The Angelic Doctor, a jurist, theologian, and philosopher: Thomas Aquinas sports an impressive resume as perhaps the most influential writer on Western thought.
“The Dominican Order acquired new luster when the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own and that Doctor, honored with the special praises of the Pontiffs, the master and patron of Catholic schools.” – Pope Benedict XV
However, the Angelic Doctor wasn’t always so. The corpulent man was nicknamed “the big dumb ox of Sicily,” known as a child to be a slow thinker. He was held prisoner for nearly a year in one of his family’s castles for wanting to follow in the path of Saint Dominic – men who used their brains for God’s glory. Aquinas remained steadfast in his desire to be a godly Dominican friar and scholar.
At the age of 19, he escaped at night through his window and joined the Order of Preachers. He quickly took up the pen and became known as a unrelenting and incessant writer, studying the work of Aristotle who he called “the Philosopher.” He applied Aristotelian philosophy to the principles of Catholicism, and produced “classics of the history of philosophy” and “the most influential works of Western literature.”
His seminal work Summa Theologiae, in which “the thought of his whole life is condensed,” is a masterclass in presenting the points of reasoning for nearly every point of Catholic theology. For such a towering work, why did Aquinas leave it unfinished?
On December 6th, 1273, the prolific writer laid aside his pen and would write no more. On that day when Thomas Aquinas was celebrating Holy Communion during the Feast of Saint Nicholas, he received a revelation that so affected him he called his principle work nothing more than “straw” and left it unfinished.
Pious tradition holds that Aquinas received a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, a mere glimpse of eternity in Heaven, where God revealed to him that all his efforts to describe Him fell so far short he resolved to never write again.
When his friend and secretary tried to encourage Aquinas to write more, he replied:
“I can do no more. The end of my labors has come. Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life after that of my works.”
Aquinas described the Beatific Vision: “The most perfect union with God is the most perfect human happiness and the goal of the whole of the human life, a gift that must be given to us by God.” Aquinas would die just three short months later travelling to the Second Council of Lyon.