January 28, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Thomas Aquinas

John F. FinkThe feast of St. Thomas Aquinas is on Jan. 28. Of all the Doctors of the Church, he is the only one whose theology was recognized as the Church’s official theology.

Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical in 1879 in which he commanded all priests and students of theology to study Thomas’s writings, and Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical in 1923 in which he reemphasized Thomas’s pre-eminent position among all scholars.

He remains the dominant spokesman of the Catholic tradition of harmonizing reason and divine revelation. Pope John Paul II quoted him often, especially in his encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” (“The Splendor of Truth”). (Pope Benedict XVI, however, personally prefers the theology of Thomas’ classmate at the University of Paris, St. Bonaventure.)

Thomas lived from 1225 to 1274. His body of work was massive, covering theology, philosophy and Scripture. It was capped by his unfinished “Summa Theologiae” (“Summary of Theology”). He synthesized Aristotle’s thought with Christian dogma.

He also had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament. One of his works, written at the request of Pope Urban IV, was The Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi, for which he composed three hymns, including Pange Lingua Gloriosi with its sequence, the Tantum Ergo.

He wrote that it was Christ’s will that humans should share in his divinity: “He assumed our nature in order that by becoming man he might make men gods.”

Furthermore, “When he took our flesh he dedicated the whole of its substance to our salvation. He offered his body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation . . . so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin.”

Christ also left his body as food and his blood as drink, Thomas wrote, and he declared, “O precious and wonderful banquet, that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness! Could anything be of more intrinsic value?”

He noted that under the old law it was the flesh of calves and goats that was offered. But here, “Christ himself, the true God, is set before us as our food. What could be more wonderful than this?” Through this sacrament, sins are purged away, he wrote, virtues are increased, and the soul is enriched with spiritual gifts.

This sacrament, he said, is offered for the living and the dead, “so that what was instituted for the salvation of all may be for the benefit of all.”

He wrote that it was to impress more firmly upon the hearts of the faithful the love for us that Christ revealed in his Passion that Jesus instituted this sacrament during his Last Supper. He was about to leave the world to return to his Father so he left the sacrament as a perpetual memorial of the Passion he was about to undergo.

This, Thomas wrote, “was the greatest of all his miracles, while for those who were to experience the sorrow of his departure, it was destined to be a unique and abiding consolation.” †

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