Monday, March 7, 2016

Celebrate With Me, My Friends!

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, also knows as The Angelic Doctor. St. Thomas possessed one of the keenest minds of his time - perhaps of any time. He wrote reams of theology and philosophy, could dissect and issue so thoroughly, that there is literally nothing left to say about it:

This is the truth.

He wrote poetry, and is responsible for much of the prayers for the Corpus Christi Mass. For years, his staggering intellect, weighty writing, and passionately pure virtue, left me rather in awe and very intimidated by him. 

Last year on his feast day, however, I discovered that one could have a bit of the Summa Theologica emailed daily, so that within a year, one would have read the whole thing. At that time, I was reading a fair bit of philosophy. Nothing terribly heavy, mind. I'd gone through most of C. S. Lewis's apologetic works - and, with allowances for inter-Christian ecumenical tendencies, very fine and clear writing they are indeed. I was dabbling with the Greeks - Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Aristotle was my favourite. As it turns out, he was Thomas' favourite as well - The Philosopher, is what Thomas called him. So when I was confronted with a opportunity to read the Summa in small doses, it seemed like so brilliant a plan that I signed up for it on the spot. 

I've stuck with it, too, though I'd occasionally fall behind, and slave away to catch up. Occasional, St. Thomas so beat his subject to death, that I was exhausted by it, before the subject itself was exhausted, and I would skip ahead a bit. But, for all intents and purposes, I have managed the whole thing. (Or nearly: due to a computer glitch, there were two days in which it did not come as it out, so I have two more days left of it... but almost!) And... well, there is no denying that it was a challenge. But St. Thomas, for all his weightiness of style, has a blunt and matter of fact approach to The Truth, and will not be put off by sophistry, nor muddled thinking. St. Thomas, in fact, is practical.

He can also be very literal:

This is is also the truth. 

He was also very human, however, in spite of his great virtue. He was, for example, a bookworm. There was one time in which he and a companion were travelling to Paris, where he was supposed to have dinner with the King. When the great city came in to view, the companion said, "How wonderful it must be to own that all!" To which Thomas replied, "I'd rather have that Chrysostom manuscript I can't get hold of!" I understand Thomas there.

He was also absent minded - a result of the intense mental battles against fallacy which he was constantly waging in his own head. During one of the formal dinners with King Louis of France - which he was obliged to attend - St. Thomas, rather than eating, drinking, or talking to his companions, just sat there, thinking. Conversation carried on all around him. People were enjoying themselves, and Thomas was lost in thought. Then, all at once, Thomas brought his fist down on the table with a tremendous crash, that stunned the assembly into silence, "And that will settle the Manichees!"(The King, to do him credit, merely sent for a secretary to write down Thomas' argument right then and there, in case he forgot it.) 

Furthermore, he had some of the most truly appalling handwriting I have ever laid eyes on:

Thomists everywhere should give ceaseless praise to God that St. Thomas mostly wrote by dictating to secretaries... because, that chicken scratch is impossible to read. 

In short, I have become very fond of St. Thomas Aquinas in the year that I have spent with him. He is still far too brilliant and holy for me. I feel in his presence, rather the way Sam Gamgee feels around the Elves. But his loftiness has been tempered by an appreciation for the sheer, exuberant, childlike enthusiasm with which he tackled the world. And a hearty thankfulness for the Summa. I've actually drawn on some of that reading, recently, to answer questions I didn't even realise I knew the answer too. It is satisfying. 

And on that note, I shall urge you all to read a little bit more about St. Thomas, here. And leave you with this picture, which is a bit too true:

Aw... The Angelic Doctor understands!:

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.


Katrina DeLallo said...

Yes, I've seen some terrible handwriting in my day, but that takes the bally fruitcake.

Have you finished those last two days, by the way? I'm just curious... :-)

Mahri said...

Isn't it horrific?!?! Even allowing for the fact that it is Medieval Latin, the letters themselves are all but illegible.

And, yes, I did! I finished the Summa! I looked into buying a copy of it for myself, and discovered that it is generally sold in volumes - five or six, generally. So I feel particularly accomplished to have read so much in one year.