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An introduction to the theology and influential philosophical approach of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose Memorial we celebrate on January 28th.We will read and work with sections of his greatest work, Summa Theologiae, review his legacy, and look at his attitude towards philosophy can benefit our lives — both in the Church and in the world outside — even today.
In an age when Christian thinkers were rediscovering the treasures of ancient philosophy, and more particularly of Aristotle, Thomas had the great merit of giving pride of place to the harmony which exists between faith and reason. Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them.
More radically, Thomas recognized that nature, philosophy’s proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation. Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfilment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice.
Thomas Aquinas (ST.) (1225–1274).—The angel of the school, Doctor Angelicus, born at Aquino, a town near Naples. His family was connected by marriage with the Hohenstaufen. His early education was entrusted to the care of the Benedictines of Monte Cassino. After completing his studies at the University of Naples, he entered the Dominican Order, and became the scholar of Albertus Magnus. He taught with universal admiration at Cologne, Paris, Bologna, Naples, and other places; he was equally famous as a preacher. He persistently refused any ecclesiastical dignity. Called by Gregory X. to assist at the Ecumenical Council of Lyons, in 1274, he fell sick on the journey and died in the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova, before he had completed his fiftieth year. He was solemnly canonized by John XXII., in 1323, and ranked among the great Doctors of the Church, by Pius V., in 1567. His most renowned work is the Summa Theologiæ. He composed many touching prayers, such as the Office of Corpus Christi, and hymns: Pange Lingua, Sacris Solemnis, Verbum Supernum, Adoro Te Devote, Lauda Sion Salvatorem.
It was necessary for our salvation that there be a knowledge revealed by God, besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because the human being is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason. "The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee" (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation.