Category Archives: Aquinas

Why Aquinas? How Aquinas? What Aquinas?

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-“Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas”, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1631, Museum of Fine Arts, Seville, Spain.

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-by Dr. Randall Smith, PhD, Dr. Smith is the Scanlan Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. Some days it can seem as though, if it weren’t for bad news, we wouldn’t have any news at all. Brutal acts of terrorism, political correctness run rampant, and a horrible election between perhaps the two worst candidates in America. It’s times such as these when we have to return to the important things – the things that will last and provide a solid foundation on rock, rather than sand. Which is precisely why I’m taking this occasion not to comment on any of our current troubles and write instead about Thomas Aquinas.

I’m sometimes asked, “What should I read by Aquinas?” This question usually comes from a person who has almost no acquaintance with his thought or writing, except perhaps a cursory experience years ago with the so-called “Five Ways,” the five “proofs” for the existence of God. They know that Aquinas is important; some even know that he has been called “the Common Doctor of the Church.” Interested in nourishing their faith, they think: “I should read some Aquinas. But what?”

Like people who decide they should “read the Bible,” and then get a short way into Exodus or Numbers only to regret their decision – “Isn’t there some easier way of doing this?” (There is: go to daily Mass) – so too there are those who decide they should “read some Aquinas,” pick up his great Summa of Theology, and get about three questions in before giving up in despair. “Wow, this stuff is hard.” 🙂 Uh-huh.

Yes, you probably wouldn’t know it from most of your high school religion classes, but theology can in fact be hard. It can make your head hurt (Ed. it does!) like the hardest bit of chemistry or advanced physics. Thomas’s Summa was meant as a “beginner’s” text. Why so many teachers feel it’s necessary to “dumb down” theology when they would never consider “dumbing down” chemistry, biology, or physics, I’ll never know. But they do, and that’s where many people find themselves.

So let’s say you want some of the wisdom of St. Thomas, but you’re a little intimidated by the Summa. You’re not alone in this. What do you do?

Well, you could start with a good introduction, like G. K. Chesterton’s The Dumb Ox or Ralph McInerny’s delightful First Glance at Thomas Aquinas (A Handbook for Peeping Thomists). Or, if you like listening, you could go to the website of the International Catholic University and get Prof. McInerny’s lively “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas.”

But let’s say you want to get right to reading some Aquinas. This shows a good spirit on your part. Where do you begin? I have a suggestion. A good place to begin for someone who isn’t used to reading medieval disputed questions is to begin with any of Thomas’s “sermon-conferences” on the Apostle’s Creed, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Ten Commandments. All of these were meant for an educated audience of non-specialists. They are not “dumbed down.” Thomas still challenges his listeners to think and think deeply. But they’re less technical than the Summa or Thomas’s commentaries on Aristotle.

Most of these texts have been published separately at one time or another. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little “trade secret.” If you want to find anything by Aquinas in English translation, go to the superb web site kept up by my former classmate, Dr. Thérèse Bonin: Thomas Aquinas in English: A Bibliography. It’s an invaluable resource.

But you can also buy all these treatises together in a volume entitled The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian. Thomas didn’t actually set out to write a single “catechism,” so the title is a bit misleading. But it’s fair enough because the editors have brought together in this one volume Thomas’s commentaries on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Hail Mary, and the Our Father – to which they have added at the end some material on the sacraments.

Regarding this material on the sacraments, the reader should exercise some caution. Thomas wasn’t able to finish the Summa before he died at the relatively young age of 49. What was left unfinished at the time of his death, though, was the final section of the Summa on the sacraments. So what his students did – out of their love for their teacher – was “finish it off” with material they found in some of Thomas’s earliest writings: his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. A noble gesture, but this would be like “filling in” your teacher’s final book, his magnum opus, the fruit of a lifetime’s learning, with material from his doctoral dissertation. So it’s worth exercising some care.

When the news is bad, or just plain silly, as it is pretty much all the time these days, why not skip it? Listen to McInerny talk about Aquinas instead of listening to the evening news. Read Aquinas on the Apostle’s Creed rather than reading The New York Times. Less fretting over the news, and more reflecting on the Good News.

