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Thomas Aquinas

One of the quotes I keep in my database for appending to my emails is this:

It is a dogma of faith that the demons can produce wind, storms, and rain of fire from heaven.

Supposedly, this is from Thomas Aquinas. I have long cited it to his Summa Theologica, however, when recently challenged, I had cause to track it down.

Where I got it from is the book “A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom” by Andrew Dickson White, published in 1896, Chapter 11, page 337, where it says:

During the Middle Ages this doctrine of the diabolical origin of the storms went on gathering strength. Bede had full faith in it, and narrates various anecdotes in support of it. St. Thomas Aquinas gave it his sanction, saying in his all authoritative Summa, “Rains and winds, and whatsoever occurs by local impulse alone, can be caused by demons.” “It is,” he says, “a dogma of faith that the demons can produce wind, storms, and rain of fire from heaven.”

The full text of that book is available from the Gutenberg Project, here

Andrew Dickson White co-founded Cornell University and served as its president for a while, so normally that would be the end of it: his credentials are sufficient. But let’s go a little deeper. Mr. White cites an even rarer book, “Magic of the Middle Ages” by Viktor Rydberg, published in 1879, as the source of that particular quote. As it so happens, Indiana University has a copy of this book in their archives, so while I can’t (yet?) point to an online version, I can reproduce the relevant information here.

The full quote Mr. White is citing is on pages 73-74 of “Magic of the Middle Ages”:

“It is,” says Thomas Aquinas, “a dogma of faith that the demons can produce wind, storms, and rain of fire from heaven. The atmosphere is a battle-field between angels and devils. The latter work the constant injury of man, the former his melioration; and the consequence is that changeableness of weather which threatens to frustrate the hopes of husbandry. And when Lucifer is able to bestow even upon man—on sorcerers and wizards—the power to destroy the fields, athe vineyards and dwellings of man by rain, hail and lightning, is it to be wondered at if the Church, which is man’s protection against the devil, and whose especial calling it is to fight him, should in this sphere also be his counterpoise, and should seem from the treasury of its divine power, means adequate to frustrate his atmospheric mischiefs? To these means belong the church bells, provided they have been duly consecrated and baptized. The aspiring steeples around which cluster the low dwellings of men, are to be likened, when the bells in them are ringing, to the hen spreading its protecting wings over its chickens; for the tones of the consecrated metal repel the demons and avert storm and lightning” (“Vivos voco, mortuos plango, SULPHURA FRANGO,” a common inscription on church bells).

However, unfortunately, he does not include an obvious bibliography, nor provide any other sort of citation. Most of his citations elsewhere in the book are in the form of footnotes, but there is no obvious footnote here. The only other place in the book where Aquinas is quoted, page 27-28, has a very large footnote:

See the work “Summa Theologica” (supplementum ad tertiam partem, quæst. 94) by the most prominent and most influential among the theolgians of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas. It is there said: “Ut beatitudo sanctorum eis magis complaceat et de ea uberiores gratias Deo agant, datur eis ut pœnam impiorum perfecte videant . . Beati, qui erunt in gloria, nullam compassionem ad damnatos habebunt… Sancti de pœnis impiorum gaudebunt, considerando in eis divinæ justitiæ ordinem et suam liberationem de qua gaudebunt.” —With this may be compared the following execrable effusion of another theologian: “Beati cœlites non tantum non cognatorum sed nec parentum sempiternis suppliciis ad ullam miserationem flectentur. Imo vero lætabuntur justi, cum viderint vindictam; manus lavabunt in sanguine peccatorum.”

Whatever the heck that all means. What it means to me is “ooo, this guy knows latin. I take him at his word about what Thomas Aquinas said.” I guess in the end, the proof of the quote still resides mostly on the shoulders of Mr. White.


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