Monday, January 28, 2008

St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the church

by Tom Kreitzberg

St. Thomas was born in Italy, the son of the Count of Aquino, in 1225. Against his family's forcefully expressed wishes, he became a Dominican friar and, in 1245, began his studies under Albert the Great in Paris and Cologne. His fellow students, misunderstanding Thomas's humility and reticence, gave him the nickname "the Dumb Ox." After hearing one of Thomas's theological arguments, St. Albert declared, "We call this young man a dumb ox, hut his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world."

In 1250, Thomas was ordained a priest, and about 1252 he was sent to teach at the Dominican school in Paris. From there, he became increasingly famous and increasingly in demand for his teaching, preaching, and writing. In 1266 he began the Summa Theologica, perhaps the greatest theological work in Western Christendom. Though not dogmatic Church teaching itself, its influence on the subsequent development of Roman Catholic theology can hardly be exaggerated.

A famous anecdote illustrates Thomas's obsession with the truths of God: He was once summoned to the court of King St. Louis for a royal dinner. Placed at the king's right hand, he sank into quiet reflection while the chattering of the court went on about him. Suddenly, he smacked the table with a hand, cried, "That will settle the Manichees!" and called out for his secretary. When it was pointed out that this was not proper behavior in the royal presence, Thomas apologized and explained that he had thought he was in his cell. Louis, a king but also a saint, had the wisdom to summon a secretary for his guest.

Following Mass on the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6), 1273, Thomas gave up his writing. When asked whether he ought not continue, he replied, "All that I have written seems to me like straw compared with what has now been revealed to me." Three months later, he died while journeying to the Council of Lyons.

It bears noting that, while St. Thomas was named a Doctor of the Church for his writings, he was named a saint for his life. His passionate love of God, his devotion to the Eucharist and Christ Crucified, and his profound humility are what animate the Summa -- which is, after all, merely a love letter, an inadequate expression of the love of the creature for the Creator. We may not all be able to match St. Thomas in intellect or fineness of thought, but we are each given the graces necessary to follow him in constant devotion to God.

Among the gifts St. Thomas Aquinas left the Church are the beautiful hymns, including the Pange Lingua ("Sing, My Tongue"), from his Office of the Feast of Corpus Christi. The final two verses of Pange Lingua are known as the Tantum Ergo ("Down in Adoration Falling"), and are used during the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.
Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et jubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! oe'r ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless majesty.


dim bulb said...

Hi Argent,

I just posted a full version of Pange Lingua on my blog,along with a couple of different audio links. The title of the post: "Aquinas' Summa Contra Haugen-Haas."

Argent said...

Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha! Thanks, Dim for the best laugh I've had for days.