17 April 2015

Church History (2014-2015, part-time) 5.2:
Mediaeval Church readings: Gregory the
Great, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi

Seven Fathers of the Church carved above the door of the south transept of Lichfield Cathedral (from left): Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 17 April 2015,

The Brown Room, 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.:

‘A House divided’: Rome and Byzantium

5.2: Seminar: readings in key thinkers in the Mediaeval Church: Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi.

5.2: Seminar: readings in key thinkers in the Mediaeval Church: Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi.


It is a good principle in historical research to look for primary sources, and to read what people have to say about themselves in their own time, rather than reading how others have interpreted their thoughts.

The three key figures we are looking at this evening – Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Francis of Assisi – bridge many of the gaps between the periods we have been talking about earlier this evening:

● Saint Gregory the Great bridges the gap between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the end of the dark ages, between the Patristic period and the mediaeval church. He is concerned with reform and innovation in monasticism, pastoral care, ecclesial structures, liturgy and church music.

● Saint Thomas Aquinas bridges the gaps between the monastery and the university, between philosophy and theology, and in many ways he bridges the gap between East and West, which we encounter in our next lecture.

● Saint Francis of Assisi is perhaps the most popular mediaeval saint in Europe today. He bridges the gap between the monastery and the world, between teaching and living, and he is a Church reformer who also appears on the stage at the same time as the Crusades.

This evening, we shall briefly look at their lives, their writings and their thinking, even if we do not get too deeply into reading their writings.

Part 1: Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care

Saint Gregory the Great ... his papacy marks the recovery of the Latin Church


Pope Gregory I (ca 540-604), better known as Gregory the Great, was Pope from 3 September 590 until he died in 604.

Gregory the Great was Prefect of Rome in 573 before entering a monastery, and was the first of the popes to come from a monastic background. Gregory is a Doctor of the Church and one of the Latin Fathers. He is revered as a saint in many parts of the Church, including among the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches.

Following the fall of Rome and the Barbarian invasions of the Italian peninsula, the recovery of the Latin Church only truly begins with the Papacy of Gregory I. He is respected for his prolific writings, and for his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman liturgy of his day.

Gregory the Great is credited with re-energising the Church’s missionary work in northern Europe. In 596, he sent Augustine on a mission to England as is counted as the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

He promoted monasticism, made important changes in the liturgy and fostered the development of liturgical music. He gave the Roman Schola Cantorum its definite form, so that plainsong is often known as Gregorian Chant.

Immediately after his death on 12 March 604, Gregory the Great was canonised by popular acclaim.

Gregory is well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition he is known as Saint Gregory the Dialogist because of his Dialogues. For this reason, English translations of Orthodox texts sometimes name him as Gregory Dialogus.

Throughout the Middle Ages, he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day.

The Reformer John Calvin admired Gregory the Great and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good Pope.

Gregory’s Dialogues was written by Gregory the Great around the year 590, shortly after he became Pope. In this work, he relates the lives and miracles of Italian saints, including Saint Benedict. His Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis (The Book of the Pastoral Rule, commonly known in English as Pastoral Care from the alternative Latin title, Cura Pastoralis) is a treatise on the pastoral responsibilities of the bishop.

This became one of the most influential works on the topic. The text was addressed to John, the Bishop of Ravenna, as a response to a query from him. Pope Gregory later revised the text somewhat, and the popular title is taken from the copy sent by Pope Gregory to his friend, Leander of Seville.

The personal, intellectual and moral standards Pope Gregory enjoins do not at all points closely reflect sixth century realities: for example, one letter from the Bishop of Cartagena (Book II, letter 54 in Pope Gregory’s collected correspondence) praises the book, but expresses a reserve that it might prove beyond ordinary capacities.

However, the book was vastly influential. After reading the Regulae, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice directed that it be translated and distributed to every bishop within the Empire.

Among the works of the Latin Patristic writers, Pope Gregory’s alone were translated into Greek during his own lifetime.

In the West, the book was distributed widely and has retained much of its significance and broad dissemination. It was brought to England by Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent there by Pope Gregory in 597. In the late ninth century, it was translated into Old English by Alfred the Great, as part of a project to improve education in Anglo-Saxon Kingdom.

