Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas
Priest and Doctor of the Church
Patron of schools and students
What could be written of Thomas Aquinas could fill volumes. What Thomas Aquinas left as his legacy fills volumes. I think rather than get into the academic and theological study of the man’s biography I’d like to relate two personal stories. But first I should bring everyone up to speed.
Thomas was born in 1226, son of the Count of Aquino in Italy (hence, Aquinas). As a young lad he was (yes I just said “lad”) educated by Benedictines who were thoroughly impressed with his advanced intellect and deep personal holiness. That piety only continued to grow and at the age of 17 Thomas expressed a desire to enter the Order of Preachers (the Dominican Order). His wealthy family were opposed. This is not because he wanted to enter religious life but because he chose a mendicant, or begging order. Legends abound but the most famous is that several family members (including his father) tried to dissuade him by sending a prostitute to his chamber. Thomas, more determined than ever, chased the woman out with a hot fire poker.
He studied at Cologne under Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great) who, coincidentally deferred conferral of his own doctorate until after his more learned pupil received his. While there he was nicknamed the “dumb ox” due to his quiet nature and extraordinary girth. Still quite young (not quite 30) he traveled to Paris where he enjoyed the favor and friendship of King Louis IX. Summoned to Rome by the pope in order to teach, Thomas repeatedly turned down any high honors His Holiness wished to bestow on him, including being named Archbishop of Naples. Had he taken that he would almost certainly have ascended to the throne of Peter himself. While writing his greatest work, the Summa Theologiae, Thomas was ordered to appear at an ecumenical council to share his brilliance but died along the way.
To speak of the Summa in passing only is like writing a book on the Roman Empire and devoting a word or two to Julius Caesar. Aquinas was the greatest champion of the scholastic method and the body of his work could, if divided, crown several men Doctors of the Church. The Summa did what its name implies. It summarized all of Christian teaching. You know, just a little undertaking there… He and the Summa became the standard for teaching Catholic theology for the next eight centuries. Even today his work is pored over and used extensively. His contributions earned him a better nickname than “dumb ox”. We also know him as “the angelic doctor”. Sounds pretty cool.
And his legacy is felt today in unusual ways. Five years ago I met a man who wanted to be a teacher. He had attended Providence College (run by Dominicans) and was to be married a mere three weeks after my own wedding. We taught theology together for a year before he wised up and went after the real money in banking. Before he bailed, though, his wife delivered their son a mere three weeks after my own son was born. I went with Benedict after the pope. They chose Aquinas after the ox. And they call him Quin.
One of the benefits of being married to my lovely wife is that I have come to know some of her friends. I like to think of them as my friends too but I know that’s sometimes stretching it. But one such friend (I use the term loosely since he has YET TO TAKE ME HUNTING) is Gary. Gary entered the Church as an adult, several years before I met him. It was only after I had sponsored his son Bobby for confirmation that I learned of Gary’s dark secret. Our two families spent a weekend this past summer at Oak Island, North Carolina. And as we all ventured out onto the beach and the shirts came off I came to appreciate just how cool Gary is. No, it’s not his Jersey Shore physique. I stared at his arm for about thirty seconds before daring to ask: “Is that a tattoo of Aquinas?!” If you’re gonna’ get a tatt, make it count. Gary, my man, you made it count for sure.