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The Dumb Ox and the Angelic Doctor

by aquinasandmore on January 28, 2008

Today, January 28, is the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas was born early in the year 1225 in the castle of Roccasecca, near Naples, his father being the Count of Aquino. When he was about 5 years old his parents placed him in the Abbey school at Monte Cassino, where the future Saint and Doctor of the Church began his studies. In 1239 the monks at Monte Cassino were expelled and young Thomas went to the University at Naples to continue his studies. While there, he was attracted to the life of the Dominican friars who maintained a convent in the city. In 1244 Thomas entered the Dominican order. His family was not pleased as they had other plans for him, so two of his brothers were sent to kidnap him and the family kept him prisoner at Aquino for over a year. Thomas remained true to his vocation while being held and his family eventually relented, allowing him to return to the Dominicans and continue his studies and make his vows.

Early in his studies with the Dominicans, due to his quiet nature and his large size, his fellow students nicknamed him "the dumb ox" - surely one of the greatest ironies in the history of the Church.

St. Thomas continued, and completed, his studies at the University of Paris under the esteemed tutelage of St. Albert Magnus (the Great). After completing his studies at Paris, Thomas received Holy Orders. By his mid-twenties Thomas had begun his life's work as a teacher in Paris. His fame as a teacher and philosopher grew widely and St. Thomas toured the great cities of Europe, giving lectures and preaching on Christian doctrine. So renowned was he as an elucidator of Christian doctrine the Pope Clement IV accepted that this was indeed his true calling and allowed Thomas to decline a papal appointment as archbishop of Naples.

St. Thomas taught in Paris until 1272 when he was sent to Naples to erect a Dominican house of studies and he continued his work there until 1274, when Pope Gregory X summoned him to Lyons to take part in the Council. The journey was begun but never completed as St. Thomas died on the way, at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanuova, after an illness lasting a few weeks. He was only 49 years old, leaving behind him a remarkable life devoted to study, teaching and writing and a legacy to every Catholic until the end of this age.

His life had not been one of much external activity or excitement, except for the more or less frequent journeys to teach and preach and the controversies in which the Saint was engaged in preaching against, but it was most definitely a life devoted to the pursuit and defense of truth, a life also permeated and motivated by a deep spirituality. In some ways St. Thomas was like the professor of legend (there are many stories concerning his fits of abstraction, or deep concentration, which made him oblivious to his surroundings) but he was a great deal more than a professor or theologian, for he was a Saint, and even if his devotion and love do not necessarily manifest themselves in his academic works, the ecstasies and mystical union with God of his later years bear witness to the fact that the truths of which he wrote were the realities by which this great man lived. 

In 1319 the Church began proceedings for the cause of sainthood of St. Thomas Aquinas. On July 18, 1323, Pope John XXII canonized St. Thomas. In 1567 the name "Doctor Angelicas" or Angelic Doctor was given to St. Thomas Aquinas when Pope Pius V named him the fifth Doctor of the Church and his feast day was elevated to the rank of the other four great Latin fathers: Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory.

Would you like to know more about this remarkable Saint and intellectual giant? We recommend Josef Pieper's "Guide to Thomas Aquinas" and we also recommend Peter Kreeft's "A Summa of the Summa."

St. Thomas's magnum opus, the "Summa Theologica" is also available in both paperback and hardcover 5 volume sets.

This being the first day of National Catholic Schools Week, its only appropriate to mention and recommend "The Philosophy of Teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas" to teachers and to anyone else involved in education.

Finally, Lent begins next week and St. Thomas has left us many wonderful mediations and thoughts on this upcoming holy season in the book "Meditations for Lent."

Sources for this short article on St. Thomas Aquinas are: Fr. Frederick Copleston's superb "History of Philosophy" series, H. W. Crocker's wonderful book "Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church" and finally, the classic that every Catholic should have in his or her library, "Butler's Lives of the Saints."

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