During this time of ecclesiastical confusion I can think of no better Saint to turn to for doctrinal clarity than Saint Thomas Aquinas. In The Liturgical Year by Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., we have the following discourse on our sainted scholar:
The distinguished ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church, the most blessed man THOMAS, was born of noble parents, his father being Landulph, Count of Aquino, and his mother a rich Neapolitan lady, by name Theodora. While yet an infant he gave proof of his future devotion towards the Mother of God; for having found a leaflet on which was written the angelical salutation, he clenched it so fast that the nurse tried in vain to take it from his hand. His mother however, having forced it from him, the child succeeded by tears and signs, in recovering the paper, which he immediately swallowed. When he was five years old he was sent to Monte Cassino, that he might receive from the Benedictine monks his first training. Thence he was sent to Naples, where he went through a course of studies, and, young as he was, joined the Order of Friars Preachers. This step caused great displeasure to his mother and brothers, and it was therefore deemed advisable to send him to Paris. He was waylaid by his brothers, who seized him, and imprisoned him in the castle of Saint John. After having made several unsuccessful attempts to induce him to abandon the holy life he had chosen, they assailed his purity, by sending to him a wicked woman: but he drove her from his chamber with a firebrand. The young saint then threw himself on his knees before a crucifix. Having prayed some time, he fell asleep, and it seemed to him that two angels approached him, and tightly girded his loins. From that time forward, he never suffered the slightest feeling against purity. His sisters also had come to the castle, and tried to make him change his mind; but he, on the contrary, persuaded them to despise the world, and devote themselves to the exercise of a holy life.
It was contrived that he should escape through a window of the castle, and return to Naples. He was thence taken by John the Teutonic, the General of the Dominican Order, first to Rome and then to Paris, in which latter city he was taught philosophy and theology by Albert the Great. At the age of twenty-five, he received the title of doctor, and explained in the public schools, and in a manner that made him the object of universal admiration, the writings of philosophers and theologians. He always applied himself to prayer, before reading or writing anything. When he met with any difficult passage in the sacred Scriptures, he both fasted and prayed. He used often to say to his companion, brother Reginald, that if he knew anything, it was more a gift from God, than the fruit of his own study and labour. One day, when at Naples, as he was praying with more than his usual fervour, before a crucifix, he heard these words: 'Well hast thou written of me, THOMAS! What reward would thou have me give thee?' He answered: 'None other, Lord, than Thyself.' His favourite spiritual book was the Conferences of the Fathers, and there was not a book which he had not most carefully read. His writings are so extraordinary, not only for their number and variety, but also for their clearness in explaining difficult points of doctrine, that his copious and sound teaching, so wonderfully consonant with revealed truth, is most apt for utterly refuting the errors of all ages.
Being called to Rome by Pope Urban IV., he composed, at his command, the ecclesiastical Office for the solemnity of Corpus Christi; but he refused to accept any honours, as likewise the archbishopric of Naples offered to him by Pope Clement IV. He was most zealous in preaching the word of God. On one occasion, during Easter week, as he was preaching in the church of St. Peter, a woman touched the hem of his habit, and was cured of an issue of blood. He was sent by Gregory X to the Council of Lyons; but having reached Fossa Nova, he fell sick, and was received as a guest in the monastery of that place, where he wrote a commentary on the Canticle of Canticles. There he died in the fiftieth year of his age, in the year of our Lord 1274 on the Nones of March (March 7). His sanctity was made manifest after his death, by miracles: which being proved, he was canonized by Pope John XXII in the year 1323. His body was translated to Toulouse by command of blessed Urban V. Being comparable to the angels, no less by his innocence than by his genius, he has received the title of angelical doctor, confirmed to him by the authority of St. Pius V. Pope Leo XII joyfully acceding to the desires and petitions of the bishops of the Catholic world, by a decree of the sacred Congregation of rites and by letters apostolic, ordained and declared him the heavenly patron of all Catholic schools; and this especially for the purpose of repelling the evil of so many philosophical systems abandoned to error, for the increase of knowledge, and for the common utility of mankind. (The Liturgical Year, Vol. 4, pp. 328-30)
The importance of immersing ourselves in the teachings and explications of our Saint is best emphasized by Pope Leo XIII on his Encyclical on the restoration of Christian Philosophy, Aeterni Patris, The following of which is just a small sample of the lavish praise heaped on Thomas by Pope Leo:
14. Later on, the doctors of the middle ages, who are called Scholastics, addressed themselves to a great work-that of diligently collecting, and sifting, and storing up, as it were, in one place, for the use and convenience of posterity the rich and fertile harvests of Christian learning scattered abroad in the voluminous works of the holy Fathers. And with regard, venerable brethren, to the origin, drift, and excellence of this scholastic learning, it may be well here to speak more fully in the words of one of the wisest of Our predecessors, Sixtus V: "By the divine favor of Him Who alone gives the spirit of science wisdom, and understanding, and Who through all ages, as there may be need, enriches His Church with new blessings and strengthens it with safeguards, there was founded by Our fathers, men of eminent wisdom, the scholastic theology, which two glorious doctors in particular angelic St. Thomas and the seraphic St. Bonaventure, illustrious teachers of this faculty, . . .with surpassing genius, by unwearied diligence, and at the cost of long labors and vigils, set in order and beautified, and when skilfuly arranged and clearly explained in a variety of ways, handed down to posterity.
17. Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because "he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all."( Cajetan's commentary on Sum. theol., IIa-IIae 148, 9. Art. 4; Leonine edit., Vol. 10, p. 174, n.6.) The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching. Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.
18. Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield. And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.
19. For these reasons most learned men, in former ages especially, of the highest repute in theology and philosophy, after mastering with infinite pains the immortal works of Thomas, gave themselves up not so much to be instructed in his angelic wisdom as to be nourished upon it. It is known that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders commanded their members to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas, fearful least any of them should swerve even in the slightest degree from the footsteps of so great a man. To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others all testify that they are bound by this law.
20. And, here, how pleasantly one's thoughts fly back to those celebrated schools and universities which flourished of old in Europe - to Paris, Salamanca, Alcalá, to Douay, Toulouse, and Louvain, to Padua and Bologna, to Naples and Coimbra, and to many another! All know how the fame of these seats of learning grew with their years, and that their judgment, often asked in matters of grave moment, held great weight everywhere. And we know how in those great homes of human wisdom, as in his own kingdom, Thomas reigned supreme; and that the minds of all, of teachers as well as of taught, rested in wonderful harmony under the shield and authority of the Angelic Doctor.
21. But, furthermore, Our predecessors in the Roman pontificate have celebrated the wisdom of Thomas Aquinas by exceptional tributes of praise and the most ample testimonials. Clement VI in the bull In Ordine; Nicholas V in his brief to the friars of the Order of Preachers, 1451; Benedict XIII in the bull Pretiosus, and others bear witness that the universal Church borrows lustre from his admirable teaching; while St. Pius V declares in the bull Mirabilis that heresies, confounded and convicted by the same teaching, were dissipated, and the whole world daily freed from fatal errors; others, such as Clement XII in the bull Verbo Dei, affirm that most fruitful blessings have spread abroad from his writings over the whole Church, and that he is worthy of the honor which is bestowed on the greatest Doctors of the Church, on Gregory and Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome; while others have not hesitated to propose St. Thomas for the exemplar and master of the universities and great centers of learning whom they may follow with unfaltering feet. On which point the words of Blessed Urban V to the University of Toulouse are worthy of recall: "It is our will, which We hereby enjoin upon you, that ye follow the teaching of Blessed Thomas as the true and Catholic doctrine and that ye labor with all your force to profit by the same."(Constitutio 5a, data die 3 Aug. 1368, ad Cancell. Univ. Tolos) Innocent XII, followed the example of Urban in the case of the University of Louvain, in the letter in the form of a brief addressed to that university on February 6, 1694, and Benedict XIV in the letter in the form of a brief addressed on August 26, 1752, to the Dionysian College in Granada; while to these judgments of great Pontiffs on Thomas Aquinas comes the crowning testimony of Innocent VI: "His teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language, an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error."(Sermo de S. Thoma.)
22. The ecumenical councils, also, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor. In the Councils of Lyons, Vienna, Florence, and the Vatican one might almost say that Thomas took part and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers, contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics and rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results. But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.
23. A last triumph was reserved for this incomparable man - namely, to compel the homage, praise, and admiration of even the very enemies of the Catholic name. For it has come to light that there were not lacking among the leaders of heretical sects some who openly declared that, if the teaching of Thomas Aquinas were only taken away, they could easily battle with all Catholic teachers, gain the victory, and abolish the Church.(Bucer.) A vain hope, indeed, but no vain testimony.
25. With wise forethought, therefore, not a few of the advocates of philosophic studies, when turning their minds recently to the practical reform of philosophy, aimed and aim at restoring the renowned teaching of Thomas Aquinas and winning it back to its ancient beauty.
26. We have learned with great joy that many members of your order, venerable brethren, have taken this plan to heart; and while We earnestly commend their efforts, We exhort them to hold fast to their purpose, and remind each and all of you that Our first and most cherished idea is that you should all furnish to studious youth a generous and copious supply of those purest streams of wisdom flowing inexhaustibly from the precious fountainhead of the Angelic Doctor.
28. Domestic and civil society even, which, as all see, is exposed to great danger from this plague of perverse opinions, would certainly enjoy a far more peaceful and secure existence if a more wholesome doctrine were taught in the universities and high schools-one more in conformity with the teaching of the Church, such as is contained in the works of Thomas Aquinas.
29. For, the teachings of Thomas on the true meaning of liberty, which at this time is running into license, on the divine origin of all authority, on laws and their force, on the paternal and just rule of princes, on obedience to the higher powers, on mutual charity one toward another-on all of these and kindred subjects-have very great and invincible force to overturn those principles of the new order which are well known to be dangerous to the peaceful order of things and to public safety. In short, all studies ought to find hope of advancement and promise of assistance in this restoration of philosophic discipline which We have proposed. The arts were wont to draw from philosophy, as from a wise mistress, sound judgment and right method, and from it, also, their spirit, as from the common fount of life. When philosophy stood stainless in honor and wise in judgment, then, as facts and constant experience showed, the liberal arts flourished as never before or since; but, neglected and almost blotted out, they lay prone, since philosophy began to lean to error and join hands with folly. Nor will the physical sciences themselves, which are now in such great repute, and by the renown of so many inventions draw such universal admiration to themselves, suffer detriment, but find very great assistance in the restoration of the ancient philosophy. For, the investigation of facts and the contemplation of nature is not alone sufficient for their profitable exercise and advance; but, when facts have been established, it is necessary to rise and apply ourselves to the study of the nature of corporeal things, to inquire into the laws which govern them and the principles whence their order and varied unity and mutual attraction in diversity arise. To such investigations it is wonderful what force and light and aid the Scholastic philosophy, if judiciously taught, would bring.
30. And here it is well to note that our philosophy can only by the grossest injustice be accused of being opposed to the advance and development of natural science. For, when the Scholastics, following the opinion of the holy Fathers, always held in anthropology that the human intelligence is only led to the knowledge of things without body and matter by things sensible, they well understood that nothing was of greater use to the philosopher than diligently to search into the mysteries of nature and to be earnest and constant in the study of physical things. And this they confirmed by their own example; for St. Thomas, Blessed Albertus Magnus, and other leaders of the Scholastics were never so wholly rapt in the study of philosophy as not to give large attention to the knowledge of natural things; and, indeed, the number of their sayings and writings on these subjects, which recent professors approve of and admit to harmonize with truth, is by no means small. Moreover, in this very age many illustrious professors of the physical sciences openly testify that between certain and accepted conclusions of modern physics and the philosophic principles of the schools there is no conflict worthy of the name.