So, hundreds of years after it was written, this work continued to be seen as the most essential guide for pastoral theology. Alfred wished every bishop in his kingdom to have a copy for the benefit of the less-educated clergy.

Beyond England, Pope Gregory’s Regulae was recommended to Charlemagne’s bishops at a series of councils in 813. Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims (845-882) notes that a copy of it, together with the Book of Canons, was given into the hands of bishops before the altar at their consecration.

Numerous manuscript copes survive. The oldest may that in the Bibliothèque Municipale in Troyes (Ms 504). This is an early seventh century manuscript in an unical script without divisions between words, probably originating in Rome, with about 25 lines per page. Alfred the Great’s translation, now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, is the oldest known book written in English.

Mediaeval Sourcebook:
Gregory the Great: The Book of Pastoral Rule, ca 590

From the Introduction by Frederic Austin Ogg:

The most famous of Pope Gregory the Great’s writings, and justly so, is the Liber Regulae Pastoralis, known commonly as the Pastoral Care, or the Pastoral Rule.

This book was written soon after its author became Pope (590), and was addressed to John, Bishop of Ravenna, in reply to inquiries received from him respecting the duties and obligations of the clergy.

Though thus put into form for a special purpose, there can be no doubt that it was the product of long thought. Everywhere throughout Europe the work was received with the favour it deserved, and in Spain, Gaul, and Italy its influence upon the life and manners of the clergy was beyond estimate. Even in Britain it was a real power for good.

The work is in four parts:

1, on the selection of men for the work of the Church;

2, on the sort of life the pastor ought to live;

3, on the best methods of dealing with the various types of people which every pastor will be likely to encounter; and

4, on the necessity that the pastor guard himself against egotism and personal ambition. The passages below are taken from the second and third parts.

Saint Gregory writes:

The conduct of a prelate ought so far to be superior to the conduct of the people as the life of a shepherd is accustomed to exalt him above the flock. For one whose position is such that the people are called his flock ought anxiously to consider how great a necessity is laid upon him to maintain uprightness. It is necessary, then, that in thought he should be pure, in action firm; discreet in keeping silence; profitable in speech; a near neighbour to everyone in sympathy; exalted above all in contemplation; a familiar friend of good livers through humility, unbending against the vices of evil-doers through zeal for righteousness; not relaxing in his care for what is inward by reason of being occupied in outward things, nor neglecting to provide for outward things in his anxiety for what is inward.

The pastor should always be pure in thought, inasmuch as no impurity ought to pollute him who has undertaken the office of wiping away the stains of pollution in the hearts of others also; for the hand that would cleanse from dirt must needs be clean, lest, being itself sordid with clinging mire, it soil all the more whatever it touches. The pastor should always be a leader in action, that by his living he may point out the way of life to those who are put under him, and that the flock, which follows the voice and manners of the shepherd, may learn how to walk rather through example than through words. For he who is required by the necessity of his position to speak the highest things is compelled by the same necessity to do the highest things. For that voice more readily penetrates the hearer's heart, which the speaker’s life commends, since what he commands by speaking he helps the doing by showing.

The pastor should be discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech; lest he either utter what ought to be suppressed or suppress what he ought to utter. For, as incautious speaking leads into error, so indiscreet silence leaves in error those who might have been instructed. The pastor ought also to understand how commonly vices pass themselves off as virtues. For often niggardliness excuses itself under the name of frugality, and on the other hand extravagance conceals itself under the name of liberality. Often inordinate carelessness is believed to be loving-kindness, and unbridled wrath is accounted the virtue of spiritual zeal. Often hasty action is taken for promptness, and tardiness for the deliberation of seriousness. Whence it is necessary for the pastor of souls to distinguish with vigilant care and vices between virtues and vices, lest stinginess get possession of his heart while he exults in seeming frugality in expenditure; or, while anything is recklessly wasted, he glory in being, as it were, compassionately liberal; or, in overlooking what he ought to have smitten, he draw on those that are under him to eternal punishment; or, in mercilessly smiting an offense, he himself offend more grievously; or, by rashly anticipating, mar what might have been done properly and gravely; or, by putting off the merit of a good action, change it to something worse.

