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Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church | Various Authors | January 28, 2011 | The Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas

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From Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Dumb Ox" by G.K. Chesterton

Thomas was a huge heavy bull of a man, fat and slow and quiet; very mild and magnanimous but not very sociable; shy, even apart from the humility of holiness; and abstracted, even apart from his occasional and carefully concealed experiences of trance or ecstasy.

St. Francis was so fiery and even fidgety that the ecclesiastics, before whom he appeared quite suddenly, thought he was a madman. St. Thomas was so stolid that the scholars, in the schools which he attended regularly, thought he was a dunce. Indeed, he was the sort of schoolboy, not unknown, who would much rather be thought a dunce than have his own dreams invaded, by more active or animated dunces. This external contrast extends to almost every point in the two personalities.

It was the paradox of St. Francis that while he was passionately fond of poems, he was rather distrustful of books. It was the outstanding fact about St. Thomas that he loved books and lived on books; that he lived the very life of the clerk or scholar in The Canterbury Tales, who would rather have a hundred books of Aristotle and his philosophy than any wealth the world could give him. When asked for what he thanked God most, he answered simply, "I have understood every page I ever read." St. Francis was very vivid in his poems and rather vague in his documents; St. Thomas devoted his whole life to documenting whole systems of Pagan and Christian literature; and occasionally wrote a hymn like a man taking a holiday.

They saw the same problem from different angles, of simplicity and subtlety; St. Francis thought it would be enough to pour out his heart to the Mohammedans, to persuade them not to worship Mahound. St. Thomas bothered his head with every hair-splitting distinction and deduction, about the Absolute or the Accident, merely to prevent them from misunderstanding Aristotle. St. Francis was the son of a shopkeeper, or middle class trader; and while his whole life was a revolt against the mercantile life of his father, he retained none the less, something of the quickness and social adaptability which makes the market hum like a hive. In the common phrase, fond as he was of green fields, he did not let the grass grow under his feet. He was what American millionaires and gangsters call a live wire. It is typical of the mechanistic moderns that, even when they try to imagine a live thing, they can only think of a mechanical metaphor from a dead thing. There is such a thing as a live worm; but there is no such thing as a live wire. St. Francis would have heartily agreed that he was a worm; but he was a very live worm. Greatest of all foes to the go-getting ideal, he had certainly abandoned getting, but he was still going.

St. Thomas, on the other hand, came out of a world where he might have enjoyed leisure, and he remained one of those men whose labour has something of the placidity of leisure. He was a hard worker, but nobody could possibly mistake him for a hustler. He had something indefinable about him, which marks those who work when they need not work. For he was by birth a gentleman of a great house, and such repose can remain as a habit, when it is no longer a motive. But in him it was expressed only in its most amiable elements; for instance, there was possibly something of it in his effortless courtesy and patience.

Every saint is a man before he is a saint; and a saint may be made of every sort or kind of man; and most of us will choose between these different types according to our different tastes. But I will confess that, while the romantic glory of St. Francis has lost nothing of its glamour for me, I have in later years grown to feel almost as much affection, or in some aspects even more, for this man who unconsciously inhabited a large heart and a large head, like one inheriting a large house, and exercised there an equally generous if rather more absent-minded hospitality. There are moments when St. Francis, the most unworldly man who ever walked the world, is almost too efficient for me.

From Guide to Thomas Aquinas by Josef Pieper

In the midst of the tremendous demands made upon him by his teaching, and challenged by questions shot at him from every side--in the midst of all this intellectual commotion, Thomas wrote his great systematic works. Some of them are the more or less direct fruit of his teaching itself. But his greatest systematic works, the Summa theologica and the Summa Against the Pagans, were not. His works--the sheer physical labor they represent is in itself imposing—can probably be explained in only one way: that Thomas was present in the body amid the fret and fever of those times, especially of the Parisian disputes. but that all the while he dwelt in an inner cloister of his own, that his heart was wholly untouched and untroubled, concentrated upon the totality of reality; that wrapped in the silence that filled the innermost cell of his soul he simply did not hear the din of polemics in the foreground; that he listened to something beyond it, something entirely different, which was the vital thing for him.

Perhaps we may say that several elements contributed to his imperturbability: a mystic (in the narrower sense) rapture; the capacity to give himself entirely to a subject (once, dictating at night. he simply did not notice that the candle in his hand had burned down and was singeing his fingers); and finally a concentration, acquired by schooling of the will, which made it possible for him to dictate to three or four scribes simultaneously—different text, of course. In this way and under such conditions he produced, in a lifetime of not quite fifty years, that vast body of work which in printed editions fills thirty folio volumes.

From The Unity of Philosophical Experience by Etienne Gilson

While so many men were trying to base philosophy on theological foundations, a very simple and modest man as putting everything in its place. His name was Thomas Aquinas, and he was saying things so obviously true that, from his time down to our own day, very few people have been sufficiently self-forgetful to accept them. There is an ethical problem at the root of our philosophical difficulties; for men are most anxious to find truth, but very reluctant to accept it. We do not like to be cornered by rational evidence, and even when truth is there, in its impersonal and commanding objectivity, our greatest difficulty still remains; it is for me to bow to it in spite of the fact that it is not exclusively mine, for you to accept it though it cannot be exclusively yours. In short, finding out truth is not so hard; what is hard is not to run away from truth once we have found it. When it is not a "yes but", our "yes" is often enough a "yes, and..."; it applies much less to what we have just been told than to what are about to say. The greatest among philosophers are those who do not flinch in the presence of truth, but welcome it with the simple words: yes, Amen.