31. While, therefore, We hold that every word of wisdom, every useful thing by whomsoever discovered or planned, ought to be received with a willing and grateful mind, We exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences. The wisdom of St. Thomas, We say; for if anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the Scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated-if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age, or, in a word, improbable in whatever way-it does not enter Our mind to propose that for imitation to Our age. Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others. Let the universities already founded or to be founded by you illustrate and defend this doctrine, and use it for the refutation of prevailing errors. But, lest the false for the true or the corrupt for the pure be drunk in, be ye watchful that the doctrine of Thomas be drawn from his own fountains, or at least from those rivulets which, derived from the very fount, have thus far flowed, according to the established agreement of learned men, pure and clear; be careful to guard the minds of youth from those which are said to flow thence, but in reality are gathered from strange and unwholesome streams.
33. Therefore in this also let us follow the example of the Angelic Doctor, who never gave himself to reading or writing without first begging the blessing of God, who modestly confessed that whatever he knew he had acquired not so much by his own study and labor as by the divine gift; and therefore let us all, in humble and united prayer, beseech God to send forth the spirit of knowledge and of understanding to the children of the Church and open their senses for the understanding of wisdom. And that we may receive fuller fruits of the divine goodness, offer up to God the most efficacious patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is called the seat of wisdom; having at the same time as advocates St. Joseph, the most chaste spouse of the Virgin, and Peter and Paul, the chiefs of the Apostles, whose truth renewed the earth which had fallen under the impure blight of error, filling it with the light of heavenly wisdom. (Encyclical Aeterni Patris, His Holiness Leo XIII, August 4, 1879)
Finally, I share with you the words of a fellow contributing writer to these pages Gabriel Garnica who wrote five years ago the following:
While many stereotype saints and holy figures as uneducated and unsophisticated, Aquinas shines as an illustration of how intellect, simplicity, and humility can not only co-exist but can actually merge to elevate each of these three traits to a heavenly level. One can not help but be impressed by this great saint's ability to combine supreme intelligence with extreme simplicity and utter humility in the service of God Almighty. It is not surprising that Thomas is the patron of Catholic education for he epitomizes the ideals that Catholic education used to uphold and in many ways has now forgotten, ignored, or demoted.
This society is replete with examples of secular intellect, with its arrogant intolerance for spirituality, religious contemplation, and recognition of the divine and sacred. One would surely conclude that it is impossible to be an intellectual without rejecting God Almighty if one only considered the legions of academics and scholars who daily venerate their egos and pray to their intellect verbally and otherwise. It is this kind of self-absorbed effusion of pompous knowledge which spurred revolutions of all kinds, be they clothed in noble robes or not.
...Just observe the lists of prominent scholars and intellectuals who daily spew their trash into the minds of susceptible and malleable students entranced in their prominence, publications, platitudes, or preaching. It is no wonder that few if any apparitions of a sacred nature ever opted to appear to these credentialed, counterfeit cooks. There is no doubt that they would either ignore the blessing or reach for a microscope, telescope, or stethoscope to probe the vision!
So clueless are these morons, however, that they are the first to wail in shock when God Almighty graces the ignorant, uneducated, poor, and other marginalized people with special blessings and privileges. Did not Bernadette and Juan Diego face the mocking ridicule of intellectuals? Did not Our Lord show great disdain for the so-called intellectuals who strutted above others? It surely looks like the Scribes, Pharisees and Sanhedrin have not changed one iota in 2000 years.
Contrasted with such useless secular intellect is that intellect which, like secular intellect, reaches its highest level but chooses the path of God. It is only when intellect makes this decisive choice that it moves beyond its mere material and secular parameters and transcends into the realm of Heaven. The logic is simple yet powerful. God is all good and therefore all that is good comes from God. Intellect is good in and of itself and therefore it comes from God and must be used to serve Him. When used for its proper purpose of serving God, the intellect reaches its ultimate and transcendent height. When used improperly to serve only man and ignore God, however, the intellect debases itself and falls into the service of the devil and his purposes. Much of the world's present intellect is now being used for this corrupt and despicable purpose. No amount of rationalized dribble pretending to do moral good can conceal the fact that the intellectual endeavor is ultimately being used against God's Word and is therefore inherently evil. This is why embryonic stem cell research can never be a moral good and those who claim it is either are dishonest or in denial!
