Memorial of St Thomas Aquinas 2013

Detail from an altarpiece portrait of Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli. 
Photograph: Interfoto/Alamy

 Scripture Readings For Today's Mass are here

Professor Tina Beattie wrote a series of excellent articles for the UK Guardian newspaper around the time of the Feast of St Thomas of Aquinas last year.

Tina Beattie is a Professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, London, and a frequent contributor to the Catholic weekly, The Tablet and the online journal, Open Democracy.

Click on each of the links below.....

The rest of this post is a repost on St Thomas from previous years.

Thomas Aquinas was a great scholar of the medieval period. His unfinished Summa Theologica (1266-73) managed to find a way of reconciling Faith, in the form of Christian theology, with Reason, in the form of Aristotelian philosophy.

Faith and Reason had often been considered incompatible but Aquinas argued that all human understanding was ultimately based on what had been revealed by God but that it was necessary for humans to have rational thought in order to understand God's revelations.

He felt reason could lead us to an understanding of God but maintained that this was not the only path. Those who lacked philosophical gifts but were steadfast in their faith could come to understand God's existence through divine revelation.

The greater part of Aquinas' writings are theological, but there are many strictly philosophical works within his corpus, such as On Being and Essence, On the Principles of Nature, On the Eternity of the World and his commentaries on Aristotle.

Aquinas was interested in metaphysics and the study of being. He concluded that although humans could never make a direct study of God, through the simple fact of their being they could deduce, through reason, that there must be a creator who had created them. 

This one may give you a migraine !!

This is a photo of the handwriting of St Thomas Aquinas.

“Indeed, I think there are fewer people now alive who understand argument than there were twenty or thirty years ago; and St Thomas might have preferred the society of the atheists of the early nineteenth century, to that of the blank sceptics of the early twentieth. 

Anyhow, one of the real disadvantages of the great and glorious sport, that is called argument, is its ordinate length. 

If you argue honestly, as St Thomas always did, you will find that the subject sometimes seems as if it would never end…. Being himself resolved to argue, to honestly, to answer everybody, to deal with everything, he produced books enough to sink a ship or stock a library.”

—G. K. Chesterton, St Thomas Aquinas (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1943), p. 100.

And to think this is how we started off ......
     Image above from Onward Bound Humour

Related articles 

This one is a review of a book by Herbert McCabe in which he says :

Thomas Aquinas thought that theologians don’t know what they are talking about,” McCabe says. “He was, I suppose, the most "agnostic" theologian in the Western Christian tradition.” 
Aquinas believed that the foundation of Christian morality is our friendship with God. In turn, human society, when it is functioning rightly, is a community of friends.

McCabe provocatively describes Aquinas as the first Whig (though, knowing McCabe, he might have said Marxist), declaring that he “would undoubtedly have welcomed the welfare state.” 
And how’s this for a great “Did you know?”: “Aquinas says in one place that separation from God by sin has so distorted our emotional life that we do not enjoy sex enough.”

Thomas studied scripture, philosophy, theology, and natural science. He once gave thanks to God that he never read a page he did not understand! His far-reaching thought searched out priniciples and was able to synthesize the thoughts of the ancient Greeks, Muslim and Jewish scholars, and the Fathers of the Church, in the truths that they had discovered. 

Thomas took a "universal" approach to the search for truth. He was not afraid to study the thought of non-Christians and was confident that God would reveal truths to those that earnestly sought them, whether they were Christian or not. This is a refreshing approach compared to many Catholics who have a "ghetto mentality." and are unwilling to admit that anything useful can be learned from non-Catholics.

That certainly was not Thomas's understanding. Not surprisingly, some Catholics in his own day, including a few bishops, condemned him for searching for truth amid the works of Plato, Aristotle, Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Moses Maimonedes. Aquinas was able to discern the truth in aspects of their writings because of his own intense life of prayer in addition to his brilliance.

 Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas
Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you, 
wisdom to find you, 
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you, 
and a hope of finally embracing you.

His peers at the University of Paris referred to him as the “dumb ox,” because of his size and meek humbleness to present his knowledge in front of others. However, after a brilliant defence of a difficult thesis in class, his teacher exclaimed, “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”

In many paintings, Thomas has a dove at his ear

This image represents the Holy Spirit talking to Saint Thomas Aquinas as he writes in the Summa Theologica on the existence of God. Saint Thomas Aquinas spent much time praying to be able to hear the Holy Spirit more clearly. 

The following is taken from a short biography of St. Thomas found on the EWTN website. It underscores Thomas's own focus on Jesus as the source and summit of his life and study.

"One night, in the chapel of the Dominican priory in Naples where St.
Thomas was then living, the sacristan concealed himself to watch the
saint at prayer. He saw him lifted into the air, and heard Christ speaking
to him from the crucifix on the chapel wall:

"Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?"

"Lord, nothing but yourself."

His request was soon answered. On December 6, 1273, St. Thomas
Aquinas was saying Mass for the feast of St. Nicholas in the chapel where
the crucifix had spoken to him.
Some profound experience - spiritual,
mental, and physical suddenly overwhelmed him
He showed few external signs of the change at first; but he declared to his long- time secretary that he could write no more.
"All that I have written," he said, "seems like straw to me."

What hope for the rest of us then ?  :-)

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