Saint Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Philosophy, Angelic Doctor of the Church – A Reflection

Saint Thomas AquinasWhen I finally made it to university, I went to a place named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota and I studied philosophy there.

It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the hills nearby, when I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.

I studied philosophy, theology and the classics during my time there. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as he, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas through, than for the conclusions that he made. His work bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (and others), re-employing the tools of logic, and discursive reasoning that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.

Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today. He was Italian by birth, and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there knowing that he would be famous, and a saint of great renown, coveted the relics of his body.

They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.

The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, as silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.

There is a prayer that Thomas wrote, it is carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, and I read it every day or recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.

It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:

Grant, O Merciful God
That I may ardently desire,
Prudently examine,
Truthfully acknowledge,
And perfectly accomplish
What is pleasing to thee
For the praise and glory
Of thy name
Given First 2020.01.28

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