Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Angelic Doctor

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, the Common Doctor, and a whole other host of nicknames.

My own experience with St. Thomas was basically nil until I made it college. My old Irish priest (now known as "The Hammer" among the younger priests of the diocese) dropped bits of Thomism every now and then, but he was mainly about St. Augustine and other patristic-types. My sophomore year of college, though, I wound up in a philosophy class called Thought of Aquinas with Prof. O'Callahan. I didn't exactly switch on to St. Thomas immediately. It was interesting, but I was kind of new to the whole philo bit. The story about his family locking him in his room with a prostitute to try and get him to break his vows probably did more to engage me with his writings than anything else that semester.

It wasn't until my theology interests got ginned up that I really started hitting the Thomist stuff hard. My theology seminar professor was a guy named Hugh Page. Prof. Page was an Episcopalian minister (near as I could figure) and seemed cut very much from Spong-cloth. St. Thomas's clarity and almost-supernatural ability to cut through BS came in very helpful during that time, especially as I was exposed to more and more guys who profs, TAs, and classmates told me were "great theologians" but whose writings were nonsensical crap.

Did I mention that Richard McBrien was teaching at ND?

St. Thomas and his Dominican brethren were invaluable. There's nothing more refreshing than whipping out the Summa or the Summa Contra Gentiles after slogging through an hour's worth of Rahner.

My point in rambling all this is that I owe a lot to this man and make it a point to celebrate his entire catalog whenever the opportunity arises. You don't have to read the Summa. Check out The Aquinas Prayer Book or The Aquinas Catechism. There are plenty of good commentaries that can get you started before you pick up the heavy stuff. Give it a shot. Don't take my word for it.

We exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences. The wisdom of St. Thomas, We say; for if anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the Scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated-if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age, or, in a word, improbable in whatever way-it does not enter Our mind to propose that for imitation to Our age. Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others.

Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris

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