Thomas Aquinas, child of God – Br. Curtis Almquist
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Thomas Aquinas, OP (1225-1274)
Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14
Thomas Aquinas, whom we remember today, personified what Jesus called the “scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven.” Aquinas was born in 1225 and died at just under 50 years old: a Dominican scholar, theologian, philosopher, and prolific author. He had a photographic memory and mind.[i] He would sit surrounded by four scribes and he would dictate one sentence to one scribe, the next sentence to the second scribe, and so forth. He spoke four times as fast as they could write. By the time he finished the fourth sentence, he would dictate the fifth sentence to the first scribe… and on he went. In 25 years, he wrote 50 folio volumes, about 50,000 pages, the equivalent of 500 short modern books with the help of his scribes. All of this was done with quill pens.
Thomas Aquinas looked back on Moses’ encounter with God as profoundly significant. In the Book of Exodus, we read of God’s sending Moses as an emissary to the Pharaoh. Moses asks God, “Whom shall I say is sending me?” God reveals to Moses God’s own identity: “I Am Who I Am.”[ii] Aquinas said, in that disclosure, we discover the reason for created life: God is Being, the Ultimate Reality from which everything else in creation exists. Aquinas said God’s essence is to exist; we and all other creation derive our existence from God. And so the whole of creation tells God’s story. Creation reflects God’s glory, God’s beauty, God’s order, God’s meaning.
For Aquinas, God’s revelation through creation was not just in the past, nor is it just in the present. God is always more. God’s revelation is ongoing and continues into the future. We must keep our minds open to God’s ongoing revelation. There is always more. And because of this, Aquinas did not see any inconsistency or disharmony between reason and revelation. God will continue to enlighten our minds if we will only be attentive.[iii] God’s revelation, Aquinas said, “is not the denial of [reason], but the perfection of reason.” Pay attention. God always has more to reveal to us, and this will be in harmony with what God has already revealed. Pay attention to life. The greatness and the glory and the wonder of God’s essence is beyond description, because God is always more: more than we can describe, understand, and experience. God is always more.
Thomas Aquinas’ scholarly pursuits had begun at age five when he had asked a teacher, “What is God?” His teacher had no answer, and Aquinas spent the rest of his life attempting to discover the answer… “What is God?” Who could have guessed where God’s revelation would lead Thomas Aquinas in the end? A few months before he died, he had a revelation, a mystical experience of Jesus, a foretaste of heaven, and it so radically transcended the words of Aquinas’ trade. Aquinas knew he was to end his scholarly work. He stopped writing words.
Peter Kreeft, the Boston College Aquinas scholar, uses the analogy of a Zen Buddhist wisdom about words: “A finger is useful for pointing to the moon, but whoa to the fool who mistakes the finger for the moon.” Aquinas had met his maker. Aquinas stopped his intellectual work, stopped his trading on words, and gave himself over to the attraction of God’s glory. [iv] His life’s work, his Summa Theologica, would be left unfinished, which was an unanticipated but fitting conclusion to someone so committed to God’s revelation being ongoing. There would always be more, more than Aquinas could summarize. Aquinas said of himself in his latter days, “compared to what I have now seen, everything I have written looks to me like straw.” What had he seen? God. He experienced God.
You are no Thomas Aquinas. But you need not be. You are you. One of a kind. What is God’s revelation to you that is uncontestable and perhaps unexplainable? What have you come to know to be true in life: the life that fills you and the life that surrounds you? Taking inspiration from Thomas Aquinas, consider what God has revealed to you in life. Don’t deny your mind; don’t disparage your studies; don’t denigrate your rationality but claim it all at a deeper level. Don’t deify your mind. What have you come to know at the deepest level to be absolutely true about life and love, and the source of it all?
In the end Thomas Aquinas claimed his identity not as a scholar but as a child of God. At the end of his life, Aquinas said that “the soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays His head against us.” Do you know the delight of a child tossing a ball into the air, Aquinas asks? That delight is what God experiences whenever God looks at you, Aquinas said. Thomas Aquinas’ revered intellect was, in the end, melded by love, loving knowledge.[v]
In the early centuries of Christian monasticism, this was called “putting your head into your heart.” Put your head into your heart and abide there. Reflect on what you know for sure, child of God that you are. What has God revealed to you about life and love – your life and the life that surrounds you – which may be inexplicable, but uncontestable? That is your life’s wisdom that is greater than gold.[vi]
Blessed Thomas Aquinas, whom we remember with thanksgiving.
