Saint Thomas de Villeneuve
Archevêque de Valence, en Espagne
Issu d'une pieuse famille de la bourgeoisie, Thomas fut élevé à Villanueva, Espagne, d'où lui vient son nom de Villeneuve. Ses parents fort vertueux et charitables le formèrent très tôt à la piété et à la générosité envers les pauvres, les malades et tous les malheureux.
A l'école, Thomas offrait son déjeuner aux enfants pauvres, et parfois il leur donnait ses propres vêtements pour les garantir du froid. On le vit revenir plus d'une fois à la maison sans gilet, sans chapeau et sans souliers. Ayant reçu un habit neuf à l'âge de sept ans, il le donna à un enfant à demi-nu. Il demandait souvent à sa mère la permission de ne pas dîner pour que sa part servit à un malheureux. Il employait l'argent qu'il recevait de ses parents à acheter des oeufs qu'il portait aux malades hospitalisés.
Après de brillantes études à l'université d'Alcala, il fut nommé professeur de philosophie morale au collège de St-Ildefonse, puis professeur de théologie à l'université de Salamanque. Son père étant mort peu de temps après, Thomas consacra toute sa fortune au soin des pauvres, transforma sa maison en hôpital, ne réservant que le nécessaire à l'entretien de sa mère. A trente ans, le jour de la Présentation de Notre-Dame, il entra chez les Ermites de St-Augustin de Salamanque. A peu près dans le même temps de son admission dans cet Ordre, Luther le quittait et consommait son apostasie.
Prédicateur ardent, le zèle de Thomas remua de fond en comble la ville de Salamanque. Le Saint puisait son éloquence au pied de la croix: «Dans l'oraison, disait-il, se forment les flèches dont les coeurs des auditeurs doivent être percés.» Les plus grandes villes d'Espagne se disputèrent pour l'entendre. La cour de Charles-Quint l'écouta avec admiration et le roi le nomma son prédicateur ordinaire et son conseiller. Il avait une si grande estime pour ce religieux qu'il ne savait rien lui refuser. Plusieurs seigneurs de la cour avaient été condamnés à mort pour crime de haute trahison. L'empereur avait refusé leur grâce à l'archevêque de Tolède ainsi qu'à d'autres éminents personnages, même à son propre fils, mais il accorda cette faveur à la demande de saint Thomas de Villeneuve.
Le saint religieux devint successivement prieur des maisons de Salamanque, de Burgos, de Valladolid, provincial d'Andalousie et de Castille. C'est lui qui envoya les premiers Augustins vers le Mexique. Il recommandait surtout quatre choses à ses religieux, 1ère: la célébration dévote et attentive des divins offices; 2e: la méditation et la lecture spirituelle faite avec assiduité; 3e: l'union de la charité fraternelle, et enfin la fuite de la paresse qui est un grand obstacle à la vertu. Nommé archevêque de Grenade, il refusa catégoriquement cette dignité.
Dix ans plus tard, en 1544, Charles-Quint le désigna pour l'évêché de Valence qu'il fut obligé d'accepter au nom de l'obéissance et sous peine d'excommunication. Saint Thomas quitta sa cellule en pleurant, se mit en route à pied, revêtu d'un habit monastique fort usé et entra ainsi dans sa ville épiscopale. Au moment de son arrivée, la pluie tomba en abondance après une longue période de sécheresse, bienfaisante ondée qui était comme le présage des grâces qu'il apportait à ses ouailles.
Le voyant si pauvre, ses chanoines lui firent présent de quatre mille ducats pour son ameublement. Saint Thomas de Villeneuve les fit distribuer en aumônes. Il entreprit la réforme de son diocèse par l'exemple de sa vie toute de pénitence et de prière. Pendant toute son existence, il observa les jeûnes de son Ordre et ceux de l'Eglise, au pain et à l'eau. Il couchait sur des sarments dissimulés sous une couverture de laine. La plus grande partie de ses revenus passait en bonnes oeuvres. On l'a surnommé: l'Aumônier, à cause des charités incalculables qu'il ne cessait de prodiguer.
Trois jours avant sa mort, ce saint pasteur fit distribuer aux pauvres tout ce qui lui restait d'argent et fit don de ses meubles au collège de Valence. Comme il était encore propriétaire de son lit de malade, il le donna au geôlier de ses prisons, le priant de bien vouloir le lui prêter jusqu'à sa mort.
Saint Thomas de Villeneuve commença la récitation du psaume: In Te, Domine, spéravi. Rendu au verset: In manus Tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum, le saint pontife expira doucement. Il rendit son âme à Dieu dans la onzième année de son épiscopat, à l'âge de soixante-sept ans. Ses reliques sont conservées à Valence.
Thomas de Villeneuve
Fête 25 novembre
Thomas naquit en 1486 à Fuenllana en Castille (Espagne). Il garda ‘Villanueva de Los Infantes’, le nom de l’endroit où il grandit, comme deuxième nom. Bien qu’ils ne soient pas tellement aisés, ses parents purent le laisser étudier à la célèbre université d’Alcalá de Henares.
Thomas, âgé de seize ans, était un élève tellement doué qu’après avoir obtenu le grade universitaire de magister artium, on lui offrit immédiatement une chaire. Il fut professeur à l’université d’Alcalá de 1513 à 1516. Il entra dans l’Ordre des Augustins en 1516 et fut ordonné prêtre en 1518. Il fut prieur dans les couvents de Salamanque, de Burgos et de Valladolid. Ensuite, il devint provincial de l’Andalousie (1527-1530) et de la Castille (1534-1537). A cette époque, il envoya des confrères au Nouveau Monde qui fondèrent l’Ordre au Mexique. Charles V aimait écouter ses sermons et lui demandait souvent conseil. Il nomma Thomas archevêque de Grenade, mais celui-ci renonça à cette fonction. En 1544, il fut obligé d’assurer la charge de le diocèse de Valencia. Il s’agissait d’un diocèse riche, mais négligé ; il n’avait pas connu d’évêque résidentiel pendant plus de 100 ans. C’est sans doute cet état lamentable du diocèse qui était à l’origine de l’absence de Thomas au concile de Trente. La plupart des évêques vinrent toutefois lui demander conseil avant de partir pour le concile.
