January 28, 2016
Prayer of St. Thomas:
"Da mihi intellegendi acumen, retinendi capacitatem, addiscendi modum et facultatem interpretandi subtilitatem, loquendi gratiam copiosam."
"Give me acuity of understanding, a powerful memory to retain, a knack for learning and faculty to interpret subtlety, together with great fluency of speech."
[The below is from Robert Barron’s “Thomas Aquinas – Spiritual Master” (Crossroad 1996, Introduction).
The Aristotelian and Dominican context for St. Thomas: “Aristotelian was an exciting and dangerous revolutionary movement in the Christendom of the early thirteenth century, and young Thomas Aquinas became one of its most enthusiastic and important adepts.
“The young radical became even more intensely countercultural when he embraced the other great revolution of his time: the mendicant movement. While still a university student at Naples, Thomas Aquinas took the habit of the preaching friars of St. Dominic. Like his contemporary, Francis of Assisi, Dominic de Guzman felt that a return to the radicality and simple power of the Gospel message, and thus he gathered around him a band of brothers dedicated to lives of poverty, preaching, and unquestioning trust in God. Dominic sent his followers to the great urban centers, especially to university cities such as Paris and Bologna, where their preaching would have the profoundest impact. What was perhaps most impressive – and scandalous – about the Dominicans was that they were literally beggars, poor men going from door to door humbly but confidently asking for food and financial support. The presence of these mendicants, these fools for Christ, in the leading cities of Europe was, for some, a thrilling reminder that the Gospel lifestyle could still be concretely led; but for others it was a shock and an embarrassment.
“In becoming a Dominican, Thomas allowed himself to be swept up in the élan of this exciting movement, this back-to-basics evangelicalism. And therefore, as Joseph Pieper points out, Thomas combined in his person the two great radicalities of his day: Aristotelianism and Gospel simplicity. As an Aristotelian radical, he was opting for this world, for science, for reason, for the beauty of the senses, and as a Gospel radical, he was opting for the life of the Spirit, for trust, for deep faith in the love of God. It was this splendid coming together of what were, for many, mutually exclusive commitments that animated and gave special color to all that Thomas would eventually write.
“When Thomas joined this peculiar band in 1244, donning the costume of a beggar, he of course profoundly unnerved and disappointed his family. Keep in mind that they had hoped he would return to Monte Casino, a well-appointed and richly endowed monastery, as a lordly abbot. Instead he had joined a strange and upstart group of radicals throwing away as he did his wealth, his title, and his position. Chesterton avers that for a person of Aquinas’s status to join the early Dominicans was comparable to ’running away and marrying a gypsy’ – or, en an even more contemporary comparison, to joining a cult.
“On his way to Paris to commence his formal Dominican studies, Thomas was kidnapped by his brothers and forced to return to the family castle at Roccasecca, where he was for all practical purposes kept as a prisoner in a tower. (There) (o)ne famous legend has it that the young prisoner chased a prostitute from his cell, shouting and brandishing a torch – and no doubt frightening the girl half to death. Another tradition has it that Thomas used his time in the tower to commit the entire Scripture to memory. Incredible as it sounds, such a feat is not entirely out of the question, given Thomas’s prodigious mind. Indeed, according to some of his contemporaries, the thousands upon thousands of Scripture quotes in his theological writings were culled, not from research, but from memory, as if the saint were simply reading from a book….
`”Recognizing his remarable talent, Thomas superiors sent the young man to the undisputed intellectual capital of Christendom: Paris…
“When he arrived in the new Athens of Paris in 1245, the young Thomas Aquinas found his context, his home. He also found his master and mentor in Albert, the Dominican scientist and philosopher, who, even in his own lifetime, was called ‘the great.’’ Under Albert, Aquinas continued even more intensely the clandestine study of Aristotle that had begun with Peter of Ireland. In 1248, Thomas followed Albert to Cologne, becoming the great man’s assistant and intellectual apprentice.
