There are countless pre-Vatican II Catholic books, e.g., lives of the saints, meditation books, catechisms, and theology manuals. Generally, a bishop has given his Imprimatur to such books, which allows them to be published. (“Imprimatur” is Latin for “let it be printed”.)
But all (pre-Vatican II) Catholic books are not equal. Beyond the countless books that the Catholic Church permits to be published, She directs us to learn above all, from the Doctors of the Church.
Popes and bishops hold the office of teacher. However, many fulfill their office badly. When a pope or bishop does an especially excellent job, the Church singles him out and declares him to be a Doctor, to especially direct us to learn from him. For example, the Church directs us to St. Gregory the Great and St. Leo the Great, who are popes and Doctors. St. Alphonsus de Liguori is a bishop and Doctor.
On all Catholic matters, we should especially listen to the Doctors of the Catholic Church for four reasons:
The Catholic Church exhorts us above all to listen to Her Doctors. To disparage them shows hostility to the truth and to the Church’s authority recommending them.
Just as the Doctors of the Catholic Church surpass other Catholic teachers, so also St Thomas Aquinas surpasses all other Doctors. The Church esteems his writings more than all other Doctors put together.
Here is how Pope St. Pius X praised St. Thomas:
He [St. Thomas Aquinas] enlightened the Church more than all the other Doctors together; a man can derive more profit from his books in one year than from a lifetime spent in pondering the philosophy of others.2
St. Thomas not only distills and expounds the wisdom of the Church fathers and Doctors, but also all other Catholic and secular teachers. All that remains for us is to follow him.
Here is how Pope Leo XIII explained this truth:
The doctrine of Saint Thomas is so vast that it embraces, like an ocean, the entire wisdom of Antiquity. Everything said in the past that was true, everything that was wisely discussed by the pagan philosophers and by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church as well as those superior individuals who existed before him; not only did he completely understand it, but he developed, completed and classified it with such an insight, with such methodical precision and with such a precise terminology, that he seems to have only left to his followers the ability to imitate him, while at the same time taking away their possibility of equaling him!3
Because St. Thomas so magnificently surpasses all other Doctors and teachers, the Church calls him the Common Doctor, that is, the best teacher to learn from on any question. Here is how Pope Pius XI declared his greatness:
We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius [viz., St. Thomas Aquinas] that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own.4
Just as all Catholics should especially reverence St. Thomas for his greatness, likewise the modernists especially fear him for that same reason. Here is how Pope Pius XI explains this truth:
[St.] Thomas refutes the theories propounded by Modernists in every sphere .... Modernists are so amply justified in fearing no Doctor of the Church so much as Thomas Aquinas.5
Not only do the modernists fear St. Thomas above all others, but they also hate him above all others. Dislike of St. Thomas indicates a lapse into modernism. Here is how Pope St. Pius X explains this fact:
[C]ertain it is that the passion for novelty is always united in [the modernists] with hatred of scholasticism [i.e., the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas], and there is no surer sign that a man is on the way to Modernism than when he begins to show his dislike for [the scholastic] system.6
Perhaps some people, moved by misplaced humility, fear going to St. Thomas because they think only priests and scholars can grasp his wisdom, not simple laymen. But that notion is false.
St. Thomas’s brilliance surpasses all others in part because he excels at unlocking the truth to all, laymen included. Thus, everyone should go to St. Thomas, including laymen.
Here is how Archbishop Lefebvre explained this truth:
Let us not think that Saint Thomas is too much for the faithful and that he is distant from their faith, for this is not true and [is] damaging to the faithful. The philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas are truth. Therefore, let us not say that the truth explained in all its simplicity, and clarity, in addition to its profound logic, cannot be understood by the faithful. That would be condescension on our part. This would amount to abandoning and despairing of communicating to the faithful — a profound tragedy.7
All Catholics should be disciples of St. Thomas, above all others. He is the ocean of wisdom. He is the antidote to all heresies, including the modernism of our times.
St. Vincent Lerins explains the importance of holding fast to what the Church has taught through the ages:
What then should a Catholic do if some part of the Church were to separate itself from communion with the universal Faith? What other choice can he make but to prefer to the gangrenous and corrupted member, the whole of the body that is sound. And if some new contagion were to try to poison no longer a small part of the Church, but all of the Church at the same time, then he will take the greatest care to attach himself to antiquity which, obviously, can no longer be seduced by any lying novelty.
Commonitorium (emphasis added).↑
Motu Proprio, Doctoris Angelici, Pope St. Pius X, 29 June 1914, quoting Pope John XXII’s Consistorial address of 1318.↑
Cum hoc sit, Pope Leo XIII, August 4, 1880.↑
Encyclical Studiorum Ducem, Pope Pius XI (emphasis added).↑
Pope Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem, ¶27.↑
Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 1907, ¶42 (emphasis added).↑
Archbishop Lefebvre, The spirit of our statutes, the fourth conference in a retreat in Écône, on September 1988, (emphasis added).↑