Thomas s’engagea de toutes ses forces pour le bien-être matériel et spirituel de son peuple. Il prêcha, enseigna, étudia et réprimanda en privé et en public si ceci était nécessaire. Son enseignement et sa prédication accélérèrent fortement le développement des études et de la spiritualité de l’Ordre en général. Il était aussi le promoteur de la Dévotion moderne en Espagne. Contemporain de Luther, il accusait vertement, dans ses sermons, le clergé et les moines de dépravation et d’infidélité à l’Évangile.
Il dépensa une grande partie des riches ressources du diocèse pour les pauvres. Son souci des petits, des malades, des jeunes et des pauvres en danger caractérisait son apostolat, de sorte qu’on l’appela ‘le père des pauvres’. Dans ce contexte, il répétait les mots d’Augustin : « Tout autre bien qui reste superflu appartient aux autres comme un bien nécessaire. Le superflu des riches, c’est le nécessaire des pauvres. Ce sont les biens d’autrui que l’on possède, quand on possède du superflu » (Enarr. in. psalm. 147, 12). Beaucoup de ses sermons et de ses écrits contribuèrent à la littérature spirituelle de l’Espagne. Il mourut le 8 septembre 1555. Son corps fut inhumé dans la cathédrale de Valencia. Il fut canonisé en 1658.
Luca Giordano . Saint Thomas de Villeneuve. Naples, Galleria Napoletana (Museo di Capodimonte)
Saint Thomas de Villeneuve
Archevêque de Valence, en Espagne
Tomás de Villanueva, né Tomás García Martínez, issu d'une pieuse famille de la bourgeoisie, fut élevé à Villanueva, Espagne, d'où lui vient son nom de Villeneuve. Ses parents fort vertueux et charitables le formèrent très tôt à la piété et à la générosité envers les pauvres, les malades et tous les malheureux.
À l'école, Thomas offrait son déjeuner aux enfants pauvres, et parfois il leur donnait ses propres vêtements pour les garantir du froid. On le vit revenir plus d'une fois à la maison sans gilet, sans chapeau et sans souliers. Ayant reçu un habit neuf à l'âge de sept ans, il le donna à un enfant à demi-nu. Il demandait souvent à sa mère la permission de ne pas dîner pour que sa part servît à un malheureux. Il employait l'argent qu'il recevait de ses parents à acheter des œufs qu'il portait aux malades hospitalisés.
Après de brillantes études à l'université d'Alcala, il fut nommé professeur de philosophie morale au collège de Saint-Ildefonse, puis professeur de théologie à l'université de Salamanque. Son père mourut peu de temps après et Thomas consacra toute sa fortune au soin des pauvres. Il transforma sa maison en hôpital, ne réservant que le nécessaire à l'entretien de sa mère. À trente ans, le jour de la Présentation de Notre-Dame, il entra chez les Ermites de St-Augustin de Salamanque. À peu près dans le même temps de son admission dans cet Ordre, Luther le quittait.
Prédicateur ardent, le zèle de Thomas remua de fond en comble la ville de Salamanque. Il puisait son éloquence au pied de la croix : « Dans l'oraison, disait-il, se forment les flèches dont les cœurs des auditeurs doivent être percés. » Les plus grandes villes d'Espagne se disputèrent pour l'entendre. La cour de Charles-Quint l'écouta avec admiration et le roi le nomma son prédicateur ordinaire et son conseiller. Il avait une si grande estime pour ce religieux qu'il ne savait rien lui refuser. Plusieurs seigneurs de la cour avaient été condamnés à mort pour crime de haute trahison. L'empereur avait refusé leur grâce à l'archevêque de Tolède ainsi qu'à d'autres éminents personnages, même à son propre fils, mais il accorda cette faveur à la demande de Thomas.
Le saint religieux devint successivement prieur des maisons de Salamanque, de Burgos, de Valladolid, provincial d'Andalousie et de Castille. C'est lui qui envoya les premiers Augustins vers le Mexique. Il recommandait surtout quatre choses à ses religieux : la célébration dévote et attentive des divins offices ; la méditation et la lecture spirituelle faite avec assiduité ; l'union de la charité fraternelle, et enfin la fuite de la paresse qui est un grand obstacle à la vertu.
Nommé archevêque de Grenade, il refusa catégoriquement cette dignité.
Dix ans plus tard, en 1544, Charles-Quint le désigna pour l'évêché de Valence qu'il fut obligé d'accepter au nom de l'obéissance et sous peine d'excommunication. Thomas quitta sa cellule en pleurant, se mit en route à pied, revêtu d'un habit monastique fort usé et entra ainsi dans sa ville épiscopale. Au moment de son arrivée, la pluie tomba en abondance après une longue période de sécheresse, bienfaisante ondée qui était comme le présage des grâces qu'il apportait à ses ouailles.
Le voyant si pauvre, ses chanoines lui firent présent de quatre mille ducats pour son ameublement mais Thomas de Villeneuve les fit distribuer en aumônes. Il entreprit la réforme de son diocèse par l'exemple de sa vie toute de pénitence et de prière. Pendant toute son existence, il observa les jeûnes de son Ordre et ceux de l'Église, au pain et à l'eau. Il couchait sur des sarments dissimulés sous une couverture de laine. La plus grande partie de ses revenus passait en bonnes œuvres. On l'a surnommé : l'Aumônier, à cause des charités incalculables qu'il ne cessait de prodiguer.
Trois jours avant sa mort, ce saint pasteur fit distribuer aux pauvres tout ce qui lui restait d'argent et fit don de ses meubles au collège de Valence. Comme il était encore propriétaire de son lit de malade, il le donna au geôlier de ses prisons, le priant de bien vouloir le lui prêter jusqu'à sa mort.
