Attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas
Theological Discourse, 1274
A LETTER from Friar Thomas of Aquino, theologian, to all Christendom on the Holy Tub of Our Lord.
Greetings, my fellow listeners after God’s Word in Christ. Asked by His Eminence, Henri Cardinal Montors, to investigate the veracity of the claims surrounding the Pelluvium Sanctissimum, I send this report. My formal responses to the questions posed follow. But first some personal observations are necessary.
Now that the Gospel rules the better portions of the world though the dispensation of Holy Mother Church in this latter age, the treasuries of grace have been flung wide open and the wonderful mercies of Heaven made manifest to the entire human race. Yet not all things men extol as holy are from God; the wiles and temptations of the Deceiver are nearly as widespread. Therefore it behooves the shepherds to guard their flocks carefully from the wiles of the Devil in all their forms, not least being that of false piety.
But the bishops are constantly burdened down by their many daily tasks. Therefore, the shepherds must rely on the counsel of learned elders, men have had the time and training to seek out the deep knowledge of God, and to ferret out the secrets of Scripture and Tradition, to warn them of the many subtle snares laid for the simple. To such sages the leaders of the community must give respectful hearing, and pray for the wisdom to appoint from among them true guides and humane judges for their people.
Thus it was that I, Thomas of Aquino, a humble preacher following the Rule of St. Dominic, was called from my retirement in Naples by a delegation sent by Henri Cardinal Montors at the beginning of last Advent. His Eminence had been disturbed by the growing commotion over the so-called Pelluvium Sanctissimum. This relic, believed to be the very basin used by Our Lord to wash his disciples’ feet the night before He died, was now in the custody of the Knights of the Temple. They were touring around the countryside with it in tow, begging alms and displaying it with alarming claims that verged on blasphemy, they said, surrounded by an assemblage resembling Carnival or the Feast of Fools.
His Eminence’s emissaries begged me to set aside my writings and personally examine this Holy Tub in person at once, that it might be determined at last whether it truly is of God or the Devil. This I felt unable to do, as my years, poor health, and wide girth weigh heavily upon me, and I am no exorcist or canon lawyer.
I am unfamiliar with the ways of angels and demons, I said; the only gift I have is the natural discernment of my reasoning mind. That, I was told, was what was wanted; there had been far too much unreason and too little shrewdness in this affair already. All Christians should be interested in what I, whose philosophical writings filled the schools of Paris and elsewhere with lively debates, should think of such a marvel.
Despite such flattery, I remained unsure. Yet, while I was saying Mass on the Feast of St. Nicholas, I seemed to hear the words of Christ speaking in my heart, asking what I desired most, the Truth or my opinion of it. He would as a gift to celebrate His Birth as did the saint with a reward for my work, by either showing me the Divine Reality beyond mere words, to or elevate me as the wisest of men just as I was. My pick was clear: the world’s praise, if it be built on any man’s own understanding and not that of God, is nothing but folly.
So I chose the Lord. And there, as I took the Holy Communion, a great light flooded my mind. I realized that all I had written, all I understood of the knowledge of the Greeks and the piety of the Jews, all the glittering constructions of my logic, was naught. My magnum opus, which in my pride I saw as a cathedral built of reason proving God to His world, was utterly vain, a temple built to folly. I had not built a nest for the Spirit to softly dwell; but a cage of iron logic to imprison Her.
My achievements collapsed as a heap of straw fit for the beasts, even as my ecstasy faded into despair. To the consternation of my faithful scribe Reginald, I gave up my writing then and there and took to my bed, but soon I realized that God is just as well as good. Thus, in humility I accepted the Cardinal’s commission.
I had already been summoned by my lord Pope Gregory, the Tenth of that name, to present my work on the errors of the Greek Church that I had composed for his blessed predecessor Urban before the council he had proclaimed at Lyon. I hoped to accomplish both tasks in the same journey. But on my way to see the Holy Tub then said to be in the Eternal City, I struck a tree and was taken to Monte Casino to recuperate.
I had hoped to approach the Holy Tub unrecognized among the pilgrims in Rome. But the Templars, alarmed by banditry, had been detoured also to the abbey. Thus it was that God’s Will was fulfilled, bringing us together for a time in the serene house of Saint Benedict, which allowed me to see the relic and question its keepers privately, in peace and at leisure in the company of the good monks away from the tumultuous crowd.