C.S. Lewis used to say he rarely read the news. If there was anything important that he could do something about, he trusted his friends would tell him. As for the rest, he thought the best response to those things he couldn’t do much about — horrible wars, people dying, government scandals — was to fast and pray. If you truly believe that God is the Lord of History, then often the most practical thing you can do is pray. And now while you’re praying the Hail Mary or the Our Father, you can say to yourself: “Didn’t I read somewhere that Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on these prayers?”

Yes you did.”

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-the St Thomas Aquinas, OP, statue I keep on my desk, always in sight, for inspiration. Patron saint of students, pray for us!

Love & Thomism,
Matthew

n.b. I have found “The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian”, by St Thomas Aquinas/Ralph McInerny, very accessible. This is a collection of Lenten sermons by the Common Doctor given in 1273, the last year of his life.

Being Catholic = asking questions!!: Summa Theologiae

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(As Bp Barron will eloquently state, the form of education in the High Middle Ages, and for a long time thereafter, was the “disputed question”. The instructor would pose the question a day, or so, before. Students’ homework would be to then go and prepare objections to the disputed question, of their own creation. The instructor would then address each valid objection produced to demonstrate the validity of the argument and correctness of the answer proposed.  This is why Aquinas’ Summa is written in the form it is.  It is ancient, time honored, and foreign to us in the 21st century.)

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-by Bp Robert Barron

There is, in many quarters, increasing concern about the hyper-charged political correctness that has gripped our campuses and other forums of public conversation. Even great works of literature and philosophy—from Huckleberry Finn and Heart of Darkness to, believe it or not, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason—are now regularly accompanied by “trigger warnings” that alert prospective readers to the racism, sexism, homophobia, or classism contained therein. And popping up more and more at our colleges and universities are “safe spaces” where exquisitely sensitive students can retreat in the wake of jarring confrontations with points of view with which they don’t sympathize. My favorite example of this was at Brown University where school administrators provided retreat centers with play-doh, crayons, and videos of frolicking puppies to calm the nerves of their students even before a controversial debate commenced! Apparently even the prospect of public argument sent these students to an updated version of daycare. Of course a paradoxical concomitant of this exaggerated sensitivity to giving offense is a proclivity to aggressiveness and verbal violence; for once authentic debate has been ruled out of court, the only recourse contesting parties have is to some form of censorship or bullying.

There is obviously much that can and should be mocked in all of this, but I won’t go down that road. Instead, I would like to revisit a time when people knew how to have a public argument about the most hotly-contested matters. Though it might come as a surprise to many, I’m talking about the High Middle Ages, when the university system was born. And to illustrate the medieval method of disciplined conversation there is no better candidate than St. Thomas Aquinas. The principal means of teaching in the medieval university was not the classroom lecture, which became prominent only in the 19th century German system of education; rather, it was the quaestio disputata (disputed question), which was a lively, sometimes raucous, and very public intellectual exchange. Though the written texts of Aquinas can strike us today as a tad turgid, we have to recall that they are grounded in these disciplined but decidedly energetic conversations.

If we consult Aquinas’s masterpiece, the Summa theologiae, we find that he poses literally thousands of questions and that not even the most sacred issues are off the table, the best evidence of which is article three of question two of the first part of the Summa: “utrum Deus sit?” (whether there is a God). If a Dominican priest is permitted to ask even that question, everything is fair game; nothing is too dangerous to talk about. After stating the issue, Thomas then entertains a series of objections to the position that he will eventually take. In many cases, these represent a distillation of real counter-claims and queries that Aquinas would have heard during quaestiones disputatae. But for our purposes, the point to emphasize is that Thomas presents these objections in their most convincing form, often stating them better and more pithily than their advocates could. In proof of this, we note that during the Enlightenment, rationalist philosophes would sometimes take Thomistic objections and use them to bolster their own anti-religious positions. To give just one example, consider Aquinas’s devastatingly convincing formulation of the argument from evil against the existence of God: “if one of two contraries were infinite, the other would be destroyed…but God is called the infinite good. Therefore, if God exists, there would be no evil.” Thomas indeed provides a telling response, but, as stated, that is a darn good argument. Might I suggest that it would help our public discourse immensely if all parties would be willing to formulate their opponents’ positions as respectfully and convincingly as possible?

