St. Thomas of Villanova

St. Thomas of Villanova and his Traditional Feast

Augustinian Archbishop of Valencia, Spain
Traditional Feast, September 22

Today is the old feast of St. Thomas of Villanova, an Augustinian bishop of Valencia, Spain. He is known to us as the Father of the Poor. He was also an eloquent Imperial preacher, a bold reformer of the Augustinian way of life of his province, a humble and simple bishop who showed a countercultural lifestyle to his fellow prelates of his time. He was known doling out to the poor wearing his simple black Augustinian habit rather than wearing the prestige of his episcopal position. He was also an eager supporter of foreign missions in the new world and in the west indies. Because of him, one of the first friars arrived in the Philippines in 1565, Fray Andres de Aguirre, OSA, was honed to be an aspiring missionary to Mexico. During Archbishop Thomas’ tenure as a Prior Provincial, Fray Aguirre and many other friars became missionaries to Mexico and from there they became missionaries to the Philippines. Archbishop Thomas Garcia Martinez, OSA, his complete name, was also a theologian of God’s merciful love, preaching conscientious sermons about daily Christian living and interpreted by his works of mercy. His episcopal emblem is dominated by a symbol of a pelican which is an avian that resembles selfless giving. A pelican is known to feed her offspring with her own blood when famine strikes and no food can be gleaned around. Thomas bled God’s mercy by stripping himself with the last property tied to him. Even in the final moments of his life he was lain on a bed, once his own, but eventually given to somebody else before he expired. He asked only to borrow that bed where he can give himself time to prepare for his eternal departure and then it can be given back to the rightful inheritor of his bed after his death.

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The earliest Officia Propria OSA had its latest updates in 1839 which shows that St. Thomas’ feast was celebrated on September 18. Perhaps some years after that, there had been a change from September 18 to September 22 as shown in this Table of the Proper Augustinian Saints by 1916’s Edition of Officia Propria PSA. This has been the traditional feast of Saint Thomas of Villanova retained in the practices of parishes of Augustinians around the country. In this edition, the octave of Thomas was abolished.

Down the history, the feast of Saint Thomas was celebrated in many different days for his death coincided on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8. Hence, he was once commemorated on September 18 (reference from 1673 Officia Propria Ordinis S. Augustini), then on September 22 (reference from 1917 Officia Propria Ordinis S. Augustini). This day is a remnant in the olden days in parishes where Thomas is a Patron Saint (like Miag-ao and Alimodian, Iloilo, El Pardo, Cebu City and General Luna, Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte among others). The Augustinians transferred it again in November 25 (reference from 1970 edition of the Augustinian Sacramentary) prompted by the revisions in the liturgy during the implementation of Vatican Council ll. In the 1990s, it was finally put in October 10 (permanently printed in the 2012 editions of Augustinian Liturgical Missal and Breviary) of which date the Augustinians around the world commemorate him at present.

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By 1970, the feast was celebrated on November 25, the day taken from the life of Thomas during which he professed his vows as an Augustinian religious friar. This revision brought by the more general call for the revision of the liturgy by Vatican II, affected only the celebration of Thomas’ feast among Augustinians only since September 22 has been so tightly knitted to the practice of the parish communities. He is also assigned by the Order as the Patron of Studies in the Order. Before, the Augustinians invoked the martyr Saint Catherine of Alexandria as the Patroness of the Order for its students.

The writings of St. Thomas referred as “Divi Thomæ a Villanova… Opera Omnia”, mainly his sermons in Latin, are full of practical norms of mystic theology and strong references to the Fathers of the Church, among them Saint Augustine’s writings.  Some twenty editions have been published, the best and most complete being probably that of Manila (called the “Manila Edition”) published between 1881 to 1886, in six volumes.

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Saint Thomas of Villanova depicted as a “Padre de los Pobres” by Esteban Murillo.

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This is a digitized table of the Proper of Saints of the 1673 Officia Propria Ordinis Sancti Augustini which shows that in the 17th century and even before that, St. Thomas of Villanova was celebrated on September 18, a day after the Octave (8 days ‘extension”) of the feast of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, Augustinian priest celebrated on September 10. Thomas’ feast had its own octave as well.

The Spanish Conference of Bishops, during its plenary assembly in November 2016, has approved the petition of the Spanish Federation of Augustinians and of the General Postulations of the Augustinians (OSA), Augustinian Recollects (OAR) and Discalced Augustinians (OAD) in order to proceed with the request of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church for Saint Thomas of Villanova, Augustinian and bishop of Valencia (1488-1555). Now, his cause is being reviewed and has so far gotten good responses from the panel of theologians. We continue to pray that he will be declared in the near future by Pope Francis as Doctor of the Church.

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Copies of the original “Manila Edition” of “DIVI Thomae a Villonova.. Opera Omnia” kept at the archival library of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, Cebu City.

Happy fiesta of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva!

This article is written by Rev. Fr. Ric Anthony Reyes, OSA,. As of July 2021, he is assigned at the University of San Agustin – Ilo-ilo.

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