The men-at-arms to whom the care of the relic along with its treasury has been entrusted are doubtless the best of their order. I found them to be simple but true and upright souls, brave and burning for the love of God. Would that I could say the same of their chaplains! These men are much the opposite of the knights, but then again, their duty is to preach to the people along the route, to fire up their devotion, and extract from them precious gold and silver. I found them all to be cynical creatures of the world, though often of great learning, who much like the hawkers of indulgences, take no shame in twisting the faith and feelings of the people to get their money.
Such men are as glib as lawyers and as trustworthy as sellers of old donkeys. Though I could catch them in no overt misstatement, still, I have no doubt that they too, would tie even God’s truth in knots if it be advantageous. Like the indulgence-merchants, I fear that they will come to a bad end, and I fear also for the soldiers to whom they minister. With such willfully blind men guiding them, even true-hearted Knights could tumble headlong into the pit of destruction.
In any event, while at Monte Casino, I had the opportunity to fully inspect the reliquaries and to gaze upon and even handle that which they call the Sacred Basin. On the morning of Candlemas, I was allowed the rare honor of sitting with it in private meditation. I pass over the glittering beauty of the containers in silence; for that is but mere but worthy ornament to honor that item which they hold.
The so-called Pelluvium Sanctissimum itself is beyond such idle frippery. It is but a plain, unadorned vessel, a heavy gray lump of clay roughly fashioned into a large boxy basin that obviously had been hardily used. Now, chipped, worn, cracked, and with a piece missing, such a useless old tub would be thrown out from even the meanest of kitchens without a second thought.
Yet there is something noble about this seemingly worthless piece of crockery. In the light of day streaming through the golden dust motes dancing around it in the chapel, it seems to possess an almost a tangible aura of holiness. I sensed a great power sleeping, an intangible secret that could not be whispered, waiting just out of reach.
Whether it is by some special grace or merely some lingering trace of the incense it has been long surrounded by, I cannot say. But it was humbling to think of the uncounted Christians who have venerated this one crude artifact in the hope of release from sin and the bondage of death.
And I realized that was the key to this mystery. The miracles occur not because of some special virtue residing in the stoneware but the faith in the heart of the approaching penitent. After all, my own studies had convinced me that what is truly needful for God’s forgiveness was contrition, simple and unfeigned. That is ever the essential part of the matter. All rituals, public prayer and displays, have their place as channels. But just as a ditch guides the water it provides, it is not the water itself.
Who was I to limit God’s bounty to the forms I was familiar with? Why should His grace be not freely given by other means, so that even those who dare not approach the mysteries of the altar might be saved?
Christ said, “He that is washed, needs not but to wash his feet, but is clean wholly. And you are clean, but not all.” The sacraments purify the soul, but the sight of the Pelluvium Sanctissimum may bestow the final needful assurance of justification. Truly, those persons who after repenting gaze upon the Holy Tub are truly blessed, and need not taste the death of the soul. For on the Day of Resurrection, they will not stand naked before the Lord, but be garbed in the white robe of the saved and given the palm of victory and a crown of righteousness, their supernal bodies entirely stainless.
And those who have been made wholly clean shall rejoice with the elect in the eternal delights of Heaven. This unspeakable bliss I tasted in my experience on holy Saint Nicholas’s Day like a child’s Christmas present; and I know that to its unmerited joy shall be added further all the pleasures that earthly virtuous suffering and penitence will have earned me, sweetness heaped up, tamped down and overflowing.
The crowning glory will be that ultimate satisfaction that only the saved may know: the righteous, wholesome enjoyment that must come from watching the unending spectacle of Hell. For the saints take pleasure observing the well-deserved tortures applied by disporting demons, both great and small, to the damned among unquenchable flames. And to the tormented in Hell, knowing that the blessed are amused thereby must surely add the most bitter savor to their hopelessness. So the justified agonies of the damned rise as incense before the nostrils of the Lord as a rich aroma, well-pleasing to the saints.
Thus I have concluded after much contemplation, prayer, and interminable discussion of these things with my brother Dominicans and Benedictines. And I must confess that these conclusions I have shared greatly satisfied these holy men. So I join with them to say, praise God for His great mercies.