Having articulated the objections, Thomas then offers his own magisterial resolution of the matter: “Respondeo dicendum quod… (I respond that it must be said…). One of the more regrettable marks of the postmodern mind is a tendency to endlessly postpone the answer to a question. Take a look at Jacques Derrida’s work for a master class in this technique. And sadly, many today, who want so desperately to avoid offending anyone, find refuge in just this sort of permanent irresolution. But Thomas knew what Chesterton knew, namely that an open mind is like an open mouth, that is, designed to close finally on something solid and nourishing. Finally, having offered his Respondeo, Aquinas returns to the objections and, in light of his resolution, answers them. It is notable that a typical Thomas technique is to find something right in the objector’s position and to use that to correct what he deems to be errant in it.

Throughout this process, in the objections, Respondeos, and answers to objections, Thomas draws on a wide range of sources: the Bible and the Church Fathers of course, but also the classical philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero, the Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides, and the Islamic masters Averroes, Avicenna, and Aviceberon. And he consistently invokes these figures with supreme respect, characterizing Aristotle, for example, as simply “the Philosopher” and referring to Maimonides as “Rabbi Moyses.” It is fair to say that, in substantial ways, Thomas Aquinas disagrees with all of these figures, and yet he is more than willing to listen to them, to engage them, to take their arguments seriously.

What this Thomistic method produces is, in its own way, a “safe space” for conversation, but it is a safe space for adults and not timorous children. It wouldn’t be a bad model for our present discussion of serious things.”

Love & good thinking,
Matthew

Sheep Among Wolves – St Thomas Aquinas, OP, Doctor of the Church

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-Flock of sheep surprised by the storm (1839 ), Eugene Verboeckhoven, Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

“‘Thomas! Thomas!’ two snickering friars called, rousing their brother who was bent over his books. ‘Look out the window—there are pigs flying about in the sky!’ Thomas rose at once and bounced to the window incredulously. The friars laughed. Putting the finishing touch on the jest, the saint responded, ‘I would rather believe that pigs can fly than believe that my brethren could lie.’
—Sean Fitzpatrick, “Thomas Aquinas’s Secret To Sainthood”

“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”
—Matthew 10:16

erin_cain
-by Erin Cain

“Thomas Aquinas was a most impressive man by all accounts. He is remembered primarily for his intellectual prowess and extensive writings, but one of his greatest qualities was in fact his incredible humility. Even in the midst of theological debate, when others would disagree with him, he was never known to say an unkind word to anyone and was gracious even toward his enemies. He never let pride take root within him, and as a consequence he was sometimes mocked for his innocence and naïveté. The quote above describes an instance where other friars, in a mean-spirited sort of way, tricked him so that they could laugh at his gullibility. Weaker men might have responded in anger, or by despairing in themselves and believing the mockery of others. But Thomas was grounded in the word of God, and therefore he was not inclined to turn to anger or resentment but rather appeal to a sense of brotherhood. God gave Thomas the strength to turn the other cheek, and in his own goodness and innocence he modeled a Christlike attitude toward others.

This lesson can be hard to remember when we find ourselves in situations like the one Thomas was in. What happens when we put our trust in others, when we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ—and they let us down? What happens when they respond to our generosity with greed, to our meekness with arrogance, to our mercy with guile?

While it is difficult and humbling to find that someone else has broken our trust, we cannot let it keep us from trusting anyone again. We can be smart in our interactions with others and we can separate ourselves from people who we know to be negative influences on us, but we don’t need to be hard-hearted, and we cannot dwell on how we have been wronged. If we find ourselves becoming cynical or jaded, we need to turn to Christ for healing, remember that only He can truly read our hearts and those of others, and reclaim a sense of joy. And if we find ourselves discouraged, we must not despair: for even Christ Himself put His trust in a man who ultimately betrayed Him. It is not our fault if others choose to take advantage of us in our kindness. The God of Justice oversees all that we keep hidden, and it is not for us to settle the score.

