Quotes from a Dumb Ox

Today is the feast day of St Thomas Aquinas, one of the great Doctors of the Church. Dismissed as a “dumb ox” by his teachers due to his shyness, in adulthood he quickly became the most towering intellectual figure of the medieval age.

Near the end of his life, after decades of scholarship, Aquinas is said to have had a profound mystical experience, a direct encounter with God. His Summa Theologica was still unfinished, and when he was urged to take it up again and bring the work to completion, Aquinas balked. “I cannot, because all I have written seems like straw to me.”

It’s perhaps his most famous line, and it’s a reminder to other theologians that words, even many words, ought to be steps on a pathway to an encounter with God—one which leaves us speechless.

Out of his vast body of work, I’ll select just a couple of quotes for your consideration. The first, on the permanence of God’s image in every human creature, from the Summa Theologica:

The image of God always abides in the soul, whether this image be obsolete and clouded over as to amount to almost nothing; or whether it be obscured or disfigured, as is the case with sinners; or whether it be clear and beautiful as is the case with the just.

On the body, also in the Summa:

We ought to cherish the body. Our body’s substance is not from an evil principle, as the Manicheans imagine, but from God. And therefore, we ought to cherish the body by the friendship of love, by which we love God.

Finally, why not conclude with one of his prayers? Here’s one that works for students and scholars alike:

Come, Holy Spirit, Divine Creator, the true source of light and fountain of wisdom. Pour forth your brilliance upon my intellect, dissipate the darkness which covers me, that of sin and of ignorance. Grant me a penetrating mind to understand, a retentive memory, method and ease in learning, the lucidity to comprehend, and abundant grace in expressing myself. Guide the beginning of my work, direct its progress, and bring it to successful completion. This I ask through Jesus Christ, true God and true man, living and reigning with You and the Father, forever and ever. Amen.

Not such a dumb ox after all, eh?

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