St. Thomas Aquinas: “The Dumb Ox!”(1225-1274)

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Endowed with one of the keenest intellects ever, a philosopher, considered by many the “greatest” theologian”, teacher, writer, priest and religious. (Dominican), contemplative and mystic, saint and doctor of the church--- can you guess who this is?  None other than the “Angelic Doctor” SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS!

BIRTH AND FAMILY.  Born the 12th of a noble family in today’s Naples, he was educated as a youth in the monastery of the Benedictine monks. He had a quiet and contemplative disposition inclined towards the academic life. Thomas felt the call to become a priest-religious, but not according to the criteria of the noble Aquinas family. They had the plans for him to be a Benedictine abbot to bring  prestige and honor for the family.

Saint Dominic Founder
 POVERTY AND MENDICANT ORDER.  Just recently, two mendicant orders had been established: the Franciscans by St. Francis of Assisi, and the Dominicans (Order of Preachers), founded by Saint Dominic Guzman. Young Thomas felt the attractive pull towards the Dominicans. His parents and family violently opposed this desire of Thomas.

PERSECUTION.  Persecutions rained down upon the young Thomas, such that he had to flee his family. However, family members captured him and locked him up in a family castle. 

THE TEST!  His family put Thomas to the test! While in the castle they brought a loose woman (a prostitute) to tempt and seduce Thomas into sin. With a fire-brand aflame, Thomas rushed at the shameless woman threatening to brand her face if she did not abandon her pursuit; this she did!  Then, according to Thomistic scholars, Thomas was given the gift of perfect chastity that would serve him to plumb the depths of contemplation and comprehend the greatest of mysteries with the purest of mind, heart, body and soul!

MORE TESTS AND PERSECUTIONS.   Thomas was received into the Dominicans. As a student he was blessed to have the greatest known teacher of the day, another Dominican now known as the famous “St. Albert the Great”--- the universal doctor. Albert was the master of biology, physics, chemistry, philosophy, logic, as well as theology. Brilliant as he was, Thomas preferred the “Queen of all Sciences” Theology.  He had a more retired disposition, reticent by nature and stout in build.  The other students started to taunt and mock Thomas, such that they tagged a nickname to him: “The Dumb Ox.”   St. Albert, hearing of this derogatory title, asserted: “Ox he is and his bellow will be heard throughout the entire world.’ Incidentally, the great English writer G.K Chesterton wrote a masterpiece on Aquinas with the title, “The Dumb Ox”.

 PROFESSOR.  Ordained to the priesthood, one of his first assignments was to teach as professor in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Paris. A gifted teacher, his fame spread like wildfire and his teaching rooms were packed to the gills! He taught with depth but with great simplicity—which matched his writing style! He was concise, clear, and to the point!

PREACHER AND RETREAT MASTER.   The Holy Father, aware of the powerful intellect of Thomas,  called him back to Italy.  The young theologian dedicated him time there  to preaching sermons and retreats that impressed and edified multitudes of people!

WRITER.   Of even greater magnitude and universal impact would be Aquinas’ ability as a writer. Thomas was a profound thinker, both philosopher and theologian, but he was also both a mystic and contemplative. It is said of him that he received his greatest insights not from books but in contemplative prayer, praying in front of the most Blessed Sacrament and Jesus crucified.  When he lacked clarity he would gravitate to the Tabernacle where Jesus, “The Light of the world” would enlighten his intellect with the truth!

WRITING ACCOMPLISHMENTS.    Thomas had such a fertile and active mind that it was said of him that he could be dictating to four Secretaries (four different topics) at the same time! His memory for the Word of God and spiritual topics was nothing less than photographic! He wrote “Summa contra gentiles”,   fundamentally a treatise to defend the Catholic faith against the oncoming attacks of the Moslems.

