St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

Patron of scholars

Called the “Angelic doctor”, St Thomas Aquinas had one of the most naturally gifted minds in history. Held captive by his own family, who objected to his vocation as a poor friar, the young St Thomas passed the time in solitude, committing the whole of sacred Scripture to memory. Once entered into the Order of preachers, his cumbersome and reticent exterior earned him the nickname “dumb ox” from his peers. But once his gifts were unveiled, they could not be kept under a bushel, and were soon applied to leading the vanguard of the aristotelian revival and the defence of the faith at the University of Paris, with his mentor, St Albert the Great. 

Not content merely to win debates on his own terms, St Thomas pushed philosophical integrity to its full rigour, proposing many objections to his own arguments, becoming renowned for being able to present his opponents’ positions better than they could themselves. To this day, opponents of Thomism scour his own objections for arguments to use against him!

The genius of St Thomas was elevated further by his great devotion and piety; he was known to say that he had learned more at the foot of the crucifix than he ever did from books, and when he found himself stuck on a problem, he was known to go into the Church and to rest his head inside the tabernacle, literally bringing to his mind the real presence of God, which would raise him above his own ignorance and help him soon resolve the problem.

St Thomas’s genius was also lyrical; he composed the Mass and entire liturgy for one of the most beautiful feast days in the Latin rite — that of Corpus Christi — as well as many scholastic works, such as his biblical commentary, the Catena Aurea and theological treatises, the Summa contra gentiles and the Summa theologiae; he abandoned the latter work, destined to be called “a gothic cathedral of words”, shortly before his death, after having a vision, while celebrating Mass, of the infinite majesty of God, compared to which everything he had written seemed to him “like straw”.

He migrated to Heaven at the age of 49, leaving behind him one of the greatest intellectual legacies in history, second only to St Augustine.

O God, who dost add lustre to Thy Church by the wondrous learning of thy confessor, bless Thomas, and makest her fruitful through that holy toil of his, we pray Thee enable us to grasp his teaching and perfectly to imitate his practice: through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

Collect from the Mass of St Thomas (7 March)