Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
On Saturday 28 January the Church celebrated the Feast of the Doctor communis, namely Saint Thomas Aquinas. Given that in her Cathecism Aquinas is cited 61 times, why are we not to fall in love with this eminent Dominican philosopher and theologian?
First, Thomas Aquinas is easy to understand. His systematic writings are clear, concise and beautiful. Second, Thomas Aquinas is a realist. From his erudite master, Saint Albert the Great, Thomas learned to appreciate the created world. His philosophy relates both to the natural and the supernatural. Hence, it is accessible to everyone. Third, Thomas is a mystic. On December 6 1273 some friars saw him levitating off the floor, floating in the air. In this mystical experience Christ said to him: “Thomas you have written well of me”. At that time Thomas has just finished his section on the Eucharist in his Summa. Later, when his secretary asked him to continue this mega opus, the Summa Theologiae, Thomas wouldn’t do it. Naturally, Reginald asked why. Thomas replied: “Reginald, I can no longer write. Everything I have written seems as straw compared to what I have seen”.
Fourth, Thomas is eucharistic. Not only did he write the hymns and the prayers for Corpus Christi but also for benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. A legend says that when he was puzzling over a biblical or philosophical question and could not find the answer he would go to the Church, going up to the altar and place his head on the tabernacle. Thomas would whisper and talk to Jesus and pray that he would get those answers directly from Christ. What an intimacy he had with Jesus! His magnificent scholastically accademic work was so integrated into his love for God. Fifth, Thomas is a great saint of moral purity. When he was a young man and wanted to become a Dominican friar his wealthy parents resisted his calling. They locked him up in a tower. One of his brothers brought a prostitute into his chamber to try to tempt him and break his resolve from being a Dominican. When the prostitute was introduced into the room Thomas ran over the fireplace and picked up a burning log and chased the woman out of the room. Once the door was closed he took this smouldering log and with the char he made a cross on the wall. Then he feel down on his knees and began to pray. The tradition goes that at that moment two angels appeared at his side and wrapped a chord around his loins as a symbol of his purity and dedication to God. It is said that from that moment on he never had an impure temptation. He was completely given to God.
Fifth, Thomas is Christ-centred in his theology. His Summa Theologiae and all of his works have this sort of climax towards Christ. In his Summa Theologiae Thomas begins with God and the Trinity and then moves to the angels, creation, human destiny and virtues. Then, in the third part, he focuses on Christ’s incarnation. There Thomas analyses the person, the work and the ministry of Christ. For this reason Thomas is helpful in speaking with non-Catholics, Protestant friends and even non-Christians. This is because he gives a very distilled and beautiful account of what it means to be a Christian.
Seventh, Thomas is highly endorsed by the Church than any other saint when it comes to accademic excellence and learning. He has been approved over and over again by the Popes. The Catholic Church’s canon law requires all seminarians training for the priesthood to study Saint Thomas Aquinas. In his encyclical Aeterni Patris of 1879 Pope Leo XIII writes:
“We exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defence and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences. … Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others” (nro. 31).
Do I realise that by reading Thomas Aquinas writings I become a better Christian and a more responsible citizen?