Thomas is the patron of studies in the Augustinian Order. Read here to find out why. He was born in the year 1486 in Fuenllana in the province of Toledo, Spain. At that time, Spain was at the dawn of a golden age of prominence, wealth and power in Europe.
When Thomas was six years old, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. The seemingly endless wealth that poured into Spain from conquest and trade produced a cultural explosion in literature and art. It also produced an excessive desire for wealth, some of which pervaded the Church in Spain. High positions in the Church could be bought for the right price. At times were occupied by men more interested in power than in spiritual goals.
And, of course, the infamous Inquisition, which also was open to being used for financial gain, was at its peak. Thomas grew up in the middle of all this. He was brilliant. At the age of 16, he enrolled in the University of Alcala, rapidly obtained his degrees in theology and immediately joined the teaching faculty. As his reputation grew, so did his fame, and soon he was asked to be a professor at the very famous University of Salamanca. To the amazement of everyone, Thomas declined and announced his intention to became a member of the Order of Saint Augustine.
He was less than thirty years old when he turned his back on the Golden Age. On 25th November 1517 he took vows of community life: poverty, chastity and obedience. In the following year, he became a priest at the age of thirty two years. Thomas possessed a great talent for leadership, and rapidly rose in the Order of Saint Augustine to become a regional provincial. He was among the first in the Order to think about the spiritual state of the colonies of the Spanish Empire. He promoted the organisation of a missionary band to minister to the peoples of the New World. He also looked out for the poor people and those without hope who lived near the Augustinian community.
The reputation of Thomas reached the court of Emperor Charles V, who invited him to become Bishop of Granada. Thomas declined. He had no interest in this position, its power or its politics. But several years later, Charles again offered him an episcopal see - this time Valencia. Once again, Thomas declined. However, the emperor would not be refused this time. He told the Augustinian superior of Thomas to order him to accept. Thomas then did so, but still with reluctance.
On 1st January 1545, at the age of 59 years, he became Archbishop of Valencia. Archbishop Thomas was like few other bishops in Europe at that time. While the other leaders of the church gained money and power, Thomas quietly went about his diocese. He visited the people and discovered their needs. He spent the income of his wealthy diocese not on himself or on great buildings, but rather on creating social programs for the poor people and those without a home. He also established schools.
He turned his official residence into a soup kitchen and shelter. He even provided dowries (money for marriage) for poor young women, so they could be married with some dignity. In the year 1545, Thomas was summoned to the opening of the Council of Trent, which was called to address much needed reforms and renew the Church spiritually. Thomas did not attend; he was too busy seeing to the needs of his people in Valencia. When the members of the Council called him again to a later session, he was too ill by that time to travel.
As he neared death in August of 1555, Thomas gave his few possessions to the poor people of the area. He even gave up his mattress, asking only if he might borrow it until he died. When he died on 8th September 1555, it was discovered that Thomas had left no last will and testament. But there had been no need to do so, because he owned absolutely nothing. His homilies are said to have inflamed the hearts of those who heard them. During his lifetime, manuscript copies of his sermons multiplied. Within years of his death, two editions of his sermons were printed in Alcalá (Spain), two in Salamanca, five in Cologne, and at least one each in Antwerp, Brussles, Augsburg, Brescia, Milan, Rome and Manila.
Augustine would have been proud of this spiritual son who, like him, was brilliant in so many ways and who, unlike Augustine himself, appears never to have been tempted by an absorption with oneself, and with intellectual pride. Thomas of Villanova was an Augustinian in the very best tradition of his order. He was a splendid combination of a great intellect and an even greater heart. Who better to watch over the formation of the hearts and minds of young men and women!
(The above article – here slightly augmented - was written by Maureen McKew. It appeared as "Thomas of Villanova: Heir to Augustine" in the Summer 1999 issue of Villanova, the alumni magazine of Villanova University, Pennsylvania 19085, United States of America.)
Saint Thomas of Villanova: A letter by the Prior General in 2005.
The year 2005 is also the 450th anniversary of the death of Saint Thomas of Villanova (+1555), another of the great figures of our Order. In him we can without a doubt discover another model of spiritual tradition and holy living. Among Augustinian saints, Thomas of Villanova is certainly one of those whose life most closely resembles that of Saint Augustine of Hippo.
Thomas had a successful university career, both as student and professor. At the age of thirty years, he then decided to give himself totally to God and the Church. In the famous Augustinian monastery of Salamanca, Thomas did admirable ministry within the community. He did this as prior and formation director, by promoting a solid religious life, and by reparing candidates for profession and for priestly ministry.
Many of those candidates would later go on to serve the Church as bishops - just as did the followers of Augustine from Thagaste and Hippo - both in Spain and in Latin America. He promoted studies - the house (conveto) at Salamanca was in its time an important centre of studies for the Order - and, as professor of both Liberal Arts and Theology, he wrote many works that are valuable for their spiritual and theological content. Thomas was remarkable for his pastoral zeal and for his dedication to the preaching of the Word. He was always at the service of the people of God, and he was especially concerned about people who were poor.
He was active in youth ministry (especially with students of the university), and many vocations came to the Order as a result. He was named preacher to the court of Emperor Charles V, who as often as possible was present when Thomas preached. The king also sought counsel from Thomas. After refusing to accept the episcopal See of Granada, and because of the insistence of Charles V and the command of his superiors, Thomas became the Archbishop of Valencia. Archdiocese of Valencia was in a critical state after having gone for more than a century without a resident bishop. There Thomas spent the last years of his life in a highly committed service to the Church through his episcopal ministry. His was a ministry characterised by charity, efforts to reform the clergy and Christian life, and concern for evangelisation of those who were marginalised (people who were poor, and the Moors).
Some of the more significant facts of the life of Thomas are well known, such as his personal poverty to the point of dying on a borrowed bed, his financial aid to people in need, his encouraging wealthy people to give to those in need, much in the style of Saint Augustine. And there was his decision as Provincial to send the first group of Augustinian missionaries to the "New World" (Mexico, in 1533).
The celebration of the Augustinian Jubilee in 2005 will be enriched if we remember, celebrate and incorporate into our faith experience the principal characteristics of Saint Thomas of Villanova. He was a model religious and servant of the Church; he was dedicated to the promotion of studies (he is patron of studies in the Order). He continues to be for us an example of apostolic commitment, as a sincere bishop and as one dedicated to service to poor people, aware of the challenge of evangelisation, and capable of responding to the demands of mission and the signs of the times.
Robert Prevost O.S.A. January 2005
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 Discalsed 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).Further reading
New City Press. This publisher offers many of the writings of Augustine expertly translated into modern English. (If new copies are no longer in stock, second-hand copies sometimes appear on Amazon.com ) http://www.newcitypress.com/the-works-of-saint-augustine-1.html
Saint Thomas of Villanova. The 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, and by 1512 he became a professor of philosophy there. His lectures were received enthusiastically for their clarity and conviction. From the web site of the Midwest Augustinian Province, Chicago, USA. http://midwestaugustinians.org/st-thomas-of-villanova
Thomas of Villanova. In the year 1486 Thomas Garcia Matinez was born. The family of Thomas lived in the city of Villanueva de los Infantes, from which he later derived the surname Thomas of Villanova. From the web site of the Californian Province of the Order. http://osa-west.org/saint-thomas-of-villanova.html
St Thomas of Villanova. From the early edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14696a.htm
San Tommaso da Villanova (in Italiano) li insegnamenti del Buon Pastore. By Fr Bruno Silvestrini OSA. http://santibeati.it/search/jump.cgi?ID=71300AN3383