This is a special week for all of us at Aquinas and More. January 28 is the feast day of one of our namesakes—Saint Thomas Aquinas. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, “Aquinas” doesn’t mean he was Mr. and Mrs. Aquinas’s little boy; he’s called that because he came from Aquino, Italy, of which his father, Landulph, was Count. His mother, Theodora, was Countess of Teano.
A genius misunderstood.
Thomas can seem a larger-than-life figure sometimes…a super-smart intellectual that the rest of us couldn’t begin to understand. But that wasn’t always everybody’s opinion of him. Sure he was smart but his family, for instance, found his life choices hard to take, being a family of some means and position.
They were all for him entering religious life, as a matter of fact, that was their plan for him. But Thomas started veering away from the traditional monastery life his family had in mind and toward an alms-begging somewhat young order called, the Dominicans. The family didn’t exactly see him as an intellectual heavyweight on this point; they saw him going down a path that led to a decided lack of advancement and influence.
So what does any well-meaning family of means do when concerned about its youngest son’s life choices? Take him prisoner, of course, and hold him captive for a couple of years trying every possible way available of killing his misguided vocation.
Spoiler alert! Nothing they tried worked. Thomas became a Dominican.
You would think people would have stopped looking at him sideways at that point, but that didn’t happen.
Got a question? Ox an expert.
As Thomas continued his Dominican studies, it became evident that his was a mind to be reckoned with, but he was also quiet, humble and even a bit awkward, so he was known among peers as the “dumb ox.” Albert the Great, renowned Dominican teacher and mentor to Thomas, responded to that nickname: “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”
Various sources phrase that quote in different ways, but what Albert was saying, basically, is “Dumb ox? YOU should be such a dumb ox, wiseguy.”
The ox heard ‘round the world
Thomas’s “bellowing in doctrine” resounded and continues to resound in a big way. It’s impossible to even try outlining his influence on the Church in a space the size of a blog post, so we won’t. It may be impossible to measure anyway, since even Thomas probably didn’t realize the immensity of his intellect.
Ever try reading Thomas’s Summa Theologica? Pretty dense stuff. And you know what? He wrote it as a book for beginners! Really. Here’s what he said about it, “a doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners.”
If the Summa was the low-bar for St. Thomas, good luck to the rest of us in trying to figure him out. Since we don’t have a resident theological and philosophical genius on staff, we’ll recommend reading his Shorter Summa and just list a few reasons why St. Thomas Aquinas is a hall of fame saint:
- He has his own school of philosophical thought named after him—Thomism.
- He identified the cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.
- Oh, yeah. He explained the existence of God.
- And he has an online Catholic store named after him. Not many guys from Aquino can say that!
Theodora’s son, (doctor) Saint Thomas Aquinas!
St. Thomas is also a Doctor of the Church, someone whose teaching has been declared so essentially useful, so universal, so timeless and essentially Catholic, that it deserves the special attention of the universal Church. It’s an exclusive club. In more than 2000 years of Christianity, only 36 Doctors of the Church have been named. Thomas got his “doctorate” so to speak in 1567, courtesy of Pope Pius V (the most recent Doctor, by the way, is Armenia’s St. Gregory of Narek, declared by Pope Francis in 2015).
Sure he was smart…but what’s he patron saint of?
It seems St. Thomas has been called upon as patron for wide swath of Christianity—at some point he even became patron saint of pencil makers. He’s best know, though, as the patron of students and universities. Quite fitting for a man who loved teaching so much that he was teaching just shorty before the last moments of his life.
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