“Grant me penetration to understand, capacity to retain, method and facility in study, subtlety in interpretation and abundant grace of expression” (Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas)
St. Thomas is “preeminent among theologians because he attained to the heights of acquired and infused wisdom. To explain the secrets of this twofold wisdom, he received in a very high degree the special grace which St. Paul calls sermo sapientiae [see 1 Cor. 12: 8]. By acquired wisdom he marvelously synthesized the knowledge of the philosopher and the theologian, and the gift of wisdom raised him to the highest degree of infused contemplation [union with God]. Often accompanied by ecstasy and the gift of tears, it taught him what human language could not express. It was this [supernatural] infused contemplation which prevented him from dictating the end of the Summa theologica; what he could put in words seemed to him only straw in comparison with what he beheld.
The encyclical Studiorum Ducem [of Pope Pius XI], by presenting St. Thomas to us as the undisputed master of dogmatic and moral theology, and also of ascetical and mystical theology, draws particular attention to a beautiful doctrine …namely, that the precept of the love of God has no limit and that the perfection of charity falls under this precept, not, of course, as something to be realized immediately, but as the end toward which every Christian must tend according to his condition” (Father Garrigou-LaGrange).
[St. Thomas’] “sedulous devotion to prayer, disposed the mind of Thomas to docility in receiving the inspirations of the Holy Ghost and following His illuminations, which are the first principles of contemplation. To obtain them from above, he would frequently fast, spend whole nights in prayer, lean his head in the fervor of his unaffected piety against the tabernacle containing the august Sacrament, constantly turn his eyes and mind in sorrow to the image of the crucified Jesus; and he confessed to his intimate friend St. Bonaventura that it was from that Book especially that he derived all his learning. It may, therefore, be truly said of Thomas what is commonly reported of St. Dominic, Father and Lawgiver, that in his conversation he never spoke but about God or with God.
…After this slight sketch of the great virtues of Thomas, it is easy to understand the preeminence of his doctrine and the marvelous authority it enjoys in the Church. Our Predecessors, indeed, have always unanimously extolled it. Even during the lifetime of the saint, Alexander IV had no hesitation in addressing him in these terms: “To Our beloved son, Thomas Aquinas, distinguished alike for nobility of blood and integrity of character, who has acquired by the grace of God the treasure of divine and human learning.” After his death, again, John XXII seemed to consecrate both his virtues and his doctrine when, addressing the Cardinals, he uttered in full Consistory the memorable sentence: “He alone enlightened the Church more than all other doctors; a man can derive more profit in a year from his books than from pondering all his life the teaching of others” (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical STUDIORUM DUCEM (On St. Thomas Aquinas).
Tom Mulcahy, ed.
Note: This post consists of two edited quotes. The first quote (constituting the first two paragraphs) is from Christian Perfection and Contemplation by the eminent Dominican theologian and Thomist, Father Garrigou-Lagrange; the second quote (constituting the final two paragraphs) is directly from the encyclical, Studiorum Ducem, written by Pope Pius XI in honor of Saint Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas’ Feast Day is celebrated on January 28. The entire encyclical is well worth reading. Here is a link to it:
Image: St. Thomas Aquinas, Detail from Valle Romita Polyptych by Gentile da Fabriano (circa 1400), a Public Domain work of art, U.S.A.
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