The Beauty of Both/And: Thomas Aquinas
Thomas was picked on by his classmates. Because he was big and quiet, they thought that he was developmentally delayed and called him a dumb ox. But, his teacher saw things differently, he saw beyond the surface to the truth and said to the class, “You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”
This teacher (who came to be known as Saint Albert the Great) was right about who that young man would become and what his contributions to the world would be. The young man was Thomas Aquinas, who became a Doctor of the Church, one of the most influential theologians and philosophers in the world, and a great Saint.
Also, my favorite saint.
A Truly Beautiful Mind
I do admire him because of his perseverance, not only withstanding the ridicule and misunderstanding of his classmates, but also the desperate force of his family: brothers kidnapping him, mother imprisoning him, as they tried in vain to keep him out of the Dominican Order of poor, itinerant friars. Most saints show grit and strength in their commitment to serving God, though. Thomas’ special gift from God was a rare mind. Not that he was superhuman (or supra-human). No. He was very, very human. Indeed, he loved food, ate too much, and was rather fat. His great gift was an understanding of what it is to be human. Through the use of his great intellectual gifts and spiritual insights, Thomas himself saw beyond the surface of things. He recognized the wisdom beneath the paganism of Greek philosophy. He married Aristotle’s works of reason with Christian understandings of faith, proving that faith and reason are not incompatible. Thomas famously offered five proofs for the existence of God, using reason to illustrate the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause – that which everyone calls God.
Reading just one of his quotes – just one partial one – made me want to be a Catholic, a Christian…
Faith and Reason
Seven years out of atheism, I was still wondering about faith, religion, and, as I put it, “that which we call God”. I had come to know of the existence of God without the Bible, without religion, by deeply reflecting upon the natural world and my wordless, wondrous response to it. But, I was not a Christian and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be. The thought of the Incarnation, that is, Christ Jesus, both scared and thrilled me. It was beautiful, terrible, wonderfully profound…. But, was it true? Surely, I believed, truth could only be arrived at through reason. If I became a full-fledged person of faith, wouldn’t reason become secondary, inferior, even pushed out of my life?
And then I read these words while just starting to inspect the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality “that everyone calls ‘God.’” (CCC paragraph #34)
This is what I believed before becoming Christian – this is what I knew. And it came from none other than the great Doctor of the Church, himself, St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor”. This was Catholic. And my jaw dropped. I began to think… maybe faith and reason exist in harmony after all….
After that I wholeheartedly took the leap of faith – not without reason.
St. Thomas Aquinas is also my favorite because he loved truth and, therefore, he loved questions. He wasn’t afraid of them. He wasn’t afraid of any doubt. He wasn’t afraid of anyone’s argument or negative response. In a commentary on Aristotle’s works he wrote, “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” .
He understood fear:
“Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.”
He was full of wonder:
“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”
He could hold his own in any debate and defended the Faith against heretics – yet, he was humble:
“I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it. I would hope to act with compassion without thinking of personal gain.”
He wrote a lot of words – a lot. And, yet, he understood the littleness of human words in the wondrous infinity of God. At about the age of 50, while mystically deep in prayer, Thomas had a vision of Christ coming to him and asking him what reward he would have for his labor. Thomas responded, “Nothing but you, Lord.” After this, Thomas came to stop writing altogether, feeling that his words were like straw. He still worked to serve God, but died only a few months later.
Many are discovering St. Thomas Aquinas anew and are growing in both faith and reason as a result. I am thankful to God for creating this man to help us better understand Him. For these many reasons, as a person of both faith and reason, I join the Catholic Church in celebrating today, January 28, the Holy One of God (Saint) Thomas Aquinas.
© 2016 Christina Chase
 referencing his Summa Theologica, question 2, article 1-3.
For more information see http://www.aquinasonline.com/thombiog.html
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
Fellow former atheist, as well! I love the first image you have of Aquinas. I’ve always imagined the caption as such: “My two greats works are the Summa and this birdhouse.”
🙂 That caption would totally work!
I am hoping to further connecting with you as a fellow atheist turned true believer.
Having read a little of your blog, I thought you might appreciate this – He’s credited with saying “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine”.
Thank you for reflecting with me!
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I learn so much from you……Sioux!
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