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Thomas Aquinas as the "Angelic Doctor"

Thomas Aquinas as the

History of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity

The Dominican friar St. Thomas Aquinas is a powerful patron for chastity and purity because in his own life he received a special grace of chastity and purity and is ready now in heaven to share it with others. St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1226 and was the son of a noble family in Italy. His parents wanted him to become a Benedictine monk in the hopes that he might one day become the abbot, or leader, of a monastery. However, God had other plans. In his teenage years, the monks sent St. Thomas to study theology in Naples, Italy and there he came across members of the Dominican Order. At the time, the Dominican Order was relatively young and had little social prestige. St. Thomas became very interested in Dominican life and joined the order against the wishes of his parents. His parents so opposed his decision to become a Dominican friar that they had him arrested and jailed in one of the family castles. They would not release him until he relented. The family attempted many times to persuade him to change his mind. For a full year, he refused to change his mind. St. Thomas quietly studied the Bible and grew in wisdom and knowledge. Finally, after becoming tired of waiting, the brothers of St. Thomas conceived one last plan. They were certain that physical temptation would drive him to break his vow of chastity, after which he would surely abandon his religious vocation.

So one night, his brothers brought a prostitute into the room where St. Thomas was being held. The plan did not work as intended. Immediately, St. Thomas snatched a burning branch from the fireplace, drove the woman out of the room, slammed the door behind her, and emblazoned the sign of the cross on the door with the red-hot branch. He then fell to his knees with tears of thanksgiving and prayed to be preserved in his chastity, purity, and intention to live the religious life.

According to the records of his canonization, St. Thomas fell at once into a mystical sleep and had a vision. Two angels came to him from heaven and bound a cord around his waist, saying, "On God’s behalf, we gird you with the cord of chastity, a girdle which no attack will ever destroy." In the records of his canonization, many different witnesses who knew St. Thomas at different points in his life remarked about his evidently high degree of purity and chastity. The angels’ gift preserved St. Thomas from sexual temptation and bestowed upon him an enduring purity that elevated all his thoughts and actions. Pope Pius XI wrote, "If St. Thomas had not been victorious when his chastity was in peril, it is very probable that the Church would never have had her Angelic Doctor."

Over his lifetime, St. Thomas’ conduct revealed that he had indeed received a special grace of chastity and purity – a grace that he is now ready to share with others through the communion of saints.

Are souls cleansed and damned within the same place?

While the existence of purgatory is an established doctrine of the Church, made clear especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent (CCC 1031), Thomas tells us that “nothing is clearly stated in Scripture about the situation of Purgatory, nor is it possible to offer convincing arguments on this question.” In other words, the Bible does not tell us exactly where purgatory is. Still, Thomas declares that some opinions are “of no account” — for example, the idea that purgatory is somewhere above us because the state of the souls in purgatory lies between those living on earth and God in heaven. Nonsense, says Thomas, since those souls are not punished for being above us, “but for that which is lowest in them, namely sin.”

Thomas notes that it is “probable,” according to statements made by holy men and many private revelations, that “there is a twofold place of Purgatory.” One place is according to the “common law.” This place is below us and near hell, so the same fire torments both the souls being cleansed and the souls that are damned in hell, though the damned, being of lower merit, are consigned to the lowest place. Thomas makes the important distinction that while the fires of hell serve to afflict the damned, the fires of purgatory, while painful, serve primarily to cleanse souls from sin.

The second place of purgatory is according to a special “dispensation,” whereby, “as we read,” souls are sometimes punished in various places so that the living may learn from them, or those souls themselves may be “succored [comforted], seeing that their punishment being made known to the living may be mitigated through the prayers of the Church.”

Indeed, we can all hope that we will never know firsthand where in hell the damned reside, and that, should we come to know purgatory’s location (or locations) firsthand, we will not reside there very long!

Saint Thomas Aquinas – The Angelic Doctor

“When he was not sitting still, reading a book, he walked around and round the cloisters and walked fast and even furiously, a very characteristic action of men who fight their battles in the mind. Whenever he was interrupted, he was very polite and more apologetic than the apologizer. But there was that about him, which suggested that he was rather happier when he was not interrupted. He was ready to stop his truly Peripatetic tramp: but we feel that when he resumed it, he walked all the faster.”

