Today the Church commemorates one of the heroes of our Faith- St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Thomas Aquinas was born in the year 1225 into a wealthy and influential family.
Much to his parent’s chagrin, he expressed that it was his intention to enter what at the time seemed to many to be a radical, if not revolutionary religious movement- the Dominicans, a community dedicated to serve the Church through preaching and teaching.
Members of the Dominican Order would surrender everything for the cause of advancing the Church’s mission, embracing a life of self-sacrifice that expressed itself in vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Thomas’ family, had hoped that the piety of their son could be leveraged to further advance the fortunes of the family. After all, through their network of connections they could position him to be a great man- an abbot of a prosperous monastery or even a bishop. Thomas had no interest in any of this.
And so young Thomas, at the age of 19, abandoned all prospects of wealth, pleasure, power and honors and entered the Dominican Order.
It was apparent to his teachers that Thomas was a prodigy, and he would become one of the great intellectuals of his age. So great were his gifts that he is acknowledged as one of the most important intellectual figures to have ever lived. But for us Christians, he is more than this- Thomas is a Saint of the Church and his wisdom endures as a resource that engages our own spiritual aspirations and his legacy of preaching and teaching continues to direct and influence the life of the Church.
Not only a teacher and preacher, but also a poet and mystic, he is truly one of the greatest masters of the Christian life.
St. Thomas died in the year 1274.
What lesson does the witness of St. Thomas Aquinas offer to us?
We live in an age of the Church’s life in which there has been a tragic devaluation of the importance of the life of the mind in relation to the Christian way of life. Thinking about the faith is seen as a distraction from practical and emotional matters. Creative and inspired scholarship is needed and sorely lacking.
Some, embracing philosophical and ideological trends construe scholarship in the Church as project of debunking the Church’s beliefs or as a means used to make sure that the practices of the Christian life serve secular conceits. The legacy of Christian witness if presented at all, is presented so as to be dismissed.
Others, see scholarship in the Church as merely akin to the conservation of a museum piece, not appreciating the Church’s intellectual inheritance as something living and vital. The Faith becomes an archaism, rather than a way of life.
And there are those who see little need for the Church to think at all, preferring the solace of emotions and sentiment alone without recourse to reason or so fearful of the unpredictability of life, preferring the retreat from reason into credulity that becomes the terrors of fundamentalism.
St. Thomas Aquinas invites us to abandon a faith that is content with little, if any, understanding or thinks the life of the mind inhibits sanctity, rather than enhancing it.
The Church needs a new generation of scholars who like St. Thomas Aquinas, will take seriously the life of the mind and that mature faith always seeks to understand what the Church believes and practices and why.