January 28 is the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the Church’s great theologians and history’s true geniuses. Here is some information about St. Thomas’s life from This Is Our Church: A History of Catholicism:

St. Thomas Aquinas’ work is the summit of the intellectual achievements of the Middle Ages. Born around 1225 into a family related to the emperor, Thomas defied his parents by joining the Dominicans. They had two of his brothers kidnap and imprison him in the tower of their castle hoping he’d change vocational plans. But Thomas persisted, and eventually returned to the order.

Thomas went to Cologne where he became the student of St. Albert the Great, a brilliant scholastic thinker and teacher. Thomas’s classmates called him “The Dumb Ox” because of his weight, seriousness, and slow movement. However, Albert defended his prize pupil by prophesying, “This dumb ox will fill the world with his bellowing.” And Aquinas did just that. He lectured in many of the leading universities in Europe, including the top school of the day, the University of Paris. He also wrote prolifically, producing his masterpiece of theological thought, a twenty-one-volume work known as the Summa Theologica.

In the Summa, Thomas showed the reasonableness of faith. He also defended human intelligence as a prelude to faith. Thomas argued that human reason is supreme in its own domain, but it can’t master everything, especially the mysteries of faith. However, Thomas showed that these revealed truths are not beyond rational explanation. With the gift of faith, believers can make some sense out of the mysteries of our Christian religion, for example, the Incarnation, the resurrection, and the Trinity.

Thomas’ masterful thought did not gain easy acceptance in his own lifetime. The Archbishop of Paris believed Aquinas’ teachings were heretical. Other philosophers, like St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), distrusted Thomas’ well-developed and ordered theological system. Bonaventure and his allies emphasized the mystical approach to God through prayer, contemplation, and meditation. They stressed the will and downplayed the role of human reason.  Toward the end of his life, Thomas had a direct experience of God. Commenting on it later, he said that all he had written was chaff compared to what he had experienced. He stopped writing, and three months later he died (1274).

Although Thomism (the philosophy of Aquinas) had its opponents even after Thomas’ death, the Church finally endorsed his thought. In his encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879), Pope Leo XIII gave special theological prominence to Thomas’ thought. Thus, Thomas’s writings—especially the Summa— has powerfully influenced Church teaching. Aquinas’ clarity of thought, insistence on truth, respect for human reason, and defense of Christian revelation have helped the Church explain and defend its teaching up to our own day.

1. Thomas said: “Even some things which reason is able to investigate must be held by faith; so that all may share in the knowledge of God easily; and without doubt and error.” What is one belief that you hold about God that you credit to the gift of faith?

2. At first Thomas’s great gifts went unnoticed. What is a talent or skill that you have that no one seems to notice?

Locate and report on St. Thomas Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God from his Summa Theologica. You can find the proofs online.

Pray these words of St. Thomas Aquinas:
Grant, Lord, that I may gladly share what I have
    with the needy.
humbly ask for what I need from him who has,
sincerely admit the evil I have done,
calmly bear the evil I suffer,
not envy my neighbor for his blessings,
and thank you unceasingly
whenever you hear my prayer.