I would rather have that Chrysostom manuscript

From G.K. Chesterton’s St. Thomas Aquinas:

The new Paris ultimately left behind by St. Louis must have been a thing white like lilies and splendid as the oriflamme.  It was the beginning of the great new thing: the nation of France, which was to pierce and overpower the old quarrel of Pope and Emperor in the lands from which Thomas came.  But Thomas came very unwillingly and, if we may say it of so kindly a man, rather sulkily.  As he entered Paris, they showed him from the hill that splendour of new spires beginning, and somebody said something like, “How grand it must be to own all this.”  And Thomas Aquinas only muttered, “I would rather have that Chrysostom manuscript I can’t get hold of.”

This seems a near universal anecdote in the various vitae of Aquinas, though Chesterton, in typical fashion, polishes it up a bit from the drier phrasing of the originals, one of which is as follows:

“Once, coming from Saint Denis with his students, where he had gone to visit the holy relics and that holy college of monks, and when he had seen the city of Paris right at hand, his students said to him, thinking they would hear some edifying reply: “Master, see how beautiful a city Paris is!  Would you wish to be lord of this city?”  He responded: “With more pleasure would I have the homilies of Chrysostom on the Gospel of Saint Matthew.  For this city, if it were mine, would, on account of the concern given to ruling, carry off the contemplation of divine matters and inhibit the consolation of the soul.”(William of Tocco, Ystoria sancti Thome de Aquino 42, written 1323)

“semel ueniens de sancto Dyonisio cum suis studentibus,  quo iuerat sanctorum reliquias et sanctum illud monachorum collegium uisitare, et uidisset de propinquo ciuitatem Parisiensem, dixerunt ei studentes:  ‘Magister, uidete quam pulchra ciuitas est Parisius!  Velletis esse dominus huius ciuitatis?’, credentes ab eo aliquod uerbum edificationis audire.  Qui respondit:  ‘Libentius uellem habere Omelias Chrisostomi super Euangelium beati Mathei.  Ciuitas enim hec si esset mea, propter curam regiminis contemplationem michi diuinorum eriperet et consolationem animi impediret.'”

The homilies on Matthew do exist today, but I haven’t taken the time to figure out whether Aquinas simply couldn’t get a copy or whether (which seems unlikely, given the prominence of Chrysostom) they had been lost to circulation in the period.

 

 

 

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