Since, then, we have shown what manner of man the pastor ought to be, let us now set forth after what manner he should teach. For, as long before us Gregory Nazianzen, of reverend memory, has taught, one and the same exhortation does not suit all, inasmuch as all are not bound together by similarity of character. For the things that profit some often hurt others; seeing that also, for the most part, herbs which nourish some animals are fatal to others; and the gentle hissing that quiets horses incites whelps; and the medicine which abates one disease aggravates another; and the food which invigorates the life of the strong kills little children. Therefore, according to the quality of the hearers ought the discourse of teachers to be fashioned, so as to suit all and each for their several needs, and yet never deviate from the art of common edification. For what are the intent minds of hearers but, so to speak, a kind of harp, which the skilful player, in order to produce a tune possessing harmony, strikes in various ways? And for this reason the strings render back a melodious sound, because they are struck indeed with one quill, but not with one kind of stroke. Whence every teacher also, that he may edify all in the one virtue of charity, ought to touch the hearts of his hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation.

Differently to be admonished are these that follow:

Men and women.

The poor and the rich.

The joyful and the sad.

Prelates and subordinates.

Servants and masters.

The wise of this world and the dull.

The impudent and the bashful.

The forward and the faint-hearted.

The impatient and the patient.

The kindly disposed and the envious.

The simple and the insincere.

The whole and the sick.

Those who fear scourges, and therefore live innocently; and those who have grown so hard in iniquity as not to be corrected even by scourges.

The too silent, and those who spend time in much speaking.

The slothful and the hasty.

The meek and the passionate.

The humble and the haughty.

The obstinate and the fickle.

The gluttonous and the abstinent.

Those who mercifully give of their own, and those who would fain seize what belongs to others.

Those who neither seize the things of others nor are bountiful with their own; and those who both give away the things they have, and yet cease not to seize the things of others.

Those who are at variance, and those who are at peace.

Lovers of strife and peacemakers.

Those who understand not aright the words of sacred law; and those who understand them indeed aright, but speak them without humility.

Those who, though able to preach worthily, are afraid through excessive humility; and those whom imperfection or age debars from preaching, and yet rashness impels to it...

Differently to be admonished are the wise of this world and the dull. For the wise are to be admonished that they leave off knowing what they know; the dull also are to be admonished that they seek to know what they know not. In the former this thing first, that they think themselves wise, is to be overcome; in the latter, whatsoever is already known of heavenly wisdom is to be built up; since, being in no wise proud, they have, as it were, prepared their hearts for supporting a building. With those we should labour that they become more wisely foolish, leave foolish wisdom, and learn the wise foolishness of God: to these we should preach that from what is accounted foolishness they should pass, as from a nearer neighbourhood, to true wisdom.

But in the midst of these things we are brought back by the earnest desire of charity to what we have already said above; that every preacher should give forth a sound more by his deeds than by his words, and rather by good living imprint footsteps for men to follow than by speaking show them the way to walk in. For that cock, too, whom the Lord in his manner of speech takes to represent a good preacher, when he is now preparing to crow, first shakes his wings, and by smiting himself makes himself more awake; since it is surely necessary that those who give utterance to words of holy preaching should first be well awake in earnestness of good living, lest they arouse others with their voice while themselves torpid in performance; that they should first shake themselves up by lofty deeds, and then make others solicitous for good living; that they should first smite themselves with the wings of their thoughts; that whatsoever in themselves is unprofitably torpid they should discover by anxious investigation, and correct by strict self-discipline, and then at length set in order the life of others by speaking; that they should take heed to punish their own faults by bewailings, and then denounce what calls for punishment in others; and that, before they give voice to words of exhortation, they should proclaim in their deeds all that they are about to speak.


From: Frederic Austin Ogg, ed., A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the German Invasions to the Renaissance (New York, 1907, reprinted by Cooper Square Publishers (New York), 1972), pp 91-96.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernised by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to mediaeval and Byzantine history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, August 1998, halsall@murray.fordham.edu

Gregory I: Letter to Abbot Mellitus

Pope Gregory I wrote to Abbot Mellitus, who was going to join Saint Augustine of Canterbury in his mission to the English, giving instructions for dealing with the holy places of the newly converted Saxons and their pagan practices:

Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them.

For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.