Therefore while I wait for my poor body to regain its strength that I might attend the great Council soon to be held at Lyon or God to take me to Paradise, I write this report as a general epistle to the Universal Church and especially for the council soon to begin. Let it be known that beyond that one word from the Spirit, I can claim no special graces, no mystic insight, nor oracle of the Lord.
Nor, having seen the relic and custodians only in such narrow circumstances, could I judge how well it is actually employed out in the world. For as Our Lord says in Matthew, “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men.” Therefore we must be ever cautious, for even holy things may be used for foul ends by men of guile.
This letter is but the opinion of a friar who has spent his life searching out the secrets of God. I write my conclusions in the manner and style of theologians, but this is not a matter just for the mind, but of the soul itself. Even as the Word transcends and informs all words, as the Perfect Man is the model for all men, so too the Holy Tub comes closest to a true physical manifestation of the archetype of a sacred vessel in the Mind of God.
Such things are of the Holy of Holies, a purity not to be mangled by our clumsy tongues of clay; for there in the innermost sanctuary, silence supernatural and utter darkness reign. For as Scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
But I must speak as always, albeit only as a servant member of Christ’s Holy Church; and it is up to that Church to proclaim the truth as it has been revealed. May such small share of Divine Wisdom as has been granted me help to continue to light her path along the way. Amen.
Questions and Responses
Concerning the Alleged
Most Holy Footbath of Christ
Question: The Holy Tub
1. Is it the same as the basin Christ employed?
2. Could it have any inherent sacred power or grace?
3. How would such power relate to the sacraments?
Is the so-called Pelluvium Sanctissimum that basin with which Jesus washed the feet of His disciples?
That such a fragile relic could not survive twelve centuries. For even the largest pot is easily broken, and once shattered, is universally discarded or lost as of being without further use.
Nor could it be ascertained that it is the same. Scripture records no identifying particulars of the Sacred Basin, nor did Mary, its owner, record her name upon it. And even if her name so appeared, it could have been added later.
On the contrary, many items spoken of in Scripture have supposedly been found, and many of them are fakes, made to deceive the devout and charitable.
I answer that, while many so-called holy relics are indeed false, others are most certainly real. Their reality is attested first, by long-standing holy tradition; second, by the attestation of saints; and third; by miracles and divine signs.
Reply to Objection 1:
Even items more fragile than stoneware, such as the Robe of Christ or the Veil of Veronica, have survived, for they have been carefully preserved.
Reply to Objection 2:
In the case of the Holy Tub, a tradition that found its way into the Apocrypha and Hagiographies provides an unbroken provenance of the Holy Tub in no uncertain terms. Further, its identity is attested by the saints, Bishop Macarius and the Empress Helena, both of whom witnessed its revelation through the spontaneous miraculous healing of her left big toe.
Furthermore, while supernatural grace acts through nature, it may not be so defined and limited, as the existence of miracles clearly demonstrates. There are said to be no less than seven Holy Foreskins of the infant Jesus. Knowing Christ to exhibit all human perfections and no freak of nature, how could such things come about? Assuming that all are not deliberate falsifications, could not some have come about from the intense belief of the faithful?
Might not relics even be miraculously multiplied if God in His Mercy, through the pleadings of His Blessed Mother, so chooses? For Christ’s word assures us that He will do many healings and miracles. He says, “And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me.”
Thus we may be confident that there is no reason known in Earth or in Heaven, why the so-called Holy Tub might not be that very basin spoken of in the Gospel of John that Jesus washed the Apostles feet in during the Lord’s Supper.
Could the Pelluvium Sanctissimum have any sacred power?
That even if a holy thing, a mute object does not possess any power in and of itself to give grace. To receive grace requires directed action of the will, and a soul properly equipped to receive it.
That even if holy things could do so, God would not bequeath such tokens of divine power to weak and foolish men.
On the contrary, things are but insensible matter and carry no intrinsic or acquired virtue.
I answer that Sacred Scripture and Tradition give many examples of holy things imbued with awesome power. The Ark of the Covenant of the Jews was so potent that God hedged it about with many close restrictions chiefly so that it might not slay the prophet Moses, the High Priest Aaron, and the people of Israel. The First Book of Samuel also records in its sixth chapter that when the Philistines stole the Ark and placed it in their temple, the idol of Dagon bowed and worshipped it. Further, it records that the pagans were smitten with plagues of mice and hemorrhoids until they returned the Ark with five golden copies of each. Thus it is clearly shown by many examples in the Old Testament that God may bestow powers of blessing and cursing even to mute and insensible objects as He Wills.
