Tribute to Aquinas the Angelic Doctor 4

St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. (1225-1274)

Today, Biltrix celebrates the feast of our patron, the Great St Thomas Aquinas. Outstanding in zeal for holiness and the study of sacred doctrine — to you, Angelic Doctor, we owe this panegyric.

Aquinas is best known for his monumental treatise, The Summa Theologiae. The Summa — one of his later works, completed by his companion and biographer, Reginald of Piperno, after his untimely death — was originally commissioned by Pope Urban IV, as a “studium” (students’ manual) for theology students. In 1323, less than fifty years after his death, it was cited in the cause for his canonization. As one of the cardinals in the canonization process noted: “Tot miraculis, quot articles” (there are as many miracles [in his life] as articles [in his Summa]), viz., thousands (see Wikipedia article).

Regarding his own work, near the end of his life, Thomas famously told Reginald: “All that I have written seems like straw to me” (mihi videtur ut palea).

Thomas was not only a great theologian, philosopher, and top class logician; he was also a man of deep religious conviction and faith. Of his greatest contributions to the Church, one cannot overlook his magnificent Eucharistic hymns, e.g., the Adoro devote, Pange lingua, and Lauda Sion, which he was commissioned to write for the liturgy of the feast of Corpus Christi. Here’s my favorite verse from the Tantum Ergo (attributed to Aquinas):

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Translation: Therefore, to so great a Sacrament, let us venerate by falling prostrate! And let the Old Law give way to the New Rite. Let faith supply assistance to our deficient senses.

Here’s a video compilation of the hymn, with the Latin text and translation into English:

Finally, one cannot go without mentioning Thomas’s sharp critical mind. In this regard, one of my favorite quotes from Aquinas is from his Commentary on Aristotle’s De coelo:

The fact that these phenomena can be explained in this way is no proof of the theory’s truth; for the same phenomena might be better explained in a wholly different way as yet unknown to men. (In de coelo et mundo II, 17, 451)

The fact that he issued this statement while commenting on a text that espoused a geocentric vision of the universe testifies to the fact that the great thinker’s mind was way ahead of its time. Yet few take note of his outside-the-box way of thinking when criticizing his “medivalistic views.”

To end this post, we conclude with the saint’s own words, the Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas:

Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.


St Thomas Aquinas, Pray for Us!

Recommended Reading:


  1. Just began reading a book by Kevin Yost titled “Memorize the Faith” which uses the methods of St. Thomas Aquinas (and others, but especially his method) to put to memory more of what I should already know. Developing memory is part of the virtue of prudence for St. Thomas (ST, II-II, 49,1). Memorization has gone out of vogue in the Church for the last 50 years, but maybe we could become better apologists if we practiced it a bit more.

  2. Good stuff, James.
    Read it twice, to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

    While reading, something occurred to me that is inherent throughout the Church’s history:
    That some of our greatest minds were each almost unbelievably humble regarding man’s potential to truly understand anything. It’s even more amazing when you consider how stunningly brilliant these folks were.

    Plus, when you put them next to some of the ‘Big Brains’ today in the anti-church side, it’s rather striking how cocksure the Left is in denying and decrying both God and faith. Funny, since these same guys are usually simultaneously declaring fealty to so many areas which are utterly reliant on secular “faith” (AGW and abortion both come readily to mind).

    Just struck me as humorous, yet sad.

    • Very true, JTR. Aquinas was both a brilliant and a holy man — in a word, substantially humble.

      Okay, that was two words. At any rate, he is a model for the honest intellectual and Christian scholar. At times it can appear that we put him on a pedestal, but the more one reads him and get to know his thought, the more one realizes he deserves all the respect.

      The man once wrote that our human intellect is not even powerful enough to grasp the essence of a fly. This is from the “Angelic Doctor.” that kind of intellectual honesty and humility is may not come easy to many people. But to any one who’s in touch with the conditions of their own humanity, it already makes perfect sense. Yet, at the same time, the saint affirms that we are made to know God.

      A deep, rich thinker, he was.

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