Today, January 28, is the feast day of one of the greatest minds and theologians the Catholic Church has in her arsenal, as you probably have guessed – it’s Saint Thomas Aquinas. Born into a family of nobility descending from the Lombard’s, his father was a knight and his mother was of Norman descent. He was born around the year 1225 in the quaint town of Aquino, in the castle of Rocca Secca.

At the age of five years old, he was sent to the abbey of Monte Cassino, since one of his kinsmen was abbot at the time. From the age of five to thirteen, he lived and studied in the monastery. Because of the turmoil occurring in the state at the time, he was sent off to the University of Naples where he studied the arts and sciences. While studying in Naples, he was introduced to a new mendicant order and received the habit of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) at the age of nineteen years old.

The news of Thomas’ decision to join the rag tag group of Dominican friars quickly reached his home. To say that is family was upset would be an understatement. They were not upset that he chose religious life, but they were hoping that he would choose the Benedictines and then be appointed to Monte Cassino. Out of all the family members, his mother, Theodora, was the most upset and traveled to Naples to speak to her son about his decision. Catching word that she was in transit, the Dominicans in haste sent Thomas first to Rome and then to Bologna. Not to be out done by the friars, Theodora sent word to Thomas’ older brothers to capture him and return him home. His brothers were serving in the emperor’s army near Tuscany.

As Thomas rested, off the side of the road at Aquapendente near Siena, his brothers seized him. They first tried to forcibly remove the Dominican habit, however, after an unsuccessful attempt captured him and brought him home. For two years, with only his very worldly sister able to visit him, his family kept him in a cell in the castle of Monte San Giovanni. During his time in isolation, Thomas studied the Sentences of Peter Lombard, memorized large quantities of the Holy Scriptures, and even was said to have written a treatise on the fallacies of Aristotle.

In 1245, after coming to the conclusion that Thomas was not going to break his vows to the Dominicans, and the failed the attempt to entice him into a sexual encounter with a prostitute, his family, specifically his brothers, released him and allowed him to return to the order. The Dominicans decided to send him to St. Albert the Great, where he finished his studies in Cologne. The city of Cologne was hustling with universities filled with young clerics from all over Europe striving to make their mark on the life of the Church.

As a young cleric, he was very humble, silent, and was thought to lack real intelligence. Many of his classmates and professors didn’t appreciate his quiet demeanor and referred to him as the “the dumb Sicilian Ox” because of his silence in debates and rather large size. These years in Cologne were not easy for Thomas.

At the request of St. Albert the Great and Cardinal Hugh of Saint-Cher, Thomas was sent to teach at the University of Paris. It was in Paris where Thomas truly began to evolve into the great scholastic of the Church. His work at the university included: the development and commentary on the Holy Scriptures, specifically the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of St. Matthew, he worked on the Liber sententiarum of Peter Lombard, and he wrote more commentaries on the Sentences.

After four years of work in Paris, he was awarded his lecture as master and then his doctor’s chair at the age of thirty-one. It was also at the end of this time where he began one of his great works, Summa contra Gentiles, a work that he was inspired to write by fellow Dominican, St. Raymund of Peñafort.

From 1259 to 1268, he spent most of his time in Italy where he served in a variety of roles as a preacher and instructor, but most importantly working for the Papal Court. During the papacy of Urban IV, who instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in 1264, St. Thomas Aquinas was asked by the Pope to write the liturgy for the solemnity. Around the year 1266, Thomas began what would become his greatest work of all, the Summa Theologica.

Three years later, in 1269, Thomas would again find himself back in Paris. Because of his great influence, St. King Louis IX often asked him his opinions when it came to matters of the state. At the University of Paris, he was also asked to answer the question on whether or not the accidents of bread and wine in the Blessed Sacrament remained really or only in appearance. After deep prayer, St. Thomas wrote a treatise and placed it on the altar before choosing to make it public. The university accepted his answer, and soon after, the Universal Church did as well.

