Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Feast: March 7
Thomas the Apostle challenged the story that the Lord was risen, and his unbelief brought forth a glowing testimony of the reality of the Resurrection.
Twelve centuries later, his namesake, Thomas of Aquino, questioned—without doubting—the great truths of faith, and demonstrated for all time the relationship of faith and reason. As the first Thomas found by experiment (“Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side”) that the Man who stood in the midst of them was none other than Jesus Christ, so Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, proved for all time that there is no quarrel between reason and revelation.
Thomas, son of the count of Aquino, was first trained at the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino, and here, even in childhood, his great mind was wrestling with theological problems. His passion for truth is expressed in his constant question, “Master, tell me—what is God?”
Better to train the boy’s mind, his father sent him at an early age to the University of Naples. Here he studied under Peter of Ireland and, undisturbed by the noise and wickedness of the great university city, proceeded rapidly on his quest for God.
Meeting the Dominicans, he was strongly attracted by their apostolic life and petitioned to be received as one of them. While recognizing the gifts of the young student, the friars refused him admittance to the Order until he was eighteen. Acting deliberately, without a backward glance at the power and wealth he was leaving, Thomas, at eighteen, joyfully put on the habit of the new Order.
Like many a gifted young man, Thomas was bitterly opposed by his family when he attempted to become a religious. Both threats and persuasion failing, he was kidnapped by his brothers and locked in a tower for more than a year. His sisters were sent in to influence him, and he proceeded to convert them to his own way of thinking. A woman was sent in to tempt him; he drove her from the room with a burning brand from the fire; afterwards, angels came to gird him with the cincture of perpetual chastity. The captivity having failed to break the determination, his brothers relaxed their guard, and Thomas, with the help of his sisters, escaped from the tower and hurried back to his convent.
Given the finest education that his time could offer, Thomas studied first in Cologne (Germany), and later at Paris, under Master Albert the Great. This outstanding Dominican teacher and saint became his lifelong friend and loyal defender. They taught together at Cologne and became a mutual influence for good in one of the most beautiful friendships in Dominican history.
For the rest of his life, Thomas was to teach and preach with scarcely a day of rest. He traveled continually, which makes all the more remarkable the amount of writing he did. Death found him in a familiar place – on the road – where he was bound for the Council of Lyons in obedience to the pope’s command. He died at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, in a borrowed bed – obscurity hardly fitting the intellectual light of the Order, but perfectly suited to the humble friar that Thomas had always been.
Overheard in a colloquy with the Master he served so well, with heart and mind and pen, Thomas was heard to ask as his reward, “Thyself, O Lord, none but Thyself!”
From the book, Saint Dominic’s family,
By sister Mary-Jean Dorcy O.P.
Dominican sister of the Holy Cross
Dubuque (Iowa), The Priory Press, 1964