Monday, January 29, 2007

My Inner Thomist

Today, Catholics celebrate the memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth century Dominican priest and Doctor of the Church. John da Fiesole gave him a brief tribute on Disputations a few years back. Thomas was commissioned by the Pope to write the Sequence that is chanted on the Feast of Corpus Christi, an eloquent tribute to the Blessed Sacrament. In addition, and also wrote a number of beautiful Latin hymns, among them Tantum Ergo Sacramentum and Adoro Te Devote.

I learned to be a "Thomist" at the dinner table of my family home. Our parents would engage us in discussions, occasionally challenging us to determine the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind our positions. My father once said: "Everything you do in life will either be a plus or a minus. There will be nothing in between." Only when I was well into adulthood would I discover the inspiration for that maxim.

People think his work is complicated. Quite the opposite, in fact. During his years of study, the works of Aristotle were becoming popular. The lack of apparent ability to reconcile the Greek philosopher's school of thought with Christianity was cause for intense debate among scholars. Into the fray weighed "The Angelic Doctor." Universalis, the online website for the Liturgy of the Hours, relates the following:

"Into this chaos Thomas brought simple, straightforward sense. Truth cannot contradict truth: if Aristotle (the great, infallible pagan philosopher) appears to contradict Christianity (which we know by faith to be true), then either Aristotle is wrong or the contradiction is in fact illusory. And so Thomas studied, and taught, and argued, and eventually the simple, common-sense philosophy that he worked out brought an end to the controversy. Out of his work came many writings on philosophy and theology, including the Summa Theologiae, a standard textbook for many centuries and still an irreplaceable resource today.

"Out of his depth of learning came, also, the dazzling poetry of the liturgy for Corpus Christi. And out of his sanctity came the day when, celebrating Mass, he had a vision that, he said, made all his writings seem like so much straw; and he wrote no more..."

According to one Thomist lecturer I once heard, the term "straw" could be accurately translated to read "dung" -- or even more accurately, that of a bovine male.

The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia has more.


Kevin J. Jones said...

"According to one Thomist lecturer I once heard, the term "straw" could be accurately translated to read "dung" -- or even more accurately, that of a bovine male."

This could mean that St. Thomas was alluding to St. Paul's words in Chapter 3 of Phillipians:

"Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ:"

Anonymous said...

Even though the Seraphic Doctor is our parish patron, there was absolutely no mention of him in the homily either at Mass on Sunday or in the parish bulletin. Sigh ...