St. Thomas Aquinas: Counsels to a Student

You have asked me, John, most dear to me in Christ, how you should set about studying in order to build up a rich store of knowledge.  This is the advice I give you on the subject.

  1. Do not plunge straight into the sea, but rather enter it by way of little streams, because it is wise to work upward from the easier to the more difficult.  This, then, is what I would teach you, and you must learn.
  2. I would have you slow to speak.
  3. Cherish purity of conscience.
  4. Never omit your times of prayer.
  5. Love to stay in your own cell if you want to gain admission to God’s wine-cellar.
  6. Show a cheerful face to all.
  7. Never pry into other people’s business.
  8. Do not become over-familiar with anyone, because familiarity breeds contempt and gives a pretext for neglecting serious work.
  9. Take care not to interfere in the words and actions of outsiders.
  10. Do not waste time in useless talking.
  11. Be sure to follow in the footsteps of good and holy men and women.
  12. Do not concentrate on the personality of the speaker, but treasure up in your mind anything profitable he or she may happen to say.
  13. See that you thoroughly grasp whatever you read and hear.
  14. And do your best to hoard up whatever you can in that little book-case of your mind; you wat to fill it as full as possible.
  15. Do not concern yourself with things beyond your competence.

By following this path, you will throw out leaves and bear serviceable fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts all the days of your life.  If you stick to these counsels, you will reach the goal of your desires.  Farewell.

——St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)


Note:  I copied this from a card I bought for Php 10 from Loyola Schools Bookstore of the the Ateneo de Manila University.  The front cover is the picture of St. Thomas Aquinas holding a book with his left hand and a pen on his right hand.  The backcover is the Arch of the Century of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, the Catholic University of the Philippines.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Is Light a Body?

Light cannot be a body, for three evident reasons. First, on the part of place. For the place of any one body is different from that of any other, nor is it possible, naturally speaking, for any two bodies of whatever nature, to exist simultaneously in the same place; since contiguity requires distinction of place.[1]

The second reason is from movement. For if light were a body, its diffusion would be the local movement of a body. Now no local movement of a body can be instantaneous, as everything that moves from one place to another must pass through the intervening space before reaching the end: whereas the diffusion of light is instantaneous. Nor can it be argued that the time required is too short to be perceived; for though this may be the case in short distances, it cannot be so in distances so great as that which separates the East from the West. Yet as soon as the sun is at the horizon, the whole hemisphere is illuminated from end to end[2]. It must also be borne in mind on the part of movement that whereas all bodies have their natural determinate movement, that of light is indifferent as regards direction, working equally in a circle as in a straight line[3]. Hence it appears that the diffusion of light is not the local movement of a body. [4]

The third reason is from generation and corruption. For if light were a body, it would follow that whenever the air is darkened by the absence of the luminary, the body of light would be corrupted, and its matter would receive a new form. But unless we are to say that darkness is a body, this does not appear to be the case. Neither does it appear from what matter a body can be daily generated large enough to fill the intervening hemisphere. Also it would be absurd to say that a body of so great a bulk is corrupted by the mere absence of the luminary. And should anyone reply that it is not corrupted, but approaches and moves around with the sun, we may ask why it is that when a lighted candle is obscured by the intervening object the whole room is darkened? It is not that the light is condensed round the candle when this is done, since it burns no more brightly then than it burned before.

Since, therefore, these things are repugnant, not only to reason, but to common sense, we must conclude that light cannot be a body.


Reference: St. Thomas Aquinas, ”Is light a body,” in Summa Theologiae, part I, question 67, article 2.  In Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

[1]  We may translate Aquinas’s “body” as “matter”.  Matter occupies space; light does not.  Matter has mass; light is massless.  But Aquinas does not talk about mass of light.  A closer translation of “body” would be Newton’s corpuscles (corpus = body): light is a stream of particles.

[2] The speed of light is now known to be finite: c = 299,792,458 m/s or about 3×108 m/s.  The old definition of the meter is 1/10,000,000 of the distance from the equator to the northpole. This means that the distance between the poles through a longitudinal line is about a = 20,000,000 m or 2×107. The time for light to traverse this path, possibly through an an optical fiber link between the poles, is c/a = (2/3)×107-8 = 0.67×10-1 = 0.067 s = 1/15 s.  The standard frame rate for old cartoon films is 16 frames per second, so that the pictures will appear continuous.  If we consider pole-to-pole (or East to West) travel of light as a single frame, then the corresponding movie has 15 frames per second.  Thus, to an human observer on the equator, the speed of light is nearly instantaneous, as Aquinas argued: “the sun is at the horizon, the whole hemisphere is illuminated from end to end.”

