Great Dominicans: Thomas Aquinas
What can we say about a brother who is as famous as St. Thomas Aquinas (1125-1274)?
Has not everything been said that can be said? The answer to the latter question is evidently ‘no’, as the many publications in English, German, French, Spanish, and Dutch that are being published each year attest. It is amazing to think that one holy life could prove to be such an enigma, such an inspiration, that even more than seven centuries later we still study the works written by this remarkable man.
I will not dare to even attempt to summarise brother Thomas’s life and achievements. But if you would like to read more, try to get hold of the lively biography by Simon Tugwell O.P. in the joint volume on Albertus Magnus and Aquinas in the Classics of Western Spirituality Series. Or read the extensive study by Jean-Pierre Torrell O.P.
What I would like to do is to share three little snippets on why I think that Thomas Aquinas is a great Dominican.
Firstly, because he was a man of strong faith who was willing to go where his quest for Truth would take him, even if that meant engaging with non-Christian sources of thought. He respected his sources, criticised them where necessary, but tried as much as possible to bring them in; to win, in the words of Frederick Bauerschmidt, every good argument for Christ.
Secondly, because he was passionate about his work. The sheer amount of his works that has been preserved testify to this. But he was even more passionate about preaching. Anyone who has ever read, or attempted to read, Thomas’s writings, will be surprised by the lively contrast between his writings and his sermons. It is the same man, no doubt, but he seems to show, much more openly than in his academic writings, his passion for the good news of the Gospel.
Thirdly, because he had a good sense of humour, which, in an academic, is a rare quality that should be treasured. We know from his biographers that he could be pleasant to and patient with his fellow Dominicans. And occasionally we encounter some little jokes in his academic writings. But what really made me laugh, was when, recently at supper, a brother showed me how Thomas’s post-communion prayer seems to contain a limerick! You can read more about St. Thomas’s Limerick here.
If you can combine deep spirituality, with good theology, an openness to the world and a sense of humour, then surely you must be a great, if not one of the greatest, Dominicans.