Category Archives: Order of Preachers

German mysticism: Suso, Eckhart, Tauler

-by Br Samuel Burke, OP (English Province)

“The Fourteenth Century Dominican, Henry Suso, is one of a trinity of famous Dominican “Founding Fathers” of German Mysticism, a form of spirituality prevalent in German speaking lands 1250-1470. The other two “Founding Fathers” were his teacher, Meister Eckhart, and his contemporary John Tauler. Of the three, Suso is the only one to have been Beatified: Pope Gregory XVI confirmed his veneration in 1831 on account of sustained popular devotion. Who was this German mystic? What makes him different to Meister Eckhart? Is he anything more than the acceptable face of German mystical theology?

Suso was born in Constance, we think, but he might have been born on the other side of the lake at Ueberlingen in Swabia. His father was Count von Berg but he took his Mother’s name instead and seemingly eschewed the more obvious worldly path as a courtier before him. One is tempted to think of him as something of a “mummy’s boy”. Yet what “mummy’s boy” would leave the comfort of his home and enter a fairly austere life with the Dominicans at the young age of 13, some two years earlier than the stipulated age? Suso, it seems, had was made of strong mettle. Indeed, in his early life, he would subject himself to eye-watering practices such as lying of a bed of thirty nails in cruciform shape.

At the age of about 18 he experienced a deeper form of spiritual conversion. From 1324 to 1327, he studied at the studium generale in Cologne. It was at Cologne that Suso fatefully came into contact with Eckhart, shortly before the latter’s death in c.1328. After Cologne, Suso returned to his home Priory at Constance. He became a lector but found himself in hot water over his defence of Eckhart, such as can be found in his “Little Book of Truth”, a short defence of Eckhart’s teching. He defended himself at a General Chapter of the Order at Maastricht in 1330. Luckily for Suso, the General Chapter seemed more concerned about the problems within the Franciscans and the schismatic acts of fr. Michael of Cesena than suspect theology from within their own ranks.

The Dominicans left Constance in 1348 in order to avoid swearing allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis of Bavaria, in the midst of a feud between the Empire and Pope John XXII. After nearly being murdered in a Rhineland village in a bizarre affair in which he was accused of poisoning the village well, he finally settled at Ulm, where after serving as Prior, he later died on 25th January 1365.

In his writings, Suso bequeathed us with a rich and intensely personal spirituality in which he stresses a self-emptying of oneself in order to allow the pouring in of God. Acts of self-surrender make us more like Christ, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption. I couldn’t help think in reading Suso that there is much in his thinking that could be considered a precursor to St. John of the Cross; they explore similar themes of spiritual darkness in poetic form. Frank Tobin has described Suso, as having the ultimate aim of putting spiritual truths in literary form. His Vita, which despite its Latin title was written in German and is known in English as “The Life of the Servant”, can be seen as a continuation of an autobiographical tradition in spiritual writing that has strong echoes of St. Augustine’s Confessions. It should be said, however, that the work is said to be a joint-enterprise with Elisabeth Stagel, Dominican Nun and friend to Suso, who was sometime Prioress at Toss. Some doubt whether Suso had any hand in the work at all.

Suso was altogether more qualified and guarded than Eckhart. After an early scare with suspicion, he seems to have taken greater care not to be misconstrued or misunderstood, whilst retaining a focus on the interior life, and themes of detachment, discernment, freedom and mystical union. He was, we might say, less speculative than Eckhart, and more careful. In striving to combine mystical devotion with sound doctrine, Suso is much more than simply the acceptable face of German mysticism; his writings are a treasury for us to mine and his life. And if like me, you find the Swabian dialect of High Medieval German rather taxing, there are some excellent translations.”


Lent with Bl Henry Suso, OP

-by Br Vincent Antony Löning, OP. (English Province)

“I know of few people who have loved Christ so much as to take a blade to their heart and inscribe the Holy Name of Jesus in their blood upon their breast. Blessed Henry Suso is one of them. He used to call his beloved crucified Lord “God’s Eternal Wisdom”, which indeed Christ is. Although in his lifetime Blessed Henry suffered much and was not renowned for being a great theologian or preacher, the manuscripts surviving of his writings suggest he was the most widely read spiritual author in the later Middle Ages until the publication of the Imitatio Christi.

Henry Suso had a very strong devotion to Christ’s passion and crucifixion, and speaks of it in very human terms. This makes him, and especially his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, ideal reading and material for meditation during Lent. He is ready to admit his weaknesses. As he tells Christ, “Alas! There is just now in my soul a bitter complaint, that Thy Passion does not at all times thoroughly penetrate my heart, and that I do not meditate on it so affectionately as in reason I ought to do, and as is worthy of Thee, my Lord elect; teach me, therefore, how I ought to comport myself!” A valuable lesson for us here is that prayer should be our first recourse, whenever we undertake something new, or struggle to persevere in what we have already begun. It is even the solution when prayer itself becomes difficult!

Jesus’s incarnation means that in order to come to meet His divinity, I must also come to meet his humanity. Christ tells Blessed Henry in one of their encounters, “My humanity is the way one must go, My Passion the gate through which one must penetrate, to arrive at that which thou sleekest.” It is this humanity that Christ gradually unveils in the series of conversations that form the Book of Eternal Wisdom. Blessed Henry ends the book by leaving us one hundred meditations on the Passion. Taken from it, here is a prayer he addresses to Our Lady at the foot of the Cross:

Thy woeful heart was without consolation from all mankind. Oh, pure Lady, on this account forget not to be a constant protectress of my whole life, and my faithful guide. Turn thy eyes, thy mild eyes, at all times, with compassion on me. Watch over me like a mother in every temptation. Protect me faithfully against my enemies, protect me beneath thy tender arms. Let thy faithful kissing of Christ’s wounds be to me as a tender reconciliation with Him; let the wounds of thy heart obtain for me a cordial repentance of my sins; thy fervent sighing procure for me a constant yearning; and let thy bitter tears soften my hard heart; be thy lamentable words even as renunciation to me of all voluptuous speeches, thy weeping form as a casting away of all dissolute conduct; thy disconsolate heart as a despising of all perishable affections, that I may only cherish a perpetual desire of Him, and may persevere in His praise and service to the grave. Amen.


…usque ad mortem.

Ego N. spondeo obtemperat praecipienti Deo et beatae virgini, et beato Dominico et tibi famulam tuam N., et ad posteros, secundum Regulam Sancti Augustini ordo et institutum, usque ad mortem.

I, N., pledge obedience to God, the Blessed Virgin, to Blessed Dominic, and to you, N., and your successors, according to the Rule of Saint Augustine, and the institute of the order, until death.

