January 28: Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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About this Commemoration

Thomas Aquinas is the greatest theologian of the high Middle Ages, and, next to Augustine, perhaps the greatest theologian in the history of Western Christianity. Born into a noble Italian family, probably in 1225, he entered the new Dominican Order of Preachers, and soon became an outstanding teacher in an age of intellectual ferment.

Perceiving the challenges that the recent rediscovery of Aristotle’s works might entail for traditional catholic doctrine, especially in its emphasis upon empirical knowledge derived from reason and sense perception, independent of faith and revelation, Thomas asserted that reason and revelation are in basic harmony.  “Grace” (revelation), he said, “is not the denial of nature” (reason), “but the perfection of it.” This synthesis Thomas accomplished in his greatest works, the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles, which even today continue to exercise profound influence on Christian thought and philosophy. He was  considered a bold thinker, even a “radical,” and certain aspects of his thought were condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. His canonization on July 18, 1323, vindicated him.

Thomas understood God’s disclosure of his Name, in Exodus 3:14, “I Am Who I Am,” to mean that God is Being, the Ultimate Reality from which everything else derives its being. The difference between God and the world is that God’s essence is to exist, whereas all other beings derive their being from him by the act of creation. Although, for Thomas, God and the world are distinct, there is, nevertheless, an analogy of being between God and the world, since the Creator is reflected in his creation. It is possible, therefore, to have a limited knowledge of God, by analogy from the created world. On this basis, human reason can demonstrate that God exists; that he created the world; and that he contains in himself, as their cause, all the perfections which exist in his creation. The distinctive truths of Christian faith, however, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are known only by revelation.

Thomas died in 1274, just under fifty years of age. In 1369, on January 28, his remains were transferred to Toulouse. In addition to his many theological writings, he composed several eucharistic hymns. They include “O saving Victim” and “Now, my tongue, the mystery telling.”

Collects

i Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the singular learning and holiness of thy servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray thee, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

ii Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Wisdom 7:7–14

1 Corinthians 11:23–26

Matthew 13:47–52

Psalm

119:97–104

Preface of  Trinity Sunday

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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11 Responses to January 28: Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274

  1. Derek Michaud says:

    Calling Thomas “the greatest theologian of the high Middle Ages” seems doubtful at best. Influential, yes, “greatest” that seems hard to support. What makes him better than say, Bonaventure or Duns Scotus for example? Catherine of Siena?

  2. John Robison says:

    “Greatest” in terms of influence, no doubt. Catherine of Siena’s mystical theology, and her dogmatic work, is based on Thomistic categories. Scotus is a reaction from the Platonic side to Thomas and Bonaventures’ monastic theology is of a slightly different category and wasn’t as influential upon the Medieval mind. Thomas is one of those tinkers who’s influence is so great that it almost impossible to move around him without touching upon his thought. In a great many ways we’re still working inside of his theological paradigm. For example the idea that we can speak truly, but not exhaustively of God and that as such all theological language is analogical and dialectical is were even my Presbyterian Seminary’s Systematics class started.
    Thomas also provides an example of a thoughtful, prayerful theologian, trying to work out his craft in the light of what passed for the cosmological and “scientific” understanding of his day (Aristotle). we may not always like what he wrote, but his method is still with us, and his model of prayerful theological reflection is one we should remember.
    As an aside, his little book on prayer and contemplation (entitled, oddly enough On Prayer and Contemplation if I recall correctly) is a good introduction for those of a more logical turn of mind to understand the concepts.

    • Derek Michaud says:

      What makes Thomas great is his work at correlating Aristotelean philosophy and essentially the theology of Peter Lombard’s Sentences (which already included Thomas’ treatment of theological language as analogical for example). He was influential in a major way only after the Council of Trent (although even Trent relied more on Scotus than Thomas). Thomas marks the beginning of the disruption of a thousand years theology and spirituality exemplified by Bonaventure and the Christian Neoplatonism of Origen, Pseudo-Dionysus, and Augustine. To call him the greatest is to admit that his approach is superior not just the one that won out (largely because Thomism relies on the authority of the Church for all sacred doctrine and thus supports a centralized view of church authority and the right to interpret doctrine). That’s why I’d suggest calling him most influential and not greatest.

