“But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property.” Not many have done more to strengthen the house of the Church than St. Thomas Aquinas. I have to admit that reading him in seminary was rather a challenge, because it was often hard to follow his line of reasoning – not because it was disorganized or anything like that, but because his thinking was so high above what I was used to.
At the age of five years old, Thomas was promised to the famous Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino. His parents were hoping that one day he would become the abbot of that community, which was a very prestigious and politically powerful position. He later went to Naples to study, and a few years later abandoned his family’s plans for him and instead joined the Dominicans. By order of his mother, Thomas was captured by his brother and brought back home, where he was kept essentially in house arrest for a year.
Once free, he resumed his stay with the Dominicans and went to Paris and Cologne to study. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, and directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo. He is very much known for his prolific writings, which have contributed immeasurably to theology and the Church. Thomas spoke much of wisdom revealed in Scripture and tradition, but also strongly taught the wisdom that could be found in the natural order of things, as well as what could be discerned from reason.
His last work was the Summa Theologiae, which he actually never completed. He abruptly stopped writing after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on…. All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.
Thomas has taught us through his life and writing that the only thing that can cause the house of the Church to crumble is ignorance. We strengthen ourselves and our community by studying the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, applying reason and revelation to the challenges of our world and our time. “Hence we must say,” Thomas tells us, “that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act. But he does not need a new light added to his natural light, in order to know the truth in all things, but only in some that surpasses his natural knowledge” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 109, 1).