Further, since it has been their custom to slaughter oxen in sacrifice, they should receive some solemnity in exchange. Let them therefore, on the day of the dedication of their churches, or on the feast of the martyrs whose relics are preserved in them, build themselves huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with religious feasting.

They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated. Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones.

For surely it is impossible to efface all at once everything from their strong minds, just as, when one wishes to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by step, not by leaps and bounds.... Mention this to our brother the bishop, that he may dispose of the matter as he sees fit according to the conditions of time and place.

Given the 18 July in the 19th year of our most religious Emperor Maurice Tiberius, and in the eighteenth year after his consulship and in the fourth indiction.

Part 2: Thomas Aquinas


Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1476, Carlo Crivelli … This panel is part of the large ‘Demidoff Altarpiece’ made for the high altar of San Domenico in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, now in the National Gallery, London

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is one of the most influential scholastic philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages. He is the foremost classical proponent of natural theology and the father of Thomism. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy is conceived in development or refutation of his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics and political theory.

Saint Thomas was born in 1225 into a noble Italian family that held the title of Count of Aquino. Roccasecca, the hilltop castle where he was born, is near the great Benedictine abbey of Montecassino, midway between Rome and Naples. At the age of five, he became a student at Montecassino and later went on to the University of Naples. There he came into contact with the Order of Preachers or Dominicans, a recently founded mendicant order, and he became a Dominican despite the protests of his family.

He then studied in Paris, and in Cologne with Albert the Great, whose interest in Aristotle strengthened Thomas’s own interests. He completed his studies in Paris, and for three years held one of the Dominican chairs in the Faculty of Theology. Eventually he moved to in Rome, but he was called back to Paris to confront the controversy known as Latin Averroism or Heterodox Aristotelianism.

He returned to Naples but after experiencing an unexpected trance on 6 December 1273 he said that all his writings seemed like chaff. He wrote little more. While he was on his way to the Council of Lyon, he fell ill and died on 7 March 1274 in the Cistercian abbey at Fossanova, just 20 km from where he was born in Roccasecca.

The Roman Catholic Church sees Saint Thomas Aquinas as the model teacher for students for the priesthood, and the study of his works, according to papal and magisterial documents, is a core of the required programme of study for student priests, for students in religious formation, and for other students in other fields, including philosophy, theology, history, liturgy, and canon law.

He is one the 35 Doctors of the Church, he is considered by the Roman Catholic Church as the Church’s greatest theologian and philosopher. Pope Benedict XV has declared: “This (Dominican) Order ... acquired new lustre when the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own and that Doctor, honoured with the special praises of the Pontiffs, the master and patron of Catholic schools.”

The writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas

The works for which Saint Thomas of Aquinas is best-known are the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles.

Saint Thomas is the key figure in both mediaeval philosophy and theology. He understands theology to mean discourse that takes its rise from the revealed truths of the Bible. But there is also a theology that constitutes the defining telos of philosophical inquiry.

In the following passage, Thomas contrasts the two theologies:

Thus it is that divine science or theology is of two kinds, one in which divine things are considered not as the subject of the science but as principles of the subject and this is the theology that the philosophers pursue, also called metaphysics. The other considers divine things in themselves as the subject of the science, and this is the theology which is treated in Sacred Scripture. They are both concerned with things which exist separately from matter and motion, but differently, insofar as they are two ways in which something can exist separately from matter and motion: first, such that it is of the definition of the things said to be separate, that they can never exist in matter in motion, as God and the angels are said to be separate from matter and motion; second, such that it is not part of their definition that they exist in matter and motion, because they can exist apart from matter and motion, although sometimes they are found in matter and motion, for example, substance, potency and act are separate from matter and motion because they do not require matter in order to exist as mathematicals do, although they can be understood without sensible matter. Philosophical theology treats of things separate in the second way as its subjects and of things separate in the first way as the principles of its subject. But the theology of Sacred Scripture treats of things separate in the first way as its subjects, although in it some things which exist in matter and motion are considered insofar as they are needed to make the divine manifest.

Source: Exposition of Boethius’ on the Trinity, q. 5, a. 4.