Thomas de Villeneuve commença la récitation du psaume : In Te, Domine, speravi. Rendu au verset : In manus Tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum, le saint pontife expira doucement. Il rendit son âme à Dieu dans la onzième année de son épiscopat, à l'âge de soixante-sept ans. Ses reliques sont conservées à Valence.
Saint Thomas de Villeneuve
Moine de Saint-Augustin, évêque (✝ 1555)
Originaire de la Castille, il entra à l'université d'Alcala à l'âge de douze ans où il parcourut toutes ses classes d'humanités, de rhétorique et de philosophie. Il fut ensuite professeur à l'Université d'Alcala puis de Salamanque, entrant dans l'Ordre de Saint Augustin à cette époque. Provincial de son Ordre, il sut se faire aimer et respecter par sa douceur et sa fermeté, attentif à ce que les religieux donnent priorité à la méditation et aux offices divins. Si grande fut sa réputation que Charles-Quint le nomma archevêque de Grenade. Il resta pauvre dans son palais épiscopal. Trop âgé pour se rendre au concile de Trente, il fut écouté des évêques espagnols qui s'y rendaient.
La Congrégation des Sœurs Hospitalières de Saint Thomas de Villeneuve fut fondée à Lamballe, en Bretagne, en 1661, par le Père Ange Le Proust... en 1658, le Pape Alexandre VII canonise l’Évêque espagnol Thomas de Villeneuve. Pour le Père Ange qui l’admire et le prie depuis son noviciat, c’est le modèle qu’il faut donner à la petite famille religieuse qu’il veut fonder. (Histoire de la Congrégation des sœurs hospitalières de Saint Thomas de Villeneuve qui ont fêté leur 350e anniversaire en 2011)
Un internaute nous écrit à son sujet: "Saint Thomas de Villeneuve n'a pas enseigné à l'université de Salamanque; il a pu refuser le siège de Grenade mais pas celui de Valence (sa dépouille mortelle se trouve à la cathédrale). Ce n'est pas la vieillesse qui l'empêcha d'aller au concile de Trente; la misère spirituelle dans laquelle il trouva son diocèse exigeait de lui qu'il appliquât sans attendre des décisions que prendrait par la suite le concile pour toute l'Église! Cf.Thomas de Villeneuve / Argiiro TURRADO. – in : Dictionnaire de spiritualité, Paris, 15, 1991, col. 874-890."
Fils d'un meunier, il entra chez les Ermites de Saint-Augustin à Salamanque. Il enseigna la théologie à l'Université, puis à Burgos et enfin à Valladolid. Provincial de son Ordre, puis chapelain royal, il reçut par obéissance la charge épiscopale et, entre autres vertus pastorales, il excella tellement dans un ardent amour des pauvres qu’il dépensait tout pour les indigents, au point de ne pas même garder un lit pour lui. Ce qui lui valut d'être surnommé "l’aumônier" à cause de son amour pour les pauvres. Par ses écrits ascétiques et mystiques, il apparaît comme l’un des plus grands représentants de l’Ecole spirituelle espagnole du 16ème siècle. Il a été canonisé en 1658.
À Valence en Espagne, l’an 1555, saint Thomas de Villeneuve, évêque. Entré chez les Ermites de Saint-Augustin, il reçut par obéissance la charge épiscopale et, entre autres vertus pastorales, il excella tellement dans un ardent amour des pauvres qu’il dépensait tout pour les indigents, au point de ne pas même garder un lit pour lui.
St. Thomas of Villanova, Archbishop of Valentia, Confessor
From his life composed by Michael Salon, a native of Valentia; the same by Jerom Canton, and Nicasius Baxius, two religious men of his Order; and chiefly from the memoirs furnished for his canonization, prefixed to his works. Pinius, t. 5, Sept. p. 799.
ST. THOMAS, the glory of the church of Spain, in these latter ages, was born at Fuenlana in Castile in 1488: but received his surname from Villanova de los Infantes, a town where he had his education, situate about two miles from the place of his birth. His parents, Alphonsus Thomas Garcias and Lucy Martinez, were also originally of Villanova. Their fortune was not affluent; but it contented all their wishes, and with their prudent frugality enabled them liberally to assist the poor. Instead of selling that corn which was not necessary for the subsistence of their family, they made bread of it, which they bestowed on the necessitous, and they usually observed the same rule with regard to their cattle, and the rest of the produce of their small estate. This charitable disposition was the most valuable part of their son’s inheritance, and proved one of the most distinguished virtues in his character during the whole course of his life. When but seven years old he studied every day by various little contrivances to do whatever lay in his power in favour of poor persons, often depriving himself of part of his meals for this purpose, and gathering together what scraps he could find at home or whatever else he could presume on his parents’ consent to give: nor were they backward in approving his conduct on such occasions, or in giving what he asked them for the indigent. This virtue was accompanied in the saint with a practice of assiduous mortification, a modesty and sweetness which charmed every one, perfect love of purity which was never sullied, a predominant love of truth which abhorred the shadow of a lie, and a regular piety and devotion, which made him even from his infancy spend hours together on his knees in the church with extraordinary fervour. The first words which his parents had taught him to pronounce were the names of Jesus and Mary; and during his whole life he had the most tender devotion to the mother of God. His excellent wit began to appear in the school at Villa Nova; and at the age of fifteen he was sent to the university of Alcala, which had been lately founded by Cardinal Ximenes, the great patron of learning, and the celebrated prime minister under Ferdinand and Charles V. Our saint pursued his studies there with a success that drew all eyes upon him, and the cardinal, out of a regard to his merit, gave him a place in St. Ildefonso’s college. By the regularity of his own conduct he engaged many of his fellow-students in the practice of Christian perfection. He mortified his senses with abstinence and great severities: and his whole time was divided between prayer, study, and actions of charity, so that he had none left for pastimes and diversions.