In 1272, Thomas was recalled to Naples and was given the position of regent at a house of study. In 1273, on the feast of St. Nicholas, St. Thomas Aquinas received a revelation. It had such an impact on him that he chose not to finish the Summa Theologica. He said, “The end of my labors is come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”

As he was traveling to participate in the Second General Council of Lyons, by request of Pope Gregory X, for the uniting of the Latin and Greek churches, where he was to present his treatise – Against the Errors of the Greeks, he became even more ill than he was already. He was taken to the Cistercian Abbey of Fossa Nuova near Terracina. He was given the abbot’s room and was cared for by the monks. As he was explaining the Canticle of Canticles to them, he died.

On March 7, 1274, at the age of only fifty years old, St. Thomas Aquinas entered Heavenly Glory. In 1323, Pope John XXII canonized him a saint of the Universal Church. Pope St. Pius V gave him the title, Doctor of the Church. In 1880, Pope Leo XIII declared him patron of universities, colleges, and schools. He is known as the Angelic Doctor because of his perfect chastity.

Later Life and Death

In 1273, St Thomas witnessed a vision from Our Lord. A crucifix spoke to him and said, “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas what reward wilt thou have?” And St Thomas replied, “None other than thyself, Lord.” He had many visions and ecstacys before and after this event as well. He often had mystical experiences with Our Lord. After his vision on December 6th 1273, he decided to write no more, stating, “such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value.”

In March 1274, he started traveling to Lyon to serve on the Second Council. On the road to Lyon is where he met his end. He became sick, and stayed at a Cistercian Monastery in Fossanova, Italy. He died within the monastery, rather than being transported elsewhere, because he knew his end was near and he wanted to die surrounded by monks in a religious house.

St. Thomas Aquinas: The Angelic Doctor

If you've read the writing of Aquinas, angelic may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Frustrating? Yes. Deep? Yes. Angelic? Um. maybe not. But we'll get to why he's called that.

As you also may have guessed, St. Thomas joins St. Catherine of Siena as one of the Dominicans who have been named Doctors of the Church. You shouldn't be surprised by that. Anyone who wrote as much as Thomas wrote and inspires an entire study of theology (called "Thomism", or "Thomists", for those who subscribe to his views) should definitely be ranked s one of the Church's greatest teachers.

But in his time, St. Thomas was kind of an odd duck. Called "the dumb ox" by his brethren, because he barely spoke, Thomas was born on January 28, 1255, in Italy. Hi parents, Lundolf and Theodora, wanted Thomas to follow his uncle into the abbacy of a local Benedictine monastery. But Thomas had other ideas.

At the age of 19, he resolved to join the newish Dominican order. His parents, displeased with this idea, tried to dissuade him, finally locking him up in his room for a year in order to prevent him being given the habit. He used this year to tutor his sisters and communicate with members of the order. Finally, his brothers smuggled a prostitute into his room, hoping she would tempt him Thomas drove her out of the room with a flaming poker (something I always thought was a bit hard on the poor woman). That night, two angels appeared to him as he slept and gave him the grace to always remain celibate.

Finally, in 1244, his mother relented and arranged for Thomas to "escape" his room via the window one night. Thomas escaped, and finally joined the order. The order sent him to the University of Paris, where he was a student of another great Dominican, St. Albert the Great. While there, he picked up the "dumb ox" nickname from his fellow students. Since he didn't talk much, his fellows thought he was stupid. Upon hearing this, St. Albert said,

"You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world."

Thomas taught in Cologne as an apprentice professor, teaching students about the books of the Old Testament, and writing commentaries on the books of Isaiah, Lamentations, and Jeremiah. He received his master's degree from the University of Paris and continued to write various theological works, including Summa Contra Gentiles, one of his most famous works.

In February 1265, Thomas was summoned to Rome to serve as the papal theologian (a post first held by St. Dominic, and held by Dominicans ever since) for the newly-elected pope, Clement IV. Thomas also taught the students natural and theological science at Santa Sabina. He traveled between Paris and Rome many times over the years, filling various posts and teaching.

