The wisdom and continuing relevance of St Thomas Aquinas

Filed in Spirituality by on February 5, 2014 2 Comments

The feastday of St Thomas Aquinas passed by unnoticed to most of the world last week, but for those who have come to know him as a steady guide in thinking about the biggest questions (and the little ones), it was a day to thank God for the gift of a mind transformed by love.

Thomas’ theological work was not carried out to further a career, or to defeat opponents, or to win acclaim, but simply because love demanded it: the love of God wants to understand all things in light of Him, and love of neighbour wants to teach saving truth as clearly and systematically as possible.

St Thomas’ intellectual charity challenges all of us to study hard, to read widely, to love the tradition, to listen carefully to our opponents, to speak and write clearly and calmly, and, in the end, to submit all our work to the Cross of Christ, and to desire nothing other than Him.

I’ve included below a few interesting texts about or by St Thomas – feel free to make use of them as you thank God for the gift of our brother, St Thomas!

P.S. Have a look at the details of the third annual St Thomas Aquinas Summer School in Knockadoon, Ireland, this summer:

G.K. Chesterton, St Thomas Aquinas

In a sketch that aims only at the baldest simplification, this does seem to me the simplest truth about St Thomas the philosopher. He is one, so to speak, who is faithful to his first love; and it is love at first sight. I mean that he immediately recognized a real quality in things; and afterwards resisted all the disintegrating doubts arising from the nature of those things. That is why I emphasize, even in the first few pages, the fact that there is a sort of purely Christian humility and fidelity underlying his philosophic realism. St Thomas could as truly say, of having seen merely a stick or a stone, what St Paul said of having seen the rending of the secret heavens, ‘I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision’. For though the stick or the stone is an earthly vision, it is through them that St Thomas finds his way to heaven; and the point is that he is obedient to the vision; he does not go back on it.

Denys Turner, Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait:

One way into [the nature of St Thomas’ holiness] is through the aspect of his writing that is its most obvious and visible feature, namely its lucidity. That lucidity is truly exceptional. By comparison Duns Scotus throttles thought in an entanglement of complexity, Augustine is dense, Bonaventure imprecise, Meister Eckhart elusive. Thomas is transparent. As a general principle, whether of teaching or writing, lucid exposition requires that its author gets out of the way, because authors who stand in the way of the light obstruct it and cast a shadow […]. Thomas disappears as light-obstructing subject, appearing only in the lucidity of his object, the theology he teaches and writes. To teach, he says, is to cast light for others, which you can do only insofar as your act of teaching is invisible and does not stand in the way of the light that you cast: there is a sort of necessary self-denial required of the teacher who wishes contemplata aliis tradere [to hand on to others the fruit of reflection], a self-denial which is a condition of true lucidity.

Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being:

I couldn’t make any judgment on the Summa, except to say this: I read it every night before I go to bed. If my mother were to come in during the process and say, “Turn off that light. It’s late,” I with lifted finger and broad, bland, beatific expression, would reply, “On the contrary, I answer that the light, being eternal and limitless, cannot be turned off. Shut your eyes,” or some such thing. In any case I feel I can personally guarantee that St. Thomas loved God because for the life of me I cannot help loving St. Thomas.

Thomas’ words in Dante’s Paradiso X (tr. by Mandelbaum)

Io fui de li agni de la santa greggia
che Domenico mena per cammino
u’ ben s’impingua se non si vaneggia.

I was a lamb among the holy flock
that Dominic leads on the path where one
may fatten well if one does not stray off.

St Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles III.48, 37:

Man’s ultimate end fulfills his natural appetite in such a way that once he achieves it he desires nothing more. If he is still moved towards something else, he has not reached the end which satisfies him. This cannot happen in this life because the more someone knows the more his desire for knowledge increases.

Man’s ultimate happiness consists in the contemplation of truth for this operation is specific to man and is shared with no other animals. Also it is not directed to any other end since the contemplation of truth is sought for its own sake.

St Thomas, Adoro Te Devote (tr. by G.M. Hopkins):

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
Quæ sub his figuris vere latitas;
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia te contemplans totum deficit.

Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritatis verius.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,

Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,

See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart

Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;

How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;

What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;

Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

Wisdom 7:7-10, 15-16 (reading from the Dominican lectionary for the feast of St Thomas):

I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I preferred her to sceptre and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.

Now God grant I speak suitably and value these endowments at their worth: for he is the guide of Wisdom and the director of the wise. For both we and our words are in his hand, as well as all prudence and knowledge of crafts.

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Br Conor McDonough

About the Author ()

Br Conor McDonough OP is a student in the Irish Province of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). Some of his posts were first published at They are re-posted here with permission.

Comments (2)

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  1. mags says:


    ‘The greater the love, the greater the desire. And desire in some sort prepares & opens the one who desires to receive the one who is desired’. (ST. 1.q.12) ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

  2. mags says:

    I don’t think that we as Christian should think of people as opponents, there is no competition or game. There are brothers and sister who have a different perspective, but if we hold others in a position as opponents, they will always be held in that opposition.

    People have differing views because of their upbringing, cultural heritage, situation, perspective and influences. But if we look at everything from a perspective of Love, and look towards how we can radiate more Love, which is healing, then we could not fail to move others and ourselves closer to God.

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