-by Br. Luke VanBerkum, OP

I will give You glory, O God, my king, / I will bless Your name for ever. / I will bless You day after day / and praise Your name for ever (Ps 145).

…Dominican brothers…profess (solemn) obedience to God, to Blessed Mary, to Blessed Dominic, and to their superiors for the rest of their lives (when professing solemn vows): Lord, God of hosts, / happy the man who trusts in You! (Ps 84) They will vow to live out their days as consecrated religious according to the way of life of the Order of Friars Preachers. The Dominican Order is their path to salvation; life in this Order is the means by which God wishes to transform their lives through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

I am bound by the vows I have made You. / O God, I will offer You praise / for You have rescued my soul from death, / You kept my feet from stumbling / that I may walk in the presence of God / and enjoy the light of the living (Ps 56).

Vows are for the imperfect; they are a realization of the constant need for the mercy of God. As part of the rite of profession, the brothers are asked, “What do you seek?” And they reply, “God’s mercy and yours.” God’s mercy and the mercy of the brethren are the steadying hand that supports those who stumble while striving for holiness in consecrated life. The gesture of profession—putting one’s hands into the hands of the superior—signifies obedience to the superior but also the great mercy with which the professed is embraced.

So I will always praise Your name / and day after day fulfill my vows (Ps 61).

The principle duty of all religious is the contemplation of divine things and union with God in prayer. To praise God on behalf of the entire world is the responsibility of religious: My lips are filled with your praise, / with your glory all the day long (Ps 71). In the Divine Office, religious throughout the day praise God and thank Him with the inspired words of Scripture that Jesus Himself used—the Psalms. The Psalms speak to every human experience, from joy and praise to suffering and betrayal. In Dominican life, the Psalms are the first words on the lips in the morning, and at the death of a brother, the brethren will surround their brother’s body and chant the Psalms, remembering his fidelity to prayer and begging God’s continued mercy.

I will thank You, Lord, among the peoples, / among the nations I will praise You / for Your love reaches to the heavens / and Your truth to the skies (Ps 57).

This common life of prayer prepares the brothers for preaching the truth of the Gospel to all peoples. Each religious order has a particular charism, a gift from God that is for the good of the entire Church. The vow to Dominican life entrusts, to those who profess it, the charism of preaching for the salvation of souls, and the friars draw upon this charism as they go forth as preachers of grace.

I bind myself to do Your will; / Lord, do not disappoint me. / I will run the way of your commands; / You give freedom to my heart (Ps 119).

In a seeming paradox, the vow of obedience sets the religious free. Obedience does not imply a state of subjection; rather, obedience to the will of God is true freedom. For religious, to die to self, to be God’s instrument in the world, is God’s will for them.

My vows to the Lord I will fulfill / before all his people. / O precious in the eyes of the Lord / is the death of his faithful (Ps 116).

Indeed, death is the beginning of life, because Jesus Christ Himself – Who became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8) – made this possible.

Into Your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit (Ps 31).”

Love & prayers for all those who work out their salvation (cf Phil 2:12) in service to God Almighty & His Church. May you be found worthy in the Day of Judgment (cf 1 Cor 9:27).  Pray for me.

Will the saved rejoice in the sufferings of the damned? – ST., Suppl., Q. 94


Question 94. The relations of the saints towards the damned

Article 1. Whether the blessed in heaven will see the sufferings of the damned?

Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed in heaven will not see the sufferings of the damned. For the damned are more cut off from the blessed than wayfarers. But the blessed do not see the deeds of wayfarers: wherefore a gloss on Isaiah 63:16, “Abraham hath not known us,” says: “The dead, even the saints, know not what the living, even their own children, are doing” [St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis xiii, xv]. Much less therefore do they see the sufferings of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, perfection of vision depends on the perfection of the visible object: wherefore the Philosopher says (Ethic. x, 4) that “the most perfect operation of the sense of sight is when the sense is most disposed with reference to the most beautiful of the objects which fall under the sight.” Therefore, on the other hand, any deformity in the visible object redounds to the imperfection of the sight. But there will be no imperfection in the blessed. Therefore they will not see the sufferings of the damned wherein there is extreme deformity.

On the contrary, It is written (Isaiah 66:24): “They shall go out and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me”; and a gloss says: “The elect will go out by understanding or seeing manifestly, so that they may be urged the more to praise God.”

I answer that, Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

Reply to Objection 1. This gloss speaks of what the departed saints are able to do by nature: for it is not necessary that they should know by natural knowledge all that happens to the living. But the saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens both to wayfarers and to the damned. Hence Gregory says (Moral. xii) that Job’s words (14:21), “‘Whether his children come to honour or dishonour, he shall not understand,’ do not apply to the souls of the saints, because since they possess the glory of God within them, we cannot believe that external things are unknown to them.” [Concerning this Reply, Cf. I:89:8].

Reply to Objection 2. Although the beauty of the thing seen conduces to the perfection of vision, there may be deformity of the thing seen without imperfection of vision: because the images of things whereby the soul knows contraries are not themselves contrary. Wherefore also God Who has most perfect knowledge sees all things, beautiful and deformed.

Article 2. Whether the blessed pity the unhappiness of the damned?
Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed pity the unhappiness of the damned. For pity proceeds from charity [Cf. II-II:30]; and charity will be most perfect in the blessed. Therefore they will most especially pity the sufferings of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, the blessed will never be so far from taking pity as God is. Yet in a sense God compassionates our afflictions, wherefore He is said to be merciful.

On the contrary, Whoever pities another shares somewhat in his unhappiness. But the blessed cannot share in any unhappiness. Therefore they do not pity the afflictions of the damned.

I answer that, Mercy or compassion may be in a person in two ways: first by way of passion, secondly by way of choice. In the blessed there will be no passion in the lower powers except as a result of the reason’s choice. Hence compassion or mercy will not be in them, except by the choice of reason. Now mercy or compassion comes of the reason’s choice when a person wishes another’s evil to be dispelled: wherefore in those things which, in accordance with reason, we do not wish to be dispelled, we have no such compassion. But so long as sinners are in this world they are in such a state that without prejudice to the Divine justice they can be taken away from a state of unhappiness and sin to a state of happiness. Consequently it is possible to have compassion on them both by the choice of the will—in which sense God, the angels and the blessed are said to pity them by desiring their salvation—and by passion, in which way they are pitied by the good men who are in the state of wayfarers. But in the future state it will be impossible for them to be taken away from their unhappiness: and consequently it will not be possible to pity their sufferings according to right reason. Therefore the blessed in glory will have no pity on the damned.