After eleven years spent at Alcala he commenced master of arts, and was made professor of philosophy in that city, being then twenty-six years old. His father had built him a house against his return home from his studies; but this the saint, with the leave of his mother, converted into an hospital. After he had taught two years at Alcala, he was invited with the promise of an honourable stipend, to the same employment at Salamanca, a place famous for its ancient university, which had been founded there by Alphonsus IX. king of Leon, in 1200, and for the many great men who flourished in it. The motives which prevailed with the saint to comply with this invitation were chiefly a desire of shunning the applause which he received at Alcala, and the hopes of removing certain impediments which arose from his friends in the former place, and obstructed his fixed design of quitting the world. He taught moral philosophy two years at Salamanca: during which time he considered what religious retreat he should make choice of. After the most mature deliberation, in which he took a review of the rules of several orders, and considered the spirit of their respective founders, he determined to enter himself among the Hermits of St. Austin. He took the habit in a most rigorous and exemplary house of that institute at Salamanca in 1518, about the time that Luther apostatized from the same order in Germany.
His behaviour in his novitiate was such as showed he had been long inured to austerities, to the renouncing his own will, and the exercises of holy contemplation. The simplicity of his behaviour in his whole conduct charmed his fellow-religious, and made them admire how he seemed totally to forget that he had been professor in a famous university. Soon after the term of his novitiate was expired, he was promoted to priestly orders in 1520, and employed in preaching the word of God, and in administering the sacrament of penance. Of these functions he acquitted himself with such dignity and success that he was surnamed the apostle of Spain. Neither did he interrupt these employments, or allow himself any relaxation in his monastic rules or austerities whilst he taught, with wonderful applause, a course of divinity, in the public school of the Augustinians, at Salamanca. He was afterwards successively prior at Salamanca, Burgos, and Valladolid, was twice provincial of Andalusia, and once of Castile; and behaved himself in all these stations, with a sweetness and zeal which equally edified and gained the hearts of all his religious brethren, so that he governed them rather by the example of his most holy life than by the authority of his charge. His charity made him accessible to all who wanted his assistance, advice, or comfort, and the prudence, skill, and spiritual light with which he applied remedies to the various maladies of human souls manifestly discovered how great a blessing God bestows on a people when he sends them directors animated with his divine spirit, and enlightened by himself. This heavenly succour the saint found in the constant close union of his soul with God. He fell into frequent raptures at his prayers, especially at mass; and though he endeavoured to hide such graces and favours, he was not able to do it: his face after the holy sacrifice, shining like that of Moses, sometimes dazzled the eyes of those who beheld him.
Preaching once in the cathedral church at Burgos, and reproving with zeal the vices and ingratitude of sinners, he held in his hand a crucifix, and cried out from the bottom of his heart with a broken voice: “O Christian, look here, O Christian—” Saying this he was not able to go on, being ravished in an ecstacy. Preaching also at Valladolid on Maunday-Thursday before the emperor Charles V. and explaining the words of St. Peter to our Lord, at the washing of the feet, he repeated: “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Thou Lord of all creatures! thou Creator of the angels! thou God of infinite majesty, washest my feet! The Sovereign Monarch those of a vile creature! the Master his servant’s! the Innocent, a sinner’s feet!” Here falling into a rapture, he broke off his sermon, and remained for some time with his eyes lifted up to heaven, pouring forth abundance of tears. The emperor chose him for one of his preachers; afterwards made him one of his counsellors, received his advice as an oracle of heaven, and sometimes wrote to him when at a distance. For a proof how great the authority of our saint was with that prince, the authors of his life give the following instance. This emperor had signed an order for the execution of certain persons of quality condemned for treason; and neither the archbishop of Toledo, nor his own son Philip, nor all the nobility of Spain, were able, by the warmest solicitations, to move him to mercy. At length our saint, at the request of Philip of Spain, went to him, and by discoursing some time with him, prevailed upon the angry monarch to grant which he asked. When the princes and nobles expressed their surprise hereat, the emperor told them, that when the prior of the Austin Friars of Valladolid desired to obtain any thing of him, he rather commanded than asked it; so strongly did he incline him to what he pleased, by persuading him that it was the will of the Almighty. “He is a true servant of God,” said that prince, and though he abides among mortals, he is worthy the honour due to those who enjoy the crown of immortality.”
Persons of all qualities and conditions consulted him. Nor is it to be expressed with what zeal, prudence, and charity he endeavoured to advance the glory of God among men, especially among those who were committed to his charge. He was most zealous to maintain regular discipline in his Order, and a great enemy to discourses of news among his brethren, or whatever else might dissipate their minds, or introduce the world into their hermitages. When any of his subjects had committed any grievous fault, he joined fasting and bloody disciplines with earnest prayer and tears, that it would please the Lord of mercy to bring back the strayed sheep, for which he had shed his blood. He bore patiently the infirmities and imperfections of others, accommodating himself, like St. Paul, to the humours and weaknesses of every one, where no duty was injured. When he was provincial, he visited his convents with singular diligence, and was particularly careful about four things. The first was the worship of God, that the divine service should be performed with the utmost reverence and attention; that a moderate pause should be observed in the middle of each verse by those who sung in choir; and that all things belonging to the altar should be kept with great neatness and cleanness. The second thing which he recommended, was assiduous reading of the holy scriptures and pious books, with holy meditation, without which he said it is impossible for devotion to last long. Thirdly, he was very solicitous to settle all the religious in every convent in the most perfect concord and union, exhorting every one to the most sincere and tender fraternal charity. Fourthly, he procured that every one should be employed according to his talents, and in those offices for which he was fittest.
Whilst the saint was performing the visitation of his convents, he was nominated by the emperor Charles V. to the archbishopric of Granada, and commanded to repair to Toledo. He obeyed; but undertook the journey with no other view than that of declining the dignity; in which, by his urgent importunities, he succeeded according to his wish. George of Austria, uncle to the emperor, resigning some time after the archbishopric of Valentia, to pass to the bishopric of Liege, the emperor, who was then in Flanders, thought of not venturing to offer him this see because he knew how grievous a mortification it would be to his humility. He therefore ordered his secretary to draw up a placit, or letter of recommendation or nomination, for him to sign in favour of a certain religious man of the Order of St. Jerom. Afterwards, finding that the secretary had put down the name of F. Thomas of Villa Nova, he asked the reason. The secretary answered, that he thought he had heard this name; but would easily rectify the mistake. “By no means,” said the emperor; “this has happened by a particular providence of God. Let us therefore follow his will.” So he signed the placit for St. Thomas, and it was forthwith sent him to Valladolid, where he was prior. The saint wept bitterly upon receiving the news, and used all means possible to excuse himself. But Prince Philip, who was regent of Spain during his father’s absence, was not easily to be overcome; and the archbishop of Toledo, and several others, fearing lest the nomination should be by any means frustrated, engaged the saint’s provincial to command him, in virtue of his religious obedience, and under a threat of excommunication, to submit to the emperor’s will.