- [i] Biographical detail by Peter Kreeft, A Summa of the Summa: Essential Passages of Aquinas (1990).
- [ii] Exodus 3:14.
- [iii] See Ephesians 1:15-23.
- [iv] From the SSJE Rule of Life: “The Call of the Society” (Chapter One). Referring to Jesus’ statement: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)
- [v] Inspiration from The Inner Eye of Love; Mysticism and Religion, by William Johnston (1978), p. 20.
- [vi] Proverbs 3:14-24, 8:11, 16:16.
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Since your original posting came out 2 days ago I have read it 4 or 5 times. Today, I read the longer sermon from which you drew the meditation. I have felt a bit like one of the confused disciples gathered in the second floor room when the wind, the Holy Spirit, promised in John 17, came through beginning the process of understanding.
Thank you. You are a blessing to me and the Church.
Let’s assume two levels of experience: the ordinary and the deeper. You suggest that we can know things to be true at each level. This suggestion requires that “true” has two different meanings.These meanings are so different that using the same word (“true”) is misleading. “True” at the ordinary level might be explicated by reference to scientific method. To my knowledge, there is no parallel explication of “true” at the deeper level. The certainty we sometimes feel about verbalizations of deep experiences is different in kind from the certainty we sometimes feel about verbalizations of scientific conclusions, for instance..
Eleven years ago, I lay in a hospital bed full of anxiety that I would never overcome my alcoholism. At that dark moment, I heard a gentle voice, “Be still and know I am.” I didn’t even know it was Ps 46 but God broke through at that moment in my despair to tell me I was not alone and trust in Him was all of I needed. I had to abandon a lot of book learning notions of who God is and surrender to a way of knowing beyond words and creeds. I walk with God today and that is all I need to do. Thank you for such a deep and powerful meditation.
I, first, came to know God in my heart and later learned to know about God from Aquinas and many others. Now, an elderly person, I seek the Presence to know God, again, in my heart and to embody God in the world.
Questions to revisit often. Thank you. M
…whoa to the fool who mistakes the finger for the moon…
More compassionate than “woe” is a “whoa” to us, in God’s infinite mercy, in our beloved humanness.
Thank you for your message this morning. I always look forward to your words of wisdom.
Thank you for reminding me that I am a child of God and that I can count on him when
life seems so stressful.
I, too, was that 5 year-old asking that question. Now, over 60 years later, what I have come to know…beyond words: “God’s revelation is not the denial of reason but the perfection of reason.” As a teacher and writer, I have been humbled into silence so as to pay attention. Thank you, Br. Curtis, for one of the most meaningful sermons I have heard…and read. You and your Brothers are a lifeline in these turbulent times.
Dear Brother Curtis,
Thank you for making Thomas Aquinas so much more accessible to me. I honor him and his great mind, and am so moved by the conclusion he reaches. It reminds me of childhood Sunday School and singing “Jesus loves me….”. We return to the beginning, having gathered an apron full of words and memories, to scatter them at the feet of Jesus….in thanksgiving and adoration.
Bless you for the meditations you share with us all.
As a spiritual guide these 25 years, I have seen again and again that the wisdom a seeker needs is already within them when they come for guidance. My part is merely to listen, notice and highlight it. I am still learning to notice this within myself, and am so grateful for your pithy reminder of Thomas Aquinas’ journey and wisdom, as well as your own…so steeped in Love. ✨
A wonderful reminder of a prayer I love: Merciful Lord, open my ears and my heart, and the rest will follow.
Thank you Br. Curtis. You have been my guide for so many years now and I am coming to accept with thanksgiving God’s ever loving presence in my life and the opportunities he opens to me to express His love to others. I am but a 77 year old child with a lollipop that I am willing to share because I now know that the lollipop is not mine but is God Himself. God bless you Curtis, Rick
Your words leave me utterly thankful for the amazing human response of those graced with human humility when they truly encounter the “incontestable and unexplainable” and undeserved love of God. Thank you. Your reminder comes when I am struggling with words of reassurance and comfort to offer my eldest child who has metastasized cancer in her neck lymph modes and is facing a risky, critical surgery. The immeasurable time and timing of God in the connections of our lives leaves me at a loss for words—sometimes the only thing I know is His presence.
May God bless your daughter.
Thank you, Brother Curtis, for continuing to offer “what [you have] come to know at the deepest level to be absolutely true about life and love, and the source of it all.” I am well aware that this is not something that neither you nor anyone else can fully express in words, but even over the internet, as I hear your words and your voice, there is much that is transmitted.