Feast Day of the Angelic Doctor

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As a highly Pagan poet said to me: “The Reformation happened because people hadn’t the brains to understand Aquinas.”

GK Chesterton

A whole lifetime is far too short to survey the intellectual and spiritual riches left to us by Saint Thomas Aquinas.  He is best studied bite sized chunk by bite sized chunk.  Here is such a chunk that I think is useful as a guide to Catholic bloggers:

Article 4. Whether a man is bound to correct his prelate?

Objection 1. It would seem that no man is bound to correct his prelate. For it is written (Exodus 19:12): “The beast that shall touch the mount shall be stoned,” [Vulgate: ‘Everyone that shall touch the mount, dying he shall die.’] and (2 Samuel 6:7) it is related that the Lord struck Oza for touching the ark. Now the mount and the ark signify our prelates. Therefore prelates should not be corrected by their subjects.

Objection 2. Further, a gloss on Galatians 2:11, “I withstood him to the face,” adds: “as an equal.” Therefore, since a subject is not equal to his prelate, he ought not to correct him.

Objection 3. Further, Gregory says (Moral. xxiii, 8) that “one ought not to presume to reprove the conduct of holy men, unless one thinks better of oneself.” But one ought not to think better of oneself than of one’s prelate. Therefore one ought not to correct one’s prelate.

On the contrary, Augustine says in his Rule: “Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger.” But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 5:1): “An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father.” Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.

Reply to Objection 1. It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God’s condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark.

Reply to Objection 2. To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: “Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry [Vulgate: ‘Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.’ Cf. 2 Timothy 4:5.” It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

Reply to Objection 3. To presume oneself to be simply better than one’s prelate, would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, “being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger,” as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.

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6 Responses to Feast Day of the Angelic Doctor

  • Summa Theologica because theology is the study of God.

  • As a Lay Dominican, I love all things Aquinas. I like how your post started by saying the following is “useful” to Catholic bloggers (since I am one), but then you didn’t comment any more. I drew my own conclusions on how this section of Aquinas’ Summa may be applied to Catholic bloggers (i.e. don’t use your blog to openly bash your bishop or the pope, but you may offer criticism with charity), but without your further commentary I was left wondering if I had arrived at the same conclusion you had. In any event, great post! Thanks!

  • Thank you for your kind words Christopher. You arrived at the same conclusion that I did.

  • Thank you Donald. I have been struggling with the proper balance in rendering criticism of the USCCB and certain bishops. We are in a fight against the ideological forces of evil and infighting is not helpful so on the one hand we must be careful that criticism of any sort does not undermine true authority. Still, I wonder what Aquinas would say with respect to the willimgness of some clerics to render ill informed judgments on prudential and public policy issues, or when the bishops through the USCCB advocate for legislation on global warming, or obamacare minus abortion, or minimum wage mandates which hurt employment, or increased spending on welfare, or when the CHD continues to fund questionable “social justice” causes. In that arena, dispute, argument and challenges to wrong thinking is critical and “charity” is misunderstood to require tolerance of the intolerable. So what would Aquinas say to us and to those clerics who render prudential judgments in imprudent ways.

  • So God will stone us to death if we tell a pro-choice Bishop he’s full of Satan?

    I think you might be confusing those passages.

    God is telling us not to correct the priest in his priestly duties. You’d have to be absurd to suggest that we’re never a part of correcting the wayward men who become priests when they bring scandal to the Church.

    Do you seriously counsel that we let grave evils occur whenever there is an evil bishop? Can the bishop commit murder and we would be stoned to death for correcting him?

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