My own experience with the writings of St. Thomas began in a rather interesting way. I would guess that most people assume that I first learned about St. Thomas is the seminary. No such luck! My first exposure to St. Thomas actually happened when I was an undergraduate in a State school, a branch of the University of Massachusetts, where I majored in philosophy. The professor was a Jesuit who chose to teach in this State school so that he could minister specifically to state school students. Well, I am certainly grateful that he made this choice as he turned out to be one of the best teachers
I ever had.
Here are some St. Thomas tidbits for you! In the Summa Theologica, perhaps his most famous work, St. Thomas would always begin his chapters by bringing out the arguments of other thinkers and their positions. He would then examine these arguments in detail, ending each chapter by saying “And therefore I say,” or “I answer that” offering for his readers his bottom line conclusion of the argument in question.
One argument of St. Thomas was that if an atheist sincerely looks for truth, he would eventually find him/herself at the feet of God, as God is Truth. The operative word here is “sincere.” He was never intimidated by other religions. Logically, if members of other religions sincerely looked for truth, why, then they would find Christ too! Certainly St. Thomas had no problem arguing with them, but he did with the confidence and strength that comes from faith in God, and with the conviction that God guides all His children around the world. So why should he be intimated or afraid? It was a simple matter of arguing on behalf of ones’ religion and loving deeply those with whom you were arguing.
In this way you are both defending your religion and simultaneously reflecting God by being a loving witness to them. His attitude is similar to what has been expressed in the Acts of the Apostles, where a hostile reaction is being planned by the Sanhedrin against early Christian leaders, and a Jewish leader argues against their negative and hostile reaction by saying that if the “new” religion (Christianity) is not of God, it will die out on its own. And if Christianity is from God, then anyone fighting it would seemingly be fighting God Himself.
Another argument from St. Thomas, as expressed in his writing, is that no words could completely capture what is meant by “God.” Actually, no words can capture God period. In fact, all of our words only “touch” God in an “oblique” sense in that our words can only glance off of God. There is always a certain sense of Mystery that remains behind, after all is said and done. Along such lines, the word “Father,” can be used to refer to God (as is done in the daily prayer, the Our Father), but at some point, as one progresses along the spiritual path, one will have to let even such a word as this fall away. In other words, as one increasingly experiences God, one gets the idea that all words inevitably fail in describing God totally. Such words would have to drop away with such a realization, so that the deepest experience of God would be free to take one over. Attachment to anything, even to our favorite words once we know how limited they are, can become obstacles to such an experience. It was for this reason that toward the end of his life, as he himself deeply experienced God, he said that everything he wrote in his life was now as “straw” compared to what had been revealed to him. Many of our Saints had similar opinions, in that they recognized that at some point, the “Prayer of Quiet” (No words – a stark awareness of God’s Presence) becomes the most inviting way to experience the Mystery of God.
St. Thomas was a deep thinker, way ahead of his time, and perhaps because of this reason, (I mean, one had to think deeply oneself to even understand him), he was invariably suspected of heresy. Obviously, the Roman Catholic Church found Saint Thomas to be more than innocent; the Church found him to be their most brilliant defended and exponent.
Right along with such praise for his intellect, he also became famous for manifesting a deep love for the Eucharist, and even wrote a number of popular devotional hymns. His love for Jesus and the Blessed Mother were renowned. Unlike-so many other people, whether of his own time or now, he had the deepest grasp of what he worshipped. He sincerely looked for truth himself, fearlessly and devoutly, and he did more than find it – he was verily embraced by Truth, and by God’s Grace became one of our most foremost Saints.
Peace! Fr. Walter