These experiences can make us smarter in dealing with future situations, but they should not scare us away from being charitable, from assuming the best of others and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, we are called to follow the will of God, to love our neighbor, and to make ourselves humble—trusting that whatever the consequences in this life, we are doing what is right. Often, when we show kindness and empathy towards others even in difficult situations, we soften their own hearts. We cannot allow the negative actions of a few to sour us toward everyone—instead, we must embrace the radiant joy of Christ in all circumstances and spread it to all those we meet. Gradually, we will learn to be as shrewd as serpents, but we must take care to maintain the innocence and sincerity of a dove—and we can always remember to pray to the ever-humble St. Thomas Aquinas to guide us along the way.”

“I would rather suffer the occasional infidelity than surrender my faith in humanity.” -Thomas Jefferson

Love,
Matthew

Doctor Communis!!!! Doctor Angelicus!!!! Ora pro nobis!!!!

St Thomas Aquinas’ 5 Remedies for sadness

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I suffer from clinical depression.  I was diagnosed in 1994; meds, therapy, the whole nine yards.  So sadness to me is not unfamiliar or infrequent.  It is a cursed associate:  soul & body, body & soul.

In Roman Catholicism, the theology of the body is based on the belief that the human body has its origin in God. It will be, like the body of Jesus, Resurrected, transformed and taken into heavenly glory.

“Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity” (GS 14 § 1). The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God.”  -CCC 382

On certain days we have all been sad, days when we have been unable to overcome an inner torpor or depression that weighs down on us and makes it difficult to interact with others. Is there a trick for overcoming sorrow and recovering our smile? St. Thomas Aquinas suggests five remedies against sadness that have proven surprisingly effective (Summa Theologiae, I–II, q. 38).

The first remedy is granting ourselves something we like. It’s as though the famous theologian had already intuited seven centuries ago that “chocolate is an antidepressant.” (YEAH!! 🙂 )This might seem a bit materialistic, but no one would deny that a tough day can end well with a good beer (DOUBLE YEAH!!!). It’s hard to refute this by citing the Gospel, since our Lord took part joyfully in banquets and feasts, and both before and after his Resurrection enjoyed the noble and good things in life. One of the Psalms even says that wine gladdens the human heart (although the Bible also clearly condemns getting drunk).

The second remedy is weeping. St. Thomas says “a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened” (I-II q. 38 a. 2). Our melancholy gets worse if we have no way to give vent to our sorrow. Weeping is the soul’s way to release a sorrow that can become paralyzing. Jesus too wept. And Pope Francis said that “certain truths in life can only be seen with eyes cleansed by tears. I invite each of you to ask yourself: Have I learned how to cry?”

The third remedy is sharing our sorrow with a friend. I recall here the friend of Renzo in Manzoni’s great novel The Betrothed. Finding himself alone in his deserted home ravaged by the plague and mourning his family’s horrible fate, he tells Renzo: “What has happened is horrible, something that I never thought I would live to see; it’s enough to take away a person’s joy for the rest of his life. But speaking about these things with a friend is a great help.” This is something we have to experience in order to understand it. When we are sad, we tend to see everything in tints of gray. A very effective antidote is opening our heart to a friend. Sometimes a brief message or phone call is enough for our outlook to once again be filled with light.

The fourth remedy against sadness is contemplating the truth. Contemplating the “fulgor veritatis” St. Augustine speaks of, the splendor of truth in nature or a work of art or music, can be an effective balm against sadness. A literary critic, a few days after the death of a dear friend, was scheduled to speak at a conference about the topic of adventure in the works of Tolkien. He began by saying: “Speaking about beautiful things to people interested in them is for me a real consolation …” Amen.

The fifth remedy suggested by St. Thomas is perhaps something we wouldn’t expect from a medieval thinker. The theologian says that a wonderful remedy against sadness is bathing and sleeping. Amen. It’s a deeply Christian viewpoint that in order to alleviate a spiritual malady one will sometimes have to resort to a bodily remedy. Ever since God became Man, and therefore took on a body, the separation between matter and spirit has been overcome in this world of ours.

