28 January, Saturday — The humble ox

28 Jan – Memorial for St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the son of the Count of Aquino. He was born in the family castle in Lombardy near Naples, Italy. He was educated by Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino, and at the University of Naples. He secretly joined the mendicant Dominican friars in 1244. His family kidnapped and imprisoned him for a year to keep him out of sight and deprogram him, but they failed to sway him, and he rejoined his order in 1245.

He studied in Paris, France, from 1245 to 1248 under St. Albert the Great, then accompanied Albertus to Cologne, Germany. He was ordained in 1250, then returned to Paris to teach. He taught theology at the University of Paris. He wrote defenses of the mendicant orders, commentaries on Aristotle and Lombard’s Sentences, and some bible-related works, usually by dictating to secretaries. He won his doctorate, and taught at several Italian cities. He was recalled by the king and the University of Paris in 1269, then recalled to Naples in 1272 where he was appointed regent of studies while working on the Summa Theologica.

On 6 December 1273, he experienced a divine revelation which so enraptured him that he abandoned the Summa, saying that it and his other writing were so much straw in the wind compared to the reality of the divine glory. He died four months later while en route to the Council of Lyons, overweight and with his health broken by overwork.

His works have been seminal to the thinking of the Church ever since. They systematized her great thoughts and teaching, and combined Greek wisdom and scholarship methods with the truth of Christianity. Pope Leo VIII commanded that his teachings be studied by all theology students. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1567.

  • Patron Saint Index

Wis 7:7-10. 15-16
Mt 23:8-12

Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.

St Thomas Aquinas is an example of how there is potential to be seen in every student. His quiet nature as a student caused his classmates to think that he was slow in learning. It was his teacher, St Albert the Great, who predicted that, “You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”1 These words truly became reality as St Thomas’ teaching is now mandatory reading in seminaries across the world. St Thomas’ works are also required reading in secular philosophy undergraduate programmes — such is the universal recognition of his work to the world.

Yet, in spite of all the wonderful works which he has written — there are enough to last us an entire lifetime, perhaps even two lifetimes — St Thomas suddenly stopped writing after a mystical encounter with Jesus. St Thomas exact words, “mihi videtur ut palea” which means “I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me,” are very touching to me. It is a recognition that no amount of human intellect and faculty can ever expound on the wonderful love of God in our lives. This is remarkable because the love of God can never be fully expressed. It can only be experienced as it is.

St Thomas acknowledged that the work which he wrote is nothing compared to the love of God which he experienced. He had the courage to humble himself to mere nothing because he knew that compared to Jesus, he was nothing. In doing so, he fully understood what the first reading of today was trying to communicate to us — that when we encounter the spirit of Wisdom, everything else in this world is temporary. What remains is the infinite love He showed us in the two moments of our salvation history which were Creation and Redemption. May we take this time to reflect on how our lives could mirror the example of St Thomas Aquinas and be the light to the people around us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who teach the Sacred Sciences in the seminary.

1Stump, Eleonore (2003). Aquinas. Routledge


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