January 28, 1369 + Other Things French

Couvent des Jacobins de Toulouse - Autel de St Thomas d'Aquin
Tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas, Toulouse, France

As the years have passed, my devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas has steadily increased.

I loved him decades ago; I loved him even before I became Catholic. Back in the 90’s, while studying at Catholic University in Washington, I went religiously every January 28 to hear one of the learned Dominicans give the St. Thomas-Aquinas-Day sermon at the Basilica of the National Shrine. A Dominican always gives the sermon that day, because St. Thomas was a Dominican priest.

Meanwhile, though, I knew perfectly well that St. Thomas did not die on January 28. Yes, we generally keep the feasts and memorials of saints on the anniversaries of their deaths. But St. Thomas died on March 7, not January 28.

In fact, the Church used to keep the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas on March 7. His death day was his feast day for six centuries, from his canonization in 1323 until 1969. But after the Second Vatican Council, the Roman authorities decided to try to keep Lent as free as possible of festival observances. Since March 7 almost always falls within Lent, we needed a new day for St. Thomas.

st ambrose catedra petriAs an aside, to keep anyone from hissing at the mention of Vatican II:

Today is an unusual exception to the death-day rule for saints’ days, of course. It’s the anniversary of the conception of our Lady in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.

More to the point, though: Yesterday we kept the Memorial of St. Ambrose of Milan. He did not die on December 7, but rather on April 4. But since April 4 always falls either within Lent or Holy Week, or early in Easter time, St. Ambrose’s feast day is kept on his ordination anniversary. And it has been kept on December 7 since at least the 1000’s. (As in, before the year 1100 AD.)

In other words, Vatican II did not invent the idea of moving saints’ feast days out of Lent, to an alternate anniversary date. That idea itself has a long, long history.

Back to St. Thomas Aquinas: In the revision of the festival calendar after Vatican II, they did not just randomly pick January 28 out of a hat. The date already served as a secondary feast day of St. Thomas, among Dominicans. It marks the anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas’ relics in Toulouse, France.

The arrival of his relics in France. Hmm. How’s that?

I never carefully considered the question myself, until recently. But when you finally get the chance to visit the place where someone you love died, you start wondering about stuff like this.

St. Thomas died while on his way to an ecumenical council convened in Lyon, France, by Pope Gregory X. The pope called that council primarily to try to heal the East-West schism in the Church, which was then a couple centuries old. Pope Gregory personally requested that Thomas Aquinas come and participate, even though the 49-year-old theologian was not well.

Thomas accepted the summons. While on his way from Naples to Lyon, he took sick south of Rome. Thomas breathed his last in the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova.

20210904_191441.jpg
The Cistercian abbey building where St. Thomas died, Fossanova, Italy (photo credit: yours truly)

The Cistercians of Fossanova eagerly retained St. Thomas’ mortal remains. They generously offered visitors the opportunity to venerate the holy man’s relics. The monks had no intention of parting with the great treasure that Providence had delivered to them.

But the saint’s brother Dominicans painfully wanted to entomb their eminent teacher’s remains in one of their own friaries.

The ensuing battle over St. Thomas’ bones lasted almost a full century. Meanwhile, events which we have recently considered here unfolded. Events involving the highly unstable late-13th-century papacy.

Pope Boniface Colonna Schiaffo di Anagni
Schiaffo di Anagni

The pope who summoned St. Thomas on his final earthly journey, Gregory X: he had been elected only after a two-year deadlock between the French and Italian factions of the College of Cardinals. We discussed earlier how Pope Celestine V, who was also elected in a conclave that lasted over two years, renounced the papacy in 1295. We also covered how Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII, died shortly after suffering an attack by the king of France’s henchmen.

Boniface’s death led to the brief papacy of Blessed Benedict XI, then to the world-changing Conclave of 1305. The sitting Archbishop of Bordeaux, France, became Clement V. And he never set foot in Rome. Ever.

Pope Clement V moved the Holy See to France, to the town of Avignon. There, Clement’s successor John XXII canonized St. Thomas.