The structure of the Summa Theologiae

Saint Thomas’s Summa Theologiae is divided into five parts:

1, The first part, Summa Theologiae I (ST I): this considers God, the Trinity, and creation, especially humanity and angels.

2, The first part of the second part (ST I-II): this deals with morals in general, considering everything, from happiness, to virtue and vice, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit and grace.

3, The second part of the second part (ST II-II) is on specific moral theology – dealing with the virtues and vices in particular, and also with vocational callings.

4, The third part (ST III) considers Christ Jesus himself and also the sacraments he instituted.

5, To this is added the “Supplement,” completed by Reginald of Piperno from Saint Thomas’s early writings, including the commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard which Saint Thomas made as a young man. It was added to the Summa, which Saint Thomas never finished this work. The Supplement deals with some of the sacraments and also considers the end of time and Christ’s second coming.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Nature of God

Saint Thomas believed that the existence of God is self-evident in itself, but not to us:

Therefore I say that this proposition, “God exists,” of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject.... Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature – namely, by effects.”

Saint Thomas believed that the existence of God can be proven. In the Summa Theologiae, he considered in great detail five arguments for the existence of God, widely known as the quinque viae (Five Ways):

1, Motion: Some things undoubtedly move, though cannot cause their own motion. Since, as Thomas believed, there can be no infinite chain of causes of motion, there must be a First Mover not moved by anything else, and this is what everyone understands by God.

2, Causation: As in the case of motion, nothing can cause itself, and an infinite chain of causation is impossible, so there must be a First Cause, called God.

3, Existence of the necessary and the unnecessary: Our experience includes things certainly existing but apparently unnecessary. Not everything can be unnecessary, for then once there was nothing and there would still be nothing. Therefore, we are compelled to suppose something that exists necessarily, having this necessity only from itself; in fact itself the cause for other things to exist.

4, Gradation: If we can notice a gradation in things in the sense that some things are more hot, good, etc., there must be a superlative which is the truest and noblest thing, and so most fully existing. This then, we call God. (Note, Thomas does not ascribe actual qualities to God himself.)

5, Ordered tendencies of nature: A direction of actions to an end is noticed in all bodies following natural laws. Anything without awareness tends to a goal under the guidance of one who is aware. This we call God. (Note again, that even when we guide objects, in Saint Thomas’s view the source of all our knowledge comes from God as well.)

Concerning the nature of God, Saint Thomas feels the best approach, commonly called the via negativa, is to consider what God is not. This leads him to propose five statements about the divine qualities:

1, God is simple, without composition of parts, such as body and soul, or matter and form.

2, God is perfect, lacking nothing. That is, God is distinguished from other beings on account of God’s complete actuality. Saint Thomas defines God as the Ipse Actus Essendi subsistens, the subsisting act of being.

3, God is infinite. That is, God is not finite in the ways that created beings are physically, intellectually, and emotionally limited. This infinity is to be distinguished from infinity of size and infinity of number.

4, God is immutable, incapable of change on the levels of God’s essence and character.

5, God is one, without diversification within God’s self. The unity of God is such that God's essence is the same as God’s existence. In Saint Thomas’s words, “in itself the proposition ‘God exists’ is necessarily true, for in it subject and predicate are the same.”

In this approach, he is following, among others, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.

Following Augustine of Hippo, Saint Thomas defines sin as “a word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law.” It is important to note the analogous nature of law in Saint Thomas’s legal philosophy. Natural law is an instance or instantiation of eternal law. Because natural law is that which human beings determine according to their own nature (as rational beings), disobeying reason is disobeying natural law and eternal law. Thus eternal law is logically prior to reception of either “natural law,” determined by reason, or “divine law,” found in the Old and New Testaments).

In other words, God’s will extends to both reason and revelation. Sin is abrogating either one’s own reason, on the one hand, or revelation on the other, and is synonymous with “evil” (privation of good, or privatio boni). Saint Thomas, like all Scholastics, generally argues that the findings of reason and data of revelation cannot conflict, so both are a guide to God’s will for human beings.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Nature of the Trinity

Saint Thomas argues that God, while perfectly united, also is perfectly described by Three Interrelated Persons. These three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are constituted by their relations within the essence of God. Saint Thomas writes that the term “Trinity” “does not mean the relations themselves of the Persons, but rather the number of persons related to each other; and hence it is that the word in itself does not express regard to another.” The Father generates the Son (or the Word) by the relation of self-awareness. This eternal generation then produces an eternal Spirit “who enjoys the divine nature as the Love of God, the Love of the Father for the Word.”

