman, earning his bread by a toil abject in itself, but ennobled by its intention ; the soldier who has fallen with a just heart, the criminal who by penance has transformed his execution into a voluntary immolation of self; the religious girded with the cord of St. Francis, or clad in the sackcloth of St. Bruno, if the cord and the sackcloth mortify a devoted flesh-in a word, every body and every soul which has not lived for itself, but for God in men, for men in God-all congregate in sanctity. This sanctity, the bond of all moral beings, is devotedness derived from its sublimest source. Wherefore sacrifice, is by excellence the act of religion ; and the cross, the present and future symbol of Christianity, will appear at the last day to judge the living and the dead. Whoever, then, shall be measured by the cross and reach the standard, shall be saved, whoever shall have nothing in his leart or members conformable to the cross must perish. Those shall go to the kingdom of love, these to the kingdom of self.

The order of St. Dominic has swelled with innumerable names the venerable list of men whom the voice of nations and that of the Church has proclaimed, even from this earth, citizens of heaven. Every day the poor man crosses his hands over the balustrade encircling the shrine or the statue of some Brother-Preacher, and refreshes his soul with the thought of a being who preferred poverty to every worldly advantage.

In the fourteenth century, Dante recognized in the founder of the Brothers-Preachers, the hero of his age:

Sera h in love, and champion in the fight
or Faith,-o all her toes abhorred,
But to the brethren meek.

ST. FRANCIS AND THE FRANCISCANS.

MEMOIR. St. Francis, the founder of the Minorites, Friars Minors, (Fratres Minores), as the religious Order was designated by himself, or the Franciscans, as they were generally called, was born 1182, in the town of Assisi, in Umbria—in the family of Pietro Bernadone, a merchant, rich but avaricious, and whose wealth the son, after the age of twenty-five, helped to spend faster than was agreeable to the father. In a military expedition of his townsmen against Assulia, Francisco, who was in the military service, was captured, and in prison had a mysterious dream, which was followed by another, and both, by a change of life and plans, which, without going here into details, were finally matured into a renunciation of any claims on his father for support, or any patrimony; and, before the bishop, divorced himself from father, mother, and kindred, and devoted himself to poverty and good works. On one occasion he was out alone, when a wretched leper crossed his path, from whom he instinctively shrank, but suddenly recollecting that his object was to subdue himself, he ran after the leper, seized his hand, and kissed it, and henceforth adopted the care of these poor ontcasts as a portion of his special mission. Feeling a call to rebuild a dilapidated church (St. Damian of Assisi), in the garb of a mendicant he begged in the streets of his native town for money, and his enthusiasm and sincerity were so much respected that he not only succecded in his object, but repaired another church edifice, that of St. Mary, of Porzioncula. One day while attending mass in this church, the words of the gospel read in his ears, “Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, nor money, neither have two coats apiece,' sank deep into his soul. He went out of the church, took off his shoes, laid aside his staff, threw away his wallet, contented himself with a small tunic and a rope for a girdle, struck out for the strict apostolic rule, and endeavored to persuade others to follow his example.

* Compiled from an article in the Dublin University Magazine.

« AnteriorContinuar »