Remembering a Saint and Profound Thinker

March 7th is the traditional feast day of one of the most important thinkers of Western Civilization, the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1275).  Despite being referred to early in life as a “Dumb Ox,” St. Thomas would, nevertheless, profoundly shape the development of Western theology and philosophy.

 

tomas-grandeSt. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval theologian and philosopher of immense importance to Western civilization

Image via Wikimedia Commons / Author unknown

 

St. Thomas was instrumental for the reintroduction of Aristotle into Western thought and synthesized Greco-Roman natural law constructs with Christian Revelation to produce the mighty system which became known as “Thomism.

The eminent saint’s importance in this regard cannot be understated as the late Murray Rothbard so aptly describes:

 

“For in reviving and building on Aristotle, St. Thomas introduced and established in the Christian world a philosophy of natural law, a philosophy, in which human reason is able to master the basic truths of the universe.  In the hands of Aquinas as in Aristotle, philosophy, with reason as its instrument of knowledge, became once again the queen of the sciences.”[1]

 

A prolific and multidimensional writer, St. Thomas’ best-known work was the Summa Theologiae which has been called by one commentator “the fullest exposition of theological teaching ever given to the world.”[2]  He was also an accomplished poet whose hymns such as Lauda Sion and the Adoro Te Devote are some of the most sublime in all of Christian tradition.

Legend has it that Pope Urban IV commissioned the Angelic Doctor and St. Bonaventure to compose hymns for the Feast of Corpus Christi. St. Bonaventure, after hearing St. Thomas’ compositions, was so overwhelmed with their splendor that he promptly burned his own.

 

Pope-Urban-IVPope Urban IV, who inter alia introduced the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264, the final year of his papacy.

Image via Wikimedia Commons / Author unknown

 

Leaving the World Changed

Sainthood, however, requires more than a brilliant mind and facile pen, and by all accounts St. Thomas led a holy and virtuous life and despite his intellectual prowess remained the humblest of men.  Near the conclusion of his life, he received a private revelation which changed him to such a degree that he could no longer engage in scholarly endeavors.

He reportedly said, “The end of my labors is come.  All that I have written appears to me as so much straw, after the things that have been revealed to me.  I hope in the mercy of God that the end of my life may soon follow the end of my labors.” [3]

A characteristic of nearly all seminal thinkers is that history would have been considerably different if they had not lived.  This is undeniable in the case of St. Thomas.  One of his 20th-century biographers, G.K. Chesterton, summarized the saint’s role in Western intellectual development in this manner:

 

“[…] St. Thomas was one of the great liberators of the human intellect. . . .  [He] was a very great man who reconciled religion with reason, who expanded it toward experimental science, who insisted that the senses were the windows of the soul and that reason had a divine right to feed upon fact, and that it was the business of the faith to digest the strong meat of the toughest and most practical of pagan philosophies.” [4]

 

800px-St-thomas-aquinasA famous painting of St. Thomas Aquinas on an altarpiece by Italian Renaissance painter Carlo Crivelli of Venice (~1430-1495)

 

Saint, confessor, theologian, philosopher, mystic, poet, the Angelic Doctor’s works were the summit of the often and wrongly maligned Medieval Era and until St. Thomas is returned to his exalted status, Western Civilization will continue its tragic decline.

 

References:

 

[1]Murray N. Rothbard, Economic Thought Before Adam Smith: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Volume 1 (Brookfield, VT.: Edward Elgar Publishing Company, 1995), p. 57.

[2] Herbart J. Thurston and Donald Attwater, eds., Butler’s Lives of the Saints, rev. edition (Allen, Texas: Christian Classics, 1996), vol. 1, p. 512.

[3] Dominican Saints of the Rosary Series, St. Thomas Aquinas: Universal Doctor of the Church(Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, inc., 1995), p. 30.

[4] G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: image books Doubleday, 1956), pp. 32-33.

 

Image captions by PT

 

Antonius Aquinas is an author, lecturer, a contributor to Acting Man, SGT Report, The Burning Platform, Dollar Collapse, The Daily Coin and Zero Hedge. Contact him at antoniusaquinas[at]gmail[dot]com https://antoniusaquinas.com/.

 

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4 Responses to “St. Thomas Aquinas – A Commemoration”

  • wmbean:

    As a practicing atheist I rather enjoyed the article. Back when I was young and stupid I read quite a bit of the saint, but I must say that such reading raised more questions than it answered. Will any church or religion continue to be relevant? Yes, since a good many individuals need the crutch of religion to walk this earth. But I feel the same towards liberal progressivism and its quest to find perfection for all society on this earthly domain. It is a fool’s errand at best. So maybe St Tom isn’t so bad after all.

  • Hans:

    Dear Word Press, could I please buy an “I”.

    It is a good thing that St. Aquinas never used this software,
    for his critics would have considered him illiterate and have
    sent him to Vatican’s Head Start.

  • Solon:

    Worst article ever posted on Acting Man. While we may be thankful that Aquinas re-introduced Aristotle to Europe, we need to keep in mind why Aristotle needed re-introducing. And if Aquinas hadn’t done it, eventually someone would have.

    As for uniting reason and religion, Aquinas failed in what is of course an impossible task. Sadly, Thomism allowed the Church to retrench and continue on its repressive course till post-Reformation.

    To this day the religious and their irrational beliefs remain the most dangerous people on the planet.

    Just ask Galileo about the scientific nature of post-Aquinas Catholicism. And we are seeing the same anti-science today from the religious fervour of environmentalism.

    • rodney:

      I would not be so critical of the article myself, but I do share some of these feelings and disagree with it.

      I would certainly appreciate it if religious leaders would focus on their own affairs and refrain from stepping over the boundaries of their competence. These topics are none of their business and by pontificating about subjects outside their area of expertise they have historically made fools of themselves (and they keep doing it today), not unlike physicists like Einstein and Curie praising the “glories” of communism.

      Certainly the ridiculous obsession with stopping science in its tracks is a major example (I am sick of people denying evolution for instance), but the current Pope’s political activism is a new low for the catholic church. I hope it backfires on him in a gigantic way.

      Yes, religion and reason are like oil and water, and worst of all, and very sadly, religious fanatism is leading us to countless wars, as it has throughout history. And no one should make the mistake of leaving statism out as another fanatic religion that vastly contibutes to these sorry outcomes.

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