Thursday, March 7, 2013

Angelic Doctor

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican friar who jumped from the window of his family's castle, ran to the nearest priory, and proceeded to write some of the most memorable theological tracts of anyone who has breathed the air of the Christian world.

Aquinas was particularly influential from the era of Trent until Vatican II, a time when theology had to be rational yet accessible to those studying in newly formed schools called seminaries. More recently, the Church seems to have embraced a more Augustinian view (Benedict XVI) or a more Eastern view. Yet the "Angelic Doctor" has enjoyed a consistent following and something of a resurgence of interest in the last decade.

Personally I never enjoyed reading St. Thomas's theology or found it particularly insightful. In many cases I even disagree his his views, specifically on the "form" for the consecration at Mass. Yet I respect him and see, under the brutality of his rationalism and his Aristotelian outlook, a great mystic. One only need read the sequence Lauda Sion or the hymn Pange lingua, which the saint wrote at the request of Pope Urban IV for the newly instituted Feast of Corpus Christi, to understand the profundity of his relationship to God and to His life in the Sacraments. St. Bonaventure, who had also been commissioned by Urban IV to write texts for the new feast, ripped his papers to shreds upon hearing Thomas's hymns.

Aquinas regularly submitted his works to the altar before circulating them abroad, where they would reach audience throughout Europe, including the Papal Court. On one such occasion the figure on the crucifix said, "You've written well of me, Thomas. What would you like?" to which the Saint responded "Only you, Lord."
St. Thomas's vision

Towards the end of Part III of the Summa, his greatest and most enduring effort, Thomas had a vision, and a stroke, during Mass and fell into a short ecstasy. Upon returning to a normal state he forfeited his theological work, deeming that any attempt to explain the great mystery he had seen was a frivolity.

He died en route to the Council of Lyon on this day in 1274. When considering his canonization some in the court of John XXII asked what miracles Aquinas had to his credit. One cardinal devoted to the friar's work suggested that he had as many miracles as there were articles in the Summa.

St. Thomas, pray for us!

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