This Trinity exists independently from the world. It transcends the created world, but the Trinity also decided to give grace to human beings. This takes place through the Incarnation of the Word in the person of Jesus Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within those who have experienced salvation by God.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on prima causa, the first cause

Saint Thomas’s five proofs for the existence of God take some of Aristotle’s assertions concerning principles of being. For Saint Thomas, God as prima causa (first cause) is derived from Aristotle’s concept of the unmoved mover and asserts that God is the ultimate cause of all things.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Nature of Jesus Christ

In the Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas begins his discussion of Jesus Christ by recounting the biblical story of Adam and Eve and by describing the negative effects of original sin. The purpose of Christ’s Incarnation was to restore human nature by removing “the contamination of sin,” which humans cannot do by themselves.

“Divine Wisdom judged it fitting that God should become man, so that thus one and the same person would be able both to restore man and to offer satisfaction.”

Saint Thomas argues in favour of the satisfaction view of atonement; that is, that Jesus Christ died “to satisfy for the whole human race, which was sentenced to die on account of sin.”

Saint Thomas argues against several specific contemporary and historical theologians who held differing views about Christ:

● In response to Photinus, Saint Thomas states that Jesus was truly divine and not simply a human being.
● Against Nestorius, who suggested that the Son of God was merely conjoined to the man Christ, Saint Thomas argues that the fullness of God was an integral part of Christ’s existence.
● However, countering Apollinaris’ views, Saint Thomas holds that Christ had a truly human (rational) soul, as well. This produced a duality of natures in Christ.
● Saint Thomas argues against Eutyches that this duality persisted after the Incarnation.
● Saint Thomas states that these two natures existed simultaneously yet distinguishably in one real human body, unlike the teachings of Manichaeus and Valentinus.

In short, “Christ had a real body of the same nature of ours, a true rational soul, and, together with these, perfect Deity.” Thus, there is both unity (in his one hypostasis) and composition (in his two natures, human and Divine) in Christ.

I answer that, The Person or hypostasis of Christ may be viewed in two ways. First as it is in itself, and thus it is altogether simple, even as the Nature of the Word. Secondly, in the aspect of person or hypostasis to which it belongs to subsist in a nature; and thus the Person of Christ subsists in two natures. Hence though there is one subsisting being in him, yet there are different aspects of subsistence, and hence He is said to be a composite person, insomuch as one being subsists in two.

Echoing Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, he says: “The only begotten Son of God...assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

Part 3: Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi is popularly portrayed with the animals and the birds


Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), who died just a year after Saint Thomas Aquinas, is the founder of the Franciscan orders, although he was never ordained a priest. He is one of the most venerated and most popular saints in church history.

He was born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone in 1181, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, and he lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man of his day.

While going off to war in 1204, Saint Francis had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he joined the poor who were begging at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The experience moved him to live in poverty.

Saint Francis returned home, began preaching on the streets. One summer day, in 1206, Francis was walking close to the crumbling church of San Damiano when he felt an inner call from the Holy Spirit to go inside the Church to pray. In obedience, Francis entered the Church, fell on his knees before the familiar icon cross, open to what the God might have to say to him.

In eager anticipation, Francis looked up into the serene face of the crucified Lord, and prayed this prayer: “Most High, glorious God, cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me, Lord, right faith, firm hope, perfect charity, and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, so that I may carry out what is truly your holy will. Amen.”

Ever more quietly he repeated the prayer, lost in devotion and wonder before the image of his crucified Lord.

Then, in the stillness, Francis heard Christ speaking to him from the Cross: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you can see, is falling into ruin.”

Other translations give these words as: “Rebuild my house which has fallen into disrepair.” Or: “Francis, don’t you see that my house is being destroyed? Go, then, and rebuild it for me.”

In short, “Rebuild my Church!”

So Francis looked around at the crumbling church, gathered some of his friends together and rebuilt it. Then they went out and began restoring other church buildings in the vicinity of Assisi that were in need of repair.

