January 27, 2017

Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor

Saint Thomas Aquinas

January 28th, is the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Dominican theologian who demonstrated that faith and reason are complementary, not contradictory. Renowned among the greatest theologians of the Catholic Church, his master work, the Summa Theologica, was placed on the altar alongside the Bible and the Decretals at the Council of Trent. Aquinas was both a philosopher and a priest. Confronting new developments in thought, he refused either to lose faith or mindlessly believe, and developed a new understanding of the place of reason in human life. His virtuous example and ethereal theological insights are reasons why in 1568, Pope Pius V proclaimed Saint Aquinas the ‘Angelic Doctor’.

Thomas Aquinas was born to a noble family in Roccasecca, Italy in 1225. As a young man with preternatural spiritual gifts. he went to study at the University of Naples and there encountered sources of knowledge which had just begun to be rediscovered, ancient Greek and Roman texts. Aquinas became an academic at the University of Paris where he was an exceptionally prolific writer, producing nearly 200 writings about Christian theology in less than three decades. Next to the Summa Theologica, he is best known for his work, Summa Contra Gentiles.

In the 13th century, when better translations of Aristotle’s works came to the attention of European scholars, new questions emerged. The dissemination of these works along with doctrinal disagreements threatened to divide the Church between traditionalists, those adhering rigidly to the letter of Church law at the expense of the spirit of the law, and modernists, those embracing a theology based on novelty, often at the expense of Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

Aquinas answered these questions and in the process prevented a rift between traditionalists and modernists. His resulting theology, Thomism, is a synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Revelation. Like his predecessors, Aquinas’s theology is objective, deductive, and principled. It remains the theological standard today.

Father Pius Parsch’s summation of his life speaks to Aquinas’ total dedication to God and His Church: "To a deeply speculative mind, he joined a remarkable life of prayer, a precious memento of which has been left to us in the Office of Corpus Christi. Reputed as great already in life, he nevertheless remained modest, a perfect model of childlike simplicity and goodness. He was mild in word and kind in deed. He believed everyone was as innocent as he himself was. When someone sinned through weakness, Thomas bemoaned the sin as if it were his own. The goodness of his heart shone in his face, no one could look upon him and remain disconsolate. How he suffered with the poor and the needy was most inspiring. Whatever clothing or other items he could give away, he gladly did. He kept nothing superfluous in his efforts to alleviate the needs of others."

St. Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274, reputedly in the middle of writing an extended commentary on the Song of Songs. Various miracles owed to St. Thomas Aquinas’ intercession would grace the faithful who prayed at his tomb or invoked his help. He was canonized in 1323, and named a Doctor of the Church in 1568. The Second Vatican Council stated that seminarians should strive for knowledge “under the guidance of St. Thomas,” so as to “illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible.” He is the patron of seminarians, students, apologists, theologians, Catholic schools, Catholic Universities, chastity and teachers, among others. O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished out of love. 

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