Pope Paul III. sent the bull for his consecration, and that ceremony was performed at Valladolid by cardinal John of Tavera, archbishop of Toledo. The saint set out very early next morning for Valentia. His mother, who had converted his house into an hospital for the use of the poor and sick, and resolved to spend the rest of her days in their service, entreated him to take Villa Nova in his way, that she might have the satisfaction of seeing him before she died. But the holy bishop, having recommended that affair to God, according to his usual custom, went directly to his diocess, being persuaded that his present character obliged him to postpone all other considerations to that of hastening to the flock committed to his care. He travelled on foot, in his monastic habit, which was very old, with no other hat than one he had worn ever since his profession, accompanied by one religious man of his Order, and two servants. Upon his arrival at Valentia, he retired to a convent of his Order, where he spent several days in penance and devout prayer, to beg the grace of God; by which he might be enabled worthily to acquit himself of his charge. He took possession of his cathedral on the first day of the ensuing year, 1545; which he was prevailed upon to do with the usual ceremonies, amidst the rejoicings and acclamations of the people. But when he was led to the throne prepared for him in the church, he cast away the cushions and silk tapestry, fell upon his knees on the bare floor, embraced the foot of the cross, and adored our Lord, pouring forth a torrent of tears; and before he rose up he humbly kissed the ground. The chapter, in consideration of his poverty, made him a present of four thousand ducats towards furnishing his house, which he accepted of in an humble and civil manner, and thanked them for their kindness; but he immediately sent the money to the great hospital, with an order to lay it out in repairing the house, for the use of the poor patients. The first thing he did after the public ceremonies were over, was to visit the prisons of his bishopric, and judging them too dark and inconvenient, he ordered them to be changed, and make commodious.
It is often said, that “Honours change manners:” but our saint kept not only the same perfect humility of heart, but, as much as possible, the same exterior marks of a sovereign contempt of himself and all worldly vanity. He went almost as meanly apparelled as before; and even kept for some years the very habit which he brought from his monastery, which he sometimes mended himself, as he had been wont to do in his convent. One of his canons surprising him one day in the fact, said, he wondered he would so meanly employ his time, which a tailor would save him for a trifle. The servant of God said, that he was still a religious man, and that that trifle would feed some poor man; but he desired him to tell nobody of what he saw him doing. Ordinarily he wore only old clothes, insomuch, that his canons and domestics were ashamed of him, himself alone not blushing. When he was pressed by them to put himself into a dress and equipage suitable to his dignity, his answer was, that he had made a vow of poverty; and that his authority did not depend upon his dress or appearance, but was to be supported by his zeal and vigilance. With much ado his canons gained so far upon him that he cast away his woollen hat, and wore one of silk. Upon which he used afterwards sometimes to show his hat, and merrily say: “Behold my episcopal dignity: my masters the canons judged it necessary that I should wear this silk hat, that I might be numbered among the archbishops.” The frugality of his table was not less extraordinary, and he continued to observe the fasts and abstinence prescribed by his rule: nor would he ever suffer any expensive fish to be bought for his table; saying, the superfluous price would feast some poor person; and that he was not master, but only dispenser of the goods of the church. In Advent and Lent, upon Wednesdays and Fridays, and on vigils, he contented himself with a little bread and water, fasting till night. His palace was a true house of poverty: there was no tapestry to be seen in it; nor did he use any linen, unless when he was sick; he oftentimes took his rest upon a bundle of dry sticks, with no other pillow than a hard stone.
He discharged all the duties of a good pastor, and visited the churches of his diocess, preaching every where, both in the towns and villages, with such zeal and affection, that the words which came from his mouth seemed so many flashes of lightning, or claps of thunder. His sermons were followed with a wonderful change of the manners and lives of men, in all places he visited, so that one might say he was a new apostle or prophet raised by God to reform that people. Having ended his visitation, he assembled a provincial council, where, with the advice of his fellow-bishops, he made holy ordinances to cut off the abuses he had taken notice of in his visitation, especially to establish a perfect reformation of his clergy. To effect that of his own chapter it cost him much difficulty and time; though he at last gained his point. On all emergencies, like another Moses, he had recourse to the tabernacle to learn the will of God: he often spent nights and days in his oratory to beg light from above. The saint perceiving that his servants made a difficulty to disturb him at his devotions when persons came to consult him, gave them a strict charge, that as soon as any one asked for him, they should immediately call him, without making the party wait; giving them this reason, that though solitude and retirement were his sweetest delight, since he had accepted the archbishopric he was no longer his own master, but was engaged in the service of his flock. By his assiduity in prayer he obtained so excellent a gift of counsel and prudence, that when he had passed sentence, or given his opinion in any matter of importance, the lawyers were wont to say, there was no room for any further doubt. When any affair of great consequence was to be despatched, or any notorious sinners or public malefactors appeared deaf to all exhortations, the holy pastor spent whole nights in prayer, and to render his prayers more efficacious, he accompanied them with tears and with some extraordinary austerities and alms. Thus he obtained of God several wonderful conversions of obstinate sinners and malefactors, especially of two wicked priests. One of these he had conjured, in the most tender and vehement expressions, to remember how dear a price his soul cost our Redeemer, and finding him not sufficiently softened, he threw himself down before a crucifix, and pouring out a deluge of tears, uncovered his back, and tore his body with a discipline, so that his garments were all stained with his blood. Which charity moved the other to begin to weep for himself, and to cast himself at his feet, beseeching him to forbear exercising that cruelty against himself, saying: “It is I who have sinned, and who deserve all punishment,” &c. 1
St. Thomas was most bountiful and tender towards all his servants. His bishopric was worth eighteen thousand ducats per annum; two thousand of which were paid to Prince George of Austria, as a pension reserved to him upon his resignation: twelve thousand the saint gave to the poor, not reserving one penny for the following year, and he allowed himself only four thousand to defray all the expenses of his family, repairs of his palace, &c. There came to his door every day about five hundred poor people, and each of them received an alms, which was ordinarily bread and pottage, with a cup of wine and a piece of money. He took all poor orphans under his particular care; and for the space of eleven years that he was archbishop, not one poor maid was married who was not helped by his charity. He brought up all the foundling infants in his diocess with the tenderness of a careful mother; often visited them all, and gave extraordinary recompenses to those nurses who were particularly tender and diligent. To his porters, to make them more diligent in finding children who were exposed by their parents, he gave a crown for every foundling they brought him. When, in 1550, a pirate had plundered a town in his diocess, near the sea-coast, the archbishop immediately sent four thousand ducats, and cloth worth as much more, to furnish the inhabitants with necessaries, and to ransom the captives.