A widespread error is that Christianity is based on the opposition between soul and body (a deadly heresy, actually…), with the latter being seen as a burden or obstacle for the spiritual life. But the right view of Christian humanism is that the human person (both body and soul) is completely “spiritualized” by seeking union with God.

No one thinks it strange to seek out a physician who cares for the body as a guide for a spiritual illness,” says St. Thomas More. “The body and soul are so closely united that together they form a single person, and hence a malady of one can sometimes be a malady of both. Therefore, I would advise everyone, when confronted with a physical illness, to first go to confession, and seek out a good spiritual doctor for the health of their soul. Likewise for some sicknesses of the soul, besides going to the spiritual physician, one should also go to a physician who cares for the body.”

Love, and always praying for your well being. Give Praise to our Creator Who wonderfully made us!!!
Matthew

Let your heart be an altar

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O LORD MY GOD,
help me to be obedient without reserve,
poor without servility,
chaste without compromise,
humble without pretense,
joyful without depravity,
serious without affectation,
active without frivolity,
submissive without bitterness,
truthful without duplicity,
fruitful in good works without presumption,
quick to revive my neighbor without haughtiness,
and quick to edify others by word and example without simulation.

Grant me, O Lord,
an ever-watchful heart
that no alien thought can lure away from You;
a noble heart that no base love can sully;
an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray;
an invincible heart that no distress can overcome;
an unfettered heart that no impetuous desires can enchain.

O Lord my God,
also bestow upon me understanding to know You,
zeal to seek You,
wisdom to find You,
a life that is pleasing to You,
unshakable perseverance,
and a hope that will one day take hold of You.

May I do penance here below and patiently bear Your chastisements.
May I also receive the benefits of Your grace,
in order to taste Your heavenly joys and contemplate Your glory. AMEN.
St Thomas Aquinas, OP

Love,
Matthew

Aquinas on Prayer

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-by Rev John Sica, OP

“Prayer, St. John Damascene says, is the unveiling of the mind before God. When we pray we ask Him for what we need, confess our faults, thank Him for His gifts, and adore His immense majesty. Here are five tips for praying better– with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas.

5. Be humble.

Many people falsely think of humility as a virtue of a low self-esteem. St. Thomas teaches us that humility is a virtue of acknowledging the truth about reality. Since prayer, at its root, is an “asking” directed at God, humility is crucially important. Through humility we recognize our neediness before God. We are totally and entirely dependent on God for everything and at every moment: our existence, life, breath, every thought and action. As we become more humble, we recognize more profoundly our need to pray more.

4. Have faith.

It’s not enough to know that we’re needy. To pray, we also have to ask someone, and not just anyone, but someone who can and will answer our petition. Children intuit this when they ask mom instead of dad (or vice versa!) for permission or a gift. It is with the eyes of faith that we see God is both powerful and willing to help us in prayer. St. Thomas says that “faith is necessary… that is, we need to believe that we can obtain from Him what we seek.” It is faith which teaches us “of God’s omnipotence and mercy,” the basis of our hope. In this, St. Thomas reflects the Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews underlines the necessity of faith, saying, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Try praying an Act of Faith.

“O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

or, something close to that, so long as not heretical. Check w/your favorite, friendly, faithful, trained Catholic wonk.

3. Pray before praying.

In old breviaries you can find a small prayer that begins, “Open, O Lord, my mouth to bless your Holy Name. Cleanse, too, my heart from all vain, perverse and extraneous thoughts…” I remember finding this slightly amusing– there were prescribed prayers before prescribed prayers! When I reconsidered it, I realized that although it might seem paradoxical, it gives a lesson. Prayer is utterly supernatural, and so it is far beyond our reach. St. Thomas himself notes that God “wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking.” The prayer above continues by asking God: “Illumine my mind, inflame my heart, that I may worthily, attentively and devoutly recite this Office and merit to be heard in the sight of Your divine Majesty.” The attentiveness and purity of heart needed to attain to God in prayer is itself received as a gift– and we will only receive if we ask.

