St. Thomas and Limericks

St. Thomas and Limericks

The Limerick is the cheeky and often rude member of the poetry family. It was popularised in the nineteenth-century by Edward Lear. Enthusiasts of the five line poem have dedicated time and effort to finding “prelimericks” in the works of Aristophanes, Robert Herrick, and Shakespeare. Given the reputation of the limerick it might seem surprising that it would be found in the works of the Angelic Doctor. In 1925 Msgr. Ronald Knox identified a possible prelimerick in the priestly post-mass prayer of thanksgiving in the breviary:

Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
Caritatis et patientiae,
Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio
Despite featuring the words concupiscentiae and libidinis St. Thomas’ halo is not tarnished. It may be translated as:

Let it be for the elimination of my sins,
For the expulsion of desire and lust,
[And] for the increase of charity and patience,
Humility and obedience,
As well as all the virtues.
It is impossible to say if St, Thomas set out write a limerick or if limerick lovers have imposed the strict meter of the form upon this section. With such a great body of work, including some remarkable poetry, it would not be surprising if five-lines of St. Thomas’ work did fit the limerick structure. Nevertheless R.J. Winkler proposed the following rhymed translation:

Extinguish concupiscent fires,
Eliminate lustful desires;
Give patience and love,
A plenitude of
What humble obeying requires.

Mark Davoren

Comments (2)

  • A Website Visitor

    Mark Davoren, a well-done piece of writing. One can only imagine a religious order in which the followers devote some regular hours to the writing of limericks based on Christian theology, and then collect and publish the limericks in books sold to support the religious order and its mission. The Salesian Missions ( has done something similar over the years, publishing collections of poetry. I am going off on a bit of a tangent, but here is one poem from their books, which I have posted on my website,, on which I also have many clean limericks and absolutely no vulgar limericks. My Worry A little bitty worry Started early in the day; By noon it seemed my worry Hovered, standing in my way; The things and thoughts I should have had Got buried in my mind, Until my little worry turned Into the horrid kind. By bedtime I was frantic – What to do, oh what to do! And then I couldn’t go to sleep, For worrying – fretting, too. By morning I was almost sick, When suddenly and soon, My worry had been all worked out Before the toll of noon; Then I looked back and saw my worry Just for what it was – A thing that didn’t happen, As a worry seldom does. -Bonnie Daisy Nelson Keep up the excellent work! -Nathan Taylor

  • A Website Visitor

    I love the limerick translation! I often say that prayer as part of my Thanksgiving after Communion, and had noted the rhymes (St. Thomas just can’t help himself, can he?) but had *not* caught the nearly-a-limerick form. The translation isn’t perfect but close enough, and way too clever! The ‘worry’ poem is wonderful too, Nathan, thank you for sharing!

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