Nor was he only the support of the poor himself, but he engaged the great lords, and all who were rich, to make their grandeur appear, not by pomp and vanities, but by becoming the fathers and protectors of their vassals, and by their profuse liberality to the necessitous. He exhorted them to be richer in mercy and charity, than they were in earthly possessions. “Answer me, O sinner,” he would say, “what can you purchase with your money better, or more necessary, than the redemption of your sins?” At other times he would say: “If you desire that God should hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you desire that God should relieve your wants, relieve those of the indigent, without waiting for them to importune you; especially anticipate the necessities of those who are ashamed to beg; to make these ask an alms, is to make them to buy it.” His charity towards his neighbour, and all his other virtues received their perfection from the most ardent love of God which burnt in his pure breast, and which he expressed both by works and by the most tender words and sweet sighs. “Thou commandest me, O Lord,” said he sometimes in imitation of St. Austin, “to love thee in all things, and above all things; and thou commandest me this very strictly, under pain of being for ever deprived of the vision of thy beautiful and amiable face, which the angels desire continually to behold. And what! is it possible, O my God, that I should be so ungrateful and so base as to stand in need of such a precept? After having been created by Thee to thy own image, and redeemed with the infinite price of the blood of thy dear Son; after having received so many and so great favours, do I stand in need of a command to love thee? Ah! my God, thou confoundest me by this precept. But, O infinitely sweet and delicious command! O light burden! I return Thee immortal thanks, O my God, for having obliged me by so holy and so desirable a law, to love thee. What could be so agreeable and pleasant, so just and so glorious as to love Thee? Is it possible that any creature capable of knowing Thee, should not love Thee? If I were forbidden to love Thee, this ought to seem impossible and intolerable to me. This affrights me above all the other evils and torments of hell. O wretched creatures who are condemned to that unhappy place, because you love not, but hate and blaspheme your Creator! is this the acknowledgment you render him? May I perish, O my God, rather than ever cease to love Thee. If I forget Thee, let my own right hand be forgotten. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember Thee, and always make Thee the object of my joy and love,” &c. 2 And again, “Who can be excused from so sweet and light a precept? How justly is he damned eternally who chooses rather to burn in hell than to love Thee.” 3
St. Thomns not being able, through the weakness of his health, to assist in person at the council of Trent, deputed thither the bishop Huësca in his place. Most of the Spanish bishops who went, repaired first to Valentia to receive his advice. The saint lived in perpetual fear and apprehension under the grievous obligations of the episcopal charge, and used to say, that, “he was never so much afraid lest he should be blotted out of the number of the predestinated, as since he had been enrolled in the list of bishops.” He had often employed his interest at Rome and at the court of Spain for leave to resign his dignity. God was pleased at length to hear his prayer, by calling him to himself. The blessed man having been forewarned by a vision that he should die on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, was taken ill of a quinsy, attended with a violent fever, on the 29th of August. He began his immediate preparation for his passage by a general confession of his very least faults, which he made with many tears, as if he had been the greatest of all sinners. Then he received the viaticum; on which occasion, by a most pathetic exhortation which he made, he moved all that were present to weep bitterly. And having commanded all the money then in his possession (which amounted to four thousand ducats) to be distributed among the poor in all the parishes of the city, he then ordered all his goods to be given to the rector of his college, except the bed on which he lay. Being desirous to go naked out of the world, he gave this bed also to the jailer, for the use of prisoners, but borrowed it of him till such time as he should expire. Understanding that some money had been brought in for him, he caused it to be immediately sent to the poor at midnight. On the 8th of September in the morning, perceiving his strength to decay, he caused the passion of our Lord according to St. John to be read to him, during which he frequently lifted up his eyes bathed in tears towards a crucifix. Then he ordered mass to be said in his presence, and after the consecration, recited the psalm, In te, Domine, speravi, &c., streams of tears falling from his eyes; after the priest’s communion he said that verse: Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit; at which words he rendered his soul into the hands of God, in the sixty-seventh year of his age, the eleventh of his episcopal dignity, of our Lord 1555. He was buried, according to his desire, in the church of the Austin Friars at Valentia: was beatified by Paul V., in 1618, and canonized by Alexander VII., in 1658. His festival was appointed to be celebrated on the 18th of September. His sermons, and his exposition of the book of Canticles, printed in two volumes in quarto, breathe an admirable spirit of humility, and the ardent love of God and our Blessed Redeemer. The relation of many miracles wrought through his intercession and by his relics, with most authentic attestations, may be seen in the process of his canonization prefixed to his works.
