Monday, January 27, 2014

St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox

"Grant me, I pray, a will that seeks you, a wisdom that finds you, a life that pleases you, a perseverance that waits for you with trust and a trust that in the end succeeds in possessing you." St. Thomas Aquinas
Filippino Lippi. Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas, Wiki Commons

Early Life and Education

Thomas was born in 1224(or 1225) near Aquino, in what is today Sicily. His father was Landulph, the Count of Aquino and his mother was Countess of Teano. The family were related, not only to Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, but also the Kings of Aragon and Castile.
At the age of five, Thomas was sent to be trained by the Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino. It was here that he later studied the works of Aristotle.

Family Oppression
He received the habit of the Order of St. Dominic(between 1240 and 1243) because of his attraction to the preaching of John of St. Julian, a Dominican at Naples. People were surprised that a wealthy son of a Count would don the habit of a Dominican. His brothers, who were soldiers under the Emperor Frederick II, kidnapped him and kept him prisoner in the fortress of San Giovanni for two years. During this time, his family attempted to discourage him in his vocation and even laid snares to tempt him into sin. He did not succumb and eventually they gave up and he was allowed to return to the Dominicans.
The Dominican Order sent him to Paris to study theology under the renowned teacher, St. Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus). There he continued to study all of Aristotle’s works and the Arab commentaries. Aristotle had written on the nature of knowledge, the natural sciences, on the soul, on ethics and metaphysics. To Thomas in Aristotle the two cultures, pre-Christian Greek culture and Christian culture, met. Eventually Thomas did not rely on the Arab commentaries but wrote his own.

The Dumb Ox
Thomas was a humble student and often remained silent rather than join in the arguments and raucous behaviour of the others. Because of this he was known as ‘the dumb ox’. However, when St. Albert heard his brilliant defence of a particular thesis, he exclaimed, “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”
St. Albert’s remark was prophetic. Theology and philosophy students still marvel at St.Thomas’ astute thought. Pope Benedict XVI commented on the “excellent intellectual gifts of St. Thomas and his literary production,, which he continued until his death ... commentaries on sacred Scripture, commentaries on Aristotle's writings, powerful systematic works, among which excels the Summa Theologiae, treatises and discourses on several arguments.” (Pope Benedict XVI quoted in news release June 2, 2010)

His most famous works are Summa Theologiae (three parts), Summa contra gentiles (Treatise on the Truth of the Catholic faith, against Unbelievers),and Disputed Questions.

Death and Beatification
Thomas died on March 7, 1274 at the Cisterian Monastery at Fossa Nuova where he had been given hospitality when he fell ill during a journey. He was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323. St. Pius V proclaimed St. Thomas a Doctor of the Church in 1567. No longer is he known as the ‘dumb ox’ but now he is known as ‘the Angelic Doctor’.
Normally a Saint’s Feast Day is celebrated on the anniversary of his or her death which in this case would be March 7. However St. Thomas’ memorial was transferred to January 28, the day his relics were moved to Toulouse.

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