CLAIM TO FAME OF ST THOMAS:  “SUMMA THEOLOGICA”.  By far of greatest importance, was Thomas’ spiritual masterpiece, greatest in the world, his SUMMA THEOLOGICA!  This contains five huge Volumes of his thought on all Christian Mysteries. Covering Dogmatic Theology, Sacramental Theology, Moral Theology, Prayer, and still much more. The “Summa” is still one of the greatest spiritual gems and masterpieces in the world.  Even the Council of Trent in the 16th century used three text books to help in the formulation of the Council of Trent’s decrees and the Catechism of the Council of Trent: The Bible, the writings of the Popes, and the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.

O Salutaris Hostia
 EUCHARIST: CORPUS CHRISTI AND THOMAS.   The Holy Father, so as to augment faith and devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist, asked both Thomas and Bonaventure (a friend of Thomas and future saint) to write the Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi--- The Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus. Interesting experience! Both of the saints met! Bonaventure got a hold of the writings of Aquinas for the Office of the Body and Blood of Jesus, and after reading Aquinas’ writings, Bonaventure ripped his Office to shreds. Why? The great humility of Bonaventure acutely aware of the divine inspiration of the text of Aquinas which would be sung to praise the Eucharistic Lord until the end of time! Among the mystical hymns of Aquinas are the following: “Tantum Ergo”, “O Salutaris Hostia”, Panis Angelicus…”

WELL DONE FAITHFUL SERVANT: A VISION!  At the end of his life, Jesus appeared to Thomas, complimenting the saint. Jesus said to Thomas, “Well done Thomas; you have written well of me!’  Then Jesus asked Thomas to ask of Him for a favor!  The saint responded, “Lord give me the grace to love you more and more!” LOVE OF GOD!!!! That was all that Thomas really wanted--- to live out the greatest calling: to love Jesus wholly and totally!

ECSTASY AND VISION!  Another vision of the great saint concluded his writings! Thomas had a vision of God, that we will know only when we get to heaven and ask Thomas and the Lord. So powerful was this vision that Thomas could no longer take up his pen and write. (Actually the Summa was not totally finished!) From this Aquinas stated that all that he had written was nothing more than straw!

EARLY DEATH. Asked by the Holy Father to attend the Council of Lyons, on the way to the Council, Thomas became gravely sick, was received into a Cistercian monastery and breathed forth his spirit into the hands of the Lord.  He was only 49 years of age!

LESSONS OF THE “Angelic doctor”  Many for us now and until the end of time!

1.     PURITY.  To communicate with the Lord we must attain purity of life in body, mind, heart and soul. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8)

2.     DETERMINATION. Like Thomas we must have a determined determination to discern God’s will and follow it.

3.     POVERTY. Thomas chose a poor-mendicant Order so as to follow Jesus in His poverty. “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”(Mt.5:3)

4.     PRAYER/CONTEMPLATION. Thomas learned much from his books and studies, but even more through his prayer in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Jesus Crucified.

5.     STUDY.  In this “Year of Faith” in imitation of St. Thomas may we apply ourselves seriously to the study of our Catholic faith.

6.     SILENCE.  To study and pray well we urgently need silence. “Speak O Lord for your servant is listening!” God speaks in the silence of our hearts!

7.     OBEDIENCE. Thomas obeyed both Provincial and Pope. In obedience, we accomplish the will of God.  Jesus was obedient even to death and death on the cross. (Phil. 2)

8.     LOVE. When asked by Jesus for a gift, Thomas did not ask for honor or fame or riches but simply to love Jesus more and more each day. Thomas himself says that charity(supernatural love) is the “Queen of all virtues.”

9.     DEATH. He died at 49 and accomplished so much. May we recognize that our life is like the flower of the field that rises in the morning and withers and dies as the sun goes down. Let us find rest in two places: the cemetery and heaven. (St. Alberto Hurtado).

10.                        MARY. Thomas preached at great length on the HAIL MARY-- a prayer that he loved.  Following St Dominic the charism of the Dominicans is to preach and spread love for the Holy Rosary! 

Saint Dominic Receiving the Rosary From Mary!