Nothing can be more vehement or more tender than his exhortation to divine love. “O wonderful beneficence!” he cries out; “God promises us heaven for the recompence of his love. Is not his love itself a great reward? a blessing the most desirable, the most amiable, and the most sweet! Yet a recompence, and so immense a recompence, further waits upon it. O wonderful excess of goodness! Thou givest thy love, and for this thy love thou bestowest on us paradise. Such and so great a good is thy love, that to obtain it, all torments and fatigues ought joyfully to have been undergone. Yet this thou bestowest on us free cost; and then givest heaven for its reward. O Omnipotent Jesus, give me what thou commandest. For though to love Thee be of all things the most sweet; yet it is above the reach and strength of nature. I am, notwithstanding, inexcusable, if I do not love Thee; for thou grantest thy love to all who desire or ask it. I cannot see without light: yet if I shut my eyes in the midst of the noon-day light, the fault is in me, not in the sun.” 4
Note 1. See Rodericus a Cygnâ archiep. Bracar. l, de confessar. solicitant. qu. 13, n. 38. [back]
Note 2. S. Tho. a Villâ Novâ Serm. l, super Diliges Dominum Deum Tuam. [back]
Note 3. Ibid. See also Serm, de M. Magdalenâ, &c. [back]
Note 4. Serm, super Diliges Dominum, &c. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
Esteban Murillo. Santo Tomás de Villanueva orando ante el crucifijo,
huile sur bois, 130 x 72,
Sevilla, Museo de Bellas Artes
Educator, philanthropist, born at Fuentellana, Spain, 1488; died at Valencia, 8 September, 1555. Son of Aloazo Tomas Garcia and Lucia Martínez Castellanos, the saint was brought up in the practices of religion and charity. Every Friday his father was wont to give in alms all the meal he earned at the mill, besides his usual daily dole of bread. On great feast-days he added wood, wine, and money; while to poor farmers he loaned money and seed. On the death of her husband, Lucia continued the usual alms, and supplied indigent maidens in the neighbourhood with clothing and money. When sixteen tears old, Thomas entered the University of Alcalá, where, after proceeding master of arts and licentiate in theology, he filled the chair (1514) of arts, logic, and philosophy. Among his auditors were the famed scholars Ferdinand de Encina and Dominic Soto. With Alcalá, however, ended his university associations, he having declined the chair of natural philosophy at Salamanca, where he joined the Augustinians in 1516, his vows following a year later, and his ordination to priesthood the year after; his first Mass was celebrated at Christmas, 1518. At Salamanca Convent Thomas was given the class of scholastic theology because of his attachment for books, chiefly the Lombard and St. Thomas, and his exemplary life. Preaching in the pulpits of Spain was soon added to his duties, among other places at Valencia, the field of his later trials, and Valladolid, seat of the imperial Court and residence of the Emperor Charles V when on his visits to the Low Countries. In this last-named city St. Thomas was named by the emperor his court preacher, and one of his councillors of state. Rarely, however, did the saint pay visits of ceremony to the then master of Europe, though his written correspondence with Charles, who held his opinions in high esteem, was voluminous. Towards the close of his life, while at Valencia, he had all the emperor's letters destroyed; his own letters to the emperor, however, are now stored at Simancas.
Apart from these burdens Thomas held many offices of trust in his order, e.g. as convent prior in various cities, among others at Valladolid in 1544, the very year he was called to the See of Valencia. Moreover, he was twice provincial-prior, first of Andalusia and Castile in 1527, then six years later of Castile alone, whence the first mission band of his brethren was sent across the Atlantic in 1533 to establish houses of their order in Mexico. On 5 Aug., 1544, he received his nomination to the Archbishopric of Valencia, a post that for well-nigh a hundred years had witnessed no bishop in residence, an appointment that was confirmed by Paul III. Previously St. Thomas had declined the See of Granada, offered him by the emperor, while that of Valencia he accepted only through obedience to his superiors. He was consecrated in the church of his order at Valladolid by Juan, Cardinal Tavera de Pardo, Archbishop of Toledo. On his entrance to his see on 1 Jan., 1545, of which he was thirty-second bishop and eighth archbishop, St. Thomas opened his career as legislator and philanthropist, which won for him the titles of "Almsgiver", "Father of the Poor", and "Model of Bishops", given him at his beatification in 1618 by Paul V. During his eleven years of episcopal rule his most noteworthy deeds were as follows: a visitation of his diocese, opened a few weeks after entrance into his see. Among other amendments he inhibited his visitators from accepting any gifts whatever. He then held a synod, the first at Valencia for many years, whereby he sought to do away with a number of abuses, as bloodshed, divorce, concubinage, and many excessive privileges or unreasonable exemptions; he abolished the underground prisons; rebuilt the general hospital at Valencia which had just been destroyed by fire; founded two colleges, one for young ecclesiastics, the other for poor students; laboured for the conversion of the nuevos Cristianos, whose profession of Christianity was largely mere outward show; established a creche near his palace for foundlings and the offspring of indigent parents; had Mass said at early hours for the working-classes; and in brief, by statutes, by preaching, and by example, strove to reform the morals of churchman and layman.
Towards the poor especially his heart was ever alive with pity; to them his palace gate was always open; daily he had a repast for every poor person that applied for help, as many even as four to five hundred thus getting their meals at his hands. In every district of the city he had almoners appointed with orders especially to search out the respectable persons who shrank from asking alms; these he had supplied with money, food, clothing, while as to indigent workmen, poor farmers, and mechanics, he replenished their stock and brought them tools, thus putting them in the way of making a living. His whole life as replete with acts of practical kindness. He spent his spare time chiefly in prayer and study; his table was one of simple fare, with no luxuries. His dress was inexpensive; he mended with his own hands whatever needed repairs. Numberless are the instances of St. Thomas' supernatural gifts, of his power of healing the sick, of multiplication of food, of redressing grievances, of his ecstasies, of his conversions of sinners. He was taken ill in August, 1555, of angina pectoris, of which he died at the age of 67, at the termination of Mass in his bedroom. His last words were the versicles: "In manus tuas, Domine", etc.; his remains were entombed at the convent Church of Our Lady of Help of his order outside the city walls, whence later they were brought to the cathedral. The saint was of well-knit frame, of medium height, with dark complexion, brilliant eyes, ruddy cheeks, and Roman nose. He was beatified by Paul V (7 Oct., 1618), who set his feast-day for 18 Sept., and canonized by Alexander VII on 1 Nov., 1658.