Reply to Objection 1. Charity is the principle of pity when it is possible for us out of charity to wish the cessation of a person’s unhappiness. But the saints cannot desire this for the damned, since it would be contrary to Divine justice. Consequently the argument does not prove.

Reply to Objection 2. God is said to be merciful, in so far as He succors those whom it is befitting to be released from their afflictions in accordance with the order of wisdom and justice: not as though He pitied the damned except perhaps in punishing them less than they deserve.

Article 3. Whether the blessed rejoice in the punishment of the wicked?

Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed do not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. For rejoicing in another’s evil pertains to hatred. But there will be no hatred in the blessed. Therefore they will not rejoice in the unhappiness of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, the blessed in heaven will be in the highest degree conformed to God. Now God does not rejoice in our afflictions. Therefore neither will the blessed rejoice in the afflictions of the damned.

Objection 3. Further, that which is blameworthy in a wayfarer has no place whatever in a comprehensor. Now it is most reprehensible in a wayfarer to take pleasure in the pains of others, and most praiseworthy to grieve for them. Therefore the blessed nowise rejoice in the punishment of the damned.

On the contrary, It is written (Psalm 57:11): “The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge.”

Further, it is written (Isaiah 56:24): “They shall satiate [Douay: ‘They shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh.’] the sight of all flesh.” Now satiety denotes refreshment of the mind. Therefore the blessed will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked.

I answer that, A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.

Reply to Objection 1. To rejoice in another’s evil as such belongs to hatred, but not to rejoice in another’s evil by reason of something annexed to it. Thus a person sometimes rejoices in his own evil as when we rejoice in our own afflictions, as helping us to merit life: “My brethren, count it all joy when you shall fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2).

Reply to Objection 2. Although God rejoices not in punishments as such, He rejoices in them as being ordered by His justice.

Reply to Objection 3. It is not praiseworthy in a wayfarer to rejoice in another’s afflictions as such: yet it is praiseworthy if he rejoice in them as having something annexed. However it is not the same with a wayfarer as with a comprehensor, because in a wayfarer the passions often forestall the judgment of reason, and yet sometimes such passions are praiseworthy, as indicating the good disposition of the mind, as in the case of shame pity and repentance for evil: whereas in a comprehensor there can be no passion but such as follows the judgment of reason.

Love & His mercy,

St John the Baptist – St Vincent Ferrer, O.P., (1350-1419), “Angel of the Last Judgment”, Great Catholic Reformer, Patron of Reconciliation

“”I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” (Jn 1:23).

The text proposed is of St. John the Baptist replying to the Jerusalem messengers saying, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” In explaining this text and introducing the material to be preached, I take on two short questions.

First why does Holy Mother the Church in this holy time of Advent, in which the whole interest ought to be about Christ, makes such a great mention of St. John the Baptist in today’s gospel, and also on the past Sunday? Are not the two feasts of St. John which the church observes sufficient, namely his birth and his passion?

For this response I find in St. John four excellences greater than other saints. First is his gracious birth, because he already was holy before his birth. Second is his painful passion, because he was decapitated because of the dance of a young girl. Third is his virtuous life because when he was five years old, he immediately left the world and entered the wilderness. Fourth is the fruitful doctrine of announcing and preaching the coming of the Messiah. From these four excellences God has exalted John above all saints saying, “There has not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist,” (Mt 11:11), For this reason Holy Mother the Church celebrates feasts of St. John four times. First of his birth. Second of his suffering. Third of his virtuous life. And fourth of his fruitful preaching, and about this we read in today’s gospel. For no other saint is there a feast four times a year, only St. John the Baptist. Of the apostle Peter we have three feasts. Of St. Paul, two, but of St. John, four. And of this feast today he himself says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” (Jn 1:23), namely from the efficacy of preaching and his teaching. The first question is clear.

The second question is more subtle. Why does St. John, wishing to promote his teaching, call himself “a voice,” saying: “I am the voice of one crying out …etc.?” Wouldn’t it have been better [to say], “I have a voice”? Response: St. John calls himself a voice for two reasons.

First in excellently demonstrating his office, with respect to the first reason. The proper office of the voice is to manifest and show the purpose of the heart, or the concept of the mind. The Philosopher [Aristotle] says: “Spoken words are signs of the passions which are in the soul, ” (Perihermeneias, 1). Properly speaking there is a great difference between a word and a voice, although commonly speaking they are taken for the same thing, because a word is the concept of the mind before it is expressed by the mouth, but voices are what are brought forth. So logic says, a voice is a sound coming out of the mouth of an animal, properly speaking. Christ is the eternal Word, because he had been hidden in the divine mind: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (Jn 1:1), hidden and secret. But God the Father sent a voice, John the Baptist, to manifest and show forth the divine Word, as he did when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” (Jn 1:29). Behold John says that he is the voice, by showing the difference between the Word and the temporary voice.

As for the second reason. The skill of a preacher is that he preaches with all his members and powers. Not only the mouth of the preacher should preach, but also his life, his morals and reputation. Also the intellect by studying, the memory by contemplating, the heart, hand, gestures, all used continually and skillfully. So a good preacher ought to be a voice in every way. The logicians say that a voice is homogeneous, because each part of the voice is a voice. So every aspect of a diligent preacher ought to be a voice. Jerome: “Everything of a priest ought to be vocal.” On this account St. John, in responding to the messengers sent to him said: “I am the voice,” which is to say whatever is in me, is wholly a voice, because all of it preaches. The theme is clear.

About this voice I find a wonderful prophecy of David, who allegorically prophesying about St. John says:

“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty has thundered, The Lord is upon many waters. The voice of the Lord is in power; the voice of the Lord in magnificence. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars: yea, the Lord shall break the cedars of Lebanon. And shall reduce them to pieces, as a calf of Lebanon, and as the beloved son of unicorns. The voice of the Lord divides the flame of fire: The voice of the Lord shakes the desert: and the Lord shall shake the desert of Cades. The voice of the Lord prepares the stags: and he will discover the thick woods: and in his temple all shall speak his glory,” (Ps 28:3-9).

Here John is called a voice seven times because of seven teachings, which St. John was preaching.