St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the latter, clear-sighted enough to know truth when he saw it, humble enough to bow to it in its presence. His holiness and his philosophy sprang from the same source: a more than human eagerness to give way to truth; but he was surrounded by men who did not like to do that, at least not to the same degree, so that, even after him, everything went on as if truth had remained unsaid. Yet his ideas were clear and simple. Himself a theologian, St. Thomas had asked the professors of theology never to prove an article of faith by rational demonstration, for faith is not based on reason, but on the word of God, and if you try to prove it, you destroy it. He had likewise asked the professors of philosophy never to prove a philosophical truth by resorting to the words of God, for philosophy is not based on Revelation, but on reason, and if you try to base it on authority, you destroy it. In other words, theology is the science of those things we are received by faith from divine revelation, and philosophy is the knowledge of those things which flow from the principles of natural reason. Since their common source is God, the creator of both reason and revelation, these two sciences are bound ultimately to agree; but if you really want them to agree, you must first be careful not to forget their essential difference. Only distinct things can be united; if you attempt to blend them, you inevitably lose them in what is not union, but confusion.

From Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas selected and arranged by John P. McClernon

St. Thomas may be best known as a great intellect and Christian thinker, but his holy life was equally impressive. Although graced with such an incredibly mastery of knowledge, in his personal life he exemplified a simple, reserved, humble servant of God. He was known to rise early in the morning, with the usual practice of going to confession, saying Mass, then immediately attending another Mass. The rest of his day he normally spent reading, praying, writing, and teaching. Thomas liked to go often to a church and spent quiet time there with Jesus in the tabernacle. His heart was drawn like a magnet to prayer whenever confronted with a theological or intellectual question that challenged him. God once revealed to St. Catherine of Siena, the great fourteenth-century Dominican Doctor and mystic, that "Thomas learned more from prayer than from study." Since he had a profound devotion to Mass and the Holy Eucharist, and it was not uncommon for his Dominican brethren to find him so deeply moved and absorbed during the service that he would stop, needing to be roused to continue. The sacredness of the Mass and his corresponding love of God simply overwhelmed him.

All those who knew Thomas found him to be considerate, kind, and patient with other people. He exhibited no trace of vanity or pride, so often found in those of great intellectual ability or personal achievements. Friendship, according to Thomas, is the greatest model for understanding and learning charity. He was never known to lose his temper, even in the midst of heated disputations, and never uttered anything unkind or humiliating to those opposing his views.

From Defenders of the Faith in Word and Deed by Fr. Charles P. Connor

Saint Thomas surely knew controversy in his life, but he did not write the Summa Theologica as a work of refutation. Rather, he wished to tell the entire story of God and the universe he created as the Church understands it through Scripture, tradition, and the use of reason. Aquinas was not the most widely read philosopher of his day (John Duns Scotus supposedly had a larger following), but no one captured God, the Divine Intelligence, in quite the same way. In an amazingly logical and sequential pattern, Thomas traces man's creation and fall from grace and the tremendous events enabling creatures to return to God, namely, the Incarnation of Christ, his subsequent Redemption of the world, the Church he established, the sacraments he gave to his Church, and the grace he continually bestows on men as the most vital means to achieve their eternal salvation.

"St. Thomas of Aquin," by Robert Farren, from Saints For Now edited by Clare Boothe Luce

You cannot put such a life into a dozen pages; you can simply suggest what it was and send readers further to adequate accounts. But much less than tell Aquinas' life in these pages can I say what his was and how significant it is. One can hint at it by saying that he is the prince of theologians, the great master of Christian philosophers, the reconciler or the Greek with the Hebrew and the Latin genius; and one can say that the popes praise him in a tireless succession of words. One can say that the hand of Thomas is discernible in every orthodox theologian, and that when Pius XII spoke about the age of the world to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, the bone of his discourse was an argument which Thomas perfected. One can say that the revival of his thought in the past fifty years, after centuries of neglect and contempt among most intellectuals, is one of the chief facts of our time. One can say that the dignity of the Catholic intelligence, its superb comprehensiveness and penetrating clarity, are manifested and sustained in him unassailably and fructifyingly. And after ejaculating in this fashion, unsatisfactorily, one can first thank God abundantly for Thomas and then go and read him, the Perennial Philosopher.

Other Books & Resources Relating to St. Thomas Aquinas:

Summa Theologica (softcover) | St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa of the Summa | Peter Kreeft
Shorter Summa | Peter Kreeft
Guide to Thomas Aquinas | Josef Pieper
The Human Wisdom of St. Thomas | Josef Pieper
John Paul II & St. Thomas Aquinas | John Paul II
St. Thomas Aquinas Commentary on Colossians | St. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas and the Liturgy | David Berger
Trinity in Aquinas | Gilles Emery
The Quiet Light: A Novel about St. Thomas Aquinas | Louis de Wohl
St. Thomas Aquinas and the Preaching Beggars | Brendan Larnen, Milton Lomask, and Leonard Everett Fisher

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