Last month, we remembered Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church. Despite all these centuries, what does the Dominican friar, iconic figure of knowledge, tell us?
At the basis of his messages, there are words of Love.
The journey of wisdom
What St Thomas specially has to offer us in a time that places more value on information is wisdom, which he saw as a gift from God to be prayed for.
One might think that he led a rather uneventful life, mostly taken up with study, teaching and writing, but twice he moved from his native southern Italy to Paris and back, and once as a student of St Albert the Great from Paris to Cologne and back.
He made all these journeys on foot.
Perhaps this part of his life influenced his view of us as viatores, people on the way, in this life.
We shall only be comprehensores, that is, people who see and understand what they held by faith, when we reach our end in the next life, which is to share in beatitude, the life of the blessed who enjoy the vision of God.
Three important virtues
In order to make this journey, he says in the preface of his Compendium of Theology, we need three virtues: faith, hope and charity.
By faith we come to knowledge of the truth.
With hope we are intent on the right end.
Charity, which is friendship with God for St Thomas, sets all our affections in order, so that they are directed to God.
St Thomas was someone who, whatever he was considering, kept his mind fixed on the end it was made for, especially the end of human life, which is beatitude with God.
The end of studying theology, he says, is to know the truth. This for St Thomas is the truth of the Catholic faith.
But in order to study theology, we also need a right disposition of heart: this is charity, which directs our affectations to our proper end, God.
Before saying Mass, St Thomas used to pray that at the end of his life’s journey he would come to see revealed face to face what he was about to receive concealed, or hidden, on the way, namely, Christ himself, for love of whom he studied, toiled and prayed.
St Thomas had a unified vision of the world, and this was his wisdom, in which he saw everything as coming from God, who is the source of all existence, and returning to him.
God is the beginning and end of everything.
God made all things out of his goodness, which he wants to share with others. But because of sin, which goes back to Adam in the human race, we are unable to reach the end for which God has made us by our natural powers alone.
Thus God sent us his Son, who as God and man in one person, is the way for us to return to God.
Thus we need to know about the divine persons of the Trinity, he says, in order to think rightly about the salvation of the human race, which ‘is accomplished by the incarnation of the Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
As the Son and Holy Spirit go together, so also for St Thomas the intellect and love.
The truth is not only to be known, he says, but also to be loved.
Fr Francis Selman is CTS author and guest blogger.