Tuesday, January 28, 2020

(242) St. Thomas Aquinas, the Theologian and His Writings


St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) is the Patron Saint of Universities and Students.  His Feast Day is January 28.  Much is taken from the DVD Series: Catholicism, the Pivotal Players by Bishop Robert Barron.

    St. Thomas Aquinas was a philosopher, theologian, scientist, mystic, and biblical commentator.  There is no sacrifice of the mind to be religious.  He boldly asked all the questions.  Reason poses no threat to religion when both reason and religion are authentically understood.  There is no contradiction between faith and reason.  They go hand in hand.  Truth is truth.  St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict reiterated that.  As a rationalist, Thomas made theology logical and understandable.  His contributions to religion and culture are massive.
       He was a saint deeply in love with Christ.  As a spiritual master, his main purpose in writing was to bring people to Christ.  His theological masterpiece was the “Summa Theologica” that sums up Catholic theological beliefs and teaching.   It includes the doctrine of the Eucharist to which he had a special devotion and love.  It actually consists of several volumes.  It is said that he placed the finished work at the foot of the cross and Christ told him: “Thomas, you have written well on the sacrament of my body.  What would you have as a reward?”   Thomas replied: “I will have nothing except you”.
    Thomas was born in 1225 in aristocracy in Roccasecca, a castle near Aquino between Rome and Naples.  Even as a child, he desired a close friendship with God for his life.  Thomas was from the age of six educated for nine years at near-by Monte Cassino by the Benedictines.  At the age of 15 he entered the University of Naples.  In his efforts to understand God, Thomas agreed with Peter of Ireland in applying the practical view of the pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who was controversial at the time.

       Thomas joined the teaching friars of St. Dominic who preached while practicing poverty with begging, the simple life, and complete trust in God……somewhat similar to St. Francis from the same era.  The Dominicans aspired to revitalize Christianity to return to the radicalism and simplicity of its original message and to renew the Church.  Aren’t we trying to do the same today?  Since they were considered weird, his family did everything possible to prevent him from staying with them, even locking him up.  Thomas used that time of confinement to memorize much of the Bible.

          In 1245 he studied under the best scholars in Paris, the intellectual capital of the Christian world at the time, mainly on the Left Bank of the Seine River, also called the “Latin Quarter” because Latin was the international language of the scholars and students in the Middle Ages.  A question or proposition would be presented followed by debate.  Finally, the professor gave a magisterial resolution and explanation after answering the objections.  The professor would be on the second floor of a building and the students would sit below on bales of hay.

       While studying, Thomas became a protégé or apprentice of the Dominican, St. Albert the Great, a brilliant philosopher and scientist of the time who saw the great potential in his student.  St. Albert also relied on Aristotle as a starting point.  Thomas followed him to Cologne (in Germany today) and was ordained there.  This genius was quiet, humble, and very big; thus he was dubbed the “dumb ox”.  As a baccalaureate (bachelor degree), he returned to Paris in 1252 to become a magister (master’s degree) and then obtain his doctorate.  Notice how customs of Academia date to the Middle Ages.  The cap and gown of graduation go back to this time.

       Scholar and Saint.  In his scholarly career that spanned 25 years, Thomas was a prolific author of over 50 thick volumes or books and wrote commentaries on the Bible.  Even today the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Aquinas Institute has taken on the task of translating  and publishing the works of St. Thomas Aquinas that have not yet been translated into English. 

He was a genius as seen in the detail in his thinking and in the nature of his analysis.  His mind had such order and discipline.  St. Thomas beautifully integrated faith and reason; that was the title of one of St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals.
St. Thomas Aquinas would constantly think (even at dinner and while resting), read, and write.  He would sometimes dictate three different writings of his to three different scribes at the same time, even at times dictating while taking an afternoon nap.  As with many geniuses, he was very absent minded, yet a very balanced and integrated person.  Every day Thomas would say one Mass and assist at a second one.  He once dined with King St. Louis, the patron of our church.
       In 1274, the year of his death, the mystic received a revelation from Christ and exclaimed to his friend, Reginald after 25 years of scholarly work.  “Everything I wrote is straw compared to what has been revealed to me”.  After that, he never wrote again.  He died dictating a commentary of the “Song of Songs” from the Bible.

The Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274)
St. Thomas Aquinas clarified and gave us a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church.  The relationship of faith and reason is under intense scrutiny in an age beholden to the competing claims of fundamentalism and secularism.  Atheists insist that the claims of religion amount to superstition, a retrograde holdover from centuries past.  Religious fundamentalists adhere to a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible, often independent of logic or rational introspection and development.  St. Thomas Aquinas anticipated these objections and demonstrated that to believe is to think and that the life of the mind is integral to life in Christ.

