Wednesday, March 07, 2012

St. Thomas Aquinas March 7

St. Thomas Aquinas painted by Fra Bartolomeo

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is remembered for his intellectual rigor more than for anything else. His devotion and humility often are overlooked because of the sheer weight of his achievements as both a theologian and philosopher. It is normal to think of sanctification as something unrelated to the mind. But, on this day it may be wise to speak of the mind as something we are commanded to use, to develop and to feed.

St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome:

"I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."1

In order to practice spiritual worship, as living sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving in a never ending liturgy of daily life, we must renew our minds by feeding them the revealed truth of God's holy word. Only in that way can we know the will of God, and so live a life that aspires to "what is good and acceptable and perfect." So, we are commanded, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy...mind." 

The saintly figure of Thomas Aquinas presents a challenge to us, that we renew our minds, and that we see that no one can love God with a lazy mind. Not everyone has equal intellectual capacity, and very few have intellectual capacity that could begin to equal that of St. Thomas. But, as in the parable, we each have talents to invest for gain, and one of those is the mind. 

St. Thomas does not stand in history as a figure of infallibility. Not all of his ideas have been embraced as the teaching of the Universal Church. But, he provides an example of using Reason, of taking time to learn and think, and to apply logic. He represents the virtuous wisdom mentioned often in Holy Scripture. 

We live in a time when every issue that affects real life, whether political, social or religious, is narrowed down to sound bites. We live in a time when emotional bleating, slogans, mantras and jingles are employed in public discourse. We live in a time of vilification of all opponents instead of debate. Public discourse has become ugly and hostile, venomous and malicious. The use of what C.S. Lewis called "Bulverism" has replaced reasoned argument. The use of all such methods is employed always to one end: To stop the mind from engaging in actual thought. The purpose is to keep people cheering for some sort of party line. 

Contrasted against that stands the method used by Thomas Aquinas. In his great Summa Theologica Thomas presented all sides of every argument. He presented every side with care and diligence, exercising patience. Whether one comes off agreeing with Thomas' own position or not, on any of the issues and subjects about which he wrote, certainly the mind has been engaged and all sides have been treated fairly.

That alone is in line with loving God and renewing the mind. It stands in sharp contrast to the approved and barbaric methods of public discourse in our own age.

1. Romans 12:1,2 quoted from the RSV


Anonymous said...

Having read portions of Aquinas' Summa theologiae, I concur that one must have great patience and time to comprehend his reasoned methodology. In this age when everything seems to be moving in overdrive and time is primarily valued to the degree that it is spent in the pursuit of material gain/mammon, studying the great theologians is for the rare few whose intellects have not been paralyzed by modern secular myths... myths, I might add, that appear to me to be the work and influence of none other than Satan.

My husband has been re-reading "The Closing of the Muslim Mind" by Robert R. Reilly. In it, Reilly asserts the following: "Since God has spoken to man, man no longer needs to think in any critical fashion. Revelation replaces reason. In the Qur'an and the Sunnah (practices of the Prophet, or his way and deeds), Allah provided all that men need to know; it was unnecessary to consider anything else."

The death of reason... is this not ultimately the Evil One's greatest tool of mass destruction?


RC Cola said...

Considering that our three legged stool is Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason, I'm surprised that Thomas does not enjoy more favor among Anglicans. For if any one saint embodied those three (especially right reason) he is it.

When I remember that the Summa Theologiae was written for beginners, I am humbled.

Canon Tallis said...

This reminds me of an incident from my misspent youth as a church mouse and sacristy rat. The rector was instructing a group of junior high kids when one popped a question which seemed way beyond their years and knowledge. I watched while Father Joe struggled to find some easy way to answer it before finally giving up and going to an answer right out the Summa. It was very interesting because as he was going through it the whole group began an affirmative nodding of their heads and when he was finished the girl that had asked the question originally piped back up with "that was very simple and straight forward. Why didn't you explain it that way in the first place?"

There is more Thomas in the great Anglican divines than most realize, but you have to read all of them to realize it. Indeed, they did not neglect the schoolmen as much as many would like to believe.