[3]  Light is also known to be a wave.  A simple model of light is a plane wave, like waves in a seashore.  Another useful model is that light is a spherical wave, which move out like ripples caused by a coin tossed in a still pond.  This model is still used in the design of optical optical systems like lenses and mirrors.

[4]  The accepted description of light today is the so-called wave-particle duality: light sometimes behave like a particle and sometimes like a wave, depending on how you measure it.

Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J.: The Priests Who Brought Christianity to the Philippines Belonged to the Church of the Counter-Reformation

The lowland peoples of the Philippines were converted to Roman Catholic Christianity by priests and brothers of the missionary religious orders which had establishments in Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  They were, in the order of their first arrival in the islands, the Augustinians (1565), the Franciscans (1578), the Jesuits (1581), the Dominicans (1587), and the Augustinian Recollects (1606).

Very few secular priests came to the Philippines during the period of Spanish rule.  Those that did serve mostly as cathedral clergy in Manila and Cebu.

In the beginning, the Philippine missonaries were almost all Spaniards born in Spain itself (peninsulares).  In the course o the Seventeenth Century they were joined by Spaniard[s] born in the colonies (criollos), andlater still by other Europeans, mostly from the Hapsburg dominions.  However, penisular Spaniards constituted the preponderant majority of the Philippine clergy until the very end of Spanish rule.

Thus, the priest who brought Christianity to the Philippines were men who belonged, spiritually, to the church of the Counter-Reformation, intellectually, to the Age of the Baroque.

They were men of the Counter-Reformation Church, the Church that was closing ranks against the novatores, the innovating Protestants of the northern European countries who were challenging the traditional beliefs of Catholics.  They were deeply concerned about preserving the ”purity of faith,” by which they meant scripture and tradition as interpreted by medieval scholastics, of whom Saint Thomas Aquinas was prince; the faith as most recently defined by the Council of Trent, and as authoritatively regulated and enforced by the Holy See and the Spanish Inquisition. This was the faith that they meant to preserve intact, and to transmit to those who did not yet have it.

This faith was not only the truth, but the whole truth regarding man’s condition and his ordination to God his Creator.  All men are to be persuaded to accept this truth in its totality.  If they cannot be persuaded, they they must be compelled—the ”compelle intrare” of the gospel—for otherwise they cannot be saved.  Extra ecclesiam nulla salus—there is no salvation outside the church.

This may serve to explain the extreme caution—one might almost say the intransigence—with which the Spanish missionaries who founded our Philippine Christinaity regarded any departure from the religous practices they were used to.  Nil innoventur nisi quod traditum est—let there be no innovations, except those handed down by tradition.  We may consider this an impracticable, even an inconsisten principle.  We must nevertheless try to understand, and to symphatize with it as a principle sincerely held.

The adaptation of Christianity to anon-European culture was not antecedently and entirely excluded.  But it was a very limited form of adaptation, whose object seemed to be simply to make Christian belief and practice more palatable to the people being evangelized.  There was no real attempt to learn from the alien culture; to seek elements in it which might possibly enrich Christian belief or make Christian worship more meaningful.  This was not possible to men of the Counter-Reformation.  How could it be?  Their reaction to the Protestant revolt was to defend the Roman Catholic tradition in its entirety; to preserve it intact and to transmit it intact, because it was the whole truth about man and God.  Any departure from it by a Christian was simply heresy, and whatever pagans believed in was simply error, the vain imaginings of people who ”sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”


Horacio de la Costa, “The priest in the Philippine life and society: an historical view,” in Church and Sacraments, ed. by Ma. Victoria B. Parco, (Department of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University), pp.  192-200.  The posted excerpt is pp. 192-193.  The original article is from Loyola Papers no. 12 (Manila: Ateneo, CBI, 1980), pp. 4-15.

About the Author:

Reverend Father Horacio de la Costa, S.J. (1916-1970) was the first Filipino Provincial General of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, and a recognized authority in Philippine and Asian culture and history. (Wikipedia)

The Ateneo de Manila Website has his picture, early writings, and biography).