His Doctrine of God.  Since a child, Thomas asked the question, “What is God?”  It was an obsession that he pursued for the answer the rest of his life.  He proposed that God is not a being, but the sheer act of existence, being itself (Ipsum esse).  There is no distinction between God’s essence and existence without restriction.  It is wrong to imagine God as a supreme version of a creature as do the atheists Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, and Sartre.  He is not a being exalted among many.  The creator of the universe is not an item in the universe.
Therefore, when Moses asked God: “Who are you?”, the Lord answered: “I am who am”.  God is simplicity, yet unconditioned, unrestricted, without limit, eternal, infinite, perfect and fulfilled in His manner of being, immutable, unchangeable.  Thus He is reliable and consistent with mind, will, and freedom.
St. Pope John Paul II putting the words of St. Thomas Aquinas in practice.
God stands outside of time, not restricted to any point in time.  He transcends it without being restricted by it.  Thus He is eternal.  God is present in all moments of time.  Since God is immaterial and not restricted to one place, He is everywhere (omnipresent) and without borders.  Because He transcends the material, Christ was able to appear to the apostles through locked doors and walls.  Because God is already perfect and infinite, He cannot rise to a higher level.
God made all things (ominipotent); they exist because God knows them as good and wills them into being.  God is the condition for all existence.  He is the condition for the possibility of the existence of contingent things.  Everything finds its existence in God.  

God is love which is so great and intense that it overflows and creation is the result. God is all knowing (omniscient).  God is personal; He knows everything about each one of us and loves all who participate in His being.  He is not passive, but creative.  God is one, yet three persons, i.e., the Trinity…….the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Faith (Theology) and Reason (Philosophy) cannot be in conflict (Averoism) because they come from God who is truth itself.  Aquinas brought faith and reason together.  All truth is from God.  Faith stands above and beyond reason which explores the faith without compromising the mind.  There is an integration between faith and reason.  There is no contradiction between faith and reason nor between science and Theology.

The Human Person (Theological Anthropology) is an integration or unity of body and soul.  The body is not a prison for the soul which is in every part of the body just as God is present to the entire universe.  The body should be reverenced, appreciated, and taken care of since it is from God.  It is the energy that makes the body distinctly human.  After the Last Judgment, the body and soul come together.
The human person is made according to the image and likeness of God in regards to the great capacity of the mind to know the truth and the will that desires the good.  Both the mind and the will are ordered to God, i.e., the true, the good, and the beautiful, all of which inspires much literature and poetry.  The human being is made for ecstasy, for the journey into God.  The soul can reason and reaches out for the good.  It is the energy that makes you a person, the real you that really contains the body.

       Christology.  Like all saints Thomas was deeply in love with Jesus Christ as shown in His writings, by his deep devotion to the Eucharist, and in his mystical experiences.  He saw in the Incarnation the supreme goodness of the nature of God in giving Himself away with His infinite love in the fullest possible manner.  He became one with creation, one with us.
God reaches outward and downward to us in love, while we tend outward to others and upward to God.  We can also see God’s supreme goodness in the tremendous variety in His creation.  Since God is being itself, Christ’s divine and human nature are not in competition.  This would not be the case if he were a finite supreme being.  He is truly human and truly divine.  Aquinas uses Philosophy in service to Theology.

Why is Thomas Aquinas a Pivotal Player?  Today he is more relevant than ever.  Thomas showed that Christians can think deeply about any aspect of the faith while blending faith and reason in discussions with non-believers.  

He exemplifies a truly Catholic mind, open to any influence and willing to embrace the truth wherever he found it.  He’s grounded in the Bible and Christian theological tradition while reading Jewish (Maimonides), pagan (Plato, Aristotle, & Cicero), and Muslim (Averroes, Avicenna, & Avicebron) authors with respect even when disagreeing. 

St. Thomas Aquinas is also a great philosopher who uses Philosophy to serve Theology…..to move people to Christ.  He showed that God is non-competitively transcendent, compatible with intellectual freedom and integrity.  God makes the world more beautiful and more radiant without consuming it.  Aquinas is without question, one of the top thinkers (both as a Philosopher and a Theologian) of all time among Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc.  St. Thomas Aquinas is buried in Toulouse, France.


For many quotes attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas go to

https://www.azquotes.com/author/490-Thomas_Aquinas - 25 top quotes of Thomas Aquinas


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