Various reasons are given to account for St. Thomas' non-appearance at the Council of Trent, among them that he was ill, unable to stand the fatigue of travel; that his people would not brook his absence; and that the emperor was unable to do without his aid at home. The writings of St. Thomas, mainly sermons, are replete with practical norms of mystic theology. Some twenty editions have been published, the best and most complete being probably that of Manila, 1882-1884, in 5 tomes.
ST. THOMAS OF VILLANOVA
On Sept. 22, the Catholic Church remembers Saint Thomas of Villanova, a 16th century Spanish Augustinian monk and archbishop who lived a life of austerity in order to provide for the spiritual and material needs of his people.
Born during 1488 in the Spanish region of Castile, in the town of Villanova de los Infantes, Thomas Garcia was raised to take after the faith and charitable works of his parents Alphonsus and Lucia. His father, a mill worker, regularly distributed food and provisions to the poor, as did his mother.
Generous and devout from an early age, their son was also intellectually gifted, beginning his studies at the University of Alcala at age 16. Within ten years he had become a professor of philosophy at that same university, where he taught for two years before being offered a more prestigious position at the University of Salamanca.
Thomas, however, chose not to continue his academic career. After his father’s death, he had determined to leave much of his inheritance to the poor and sick rather than retaining it himself. At age 28, after much deliberation, Thomas embraced a life of chastity, poverty, and religious obedience with his entry into the monastic Order of St. Augustine.
Thomas made his first vows as an Augustinian in 1517 and was ordained a priest in 1518. He taught theology within his order and became renowned for his eloquent and effective preaching in the churches of Salamanca. This led to his appointment as a court preacher and adviser to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Presented with the prospect of being named an archbishop, Thomas initially declined and instead continued his work within the Order of St. Augustine, during a period that saw its expansion across the sea to Mexico. In August of 1544, however, he was ordered by his religious superiors to accept his appointment as the Archbishop of Valencia.
Thomas arrived wearing the same well-worn monastic habit that he had worn for several years and would continue wearing for years to come. Given a donation to decorate his residence, he funnelled the money to a hospital in need of repair. After his installation, he visited local prisons and ordered changes to be made in response to their inhumane conditions.
While continuing his life of monastic asceticism, the archbishop worked to improve the spiritual lives and living conditions of the faithful. He gave special attention to the needs of the poor, feeding and sheltering them in his own residence. During the same period he worked to promote education, restore religious orthodoxy, and reform the lifestyles of clergy and laypersons.
After 11 years leading the Archdiocese of Valencia, St. Thomas of Villanova succumbed to a heart condition at the end of a Mass held in his home on Sept. 8, 1555. He is said to have died on the floor rather than in his bed, which he insisted on offering to a poor man who had come to his house. Pope Alexander VII canonized him in 1658.
St. Thomas of Villanova
Villanova University is named for a Spanish Augustinian, Thomas García (1486-1555), the son of a miller who was born in Fuenllana, a village near Villanova de los Infantes, Castile, Spain. Thomas studied at the University of Alcalá where he received his master’s degree in 1509, and the insignia marking him as a doctor shortly thereafter. In 1512, he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Alcalá where his lectures were received enthusiastically for their clarity and conviction. In addition, Thomas was praised by his students and colleagues for always being friendly and helpful.
In 1516, Thomas was offered the chair of philosophy at the prestigious University of Salamanca, where the Augustinians had founded a monastery in 1377. Thomas declined the chair and instead entered the Augustinian Order in that city. Ordained to the priesthood in 1520, Thomas was soon asked to assume administrative positions in the Order. He served as prior of the Augustinian houses in Salamanca, Burgos, and Valladolid, and was later elected provincial of Andalusia and Castile. As provincial, he sent the first Augustinian missionaries to the New World where they helped evangelize what is now modern Mexico and, from there, the Philippines.
Thomas’ many gifts, especially his scholarship, powerful, uncompromising oratory, skills as a mediator and administrator, and his sensitivity to the feelings and needs of others, brought him to the attention of Emperor Charles V, who appointed him court chaplain and then archbishop of Valencia in 1544.
Thomas flourished in Spain at a time when the European peoples of the fifteenth and sixteenth century were confronted by challenges to their world views of the natural world, ecclesiastical authority, and the moral dilemmas concerning the nature of African slaves and the indigenous peoples of the Americas. As priest and archbishop, Thomas insisted that the material resources of the Church should be shared with those in the greatest need. His life was characterized by the love of learning, peacemaking, and as a reformer of the Church.
His Intellectual Legacy
Thomas’ intellectual legacy is reflected in his constant demand that all learning must be inspired by the desire for God. He celebrated learning as an activity that ought to make a difference in the community and in the world. He emphasized that justice and love are the guiding rules of virtue and learning. In Thomas’ writings we find a rich synthesis of the thought of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, especially his emphasis on the innate desire for God in all peoples, the image of God in the human person, the power of grace, and a theology of love.
Thomas found himself in an ecclesiastical world that was fraught with turmoil and struggles for power. His scathing attacks on his fellow bishops earned him the title of reformer, but he was motivated by a genuine desire that Church leadership personify the teachings of the Beatitudes. In words that are very contemporary, Thomas challenged all within the Church to serve the least powerful, and to discover love and wisdom in the service of others.
Thomas was known as “father of the poor.” He established social programs on behalf of the poor, including boarding schools and high schools for poor young men. For girls he provided dowries enabling them to be married with dignity. For the hungry, he created a soup kitchen in the bishop’s palace, and for the homeless he provided a place to sleep. In an Advent sermon, he said: “Rejoice, then, you poor people; shout for joy, you needy ones; because even if the world holds you in contempt you are highly valued by your Lord God and the angels.” His love of the poor extended to all creation. Thomas’ teachings, scholarship, and special concern for the impoverished inspire Villanova’s mission of seeking wisdom, love, and justice.