2. Be intentional.

Merit in prayer– that is to say, whether it brings us closer to heaven– flows from the virtue of charity. And this flows from our will. So to pray meritoriously, we need to make our prayer an object of choice. St. Thomas explains that our merit rests primarily on our original intention in praying. It isn’t broken by accidental distraction, which no human being can avoid, but only by intentional and willing distraction. This also should give us some relief. We need not worry too much about distractions, as long as we don’t encourage them. We realize something of what the Psalmist says, namely, that God “pours gifts on His beloved while they slumber” (Ps 127:2).

1. Be attentive.

Although, strictly, we need only be intentional and not also perfectly attentive to merit by our prayer, it is nevertheless true that our attention is important. When our minds are filled with actual attention to God, our hearts too are inflamed with desire for Him. St. Thomas explains that spiritual refreshment of the soul comes chiefly from being attentive to God in prayer. The Psalmist cries out, “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek!” (Ps 27:8). In prayer, let us never cease to search for His Face.”

Love,
Matthew

Jan 28 – St Thomas Aquinas, O.P., (1225-1274) – Doctor of the Church, Doctor Communis, Doctor Angelicus, “The Dumb Ox!”

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Also known as the “Common Doctor/Doctor Communis”, which is high praise, meaning his opine is universal, something for everyone, relevant in every situation.

Probably, for me, the highlight, liturgically, of the year is Holy Thursday, after communion has been distributed and the priest is enwrapped in cope, incense is lit, the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance, the procession to the place of reservation begins and Pange Lingua, attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, and not just because I am his wonk, is sung beautifully and reverently, nearly as chant…

“Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our Immortal King…

Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail…”

It is very moving for me.  My mother always taught me to genuflect on both knees when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.  The altar is then stripped and ornamentation in the sanctuary is removed in anticipation of the events remembered the following day.  There is such a peace, solemnity, silence, and profound meaning beyond words I look forward to each year.

I tried reading the Summa on my own, once, and only once.  Emphasis on the word “tried” and “once”.  I quickly gave up.  Calculus is easier, more self-evident.

There are a great number of erudite tomes way over my head which are best introduced to the novice, literally, with a well seasoned, compassionate guide to whom the bewildered, overwhelmed student can revert with great frequency, great frequency, receiving tender mercies of experienced instruction and wisdom, presuming these qualities are present in the teacher.  Thank God for merciful instructors.  We would never graduate without their encouragement and support.  I try to imitate that with my own students, who, too, are deeply grateful, usually, but there are some… 🙁  For those students, I have to pray even harder!!! 🙂

Don’t try the Summa on your own, boys and girls.  Fair warning.  Many of the original works of the Church Fathers fall into this category as well.  You have been fairly warned!  I have the intellectual scars from those “knowledge bombs”, a term one of my students recently introduced me to, to prove it!  Wanna see?  🙂

St. Thomas Aquinas was born January 28, 1225, in Aquino, a town in southern Italy from which he takes his surname. In his masterwork, Summa Theologica, he represents the pinnacle of Scholasticism, the philosophical and theological school that reconciles faith with reason and the works of Aristotle with the scriptures.

At the time Thomas lived, the works of Aristotle were being rediscovered in the West and great Christian thinkers of the day spent a good deal of attention and effort trying to unify Divine revelation with human philosophy.  In the East, intellectual life flourished.  The West was still recovering from the inertia of the “Dark Ages”, where little intellectual innovation occurred.  It is said St Thomas was the spark who prepared the the West for the Renaissance.  Aristotle had been preserved in Arabic, and Islam was producing great Aristotelian thinkers.  Western Christians needed to respond in kind.

The family of Thomas Aquinas was a noble one, his parents, the Count of Aquino and Countess of Teano, were related to Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, as well as to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France.  He was the youngest of eight children.

During his early education, Thomas exhibited great acumen in the medieval trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Described as “a witty child”, who “had received a good soul”, even as a child student, he posed the question to his instructors, “What is God?”

