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28th January - Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, January 28, 2012
I'm afraid I have to own up to the fact that before I joined the Dominican Order, I knew very little about St Thomas Aquinas. Like many laymen, I thought that the study of theology was for theologians and that St Thomas was just one among many. Those were in the days when I tried to live a kind of double life – a life of faith and a life of reason – and since these two lives had very little to do with each other, I ended up being neither particularly faithful or particularly reasonable. By not making any effort to think about my faith, I wasn't following the greatest commandment of them all 'to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' If we are to follow this commandment and love God with our minds, we should make some sort of effort to penetrate more deeply the mysteries of salvation. In undertaking this task, you can do no better than turning to St Thomas. He is specifically recommended as a teacher in the Code of Canon Law, so St Thomas is not just another theologian.

Coming to St Thomas for the first time can be a bit daunting, and although he says the Summa Theologiae is meant for beginners, it can be confusing the first time you dip into it, especially if you're unfamiliar with the scholastic method of questions, objections, counter proposals and responses. But there are many highly readable accounts of St Thomas' theology by authors such as Timothy McDermott, Herbert McCabe, Josef Pieper and G K Chesterton. If you spend a little time with any of these books, any prejudice that St Thomas is cold and cerebral can be quickly dismissed. Happiness is a recurring theme in St Thomas and this is beautifully expressed in Timothy McDermott's concise translation of the Summa:

Happiness is seeing God. Happiness is another name for God. God is happy by nature; he does not attain happiness or receive it from another. But men become happy by receiving a share in God's happiness, something God creates in them. And this created happiness is a life of human activity in which their human powers are ultimately fulfilled: for the goal of anything is fulfillment in activity.
Thinking about our faith and entering more deeply into the divine mysteries should be a joyful experience. When I was younger I was frightened of thinking about my faith because I thought I might lose what little I had, but discovering St Thomas has totally relieved me of this anxiety. On this feast day when we honour this great saint and theologian, let us ask for his prayers, that through a growing appreciation of his writings, we may come to share in the same happiness that he now shares in, which is none other than God Himself.

Robert Verrill OP


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