Wait. Moved the Holy See to France?

[Click HERE to listen to a thorough and very-helpful explanation by the late Dr. Brendan McGuire.]

Now, Rome had become a dangerous place for a pope to live.

And the king of France had consolidated enough authority to dominate the Church.

But: Move the papacy to France? Really? I will have more to say about this. As far as St. Thomas’ bones and Toulouse:

Blessed Urban V traveled from Avignon to Rome in 1367, recognizing that he belonged in the city of Saints Peter and Paul. Sixty years had passed since the last time the Bishop of Rome had set foot in his own diocese.

Urban had good intentions, but his effort proved half-hearted. He abandoned Rome, and returned to Avignon, in 1370. In the meantime, the pope ordered that St. Thomas’ remains be moved from Italy to France. (The pope actually followed St. Thomas’ bones, when he returned to Avignon.)

Between August 1368 and January 1369, the Dominicans carried their brilliant brother’s remains in solemn procession, from near Fossanova to Toulouse, with a number of extended stops along the way. On January 28, they arrived at the original Dominican church, built by Dominic himself a century and a-half earlier.

Then they continued the procession, taking the bones of Thomas’ right arm north to Paris. That reliquary remained in a Dominican chapel near Notre Dame, until the French Revolution four centuries later.

Holy Thursday Notre Dame 2018
Paris’ Archbishop Michel Aupetit (back) takes part at the start of the procession of Easter’s Holy Thursday on March 29, 2018 at Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / Ludovic MARIN (Photo credit should read LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

…More to come on the Avignon papacy, as I mentioned. But for now let’s turn to more-current events. After all, as in the 1300’s, a great deal of Catholic drama has lately unfolded in France.

1. Two and a-half years ago, on the day after Palm Sunday 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. It caused many of us a great deal of sorrow.

I remember the then-Archbishop of Paris rallying his people for Holy Week at the nearby church of St. Eustache. I was moved by the Archbishop’s evident faith and his fatherliness. A few months earlier, he courageously had appeared on French radio to defend the rights of the unborn child.

For the past couple years, Archbishop Aupetit has appeared on every list of possible candidates for Cardinal.

(Amazingly enough, there is not a single diocese in France right now with a sitting Cardinal-Archbishop. Pope Francis has only ever created one French Cardinal, and he is a Vatican official. We have come a long way from the French-dominated College of Cardinals of the fourteen century.)

But now Pope Francis has summarily relieved Archbishop Aupetit of duty.

I find the situation very hard to understand. It appears to have layer upon layer of intrigue, with none of the facts even remotely clear to the general public.

I intend to try to sort it out, and I will share my understanding of it with you, dear reader.

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

2. As we noted here, in October the independent commission erected by the French bishops’ conference published its report on sexual abuse. I read the English translation of the summary report carefully, and I look forward to reading the whole report, once the English translation becomes available. (The CIASE promised to publish a full English translation by the end of 2021.)

Now, however, a small group of French Catholic intellectuals has published a preliminary critique of the Rapport Sauvé.

[I made a Google translation of the critique; you can read it by clicking HERE.]

Pope Francis had a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Jean-Marc Sauvé and other authors of the CIASE report, but the Vatican has postponed such a meeting indefinitely.

On the plane returning from a trip he took to Cyprus and Greece, the pope explained to a journalist that he had not read the CIASE report, but that…

“…in doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time…A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours… The abuses of 100 years ago or 70 years ago are a brutality. But the way they were living it is not the same as today.”

In September 2018, Pope Francis reacted in the same way to the Pennsylvania Grand-Jury report. I mentioned then that I find this position to be inherently dishonest. As a reporter put it to Donald Card. Wuerl at the time: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to child sexual abuse?”

So the Vatican position on the Rapport Sauvé appears to have shifted as a result of the French Catholic intellectuals’ critique. I find the critique to be embarrassingly tendentious, small-minded, and defensive. But it nonetheless brings up some questions worth considering. Watch this space for more on this.

 

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