  3. John LaVoe says:

    Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274
    .
    greatest theologian of the high Middle Ages, // greatest theologian in the history of Western Christianity// “Grace” (revelation) // nature (reason) // Grace is the perfection of reason //
    condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. His canonization on July 18, 1323, vindicated him //
    God is Being // God’s essence is to exist // other beings derive their being // analogy of being between God and the world // knowledge of God, by analogy from the created world // human reason can demonstrate that God exists; that he created the world; and that he contains in himself, as their cause, all the perfections which exist in his creation.
    .
    I don’t mind honoring Aquinas with a commemoration. As a pre-reformation Christian he belongs to the common history of all Christians including Anglicans. He was a dedicated theologian and wrote beautiful hymns with rich devotional depth. His life was lived with a serious devotion to God and Christ so important in a holy person. His thinking influenced many, including our own theologians of note in the Anglican tradition. None of this – NONE! – has anything to do with the flotsam and jetsam aggregated in the paragraph above. I have never seen such a large load of hokum swallowed so completely, hook, line, and sinker, without chewing! (Apparently without tasting, either!)
    .
    Ecumenically, Aquinas has been a disaster, erecting walls that have encrusted a self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, self-justifying complacency that insulates a major branch of the Christian community from its counterparts of differing philosophical and theological understandings, preventing it from seeing anything in a new light, even if delivered by special courier pigeon from the Holy Spirit in person. Sacramentally, Aquinas’ views have transmuted the meaning and devotional dynamics, the relationships between and among God and God’s people, the understanding of God’s purposes in the world and the context of Jesus’ new covenant meal into the substance and accidents of recycled Aristotelian metaphysical abstractions. (Articles of Religion XXVIII had it right.) What Brueggemann says about “Psalms of Orientation” serving the vested interests, hiding and rationalizing the shortcomings, and anesthetizing awareness of injustices and excesses of power by Israel’s unfaithful and flawed kings, is exactly the sociological effect of Aquinas’ philosophy on excessive ecclesiastical claims of authority – in his time and continuing. Christianity does not require or allow for an “official” philosophy, and does not prosper under the constraints of Aquinas’ epistemology, metaphysics, anthropology, ethical positions or its extrapolations when adapted as dogmatic norms. The Christian ethos, when run through the filter of Aquinas’ thinking, loses a great deal of the goodness and faithfulness of a God who is love (not just “being” or “pure act”).
    .
    I would be content with a simple account of his life, his work (including writings and positions held), including the fact that he has had an enormous impact on the history of western Christianity and on the history of philosophy (without editorializing – much less lionizing!) and continues to be a massive influence for many – almost a third testament — for better and for worse.
    .
    THE COLLECT: There’s a bit of fawning going on in the collect. Aquinas wasn’t the only theologian with learning and holiness, so “singular” (in the first line) is unnecessary, not to say obsequious. “More and more” sounds a bit much and much. The other thoughts sound appropriate for an adequately revised commemoration. The fact that it contains no “so that” clause subsequent to the petition which ask God to let us be enlightened, and to have our devotion deepened, no longer surprises me but is still a defect in the structure and devotional integrity of the collect. (“Here’s your mission, angels.”)
    .
    THE READINGS: Both New Testament lessons are good choices as they are. Nice work, there. The reading from the Apocrypha, Wisdom 7:7-14, a reprise of Solomon’s request for wisdom from YHWH, sounds a bit presumptuous in a selection for Thomas Aquinas; I’d judge Proverbs 9:1-6 to be preferable (both appended below).
    .
    Wisdom 7:7–14
    7 Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. 8 I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. 9 Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. 10 I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. 11 All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth. 12 I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom leads them; but I did not know that she was their mother. 13 I learned without guile and I impart without grudging; I do not hide her wealth, 14 for it is an unfailing treasure for mortals; those who get it obtain friendship with God, commended for the gifts that come from instruction.
    .
    Proverbs 9:1-6
    9:1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 4 “You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
    .
    The selected psalm, 119:97-104, sounds terribly braggadocious in the circumstances. I’d judge Psalm 131 to be more appropriate in light of Thomas’ reported mystical experience and his comment based on it, “all that I have written seems like straw to me.” (Even I realize this is like asking for the moon, but, it’s what I think.) Both psalms are found below, for comparison.
    .
    Psalm 119:97–104 (BCP)
    97 Oh, how I love your law!* all the day long is in my mind.
    98 Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies,* and it is always with me.
    99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,* for your decrees are my study.
    100 I am wiser than the elders,* because I observe your commandments.
    101 I restrain my feet from every evil way,* that I may keep your word.
    102 I do not shrink from your judgments,* because you yourself have taught me.
    103 How sweet are your words to my taste!* they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
    104 Through your commandments I gain understanding;* therefore I hate every lying way.
    .
    Psalm 131 (BCP)
    1 O LORD, I am not proud;* I have no haughty looks.
    2 I do not occupy myself with great matters,* or with things that are too hard for me.
    3 But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast;*
    my soul is quieted within me.
    4 O Israel, wait upon the LORD,* from this time forth for evermore.

    Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274
    .
    greatest theologian of the high Middle Ages, // greatest theologian in the history of Western Christianity// “Grace” (revelation) // nature (reason) // Grace is the perfection of reason //
    condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. His canonization on July 18, 1323, vindicated him //
    God is Being // God’s essence is to exist // other beings derive their being // analogy of being between God and the world // knowledge of God, by analogy from the created world // human reason can demonstrate that God exists; that he created the world; and that he contains in himself, as their cause, all the perfections which exist in his creation.
    .
    I don’t mind honoring Aquinas with a commemoration. As a pre-reformation Christian he belongs to the common history of all Christians including Anglicans. He was a dedicated theologian and wrote beautiful hymns with rich devotional depth. His life was lived with a serious devotion to God and Christ so important in a holy person. His thinking influenced many, including our own theologians of note in the Anglican tradition. None of this – NONE! – has anything to do with the flotsam and jetsam aggregated in the paragraph above. I have never seen such a large load of hokum swallowed so completely, hook, line, and sinker, without chewing! (Apparently without tasting, either!)
    .
    Ecumenically, Aquinas has been a disaster, erecting walls that have encrusted a self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, self-justifying complacency that insulates a major branch of the Christian community from its counterparts of differing philosophical and theological understandings, preventing it from seeing anything in a new light, even if delivered by special courier pigeon from the Holy Spirit in person. Sacramentally, Aquinas’ views have transmuted the meaning and devotional dynamics, the relationships between and among God and God’s people, the understanding of God’s purposes in the world and the context of Jesus’ new covenant meal into the substance and accidents of recycled Aristotelian metaphysical abstractions. (Articles of Religion XXVIII had it right.) What Brueggemann says about “Psalms of Orientation” serving the vested interests, hiding and rationalizing the shortcomings, and anesthetizing awareness of injustices and excesses of power by Israel’s unfaithful and flawed kings, is exactly the sociological effect of Aquinas’ philosophy on excessive ecclesiastical claims of authority – in his time and continuing. Christianity does not require or allow for an “official” philosophy, and does not prosper under the constraints of Aquinas’ epistemology, metaphysics, anthropology, ethical positions or its extrapolations when adapted as dogmatic norms. The Christian ethos, when run through the filter of Aquinas’ thinking, loses a great deal of the goodness and faithfulness of a God who is love (not just “being” or “pure act”).
    .
    I would be content with a simple account of his life, his work (including writings and positions held), including the fact that he has had an enormous impact on the history of western Christianity and on the history of philosophy (without editorializing – much less lionizing!) and continues to be a massive influence for many – almost a third testament — for better and for worse.
    .
    THE COLLECT: There’s a bit of fawning going on in the collect. Aquinas wasn’t the only theologian with learning and holiness, so “singular” (in the first line) is unnecessary, not to say obsequious. “More and more” sounds a bit much and much. The other thoughts sound appropriate for an adequately revised commemoration. The fact that it contains no “so that” clause subsequent to the petition which ask God to let us be enlightened, and to have our devotion deepened, no longer surprises me but is still a defect in the structure and devotional integrity of the collect. (“Here’s your mission, angels.”)
    .
    THE READINGS: Both New Testament lessons are good choices as they are. Nice work, there. The reading from the Apocrypha, Wisdom 7:7-14, a reprise of Solomon’s request for wisdom from YHWH, sounds a bit presumptuous in a selection for Thomas Aquinas; I’d judge Proverbs 9:1-6 to be preferable (both appended below).
    .
    Wisdom 7:7–14
    7 Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. 8 I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. 9 Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. 10 I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. 11 All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth. 12 I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom leads them; but I did not know that she was their mother. 13 I learned without guile and I impart without grudging; I do not hide her wealth, 14 for it is an unfailing treasure for mortals; those who get it obtain friendship with God, commended for the gifts that come from instruction.
    .
    Proverbs 9:1-6
    9:1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 4 “You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
    .
    The selected psalm, 119:97-104, sounds terribly braggadocious in the circumstances. I’d judge Psalm 131 to be more appropriate in light of Thomas’ reported mystical experience and his comment based on it, “all that I have written seems like straw to me.” (Even I realize this is like asking for the moon, but, it’s what I think.) Both psalms are found below, for comparison.
    .
    Psalm 119:97–104 (BCP)
    97 Oh, how I love your law!* all the day long is in my mind.
    98 Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies,* and it is always with me.
    99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,* for your decrees are my study.
    100 I am wiser than the elders,* because I observe your commandments.
    101 I restrain my feet from every evil way,* that I may keep your word.
    102 I do not shrink from your judgments,* because you yourself have taught me.
    103 How sweet are your words to my taste!* they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
    104 Through your commandments I gain understanding;* therefore I hate every lying way.
    .
    Psalm 131 (BCP)
    1 O LORD, I am not proud;* I have no haughty looks.
    2 I do not occupy myself with great matters,* or with things that are too hard for me.
    3 But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast;*
    my soul is quieted within me.
    4 O Israel, wait upon the LORD,* from this time forth for evermore.