“In 1252, Thomas returned to Paris to begin what we could call postgraduate or doctoral studies in theology. For four years, he studied the Scripture and the standard theological textbook of the age,the so-called Sentences of Peter Lombard….In 1256, when he was still only in his late twenties, Aquinas became a master of theology and began to lecture in Paris…. The first responsibility of a parisian master of theologywas,interestingly enough, to opreach. The breaking open of the word of God for the benefit of the students and faculty at the university was considered the paramount work of the professor. It is my contention that this preaching orientation can be seen in even the most ‘abstract’ and recondite ofThomas’s writings. As a magister of theology, his opurpose is never simply to satisfy the curiosity of the mind; rather, it is to change the lives of this readers, to transorm their hearts, in a word, to move them to salvation.
“The second task of the master was biblical commentary. Thomas’s principal academic responsibility was, not to lecture in philosophy or metaphysics of even systematic theology, but rather to illumine and explain the sacra paginas, the sacred page of Scripture. It is interesting – and higly regrettable – that among Aquinas’s least known works are his biblical commentaries, precisely those presentations that were, at least in principle, at the very heart of his project. Aquinas scholars are discovering only today the scriptural ‘fell’ and focus in al of his more formally theological tracts.
“The third and final responsibility of the magister was to raise and resolve those thorny questions that emerged from biblical commentary. The major forum for this theological exploring was the event that the mediaevals called a quaestio disputata, a disputed question. A disputed question took place in public, the master presiding over a large and sometimes raucous group of students and faculty. In a lively exchange, he would entertain objections from the floor, responding to the best of his ability, and finally resolve the question at hand, perhaps reveling in cheers or ensuing catcalls from the floor. Thomas Aquinas was the most respected master of the quaestio disputata in Paris. Obviously, many professors carefully avoided this high-pressured and potentially embarrassing forum, but Thomas seemed to thrive on it, disputing far more often than any of his colleagues….
“Thomas taught as a master in Paris between 1256 and 1259, and it was fuing this period that he began work on his Summa contra gentiles, which some have considered to be a handbook for Christian missionaries worling among Muslims. IN 1259, Aquinas returned to his native Italy, and for ten years he served the papal court as a sort of official theologian at Anagni,Orvieto, Viterbo, and Rome. It as during these extraordinarily productive years that TThoms wrote many of his biblical commentaries, Disputed Questions, and massive commentaries on the works of Aristotle And in the middle of the 1260
S, Thomas began work on the masterpiece … theSumma Theologiae.
On December 6, 1273, Thomas celebrated Mass, saw something, and “hung up his instruments of writing,” saying to his assistant (Reginald) about continuing to write: “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”
Most interesting, Robert Barron finishes his introduction to his book on Aquinas: “I have spend a good deal of time examining the texts of Thomas Aquinas in the course of my studies. I tended to oapproach this great thinker in a rational and critical way hoping to find illumination for my mind. But I discovered that under the influence of his writings my life began to change and more than my mind was illumind. I discovered, in short, what Thomas himself would have taken for granted: good theology is mystical, prayerful, and transformative, and its final purpose is to ‘know’ God, that is to say, to be one with God in inteimate communion. My hope is to share some of that life-changing wisdeom in the course of this book.
And I (blogger) have rediscovered the ecstatic and relational character of Thomistic metaphysics precisely in reading Robert Barron. I saw it in the works of Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson in my undergraduate years in Toronto, above all, in the understanding of Thomas’s esse. I glimpsed it again when I was confronted with Ratzinger’s presentation of person as intrinsic or “constitutive relation” and I attempted to offer esse as the metaphysical account of person (Communio Fall 1990 and 1993 [re: Veritatis Splendor” as well as the ACPR and Q in the early 90s]. Most interesting is Barron’s offering that the real meaning esse is the Person of Jesus Christ, particularly in his “Priority of Christ.”
Barron gives credit for the insight of the Christian Distinction (of uncreated-created) in first place to the phenomenological work of Robert Sokolowski who brings Anselm to proper prominence in this regard, and then to Michel Corbin, S.J. who was his mentor in Paris for writing his thesis on Thomas and Tillich.