Monday, January 28, 2008

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

From James Kiefer at the Lectionary:

In the thirteenth century, when Thomas Aquinas lived, the works of Aristotle, largely forgotten in Western Europe, began to be available again, partly from Eastern European sources and partly from Moslem Arab sources in Africa and Spain. These works offered a new and exciting way of looking at the world....While remaining a Christian, he [Aquinas] immersed himself in the ideas of Aristotle, and then undertook to explain Christian ideas and beliefs in language that would make sense to disciples of Aristotle. At the time, this seemed like a very dangerous and radical idea, and Aquinas spent much of his life living on the edge of ecclesiastical approval. His success can be measured by the prevalence today of the notion that of course all Christian scholars in the Middle Ages were followers of Aristotle.

I was schooled in scholastic philosophy, or Thomism, more than 50 years ago at Loyola University in New Orleans, but Thomist philosophy has fallen out of fashion. The important contribution that Aquinas made, as Kiefer says, is that he set a precedent for engagement with philosophies and spiritualities which are not explicitly Christian. It remains a treacherous road for theologians to travel.

Some Christian scholars today are undertaking, with varying degrees of success, to explore the relations between Christianity and various contemporary studies or world-outlooks that have been used as weapons by opponents of Christianity.

With respect to the painting of Aquinas by Fra Angelico, who, by the way, is one of my favorites, the good brother has made him into a grim looking fellow, hasn't he? The other image at Wiki by Carlo Crivelli shows Aquinas as crabbed-visaged also.

His two best-know works are the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles.


Psalm 37:3-6,32-33 or 119:97-104
Wisdom 7:7-14
Matthew 13:47-52


Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Image from Wiki.


  1. It is a more treacherous road, but a damn sight more honest.

  2. TheMe, amen to that.

    Thomas Merton was constantly skirting the edge of tolerance by the RCC in his exploration of Buddhism before his untimely death.

  3. I always like the story about Thomas Aquinas saying all this writings were "straw" towards the end of his life.

  4. Jan, I like that story, too. Supposedly, he had a vision, and afterwards said, "All that I have written seems to me like straw compared with what has now been revealed to me."

  5. While we tend to think of Thomas as some staid bastion of Roman orthodoxy it is very refreshing to be reminded of the off-beat and chancy nature of his theologizing in its own context.

    When we finally behold God I doubt any will want to cling to theological positions.

    Thanks, Mimi.

  6. When we finally behold God I doubt any will want to cling to theological positions.

    Paul, you're right. Theology won't matter one bit.

  7. I have spent a lot of time around Dominicans, so I have also spent a lot of time with Thomas.

    First of all, he was huge and apparently they had to cut a half moon in his desk to accomodate his girth. That may be apocryphal, but it was told to me by a Dominican friar.

    Thomas wrote extensively about the Song of Songs and its sensuous beauty and the seductive call of God. Apparently that was too much for his Dominican superiors and those words were destroyed. I guess pieces of the writings are extant, but the whole is gone.

    He defintely trod his own path and yes he did have a vision that caused him to refer to his work as straw, as you indicated.

    Also he felt that his work should be "unfinished" because God's work never is complete.

    A lovely post Grandmere!

  8. Fran, I'd say that your commentary is better than my words in the post.

  9. I am a great fan of our Tom. He keeps popping up on my syllabus: Just War, Cosmological argument. He keeps me in work!

  10. DP, Tom's just war theory was my argument for a long time, but I've moved closer and closer to a no war theory. I'm not a pacifist yet, but I'm getting there. With weapons as powerful as we have now, it's very hard to make a case for war, for it will inevitably include mass killing of innocents. However, for its time and for centuries afterwards, the just war theory was a fine argument. Context, context, context.

    As for the cosmological argument, I didn't find that one convincing even 50-plus years ago, although I didn't tell my professor that.


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