- The Ideal Bishop: Aquinas's Commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles by Michael G. Sirilla
Why write a book about St. Thomas Aquinas's commentaries on the pastoral letters of St. Paul when they can easily be read in the original and in many other languages, including English?
As Sirilla points out, many Thomistic studies on the role of the bishop have exclusively been written on the basis of Thomas's systematic works and have almost completely ignored his work on St. Paul's pastoral letters. Sirilla fills this lacuna by retrieving Thomas's robust understanding of the bishop's interior life and exterior life in the ideal order, an understanding largely forgotten by Thomists. Sirilla's presentation of the main lines of these commentaries can serve as an apt introduction to spur scholars to read the originals and better to prepare them for the challenge of studying the calling of a bishop. While Thomas's style of writing may seem bland to the beginner in Thomistic studies, his ideas are golden. Being exposed to them in this book [End Page 467] will make the journey through the commentaries on Timothy and Titus more invigorating, with clues to better priestly and episcopal lives and, to a lesser degree, the lay life.
Sirilla's book contains a challenge to any potential bishop "in waiting" and proportionately to priests and seminarians for what is demanded in a bishop and also expected to a lower degree from the priest. The latter is a cooperator of the bishop, who has authority over priests. Many professors of seminarians of the past did not always know that Thomas was primarily a professor of sacred Scripture and may have ignored some important distinctions for the spirituality of the priest and bishop. Long before Vatican II wrote about the importance of Scripture as the backbone of all theology, Thomas said repeatedly in his commentaries on Timothy and Titus that the bishop must be reading and pondering over the Scriptures if he is to become a preacher of a living faith, which generates brothers and sisters of Christ by grace and defends them from error. Further, the notion of "pietas" is central to Thomas in these commentaries because it includes an affection for mercy. The bishop's "piety" toward God and his works includes a compassionate heart toward the lowly.
The first 103 pages—including an introduction, a chapter evaluating Thomas in relation to other theologians of his period, and a wider analysis of his teaching on the ideal bishop from his other works—provide the setting for the in-depth commentaries on Timothy and Titus. Sirilla reminds his readers that in introducing all of his commentaries on St. Paul, Thomas held that they are really about grace: what it is, and how it acts as something divine in the soul. Specifically concerning the Letters to Timothy and Titus, Thomas unites pastoral theology with spirituality, Christology, ecclesiology, and moral theology, which would be helpful for seminarians and even religious to know and understand. The study of theology for a bishop's personal life must become "embraced," a word used by Thomas when he says, "For one who embraces something diligently holds it, and it becomes an embrace of love" (In Tit, no. 22, quoted on 217 n. 47).
While Thomas, in accord with the common theological opinion of the time, did not hold that the episcopacy was a sacrament but was nevertheless a very special grace, he laid the framework for understanding why a bishop possesses the fullness of the priesthood. The bishop is given the power to ordain and ordinarily gives the sacrament of confirmation. Likewise, he is given many spiritual charisms so that he might preach and teach not simply catechetics or rudimentary instruction but "perfective" thought. The bishop thereby is able to defend the truth of the faith and wage a fight against error, being the ecclesial authority juridically over a diocese. He...