Because of his high birth, Thomas’ entry into the Dominican order in the early 1240s was very surprising, and especially disturbing to his family. They especially opposed entry into “mendicant”, or begging orders, who beg for their sustenance, thinking it far below their family status.

Thomas’ family employed various means to dissuade him from his vocation, including kidnapping him and imprisoning him for two years.  Thomas spent his time tutoring his sisters, and communicating with other Dominicans.  His resolve was strong.  Family members became desperate to dissuade Thomas, who remained determined to join the Dominicans. At one point, two of his brothers resorted to the measure of hiring a prostitute to seduce him. Thomas drove her away wielding a fire iron. That night two angels appeared to him as he slept and strengthened his determination to remain celibate giving him a mystical belt of chastity.  He never faced sexual temptation again. (????!!!! Really? Wow? :< I guess. Mixed feelings on that one…. 🙂 [I DO like my sin, unfortunately. 🙁 Give me strength, Lord! :] Concupiscence.

Upon his escape, which was arranged by his mother, Theodora, as a face saving measure, rather than all out surrender to a religious order, Thomas returned to the Dominicans and his studies.  Since, “still waters run deep”, Thomas was a thoughtful, and hence, quiet student.  His taciturn nature was deceiving.  So much so, his classmates thought him dim-witted.  Possessing hefty stature, his classmates nick-named him “The Dumb Ox!”

After a stint as a student in Paris, Thomas made his way to Cologne to teach, receiving ordination to the priesthood in 1250. Soon after this, he was assigned to teach at Paris, where he also worked toward his degree of Doctor of Theology, which he received in 1257, with his friend St. Bonaventure, after some intramural political difficulty.

The remainder of his life was spent in prayer, study, and writing his great Summa Theologica, a systematic attempt to present the findings of scholasticism. Although Thomas is sometimes perceived simply as an analytical and methodical writer, he was, especially in his later years, given to periods of mystical ecstasy. During one such experience, on December 6, 1273, he resigned from his writing project, indicating that he had perceived such wonders that his previous work seemed worthless.  During the Feast of St. Nicolas in 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas had a mystical vision that made writing seem unimportant to him. At Mass, he heard a voice coming from a crucifix tell him, “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” to which St. Thomas Aquinas replied, “None other than Thyself, Lord.”

When St. Thomas Aquinas’ confessor, Father Reginald of Piperno, urged him to keep writing, Aquinas replied, “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value, as so much straw.” St. Thomas Aquinas never wrote again.

The Summa Theologica was left unfinished, proceeding only as far as the ninetieth question of the third part. St. Thomas Aquinas died a few months later, on March 7, 1274. Today, Thomist theology stands at the center of the Roman Catholic tradition.

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-The Temptation of St Thomas Aquinas, by Diego Velazquez, 1631-2, oil on canvas, Orihuela Cathedral Museum

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– artist anonymous, Cusco School, (1690 – 1695), “Saint Thomas Aquinas, Protector of the University of Cusco”, oil on canvas, H:1,610 mm (63.39 in), W:1,170 mm (46.06 in), Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.

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“Joy is the noblest human act.” -St Thomas Aquinas

“Charity is the form, mover, mother and root of all the virtues.” – Saint Thomas Aquinas

“To love God is something greater than to know Him.” -St. Thomas Aquinas

“Almighty and ever-living God, I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Lord, in your great generosity, heal my sickness, wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

“May I receive the bread of angels, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with humble reverence, with the purity and faith, the repentance and love, and the determined purpose that will help to bring me to salvation.  May I receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and its reality and power.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

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Wonderful Theologian and Doctor of the Church, you learned more from the Crucifix than from books. Combining both sources, you left us the marvelous “Summa” of theology, broadcasting most glorious enlightenment to all.  You always sought for true light and studied for God’s honor and glory.  Help us all to study our religion as well as all other subjects needed for life, without ambition and pride in imitation of you. Amen.

Prayer

Father of wisdom, You inspired Saint Thomas Aquinas with an ardent desire for holiness and study of sacred doctrine. Help us, we pray, to understand what he taught, and to imitate what he lived.   Amen.

Love,
Matthew