The first was the teaching of baptism. [doctrina baptismalis]
Second was the teaching of penance. [doctrina poenitentialis]
The third was authoritative teaching [doctrina magistralis]
The fourth was rebuking teaching [doctrina increpativa]
The fifth was corrective teaching [doctrina correctiva]
The sixth was blaming teaching [doctrina reprehensiva]
The seventh was instructive teaching [doctrina instructiva]


First of all, I say that the first teaching of St. John was baptismal. All the evangelists say that when St. John came out of the desert in which he had lived for twenty-five years, as Hugh says, doing severe penance, when at age thirty he came out of the desert, in his exit he began to preach a baptism of repentance around the region of the Jordan. Lk 3: “And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins,” (v. 3), saying, ” but there has stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not,” (Jn 1:26), but I shall show him to you, therefore you will receive his teaching. The people said to him, “And what ought we to do that we might receive him worthily? He responded to them that they should receive a sign of baptism in water. He baptized them under this form, “I baptize you in the name of the one who is to come.” This baptism of John was a sign of Christ, just as the cross is a sign of the crucified. From this preaching of the baptismal teaching St. John is called the “voice of the Lord upon the waters,” (Ps 28:3) that is, the Jordan. Gloss: He was preaching one baptism, and he was giving another, because he gave the baptism of water, and was preaching the baptism of grace for the remission of sins. About this scripture: “I baptize you in the water unto penance, but he who shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire,” (Mt 3:11). Note “fire” [igni] is in the ablative case according to the old grammar. But why does he say “fire” [igni]? Note the error of those who say that some are baptized by fire [igne]. But “of fire” [igni] is said for two reasons. First, in the primitive church in baptism the Holy Spirit descended visibly in the form of fire, and this exposition is more common for showing that the Holy Spirit was given and showed himself exteriorly by the sign of visible fire. A second reason, because just as the world had to be washed and purified through water, namely in the time of Noah, because the peoples were exceedingly heated by lust, and so the water of the flood came, so it shall be purified through fire at the end of the world because of the charity of the multitude had turned cold. This reason is from St. Thomas Aquinas O.P., in IV Sent. So also God ordained two floods for purifying souls, namely the flood of baptismal water to cool the sinful tendencies [fomitem] (Cf. Summa, III, q.27, a.3 ) of original sin. The second flood of the fire of purgatory, because after baptism we cool and become negligent, and are stained by sins, therefore God ordained the fount of purgatory, where the baptized soul is baptized by a good angel, as St. Thomas determines, because the devil has already been conquered by him who is led to purgatory, therefore the conquered ought not to incarcerate the victor. This baptism is hard and terrible. About which the soul can say who ought to be baptized there. “I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized: and how am I straitened…,” (Lk 12:50). See why it is said, “The voice of the Lord over the waters.” And because then John baptized Christ, therefore it is added, “the God of majesty has thundered, The Lord is upon many waters,” (Ps 28:3).


The second teaching which St. John preached was the teaching of penance, Mt 3: “And in those days John the Baptist came preaching in the desert of Judea. And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Mt 3:1-2). After he had baptized them he gave them a penance saying, “From the fact that you have received my baptism as a sign, therefore lest sins keep you from knowing and receiving the Messiah King, you should do penance. St. Matthew says, ch. 3, that they were confessing their sins generally saying, “I was proud, vain, pompous, etc.” And St. John gave them a penance of a humble prayer. John was teaching his disciples to pray, (cf. Luke 11: 1). Others were confessing generally saying, “Clearly I was greedy, usurious, etc.,” to whom John gave a penance of restitution, lest the dust of avarice cloud their eyes so they could not recognize Christ. Another came and he said, “Father, I am lustful etc.” to whom he gave a penance of abstinence from food and affections [affectionum]. Mark 2: “And the disciples of John … used to fast,” (v. 18). The same for the other sins. See how John was preaching the teaching of penance. Therefore it is said, “The voice of the Lord is in power,” (Ps 28:4), namely indicating penance. Note “the voice of the Lord in power;” he does not say in the sacrament. Note how the holy doctors of theology distinguish the two-fold penance, namely of the sacramental penance, and of virtual penance. [poenitentia virtuali]. Sacramental penance is when a man confesses his sins, and is absolved. Such a penance is called a sacrament. The sacrament of penance has three parts, which are contrition, confession and satisfaction. Virtual penitence does not have parts, just as none of the other sacraments, as St. Thomas says in Summa, III, q. 91, and IV Sent., dist. 16, q. 1, a. 1, ql. 1 & 4. And when John was preaching, this sacrament had not yet been instituted, nor the power of forgiving sins granted to men, therefore John is not called the voice of God in the sacrament. The other is voluntary virtual penance, and virtuous, which is not a sacrament, like fasting, to make a pilgrimage, to discipline oneself and the like. And of this kind it is said, “the voice of God in power, etc.” because St. John enjoined not sacramental penance but virtual, and David agrees saying elsewhere: “Behold he will give to his voice,” namely to St. John, “the voice of power,” (Ps 67:34) he does not say, of the sacrament. Note as St. Thomas, III, q. 85; IV Dist., 14, q. 1, a. 1, because penance as it is a sorrow of the will, with right choice is a virtue or an act of virtue, it is not just an emotion. And penance is a special virtue because it has general matter under a special aspect for its object, namely all sins as fixable [emendibilia] by an act of man, as St. Thomas states III, q. 85, a. 2. And it is a moral virtue, not a theological, and it is a part of justice.


The third teaching is authoritative, because just as a good master for diverse children has diverse lessons, so St. John for the diverse conciliations of men gave diverse instructions. St. Luke says in ch. 3 that various kinds of people were coming to him, interrogating him and saying, “Master, what ought we to do? ” He replied: “He that has two coats, let him give to him one who has none; and he that has meat, let him do in like manner,” (Lk 3:11), Two tunics: one is necessary, the other is superfluous, which rots, and the poor die of cold. How many poor women there are who because of the lack of a shawl are not able to go to mass, and you rich cling to your surplus clothing etc. Same for meat etc.

Next the publicans came saying to him, “Master, what shall we do?” (Lk 3:12), The Gloss says at this place that publican is here taken for someone who has public office, because either he is a bailiff or a lawyer or a witness etc. To whom John replied, ” Do nothing more than that which is appointed you,” (v.13) If they were leaders he was saying,” Remember what you are obliged to do by the oath which you took when you received your office, namely that you should do justice and correct the people and notorious sins, and should regard in all things the common good. Therefore so do; beware of anything else.

Third the soldiers and guards [scutiferi] came to him saying, “And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay,” (v. 14). Behold the rules and teaching for the soldiers. Note, “Do violence to no man.” It is said against those who are quick draw their dagger or sword in their hand to threaten beggars [pauperes] and the wretched who cannot defend themselves. Also “neither calumniate” your subjects demanding from them monies and their goods in many ways, and they deceive the ordinary folks by saying that they are gracious in demanding, since they nevertheless include those in the castle or in the church as long as they shall give, and they too are bound to restitution. Also “and be content with your pay,” as salary, of the return you receive for the defense of the people. Don’t pursue superfluities, or vanities, but reckon what you have and as much as you can spend, and from your goods give for your soul a fourth or at least a fifth part out of love of God. You should never give it all to your belly, to mules and to armed ruffians etc. See why he says, “The voice of the Lord in magnificence,” (v. 4), namely of giving counsel and a manner of living to each, “His work is praise and magnificence,” namely St. John, “and his justice continues for ever and ever.” (Ps 110:3).


