700 Years - St. Thomas Aquinas' Legacy
Innocence and Maturity
Jesus teaches us that when approaching Him we ought to do it with a childlike faith. Yet scripture also suggests we avoid being like infants or childish. These two principles to the spiritual life are easily reconciled when we nuance in which sense they apply to the person. St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a particular example of the harmony of these two principles: childlike innocence, and spiritual maturity. We are celebrating 700 years of his Canonization, recognizing that this particular saint contributed a great deal to the order, theology, in such a way that Vatican I would consider his Philosophy Perennial to the Catholic faith. Yet, sometimes the very spiritual life of the saint gets sidestepped or forgotten when recognizing his own holiness.
I have been reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ work since I entered seminary, and I found his wisdom to be both a matter of common-sense, but also effecting the way I think. It helped me to regulate my passions when discussing ideology, politics, and any theological point of view. Why? Because St. Thomas puts all such things together as a science, where the process of thinking is not merely a matter of being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” my mind found some stability in the relativistic culture I subsist in. Yet, in order for this to happen I had to be formed by logic, and the solid display of good metaphysical reasoning from St. Thomas. In other words, what I was encountering was the discipline of the “speculative virtues.” The Speculative virtues: understanding (Intellectus), Science (Scientia), and Wisdom (Sapientia); all are properly ordered from foundations to the goal of all such discernment: Wisdom. Beyond the speculative virtues St. Thomas is also practical in his emphasis on the “practical virtues:” Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Courage. In other words, he does not endorse simply an intellectual exercise, but a bodily engagement in the speculative virtues, where such truths are messaged into our behavior, bringing the whole person to God. Beyond these virtues we get his reflection on the Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. So not only does St. Thomas develop a good sense of our humanity, but it is informed more deeply by the mystical disposition towards “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard.” In this way, I would say that St. Thomas displays “discipline” of the mind, and also in his own behavior. This is where we can begin to understand those passages of scripture that insist on a mature type of faith leaving behind our childish (impulsive) ways of thinking and acting.
In the intellectual tradition of our current climate what I consistently see is a type of immaturity in regard to the intellectual way of life, where the passions lead one’s discernment. This intellectual childishness can be masked by the façade of the “professional intellectual” and become institutionalized within our own universities, and classrooms. Oddly, though, if examined critically it would be understood as quite harmful towards one’s own psychological health, because one is no longer learning to regulate their emotions according to what the truth is, but rather places the person on the unstable ground of relativism that ultimately leads to a scrupulous skepticism, and nihilism masked by existential hedonism. Often these realities are unconsciously present in the non-professional intellectual but in the professional intellectual today, they are not only present, but endorsed and protected. The so called “open-minded” intellectual is very good at shutting down the idea that there is a scientific approach to philosophical reasoning, because he or she finds it “too limited.” But we are brushing our minds up against what is real and what is unreal – and if we consider that type of limit unreasonable, we cannot distinguish between insanity and sanity, maturity and immaturity, the rational and irrational, discipline and undisciplined.
St. Thomas Aquinas offers us an approach that subjects all our opinions, prejudices, and discernment to an orderly system that holds us accountable, and reigns our minds in, when they become hijacked by the sociological pressures and passions of our own wounded spirit.
Thus, I think it is fair to suggest we have discussed the importance of having a mature faith, that is not easily pushed over and submitted to the winds and waves of passionate erroneous doctrines. Yet St. Thomas Aquinas was also motivated by a childlike innocence. He was not that type of snobbish intellectual who grew bitter by the errors arising. He joined the Dominicans who seek to save the soul of the intellectual and culture by entering into a dialogue. He had a deep compassion for those who make errors, and unlike Descartes, acknowledged that error might arise not simply from sin, but from human error (due to our complexity). He sought to teach, not as though in an arrogant way, but according to the system that he came to trust. Not only did he trust in such a system, but more importantly he trusted God. At the onset of the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas discusses whether Philosophy or Sacred Doctrine is more or less trustworthy. He explains that Sacred Doctrine is more trust worthy because the source of Sacred Doctrine comes from God who cannot err. Most today would likely place far too much trust in human reasoning, and their own intellectual sophistication or experiences, entirely unaware of the effects of our complexity, pride, and wounded hearts. But what we can intuit from this statement is St. Thomas looking up to the Father in heaven and as a little child asking for advice, asking to know more, and hanging on the single Word that comes from His mouth. Furthermore, we see this displayed in his own memorization of Sacred Scripture, and the uncanny ability to harmonize all the passages that for many seem contradictory.
St. Thomas Aquinas would lean his head against the Tabernacle while weeping to understand more deeply the mystery of God. He would lean his head against the Altar after consecration and lose a sense of time and space. He was some “absent-minded intellectual/professor” but so mystically connected to God, that the things of this world didn’t preoccupy him as much as the worldly standards would demand. This childlike approach to God was married to a “disciplined seeking” and God certainly let Himself be found by this Saint.
While we definitely exist in a post-Christendom era, it’s important to realize that this particular saint offers the wayward mind and heart discipline to a lazy and un-zealous spirit, and innocence and humility in a child who clings to His father, hanging on every word. 700 years is certainly worth celebrating, but also looking to ourselves and asking, how are we passing on the tradition of Christ’s graces in St. Thomas Aquinas?
 Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:2
 1 Cor 13:11; Eph 4: 14-15; Hebrews 5:12-14
 1 Cor 2:9