The Angelic Doctor; Food for Thought

By Francis Fernandez

(Excerpt from ICWG Vol 7)

On the Angelic Doctor's feast day, please enjoy this selection from, In Conversation with God, Volume 7.  

(1224-1274). He was educated at the Abbey of Monte Cassino and at the University of Naples. In 1244, he joined the Dominican Order. Considered one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all times, Saint Thomas gained the title of ‘Angelic Doctor’. He had an undisputed mastery of scholastic theology and a profound holiness of life. Pope Leo XIII declared him Patron of Catholic Schools. His monumental work, the Summa Theologiae, was still unfinished when he died.

6/14.1 The way to God: piety and doctrine.

In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth, and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding and clothed him in a robe of glory.[6992]

As a young student at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, Saint Thomas kept asking his professor the same query: Who is God? Please explain to me what is God? Eventually Saint Thomas came to the conclusion that knowing God required more than teachers and books could provide. Knowing God is more than anything else a spiritual endeavour. The prayerful soul has to seek the truth with a clean and humble heart. We find, then, in the life of Saint Thomas a wonderful example of the fruitful harmony of faith and reason. Saint Thomas always sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit before he would begin to teach or to write. While engaged in his study of the sacrament of the Eucharist he spent many hours in prayer before the Tabernacle.

Blessed with an incredible intelligence, Saint Thomas brought about one of the most remarkable works of theology of all time. His fairly brief life was an impassioned pursuit of a profound understanding of God, man and Creation. Thanks to his deep knowledge of classical philosophy and the Fathers of the Church, Saint Thomas was able to devise a harmonious synthesis between faith and reason. In later centuries the Church has repeatedly pointed to Saint Thomas as a role model of fidelity to the Magisterium and the highest aspirations of the human mind and spirit.

Saint Thomas is an example of humility and rectitude of intention in professional work. One day while he was praying, Saint Thomas heard these words from the crucified Jesus: Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward do you wish for your work? Saint Thomas responded: Lord, I want nothing else but You.[6993] Here we also see the wisdom and holiness of the saint.

Even though he had incredible talent and wisdom, Saint Thomas always kept in mind the smallness of his efforts in comparison to the immensity of God. It was after saying Holy Mass one day that Saint Thomas decided to leave unfinished his life’s work, the Summa Theologiae. When asked why he had come to that decision he explained: After what God saw fit to show me on the feast of Saint Nicholas, it seems to me that everything which I have written is worthless. And so, I am unable to write anything more.[6994] God is always more than anything which the human mind and heart can possibly conceive.The Angelic Doctor teaches us how we should seek the Lord: with our intelligence, with the help of profound spiritual formation, with a life of love and prayer.[6995]

6/14.2 The authority of Saint Thomas’s writings.

Our need for formation.The Magisterium of the Church has on many occasions recommended that the faithful treat Saint Thomas as a guide in philosophical and theological study. The Church has taken the teachings of Saint Thomas as her own inasmuch as they are the best synthesis available of revealed truth, the writings of the Fathers and the demands of human reason.[6996] The Second Vatican Council urged the faithful to obtain a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the Faith with Saint Thomas as teacher.[6997] The works of Saint Thomas act as streetlights which shed their light on the most important questions in philosophy. They make it possible for us to better understand our faith in today’s world.[6998]

The feast of this great saint should lead us to pray about our need for a solid doctrinal and religious formation. This formation is an indispensable support for our life of faith. By studying and meditating upon the chief points of Catholic teaching we will be able to challenge the wave of religious ignorance which is afflicting our society. With the help of good doctrine that is well understood, we will not be at the mercy of our feelings or moods. We can give this formation a good start by studying a reliable catechism of Christian doctrine.

In these days when error and confusion abound, it might be said that this kind of intellectual formation has become indispensable. Our cry ought to be: I believe all that God has revealed to me. We need to grow in our understanding of the truths of the Faith. Saint Teresa of Avila would often say that the person who knows God is better able to do his works.[6999] A modern lay theologian makes the argument in this fashion: I cannot say how often I have been told that some old Irishman saying his rosary is holier than I am, with all my study. I daresay he is. For his own sake, I hope he is. But if the only evidence is that he knows less theology than I, then it is evidence that would convince neither him nor me. It would not convince him, because all those rosary-loving, tabernacle-loving old Irishmen I have ever known (and my own ancestry is rich with them) were avid for more knowledge of the Faith. It does not convince me because while it is obvious that an ignorant man can be virtuous, it is equally obvious that ignorance is not a virtue; men have been martyred who could not have stated a doctrine of the Church correctly, and martyrdom is the supreme proof of love: yet with more knowledge of God they would have loved Him more still.[7000]

6/14.3 Doctrine as the food of piety.

Reflecting upon the life and work of Saint Thomas, we may notice how a life of true piety requires doctrine. It is for this reason that doctrinal formation should lead us to a deep and childlike piety. Saint Thomas, for example, while writing his Summa contra Gentiles wrote the prayer Ave Maria along the margins of the text as a way to maintain presence of God. Whenever he tested his pen he would write this along with many other prayers.[7001] All of his writings and sermons serve to bring the soul closer to God. He demonstrated that in the same manner as if all human science was contained in a single book, we would want that book, so too ought we to seek only Christ who holds all the treasures of wisdom and science.[7002] The doctrine which we learn should lead us to love Christ more, to want to serve him with joy.

The piety of children and the doctrine of theologians – that was the goal set by St Josemaria Escrivá. A sound faith is built on sound doctrinal formation. It is shown forth in a childlike life of piety. Saint Thomas taught that love leads to the knowledge of the truth.[7003] In addition, all knowledge is ordered to charity as its end.[7004] As we come to know God better, we should find ourselves making many acts of love to Him. While the mind is focused on the little details of the moment, the heart has its focus set on God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Due to this kind of doctrinal formation we should have a wonderful grasp of the Holy Humanity of Our Lord, the Motherhood of Mary, the holiness of Saint Joseph, our Father and Lord, the helpful presence of the Guardian Angels, the intentions of the holy souls in Purgatory... Today let us examine our determination to acquire the formation we need to love God more and to help others.

Francis Fernandez Carvajal was born in Granada in 1938. A graduate in History from the University of Navarre, he also hold a doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome. He is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Since his ordination in 1964, much of his pastoral ministry has been with university students. For more than ten years he was editor of he montly magazine PALABRA. Among hi published works are an Anthology of texts (with more than 6000 quotations from spiritual writers throught the ages), Lukewarmness- the Devil in Disguise, and Commentaries on the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke

His Series In Conversation with God can Be found Here

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