Belated Feast Day of the Angelic Doctor

As a highly Pagan poet said to me: “The Reformation happened because people hadn’t the brains to understand Aquinas.”

GK Chesterton


I can’t believe I forgot to post on the feast day yesterday of the Angelic Doctor!  (Too much work in the law mines was the culprit!)  I try to always remember his perfect synthesis of faith and intellect every January 28.  Too many people think these attributes are opposites which helps to explain why the world is in such a mess today.  I think what is appealing most to me about Aquinas is his optimism.  He lived in the thirteenth century, nicknamed the Glorious Century, a true turning point in history when Christendom began to assert traits that would lead to revolutions in so many fields.  Aquinas never doubted that the new knowledge about the World was no jeopardy to the Faith, and it has not been, so long as faith and reason work in alliance.  We go badly astray when these two essential components of a complete human are viewed as adversaries.


At the end of his life, the Angelic Doctor had a mystical experience before the Eucharist and stopped writing.  When asked about it, he said that what he had seen made all of his writings seem like mere straw in comparison.  His writings will endure as long as Man endures, a tribute to what the human mind, enlightened by Faith, can accomplish.  However, it is his sublime and victorious faith in Christ which is his real monument.

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  1. Would St. Thomas Aquinas agree with this quote on Dante?

    “His (Dante’s) purpose is to put such (secular) wisdom in its proper place by making it subservient to God, by whom it was ordained to serve man’s practical intellectual needs, and by excluding it from all questions touching matters of faith.” Archibald T. MacAllister, July 7, 1961, in his Introduction to The Purgatorio, Dante Alighieri, translated by John Ciardi.

  2. Since the quote is completely untrue as to Dante, I am certain that Saint Thomas would disagree. The Angelic Doctor would of course disagree that there is any distinction between secular wisdom and wisdom and he would always contend that wisdom is in no way antithetical to the Faith.

  3. Thomas addressed this question on page one of the Summa.

    “Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself. Hence there is no reason why those things which may be learned from philosophical science, so far as they can be known by natural reason, may not also be taught us by another science so far as they fall within revelation. Hence theology included in sacred doctrine differs in kind from that theology which is part of philosophy.”

    I love that. Not only is it intellectually perfect, it disproves the myth that people thought the earth was flat before Columbus. I love…every word Aquinas wrote, really. He didn’t lack passion, but he wrote for the purpose of transmitting knowledge without relying on emotional appeal. I’ve never much cared for writers like Augustine.

    A tangent – I don’t know if any of you are familiar with Myers-Briggs, but to my thinking, Aquinas is the patron saint of NT’s. It speaks to something that Chesterton wrote, that since we can only be fulfilled by Christ, He is fulfilling to every type of person. The Church is filled with people of different personalities, strengths, interests, et cetera, because she truly is universal. Chesterton was an SP, and was naturally drawn to Francis of Assisi.

    And to go big picture on this, let me go back to the passage from the Summa. Just as all of our true personal needs can be fulfilled only in Christ, so all of the our intellectual pursuits inevitably lead to Truth. There’s a harmony that the 13th century understood that we really don’t understand today.

  4. One step I forgot to include in that comment – Aquinas saw all methods of pursuing truth as compatible, because he believed in one Truth. He wouldn’t have divided types of wisdom, as implied in T. Shaw’s quote, although he would have recognized that they use different methods and may be more or less applicable to a particular problem.

    And that quote seems like a terrible description of Dante, as well. Maybe it makes more sense in context.

  5. “…The Angelic Doctor had a mystical experience before the Eucharist and stopped writing. When asked about it, he said that what he had seen made all of his writings seem like mere straw in comparison.”

    And now, I cannot but help but think of the recently late Fr. Richard D. McBrien, and what must have been his experience in relationship to his much-revered writings, say, about 30 seconds after he passed beyond this early veil.

  6. “I can’t believe I forgot to post on the feast day yesterday of the Angelic Doctor!”
    I am amazed at how much you must accomplish in the 24 hrs. of your day.
    Thank you for providing such interesting stories, articles and video clips on a variety of subjects and always with the One True Faith in mind.

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