Aquinas: Is the Star of the Magi a Star?

As Chrysostom says (Hom. vi in Matth.), it is clear, for many reasons, that the star which appeared to the Magi did not belong to the heavenly system:[1]

  1. Because no other star approaches from the same quarter as this star, whose course was from north to south, these being the relative positions of Persia, whence the Magi came, and Judea.
  2. From the time [at which it was seen]. For it appeared not only at night, but also at midday[2]: and no star can do this, not even the moon.
  3. Because it was visible at one time and hidden at another[3]. For when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself: then, when they had left Herod, it showed itself again.
  4. Because its movement was not continuous[4], but when the Magi had to continue their journey the star moved on; when they had to stop the star stood still; as happened to the pillar of a cloud in the desert.
  5. Because it indicated the virginal Birth, not by remaining aloft, but by coming down below. For it is written (Mat. 2:9) that “the star which they had seen in the east went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was.” Whence it is evident that the words of the Magi, “We have seen His star in the east,” are to be taken as meaning, not that when they were in the east the star appeared over the country of Judea, but that when they saw the star it was in the east, and that it preceded them into Judea (although this is considered doubtful by some). But it could not have indicated the house distinctly, unless it were near the earth. And, as he [Chrysostom] observes, this does not seem fitting to a star, but “of some power endowed with reason.” Consequently “it seems that this was some invisible force made visible under the form of a star.”

Wherefore some say that, as the Holy Ghost, after our Lord’s Baptism, came down on Him under the form of a dove, so did He appear to the Magi under the form of a star. While others say that the angel who, under a human form, appeared to the shepherds, under the form of a star, appeared to the Magi. But it seems more probable that it was a newly created star, not in the heavens, but in the air near the earth, and that its movement varied according to God’s will. Wherefore Pope Leo says in a sermon on the Epiphany (xxxi): “A star of unusual brightness appeared to the three Magi in the east, which, through being more brilliant and more beautiful than the other stars, drew men’s gaze and attention: so that they understood at once that such an unwonted event could not be devoid of purpose.”


[1]  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, part III, question 36, Art. 7.   13 Dec 2008 <,magi#highlight>

[2] The supernova SN 1006 was also claimed to be visible during daylight hours. See “SN 1006,” Wikepedia. 13 Dec 2008 <>

[3] Perhaps a type of eclipsing binary star system with a period of a few days and with large drops in steller magnitudes during eclipses. c.f. <>

[4] This is the most difficult to explain, if we assume that the star is in the heavens.

Feast of St. Albert the Great

Today, November 15, is the Feast of St. Albertus Magnus, my patron saint.  Here are some excerpts about him from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Known as Albert the Great; scientist, philosopher, and theologian, born c. 1206; died at Cologne, 15 November 1280. He is called “the Great”, and “Doctor Universalis” (Universal Doctor), in recognition of his extraordinary genius and extensive knowledge, for he was proficient in every branch of learning cultivated in his day, and surpassed all his contemporaries, except perhaps Roger Bacon (1214-94), in the knowledge of nature. Ulrich Engelbert, a contemporary, calls him the wonder and the miracle of his age

The influence exerted by Albert on the scholars of his own day and on those of subsequent ages was naturally great. His fame is due in part to the fact that he was the forerunner, the guide and master of St. Thomas Aquinas, but he was great in his own name, his claim to distinction being recognized by his contemporaries and by posterity. It is remarkable that thisfriar of the Middle Ages, in the midst of his many duties as a religious, as provincial of his order, as bishop and papal legate, as preacher of a crusade, and while making many laborious journeys from Cologne to Paris and Rome, and frequent excursions into different parts of Germany, should have been able to compose a veritable encyclopedia, containing scientific treatises on almost every subject, and displaying an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology which surprised his contemporaries and still excites the admiration of learned men in our own times. He was, in truth, a Doctor Universalis. Of him it in justly be said: Nil tetigit quod non ornavit; and there is no exaggeration in the praises of the modern critic who wrote: “Whether we consider him as a theologian or as a philosopher, Albert was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary men of his age; I might say, one of the most wonderful men of genius who appeared in past times” (Jourdain, Recherches Critiques).