The fourth teaching is rebuking [increpativa], by denouncing vices and sins, saying, “You brood of vipers, who has showed you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance,” (Mt 3:7-8). Note “brood of vipers;” the Gloss says here that vipers draw venom from the womb of their mother and are naturally poisonous. Such is the condition of the Jews, so John calls them a brood of vipers, saying, “You brood of vipers, who has showed you to flee from the wrath to come?” as if to say, no one. ” Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance,” that is you should do penance measured against the quality and quantity of your sins. Note how the Jews are deceived just as now many Christians are deceived saying,” Has not God promised to Abraham and to his offspring his blessing? (Gen 22). But God was saying this because of the Messiah, the son of Abraham according to the flesh. Therefore Christ said to the Jews: “If you be the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham,” (Jn 8:39). Many Christians of wicked life are victims of this blindness and error, who do no penance for their sins, and when thy are rebuked they reply, “He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved,” (Mk 16:16). Do you want to know how stupid this is? The Lord is preparing a wedding banquet which he has proclaimed through the whole earth. “Whoever has been faithful to me and shall have clean hands, shall dine with me.” There is told the story of the peasant etc. Same for the Lord and our king Jesus Christ, on behalf of whom it has been proclaimed. “He who believes etc.” If then a man at the moment of death, believes, and has clean hands, he goes to the banquet. He is OK. Otherwise, there remains the pitchfork of hell, because these words, “He who believes and is baptized,” does not refer to the past time, but to the conjoined future. You have believed and have been purified in baptism. But since then you have been dirtied etc. It is necessary therefore that when the man goes to the banquet he believe and have clean hands. Therefore Isaiah said: “Wash yourselves, be clean,” (Is 1:16). Put down that vain confidence. From this rebuking teaching St. John is said to be the “The voice of the Lord breaking the cedars,” (Ps 28:5), that is, the proud.


The fifth teaching was corrective in correcting and refraining the envy of his disciples. The disciples of John, out of zeal for their master, envied Christ, because when Christ began to preach and baptize he was drawing people to himself and they were leaving John. No wonder. About this the disciples of John said, “Rabbi, he that was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you gave testimony, behold he baptizes, and all men come to him,” (Jn 3:26). Behold the flame of the fire of envy which John quenched by his corrective teaching saying, “This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above, is above all,” (Jn 3:29-31). From this St. John is said to be, “The voice of the Lord dividing the flame of fire,” (Ps 28:7). O and how this voice would be necessary among us that it might extinguish the flame of the fire of envy which burns too much in the world, not only of envy of temporal goods, but also of a certain envy which is a sin against the Holy Spirit, namely the envy of fraternal grace. For example, if some religious wishes to keep the rules etc., immediately the others, envying, murmur and impugn him calling him a hypocrite and singular etc. And so the flame of the fire of envy burns brighter. Not so if he is a ruffian [ribaldus]. He is even praised saying, “O how welcome is that brother, etc.” Also if he has the grace of devotion or of preaching or such. Same for clergy, laity and women. Note for this, the cry of the prophet: “To thee, O Lord, will I cry: because fire has devoured the beautiful places of the wilderness, and the flame has burnt all the trees of the country,” (Joel 1:19). Note that “wilderness” signifies religious life because of the harshness of life in which religious ought to live, but the fire of envy devours all. Trees of religion are the worldly whom already the flames of envy have ignited.


The sixth teaching is blaming, by blaming and convicting King Herod of concubinage. He had a wife, but because she was not as fair [alba], or beautiful, or bejeweled and made up [composita] as he wished, nevertheless she was the daughter of a king, and, despised. So Herod took on a mistress. Seeing this, John the Baptist came to him and reprehending him said: “[Herod,] it is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife,” (Mk 6:18). From this St. John is called: “The voice of the Lord shaking the desert,” (Ps 28:8).


The seventh teaching is instructive, like a good father when he doesn’t know how or is unable to instruct his sons, he sends them to a master that they be prepared by him. So St. John did for his disciples whom he was not able to instruct so that they might believe in the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. For this reason, when he had been imprisoned and near death he sent them to Christ as to a teacher that they might be instructed by him in the truth. Matthew 11: “Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him: Are you he who is to come, or should we look for another?” (vv. 2-3). From this St. John is called, “The voice of the Lord preparing the stags,” (Ps 28:9).

Note that good Christians are called “stags” because of the great leap which they take from earth to heaven, therefore David, in the person of Christ says: “Who has made my feet like the feet of harts: and who sets me upon high places,” (Ps 17:34). The feet by which we leap to Paradise, are true belief and obedience. The right foot is true belief [vera credentia]. The left, obedience. But some err by leaping, who believe they can ascend into heaven and descend into hell, but they have a broken right or left foot or both, because they neither have faith nor a good life. Those who doubt in faith have a broken right foot, therefore they are not able to leap into heaven. Those with a broken left foot, are those who have true belief, but do not have obedience nor good life. However the disciples of John, only limped on their right foot, because they did not believe, but not on their left, because they were living well. Therefore John sent them to Christ that he might cure them. To whom, having been cured, Christ said, “They who were limping, etc.,” now follow. After he said, “The voice of the Lord prepares the stags: and he will discover the thick woods,” namely Jesus Christ by his miracles which he did which John’s disciples saw, “and in his temple all shall speak his glory,” (Ps 28:9). Behold why St. John the Baptist said to the messengers, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” (Jn 1:23).”


Epiphany – St Vincent Ferrer, O.P., (1350-1419), “Angel of the Last Judgment”, Great Catholic Reformer, Patron of Reconciliation

“Today’s feast is commonly called Epiphany or Appearance, which is the same. Because the Virgin Birth which had been hidden and secret, today was manifest to the nations. So the churchmen say and call this feast Epiphany, from “epi” which is “above” and “phanos” which is “appearance,” because the star appeared over the nations. In order that God should wish to give us sentiments of sweetness of this feast in our souls, let us salute the Virgin Mary, etc.

“And falling down they adored him.” The assigned reading reveals to us in a few words the great and perfect reverence which the three kings of the east offered today to our Lord Jesus Christ, “falling down, etc.” Not only did they uncover their heads, nor were they content to bend their knees, but they folded their hands and arms, and even their whole body. “And falling down they adored him,” (Mt 2:11).