Gradually, Francis realised that the call to “rebuild my church” was also a call to reform the institution, to rebuild it by witnessing to the truth of the faith and calling people to renewed faithfulness to Christ and commitment to his mission.

The Body of Christ on the Cross had called Francis to rebuild the Body of Christ in the world.

In the year 1209, Saint Francis and his eleven companions walked into the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome for an audience with Pope Innocent III. The Lateran was then the equivalent of the Vatican, the earthly centre of power in the Western Church, and it was the Papal residence in Rome from the early 4th century until the mid-16th century.

So, Saint Francis and his eleven companions travelled almost 200 km from Assisi to Rome along ancient roads to seek Pope Innocent’s approval of the Franciscan way of life. Innocent – having dreamt of Francis holding up a disintegrating Basilica of Saint John Lateran – heartily granted his approval Saint Francis soon attracted a larger following, and he then founded the Order of Poor Clares for women, as well as the Third Order.

“When God gave me some friars,” Saint Francis wrote in his Testament, “there was no one to tell me what I should do; but the Most High himself made it clear to me that I must live the life of the Gospel.”

Francis before the Sultan in Damietta (Giotto)

Saint Francis went to Egypt in 1219 in an attempt to convert the Sultan, Malik al-Kamil, and to put an end to the conflict of the Crusades. By this point, the Franciscans had grown to such an extent that the organisational structures were too primitive and insufficient. He returned to Italy to organise the order. Once his community had received Papal approval, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs.

In 1223, Saint Francis arranged for the first Christmas manger scene. In 1224, in La Verna, he received the stigmata, the first recorded incidence of someone bearing the wounds of Christ’s Passion.

He died during the evening hours of 3 October 1226, while he was listening to a reading of Psalm 141. He was declared a saint by Pope Gregory IX on 16 July 1228.

Francis of Assisi and The Canticle of the Sun

His best-known writing is The Canticle of the Sun, also known as Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures), written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian and among the first works of literature.

The Canticle of the Sun in its praise of God thanks God for such creations as “Brother Fire” and “Sister Water.” It is an affirmation of Saint Francis’s personal theology as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters to humanity, rejected material accumulation and sensual comforts in favour of “Lady Poverty.”

Saint Francis is said to have composed most of the canticle in late 1224 while he was recovering from an illness at San Damiano in a small cottage that had been built for him by Saint Clare and other women of her order. According to tradition, the first time it was sung in its entirety was by Saint Francis and Brother Angelo and Brother Leo, two of his first companions, on Saint Francis’s deathbed, the final verse praising “Sister Death” having been added only a few minutes before.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

The origins of the ‘Prayer of Saint Francis’ and a popular hymn

Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College … the site of the Franciscan or Greyfriars’ church and cemetery in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer of Saint Francis is also attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. However, the prayer in its present form cannot be traced back further than 1912, when it was printed in France in French in a small magazine, La Clochette (The Little Bell) as an anonymous prayer. Soon after that first publication, it was being attributed to William the Conqueror.

It was first attributed e to Saint Francis in 1927 by a French Protestant Movement known as Les Chevaliers du Prince de la Paix (The Knights of the Prince of Peace), founded by Étienne Bach (1892-1986). The prayer became popular in the US that year when its first known translation in English appeared in January 1927 in the Quaker magazine Friends’ Intelligencer (Philadelphia), where it was also attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

A popular hymn version, adapted and set to music with a tune called “St Francis” by Johann Sebastian Temple, is Make Me A Channel of Your Peace. It was first published in a Franciscan hymnbook in 1967. There are at least nine variations of this hymn, and the version in Irish Church Hymnal (No 503) is:

Make me a channel of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me bring your love,
where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
and where there’s doubt true faith in you:

O Master, grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love with all my soul!

Make me a channel of your peace:
where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope,
where there is darkness, only light,
and where there’s sadness, ever joy:

Make me a channel of your peace:
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
in giving of ourselves that we receive,
and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.


Tomorrow Morning:
The Reformation in a morning:

6.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus.

6.2: Key figures in the Magesterial Reformation: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

6.3: Introducing the Anglican Reformation.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 17 April 2015 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the part-time MTh course, Years I-IV.

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