Saint Albert the Great said of his brightest student: We call him the Dumb Ox, but he will bellow in learning as will be heard all over the world. Thomas Aquinas became one of the greatest theologians the Church has ever seen and his writings continue to be studied in seminaries and universities throughout the world. Saint Thomas said that he learned more at the foot of the Cross than he did from books.
We have all been touched by the teaching of the eminent Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas. I studied philosophy and theology in the 80’s when there was a plethora of progressive, liberal theologians crying out to be heard. Liberation theology had reached its height and all in all, it was a very confusing time for seminarians and others attempting to discover what Catholicism was all about. The progressive Jesuit, Karl Rahner wrote somewhere, rather hopefully: Has Aquinas gone away from us forever? Has he lost his privileged position in sacred studies? Thankfully he hasn’t and to this day the Church continues to consult Saint Thomas when she is called upon to refute error or clarify doctrine.
We live in strange times: on the one hand we see an abundance of all sorts of things, for some, an unlimited food supply, boundless entertainment at their fingertips, the general feeling of increased individual freedom, and of an enhanced self-awareness. And yet there is a reverse side of the picture. Our world today faces serious age-old problems: poverty, war, hunger, disease, and perhaps one of the most serious is that so many people have lost their bearings; they have lost the sense of the sacred and the transcendental, and in varying degrees they have lost God. Most have no absolute values or laws anymore, believing there is no absolute truth. Humanity is flooded by all sorts of options and ideas and we drift along with the currents and follow the prevailing winds. Many would agree that, for the most part, we have lost the common Christian values underpinning our society.
I think it’s true to say that we need some firm ground to stand on, instead of the drifting sands of always shifting views and opinions. We must go back to basics. A healthy society just cannot survive without agreement on the basics which must include God, creation and our stewardship of the world.
Someone wise person wrote: If you want to penetrate deeper into the mysteries of existence and faith, then study St. Thomas. If you want to be on the safe highways of the living tradition of the Church, of the documents of the Councils, of the Catechism, of the latest encyclicals, then study St. Thomas. If you want to turn your intellectual work into a loving contemplation of God’s marvellous wisdom, then study St. Thomas.
By studying St. Thomas we don’t stick to one particular system: rather we accept something greater than the man who was Thomas Aquinas, we open ourselves to revealed doctrine and to the world which was made by God.
St. Thomas is very much our ideal and our model in his total dedication to our vocation as Christians. St. Thomas gave his life in the pursuit of learning and revealing the truth. He is our model in his humility and his silence. Thomas never cared about his personal views and preferences; he simply conveys the message that comes to us from God through creation and revelation. He is our model insofar as his studies always went together with prayer and meditation. St. Thomas claimed that he learned more at the foot of the Cross than he did from books.
St. Thomas is also our model in his love for the Church, and his willingness to help all those who asked him to explain a point or to clarify the faith.
He is our model in his love for the poor, and in his willingness to preach to ordinary people who, like him, were searching for God.
Thomas Aquinas was a man whose spiritual nourishment consisted in the meditation of God’s word. In his Commentary on St. John’s Gospel he writes: You want to know which road to take? Accept Christ. Are you looking where to go and where to stay? Hold on to Christ, for he is the Life. Hold on to Christ, if you want to be secure. St. Thomas helps us to meditate on God’s greatness and love. He wrote: Our knowledge of the divine Word will be perfect when we arrive in the house of the Father to be embraced by the love of the Father for his Son.
As we move into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let us join St. Thomas in his burning love for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, which made him write these marvellous words:
Remember we that eve, when, the Last Supper spread,
Christ, as we all believe, the Lamb, with leavenless bread,
Among His brethren shared, and thus the Law obeyed,
Of all unto their Lord declared.
(Hymn from Compline, Solemnity of Corpus Christi)
Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.