Now to give us a reason for this adoration – for reason begets understanding, and authority confirms belief – I find in sacred scripture that for true, devout and perfect adoration two things are required: a reverent attitude of the interior mind, and a humble gesture of the outward body. As for the first, when man thinks of the infinite and incomprehensible majesty of God and his transcendent power, there comes a reverent trembling interiorly in the soul, and from this there follows exteriorly a humility in the body, joining the hands, genuflecting, or prostrating oneself in prayer to God. Divine adoration consists in these two.

To understand this reason, it must be understood that God created man in his substantial being different than other creatures. Man is a composite, substantially with respect to the soul, and materially with respect to the body. Not so the angels, who are only spiritual substances, nor the animals which are material substances. Because of this man is similar to the angels and animals, because he has both.

So God wishes to be worshipped by both: from the soul thinking of the majesty of God, and from the body through humble gestures. Just like a landowner who leases his field and vineyard for a certain assessment of use. He requires an accounting from both, otherwise he takes back to himself the whole commission. So God is with us. He gives us the vine, the soul which makes the heart drunk with the love of God, and the field of the body that it might bear the fruit of repentance and mercy. So from both he would have a reckoning of devout adoration. Of the angels he asks only spiritual adoration, reverential movements of the mind. Of the animals he asks only a reverential posture of the body, like the ox and ass when they adored Christ in the manger, because they could only bend their knees, but interiorly they had no thoughts. But from us God wishes both, namely the reverent motion of the mind, and bodily actions.

Christ said, “But the hour comes, and is now, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they who adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth,” (Jn 4:23-24). Note, “the hour comes,” the time of the law of grace, “when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit” with respect to the soul, “and in truth” with respect to the body, because that is truth, when the body conforms and corresponds to the mind. And he gives a reason, saying, “God is a Spirit,” and so it is necessary to “adore him in spirit and in truth.”

Think of the miracle found in John 9, of the man born blind, given sight by Christ, to whom he says: “‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ He answered, and said: ‘Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?’ And Jesus said to him: ‘You have both seen him; and it is he who is talking with you.’ And he said: ‘I believe, Lord. And falling down, he adored him,'” (Jn 9:35-38). See the reverential interior movement in the soul and the external bodily gesture, because “falling down he adored him.”

The three kings acted thus when they saw the infant Jesus. Instantly there entered into their souls a movement of reverential fear from the presence of divine majesty. And so, “prostrating themselves they adored him.”

These three holy kings aptly prepared themselves. We need to know what God promised Abraham and the holy patriarchs, that he would send his son, born into this world of a virgin, true God and true man. About this he gave clear prophecies, not only to the Jews in Judea, but also to diverse parts of the world, as a sign that he would come not only to save the Jews, as they falsely believe, but also all those believing in him and obeying him.

Chrysostom repeats the opinion that there was the image of a child in that star, with a cross on his forehead. Some say that the Magi wanted to adore the star. But Augustine says that the angel of the Lord told them that they should not adore the star, but that they should make their way to adore the newly born Creator.

Then the kings took counsel how they should travel, how they should prepare, and what they should bring to offer to him, saying, “He is a great king and powerful. We should offer him gold. And he is God and creator, because the stars serve him, so we shall offer him incense. And in this sign of the cross it is revealed that he is to die on a cross, and so we shall offer him bitter myrrh.” [Ecclesiast.] The Magi seeing the star, consulted each other. “This is the sign of a great king. Let us go and inquire of him and offer him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

I believe, therefore, although it is not written, that the holy kings symbolized in their gifts what they believed about Christ. I believe that also [it was expressed] in their clothing, because the king who brought the gold, was clothed in a gold shirt, and the one who brought the incense, in a purple tunic, and the one with the myrrh, in a red scarf.

St. Thomas says (III Pars, q. 36, a. 7), repeating the opinions of others, that the essence of this star most probably was of a new creation, not in the heaven, but in the atmosphere, which moved according to divine will. Augustine believed namely that it was not of the heavenly stars, because he says in his book Contra Faustum Bk, 2, “Besides, this star was not one of those which from the beginning of the world continue in the course ordained by the Creator. Along with the new birth from the Virgin appeared a new star.” Chrysostom believes this too.

From the example of the kings we ought to offer the gold of our conversion. Such a person can say with David, “I have loved your commandments above gold and topaz,” which is a precious stone, “therefore was I directed to all your commandments: I have hated all wicked ways,” (Ps 118:127-128).

Second, the frankincense of devout prayer, saying, “Let my prayer be directed as incense [in your sight],” (Ps 140:2).

Third we should offer the myrrh of voluntary penance. And such a one can say, “You shall … make me to live. Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter: but you best delivered my soul that it should not perish,” (Is 38:16-17).”


Trinitarian feasting


“Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through His sharing in Your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for You. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When You fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with Your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, You have given me a share in Your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as His own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love You. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am Your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of Your Son, and I know that You are moved with love at the beauty of Your creation, for You have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, You could give me no greater gift than the gift of Yourself. For You are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, You are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know Your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that You are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that You are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, You gave Yourself to man in the fire of Your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger You are a satisfying food, for You are sweetness and in You there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!”

This excerpt on the mystery of the triune God from the dialogue On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena (Cap 167, Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem) is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the liturgical memorial of St. Catherine of Siena on April 29.


Nov 15 – St Albert the Great, OP, (1200-1280 AD) – Bishop, Scientist, Doctor of the Church, Doctor Universalis, Doctor Expertus

-by Charlie McKinney, adapted from the above

“Thorough Theologian

Albert’s greatest love of all was his love for God.

Albert so loved the natural sciences, waxing eloquent in his writings on everything from flowers to insects to fish to the squirrelly daily habits of the squirrels, because they all in small, diverse ways reflected the unspeakable, simple goodness and majesty of the Creator, from whom all creation flows. Albert knew so well how God speaks to us through creation, but he also knew that God has spoken to us directly too, in His revelation, and most directly of all through the words and the deeds of His Son incarnate.

Albert’s love for God is seen in his extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, of Church history, of the liturgy, and of the Eucharist. Albert left extensive commentaries on the Scriptures, among the most prominent being his Commentary on Saint Luke’s Gospel. He wrote beautifully about the Eucharist and offered practical advice on mastering the art of prayer to express our love for God.

Perhaps Albert’s most significant purely spiritual work, De Adherendo Deo (On Cleaving to God), is one that he might have not written in its entirety. The beautifully simple, although profoundly moving book, which has been called a worthy companion to Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, is about “cleaving freely, confidently, nakedly, and firmly to God alone . . . since the goal of Christian perfection is the love by which we cleave to God.”