Sacred intellect is best identified by two critical characteristics which clearly differentiate it from secular intellect. First, sacred intellect always respects and adheres to the authority and majesty of God Almighty. Second, in view of the first characteristic, it follows that sacred intellect combines knowledge with humility and simplicity. Sacred intellect demonstrates humility because it inherently recognizes, accepts, and honors the fact that it is and always will be subservient to God Almighty. Sacred intellect demonstrates simplicity because it inherently recognizes, accepts, and respects the fact that truth is found in simplicity and God is truth, therefore God is found in simplicity as well...
St. Thomas Aquinas stands as the quintessential sacred scholar as evidenced by his writings and teachings. For Aquinas all knowledge could only lead to God and to recognition of God as the source and conception of all good things. His Five Ways demonstrated God as the unmoved First Mover, the uncaused First Cause, The Necessary Being from which all else is derived, The Perfect Standard to which all else must be compared, and the Intellectual Designer of The Universe. It is in the superior intellect of Aquinas that we find the meeting place of knowledge and humility, of observation and simplicity, and of education and action. There is no doubt that education without application of that education is education limited. However, education without sacred application of that education is education misplaced. Thomas stands as the true sacred scientist who observes reality and brings it to all of us likely to miss that reality in the distortions of this society steeped in its own soup of self-absorption and superiority.
Given the role and character of Aquinas, it is most ironic that he is the patron of Catholic education given how increasingly distant that education is moving from God. It is precisely because this education has sold itself to the secular and the modernist that it has lost its special and unique purpose and ability to impart intellectual humility and thus sacred intellect. Its intellect is now mostly if not completely secular and therefore its contribution to society and the world has deteriorated to that of pathetic hypocrisy. No longer the bastion of God's Word made intellect, Catholic education has now become a mere secular institution costumed as sacred vehicle. While this charade may be amusing in a masquerade ball, its presence in the education of future Catholics is nothing short of a demonic tragedy whose impact is already widely felt in the political, social, doctrinal, and liturgical arenas. It is this distorted and twisted Catholic secular intellectualism which has spawned the likes of Cuomo, Kerry, Pelosi, and other so-called "modern Catholics" who are each a mockery of a once proud faith. As has unfortunately become the norm, the institution of Catholic education has become the antithesis of what its patron stood for.
In a world and society which increasingly forgets its God in a sea of intellectual distortion, we must realize that intellect is a moral good only when it is directed toward its God and as such may be termed sacred intellect. When directed away from God, however, intellect may be called secular intellect and as such it is a prime instrument for evil and ultimately serves only the devil and his works. Aquinas shows us how sacred intellect is so because it combines knowledge, humility, and simplicity in the service and recognition of God as the Supreme Being and Designer of all creation. He is the antithesis of those intellectuals who lose God either intentionally or not while in the service and veneration of man to the exclusion of God. As we have forgotten or ignored Aquinas, we have slipped into becoming the latter type of intellectuals to our own downfall. These secular enemies of God are one of the chief agents of The New Order and it is therefore critical that we seek Aquinas and his example if we are to return to the path of God!
With such encouragement from a wise Abbot, a concerned Pontiff, and a savvy layman, shouldn't we all take note of how much we have lost? The next question is what will we do to create a renaissance of Thomistic thought? We begin by praying and then passing the word, applying the logic of the Summa Theologica to problems we face today in providing the solutions no matter what the world thinks. Let us also pray that those of us, who spend tons of time on the internet bickering over problematic issues, take some of that time to study what the Angelic Doctor has taught us and realize what a treasure he has left us. Let us pray that we will also be given the grace to understand why he has been castigated to the back shelves by those currently ruling the roost in Rome. When we start to put the pieces together we'll solve the puzzle that has puzzled so many Catholics over the last fifty years. And then, passing this epiphany from house to house and then we must ascend from the rafters and shout from the rooftops: Remember Aquinas!