Monday, 28 January 2019

Saint Thomas Aquinas - January Saint of the Month

By Luca McQuillian

Saint Profile:
Name: St Thomas Aquinas
Also known as: The Angelic Doctor, Doctor of Doctors
Feast Day: January 28th
Patron saint of: Students, Theologians,Philosophers
Canonized by: Pope John XXII

Why St Thomas?

St Thomas Aquinas is a legend. That much has to be said at the outset. His extensive and impressive works have not only inspired many theologians and philosophers but they have a foundation in the teachings of the Church itself.  After St. Augustine, he is the most quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, he is the ONLY person prescribed to us by the Church in the Code of Canon Law (1983) in connection with the study of theology – this means that the Church itself recommends him by name. “Students are to learn to penetrate more intimately the mysteries of salvation, especially with St. Thomas as a teacher.”
However, being proclaimed so eminently by the Church has been for good reason. His incredible mind was coupled with a high degree of sanctity which together made him earn the title Angelic Doctor.

Who is he?

Born in 1225 as the youngest of a rich family in Italy, St Thomas grew up being educated by Benedictines in Monte Cassino and sent to the University of Naples very early on. During his studies, he was heavily inspired by several philosophers including Aristole, and was also significantly influenced by a Dominian preacher called St. Julian, who encouraged him to join the Dominican Order. However, when his parents heard of it they were unhappy about this vocation, and locked him away in the castle of Roccasecca for a year. His brothers even went as far as locking a prostitute in the room with him in order to seduce him. St Thomas, however, chased the woman away with a hot iron rod and so preserved his purity – it is on account of this that it is said that angels came and girded him to preserve his chastity perpetually. His family finally gave in and allowed him to escape after which St Thomas, faithfully as a Dominican continued his studies.

He was a quiet student, and as a consequence some thought he was slow, calling him a “Dumb Ox”. Ironically only a few years later he began to teach in Cologne, Paris, Naples and finally was summoned to Rome to serve as a papal theologian, all the while writing books which are still read today. It was during this time that he wrote his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae, originally his lecture notes for beginners in theology. Within it, one of his striking comments included “a doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners”. He also wrote many of the most beautiful hymns that are still sung in honour of the Blessed Sacrament: Anima Christi, O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum Ergo…

Near the end of his life St Thomas had an encounter with Christ while in prayer. No one fully knows what happened but afterwards he abandoned his writing (leaving the Summa Theologiae still unfinished) and when asked why, he would reply that everything he had written is like straw compared to the reality of his experience.

In May 1274 St Thomas was called to the Second Council of Lyon but fell ill on the way and eventually died. Pope Pius V canonized him in 1323 and declared him a Doctor of the Church.

How has St Thomas inspired you?

As a student of Catholic theology for a number of years, I am indebted to his intelligence and wisdom in helping me to delve deeper into the mysteries of the faith. I love to study, and I love when things make sense. His logical and reasoned approach has allowed me to understand more and more how perfectly faith and reason go hand in hand. If anyone doubted this they would just have to read one of his works, or perhaps for those unseasoned with his terminology, the work of a contemporary writer who explains St Thomas.

Reading the Summa, for example, can be a bit raw, but having it explained opens up a whole depth to the mysteries of the faith. Delving deeper and deeper St Thomas seems to leave no question unanswered. Learning how much more there is to our faith and how I all fits in so perfectly has opened my eyes in unimaginable ways and has helped my own spiritual life grow.

Why is he relevant NOW?

"To those who have faith, no explanation is necessary. To those without faith, no explanation is possible" - St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas Aquinas is such an important saint to get to know and reflect on, especially in these times. People want rational explanations for everything; they want reason to be the starting point; they want authentic truth. There are many intellectuals out there who know a lot about other things, but they too, seek the answers for what really matters. St Thomas is relevant, for this is the direction his discourses take. Indeed, as St. John Paul II said; “Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth.”

As Catholics we ourselves should always be seeking the truth and striving to understand it better. Like St Thomas, we should educate ourselves in the mysteries of the faith, and through it, deepen our own trust and relationship with God. 

St Thomas also answers the many of the questions that Catholics are asked in a way that is clear and truthful, as St Pius X wrote, St Thomas’ “divine genius fashioned weapons marvellously suited to protect the truth and destroy the many errors of the times.” Many of the errors that St Thomas was combatting have come back, disguised under other names and with slight changes; his words hold relevant for them too. Indeed, we are living in a time where the world often tries to tell us that what is wrong still feels 'right', and Christian truths on several topics are too often silenced or repressed.

Like St Thomas, we must be aware that these errors must be destroyed by the truth. We must fight with sanctity and true knowledge, and be willing to stand up for what is right - for these are the weapons of light that will bring Jesus into the heart of our brothers and sisters.

3 Lessons from St Thomas:
  • Love God first, in all that you do
  • Love the Bible and have an extensive knowledge of it (the word of God is a powerful weapon)
  • Study well, it is a gift from God for you to be able to learn and by studying well you can glorify God in it.

St. Thomas Aquinas prayer for Students
(he himself used to recite this)

“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.”

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