Charging Champion

The virtue of fortitude comes from the Latin fortis, “strength.” Saints Albert and Thomas would write a great deal about the nature of virtues, including fortitude, and Albert clearly not only knew of this spiritual strength but did not shy away from living it.

Fortitude employs the irascible appetite and can raise our ire to fight back to defend the good, even when this means facing difficult obstacles. We saw that Albert was happy bravely to champion the cause of the rights of the Dominicans and Franciscans when challenged by the secular professors of the University of Paris. We saw too a flicker of Albertian ire when he railed at those even within his order who tried to squelch the study of philosophy. Perhaps the most poignant and powerful example of Albertian fortitude, though, is how he defended his own greatest student not long after that student’s death.

On March 7, 1277, three years to the day after the death of Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Steven Tempier of Paris, having solicited input from various theologians, produced 218 propositions that were said to be contrary to the Catholic Faith. Among that list, sixteen propositions were clearly compatible with the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Some reports indicate that the elderly Albert traveled the three hundred miles to Paris on foot to meet Tempier’s challenge and champion his brilliant student’s thought. He began his speech to the learned professors by stating, “What glory it is for one who is living to be praised by those who are dead.” He went on to portray Saint Thomas as the one who truly lived, while his accusers of unorthodoxy were covered in shades of death through their ignorance and ill will. He defended the orthodoxy of Thomas’s writings, along with Thomas’s personal sanctity, offering to defend them both before an assemblage of competent men. He returned to Cologne and poured over Thomas’s writings, declaring to an assemblage of Dominicans that Thomas’s works were so masterful that he had “labored for all to the end of the world, and that henceforth all others would work in vain.”

Of course, the writings of Saint Thomas did not put an end to works in theology but would stimulate an endless stream of new work inspired by his brilliance as the Dominican Order and countless popes across the centuries have sung the praises for his works of theology. Thomas’s philosophical and theological sons and daughters would come to be called Thomists, and Albert himself is the first and the foremost among them.

Cherished Child

For many decades Albert the Great shone as one of the brightest lights in one of the greatest of centuries. His learning was unequalled, and he was known far and wide as a man who could get things done. The bark of his preaching and teaching had inflamed the hearts of countless students, friars, nuns, and parishioners who had heard and seen him. Recall, though, the legend that Blessed Mary had foretold that at the end of his days he would be bereft of his vast knowledge. A poignant tale records that Archbishop Sigfried had come to the Dominican convent to visit the elderly Albert one day and, knocking at the door of his cell, called out, “Albert, are you there?” The venerable master did not open the door, but merely answered: “Albert is no longer here; he was here once upon a time.”

It is said that the greatest encyclopedic mind of the century, the medieval memory master, began to lose his memory in the last weeks of his life. He retained the ability to say Mass, as he had done for so many years, but he removed himself ever more from the world, content to pray in his garden and his cell. The boots that had taken him all across Europe carried him daily to the site he had selected as the resting place of his body, as he prayerfully and peacefully prepared for the inevitable day of his death. His spirit strove solely to cleave closer to God.

In the twilight hours of November 15, 1280, clothed in the habit of the Order of Preachers, seated in a large wooden chair in his cell and surrounded by his brother friars in Christ, Saint Albert whispered that it had been a good thing to be a Dominican, and then, like a cherished child, his soul left to meet his heavenly Father and Mother.”


Aug 23 – St Rose of Lima, OP, (1586-1617), mystic, virgin & penitent

-Anonymous, Cusco School (1680 – 1700), Saint Rose of Lima with Child Jesus, oil on canvas, Height: 1,880 mm (74.02 in). Width: 1,250 mm (49.21 in), Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.

Thinker: The Mystic Rose of Lima

Rose was not an academic and had little in the way of formal education, although she did learn to read. Among her favorite books were biographies of Saint Catherine of Siena and the spiritual guidebooks of another notable Dominican, Venerable Louis of Granada. In fact, his Book of Prayer and Meditation became Saint Rose’s favorite book, as prayer and meditation themselves were to become her favorite activities, forming the core and shaping the periphery of every aspect of her short life.

Rose’s life of prayer and contemplation started very early from the time of her early childhood when she would find herself drawn to stare at a picture of Christ crowned in thorns. She also had a special devotion to the Child Jesus and to his Blessed Mother. Saints drawn to prayer and contemplation seek to follow Christ’s instruction to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). They seek communion with the Father and not the eyes and the praise of others. When circumstances allow it, some go out into the desert, up into the mountains, or within some densely wooded glen. Others, like Saints Catherine and Rose, must seek their sanctuary of prayer, exactly as Christ explained it, from within the confines of their room.

Enclosed in her private hermitage, Rose read books on meditative prayer, especially, as mentioned, those of Venerable Louis of Granada. She devoutly prayed the Rosary and used many other vocal and mental forms of prayer. She would meditate for hours simply on the multitude of graces she had received through God’s mercy.
Christ said of those who pray to the Father in secret that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6), and Saint Rose was rewarded with many ecstatic visions, including, like Saint Catherine, a divine espousal with Christ.

Doer: The Rose Takes Up Her Cross

Rose was not a doer in the grand sense of a Saint Dominic, who founded an order, or Saint Catherine, who influenced popes, although she was admired by her saintly archbishop. Most of what Rose did was done on a smaller, although most arduous scale. She knew well that Christ has said that those who would follow Him will need to deny themselves daily and take up their cross (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23). These are hard words of holy advice that she heeded like few before her or since.

Saint Thomas wrote that the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence pertain to the active life, but they also prepare us to rein in our passions and focus our intellect and will so that we might rise undisturbed to the heights of contemplation. Saint Rose displayed those cardinal virtues in the most heroic degree, and she is probably best known for her unusual degree of both temperance and fortitude as displayed in the many extreme and most difficult ways she contrived to take up Christ’s cross through her own daily (and nightly) acts of self-denial and self-mortification.

Temperance reins in our sensual desires for bodily pleasures, and few pulled in their reins tighter than young Rose. As for the senses of the palate, she gave up meat as a child, as well as the succulent fruits of Peru. She would often deprive herself of cold water, and of any water at all, and would live on things such as bread crusts and simple bitter herbs. As for the sensual pleasures of the body, although Rose would at times be tormented by visions of temptations toward vanity and toward bodily pleasures, through God’s grace she never consented to such sins and persevered in her vows of chastity and purity.