Reply to Objection 1:
Moses was instructed by the Lord to make a serpent of brass and mount it upon a pole, that Jews bitten by serpents in punishment for complaining against the Lord might be saved. This was done as a figure of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and shows how things may be given divine potency – too much, perhaps, on occasion.
Reply to Objection 2:
For it is later related in the Second Book of Kings that Hezekiah did break this same serpent of bronze into bits, for the Jews had been offering it incense. Thus even holy things may be badly used as idols despite God’s holy ordinances.
I further answer that the capacity of material objects to contain and to pass on, and even be transformed by unseen spiritual essences is not only the key of the Alchemical Sciences, but it most plainly and properly evident in the properties of the Sacraments of the Church. The consecrated oils used in Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, and the Last Rites, incense and candles, even the salt and water blessed for use in many functions by all the faithful, are all physical objects. Yet we are believe that they have been lifted out of the merely material and given spiritual significance, and hence power.
I finally answer that as the bread and wine, elements of the Eucharist, are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ in their essence, yet remain unchanged in their accidents, it is obvious that matter can be transformed into divine tokens of the highest order without observable change. Hence a broken pot could be, if God so wills, a font of limitless graces.
Could the Pelluvium Sanctissimum itself forgive sins?
It is a claim of blasphemous magic, not holy religion that an object could save a person by itself.
The forgiveness of sins depends on a priest to administer the means of grace as well as the proper disposition of the recipient.
Sufficient means of forgiveness and sanctification are found within the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Confession, which Holy Church has declared necessary for salvation.
On the contrary, those means, and only those channels of grace provided by the Catholic Church are capable of saving fallen humanity.
I answer that a soul’s salvation depends upon most its owner’s changeable temper, not at all by whichever means that grace comes. As Christ’s Sacrifice was without measure, so is the grace it made available to save men. So why should there not be an everlasting fountain of sanctification, a well of forgiveness; one taste of which might suffice a lifetime?
Reply to Objection 1:
By the general principle of ex opere operato, “from the work done” the efficacious cause of any grace is application of the matter, the means of grace. Thus, Holy Communion may be taken to eternal salvation or condemnation, depending on the character of the consumer’s soul, with no regard to any quality of the minister.
Reply to Objection 2:
A priest may confect the means of grace, which the matter then retains whether the priest administers them then or never. The consecrated wine is actually the transubstantiated Blood of Christ for as long as it continues in the appearance of wine. And if consecrated bread is left after Mass, it is not thrown out, but stored in tabernacles that no crumb which is the actual Body of Our Lord may be wasted. Thus material means may be established well in advance, as Our Lord decreed of the Eucharist, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” so declaring as the Eternal High Priest its divine power regardless of ministers for all time.
Reply to Objection 3:
Our Lord has stated, “If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with Me,” thus declaring the absolute necessity of purification and repentance. But He also said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man made for the Sabbath.” Thus it was that Confession and Holy Communion were made for our salvation. Our Lord established various means but nowhere does it say that He so limited our access to heavenly favor to those means only. Why could He not have established a ceramic sacramental as well?
I further answer and declare that since Our Lord made foot-washing a sign of salvation for the spiritually cleansed, then it stands to reason that a mere glimpse of the vessel wherewith He accomplished this miracle would assuredly affirm the hope of that salvation. The Holy Tub may grant salvation to the repentant sinners who look on with true contrition of heart and a firm intention to repent.
Yet, the sign of true repentance and sorrow for sins is a willingness to abide by the rules and guidance of Holy Mother Church, not to avoid her governance. Therefore, it behooves every Christian who approaches the Pelluvium Sanctissimum to also go to Confession and Holy Communion that their assurance of salvation may not be a vain deceit of the enemy.
Truly, to secure Christ’s guarantee would be a pearl worth any price. Thus, it is my conviction and contention that the vessel known as the Pelluvium Sanctissimum is indeed the Most Holy Footbath of the Lord. And that the faithful in the community of Christ’s Holy Church should forever have recourse to it in full confidence of its graces.
Amen and amen, forever and ever, be praise and glory given unto the Lamb, and His Most Holy Footbath.