    • John LaVoe says:

      I don’t know how that came out complete with its own “Second Edition” appended at the end of the first one. Perhaps it should be labelled, Primum and Secundum. I can’t edit it now! Sorry.

      • John LaVoe says:

        In the paragraph I begin with, “I would be content with a simple account of his life, his work (including writings and positions held),” — the “positions” I have in mind are his “job titles,” not his philosophical positions on various topics.

  4. Michael Hartney says:

    Hebrew reading. As the New Revised Standard Version titles this book ‘Wisdom of Solomon’, this listing should conform?

    Bio. 4th paragraph: As I have noted before regarding hymns written by the person commemorated, might the Hymnal 1982’s #’s be added for these eucharistic hymns written by Aquinas? 310 and 311; 329, 330 and 331

  5. Philip Wainwright says:

    ‘Even today continue to exercise ‘—redundancy. Either ‘continue to exercise’ or ‘exercise, even today,’ but not both.

    The collect refers twice to his holiness of life, but the bio doesn’t mention it. John LaVoe makes it clear that it could be added to the bio, but personally I’d rather see it dropped from the collect. The clarity of his thinking is more than enough to warrant the commemoration.

    John, are you sure it is Aquinas’s theology that had all the negative results you mention? I was always under the impression that the ‘walls that have encrusted a self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, self-justifying complacency’ (can’t wait for an opportunity to quote that!) were in place long before Aquinas, and that his theology was used by rather than created the gatekeepers. His thought has certainly been useful and fruitful for many people outside those walls.

    He wouldn’t be the only great theologian to be misappropriated—Calvin was another, as I’ll no doubt be able to go into at great length on May 28th.

  6. Nigel Renton says:

    I tend to look for more biographical information, although I am aware that these bios need to explain why the subject has been selected as a Holy Person.

    The subtitle would be improved if changed to “Theologian, Philosopher, and Dominican Friar”. (Stressing that he was a priest seems unimportant, redundant, and clericalist, IMO.)

    The choice of January 28 is the date of the translation of his relics. He died on March 7. Instead of following the Roman Catholic Church’s choice of that day, we could move his commemoration to March 7, even though that day would be shared by Perpetua and her Companions. However, in view of the established date for such an important saint, I am not recommending this.

    Line 3, first paragraph: add “at Aquino, midway between Rome and Naples,” after “Born”.

    Line 1, fourth paragraph: Substitute “was summoned to the Second Council at Lyon, but was injured on the journey, and died on March 7, 1274, at the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, southeast of Rome,” for “died in 1274”.

    Line 2, fourth paragraph: substitute “translated” (the technical term) for “transferred”.

    Line 2, fourth paragraph: move the first two sentences to the beginning of the paragraph.

  7. Pingback: January 28 – Thomas Aquinas : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

  8. Pingback: January 28: Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274 | Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco

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