Fortitude calls forth our “irascible” powers, whereby we hate evil things and fire up our courage to overcome evil obstacles to obtain difficult goods, even if those obstacles should threaten our life and limb. This, of all virtues, but for the love of charity, was perhaps the strongest of all within the sturdy soul of this ostensibly delicate Rose. She hated the thought of any demon, any sensation, any wicked thought or intention that might stir her will against the will of God, and in her personal war against any possible vice or sin, she devised self-mortifications that may well boggle the modern mind, and prompted some of her own confessors to command her to tone some of them down.

Sacrifices: Saint Rose’s Self-Mortification

To provide but a few examples of Saint Rose’s self-imposed penances and mortifications, she so fought against sleep that would deprive her of time for prayer that she devised a bed for herself that was a little wooden box with a mattress stuffed with hard, gnarled pieces of wood and broken pottery chards that allowed for but a few hours of sleep when she was very tired. At times in her garden, she would literally take up a heavy wooden cross, in imitation of Christ’s Passion.

Saint Rose’s mortifications may seem very strange to us today, but they still may hold valuable lessons. In Saint Dominic’s “third way of prayer,” he employed the discipline of striking himself with an iron chain while repeating (translated) from the Latin Vulgate Bible “Your discipline has set me straight towards my goal” (Psalm 17:36).

Some today might wonder if Rose’s self-mortifications were a sign of scrupulosity or mental instability, and this was also considered in her time. Due to the unusual manner of her penitential life, Rose was once questioned by several theologians and a medical doctor of the Inquisition, but these learned men concluded that hers was a life unusually graced by God.

Although we may not be called to such extreme acts of conquering our wills, can we not still learn something from them? Can they inspire us to pamper our own bodies a little less, to mortify our sensual desires a little more, so that our thoughts can rise to higher things? Even the noble pagan philosophers saw the need for self-discipline in order to acquire virtue. The Stoic Epictetus, for example, encouraged those who would love wisdom to discipline their bodies, not by “hugging statues,” an action some Cynics would perform while bare-chested in the winter’s cold — public statues, of course, so that others might see them. In advice prescient in some ways of one of Saint Rose’s little disciplines some fourteen hundred years later, Epictetus suggested instead to fill one’s mouth with water when thirsty, but then to spit it out — when no one is looking. (The Father, of course, knows what we do in secret.)

Justice means rendering to each person his due, and this Rose always rendered, and then some. In the last years of her life, Rose persuaded her mother to allow her to care for the poor, the homeless, the elderly, and the sick in empty rooms of their house, and her actions are considered, along with those of Saint Martin de Porres, among the foundations of social work in Peru.

Prudence is that practical wisdom that finds the right means to get things done, and in this virtue Rose also shined. We see her prudence in the way she was always able to incorporate deeds of the active life while immersed in a life of solitude, prayer, and contemplation, as she prayed while she cleaned, embroidered, gardened, and made and sold flower arrangements. We saw it toward the end of her life when, failing in health and deep in contemplation, she made those practical arrangements to tend to the bodily and spiritual needs of those who needed them the most.”


Summer Theologiae

If you are not familiar with Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, or not been formally trained how to read/understand it properly, don’t.  It’s one of the denser, less accessible, “academic” tomes, although, in his time, St Thomas considered it a reference for beginners in the study of theology.  It has less to do with your or my abilities dear reader.  It simply was written for a medieval audience in a form of instruction or lecture we no longer use.  

Medieval teachers, traditionally, would pose a statement or question, which you will recognize if you read an authentic copy of the Summa, as the first sentence in any given section, or question, the Summa tackles.  The order of these questions is very logical and methodical.  It makes sense.  So far, so good.  

Once the professor had posed the statement to the class, their homework was to go home and think up “objections” to the statement/question, or why it could not be true.  Students would return to class the next time and pose their objection to the instructor.  

Having been trained/educated himself, the instructor was familiar with the most popular or reoccurring objections, and during class, in his lecture, he would go on to address each objection or concern, and this is how medieval students learned.  

So, the Summa, written in the 13th century, is still in this format, but is and can be a difficult read in the 21st century, to the untrained eye and mind.  I warned you.  Below is a lighthearted and humorous play on words, Summer instead of Summa, and using the joys of the beach to help us better understand the thirty thousand foot view of what St Thomas accomplished.  I can definitely relate! Enjoy!!!

-by Br Ignatius Weiss, OP

Having been practically raised on the beach, I delight in the smell of salt air, the sighing of the waves, and the feel of sand between my toes. The shore remains the site of some of my favorite memories, as well as the world’s most beautiful sights, yet too often people miss the beach for the sand.

While I don’t imagine many people tote their copies of the Summa Theologiæ or the commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics to the shoreline (it isn’t what most would consider “light reading”), I do see some similarities between the thought of St. Thomas and the beach:

  1. Sands on the Seashore. As the vast field of sand is composed of thousands of grains deposited by nature’s currents, so Thomism draws together a number of varied sources in a new way. St. Thomas’ genius drew together the wisdom of Scripture, pagan philosophers, and his own contemporaries into a cohesive expression of reality. Each of these sources brings elements from its origins and adds its particular hue to his theology.
  2. Playing in the Sand. The beach is the world’s greatest sandbox. A few scoops of sand, a bucket of water, and a little handiwork can turn a formless plot into a beautiful sand castle. Thomas’ grand collection of wisdom is always open for continued creativity. The centuries-old wisdom of Thomas continues to inspire people to seek answers to today’s questions.
  3. Thomistic Sunbathing. The beach is home to the sun bather and the oceanologist alike. There are many scientists who comb the coastline examining land, sea, and sky. Most people, however, come to the sea with coolers and beach chairs. Similarly, the main way people encounter Thomism is through Aquinas’ Eucharistic poetry like the “O Salutaris” and “Tantum Ergo,” sung at Adoration. Basking in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, we are also exposed to the penetrating theology and elegant lyricism of St. Thomas Aquinas (no sunscreen required).
  4. The Perfect Perspective. Thomism offers a privileged perspective for beholding God’s glory in this life. The sunset can be seen from anywhere with a glimpse of the horizon, but from the shore we can look out on an unhindered vision of the horizon. Here our sight is limited most by the weakness of our frail, human eyes, but this perspective is undoubtedly better than through the city’s blocky skyline. Thomism shares a similarly open vantage point with its clarity and simplicity. It is easy to get distracted by the broad field of questions, articles, and distinctions presented in Thomism, but the incredible vantage point it provides to behold the glory of God on the shores of this life is unmatched.

The coarse sand and bright sun deter some people from enjoying a summer at the beach. Don’t miss the shore for the sand, don’t dismiss Thomism for its technicality.

Love & thought,