In 1272, Thomas retired from teaching at the University of Paris and returned to Naples, where he lived the rest of his life. Here, he worked more on his greatest work, the Summa Theologica, and gave lectures. One night during prayer, he had a vision of Christ. "You have written well of me, Thomas," Christ said. "What reward would you have for your labor?" Thomas answered, "nothing but you, Lord." After this, Thomas had a vision of some sort, but he never told anyone what it was--only that after the vision, everything he had written suddenly seemed "like straw" to him, and he abandoned the Summa, never finishing it. He died on March 7, 1274, while giving commentary on the Song of Songs. Thomas was canonized 50 years after his death by Pope John XXII.

The Summa, while unfinished, is one of the greatest theological works of all time, and one of the classics of western literature. It was intended as a guide for theology students (that's right, beginners!), and was a compendium of all the teachings of the Catholic Church. It includes topics such as the existence of God, creation, man, man's purpose, Christ, and the sacraments. It's broken into three major parts:

  1. The first part: Prima Pars: God's existence and nature the creation of the world angels the nature of man
  2. The second part: Secunda Pars: broken into two subparts:
    1. Prima Secunda: general principles of morality and a theory of law
    2. Secunda Secundae: morality in particular, especially virtues and vices

    His feast day is January 28, and he is the patron of academics, apologists, protection against storms, book sellers, Catholic schools, chastity, learning, pencil makers, philosophers, publishers, students, and theologians. He's called the angelic doctor because of his angelic purity, his writings on the angels, his angelic wisdom, and angelic piety.

    Thomas Aquinas – The Angelic Doctor

    St. Thomas Aquinas got his name from the town he was born 8 km north of Aquino, Italy in 1225. He was also called the “Dumb Ox” for his quiet demeanor and being a large framed man. He knew and was inspired by John of St. Julian, a member of the Dominicans, started by St. Dominic around 1216. Thomas would eventually become a Dominican at age 19. The other influential person was Peter of Ireland, an academic who taught Thomas. One other Saint of this time was Albert the Great whom Thomas met in Paris. Albert was the leading academic and expert in science, history, astronomy, music and scripture.

    Thomas was a theologian and philosopher and wrote a seminal document called the Summa Theologica which is widely available as an ebook and book today. Thomas is a Doctor of the Catholic Church. Those that study Thomas’s teachings are know as Thomists. Two modern day Thomists are Ralph McInerny (d2000) who taught philosophy and medieval studies at Notre Dame, and Dr. Taylor Marshall, a theology professor and avid blogger, who created the New Thomas Institute, an on-line series of courses on Thomas in 2013.

    Also known as the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas felt each angel in heaven was a separate species, not just an angel species. On earth every Human belongs to the human species, in heaven there are numerous different species or forms of angels according to Thomas. Humans rationalize and ponder, angels never think through their forms, they have pure formal knowledge. Thomas takes the angels debate further than the ancient Greeks. He philosophically describes the fallen angels and their wickedness. Thomas expands St. Augustine’s thought on Satan and evil angels. The fallen angels wanted to be called God, to be be worshiped like God. Although originally created as good angels, they inherently choose to become evil.

    Thomas stopped writing his Summa Theologica in 1273 after a mystic appearance by Jesus Christ at Mass and kept the vision to himself till death, four months later on March 7, 2074.

    Today, Thomas Aquinas teachings continue to flourish in the Catholic Church. And probably will for another 800 years.

    Additional insight:
    Dr. Taylor Marshall, an avid blogger, wrote Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages (taylormarshall.com), whith topics like “How to think like Thomas Aquinas” and “the difference between philosophy and theology”. On the later topic, per Dr. Marshall philosophy pertains to reason alone and the love of wisdom, while theology pertains to divine revelation and the study of God. With email sign up, the ebook is free.

    A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas, A Handbook for Thomists, by Ralph McInerny has topics like “Aristotle and the Beatific Vision” and “The Meaning of life” and “Does God Exist” according to Thomas.

    “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
    — Thomas Aquinas
    (Patron saint of universities and students Feast Day is January 28th)


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    The fact that Saint Thomas is called the Angelic Doctor is not due to his cherubic physique alone. Rather, he spent a considerable amount of space in the Summa Theologiae, among other places, discussing the nature, activities and moral state of angels. Often, he would use the nature of the angels to illuminate the nature of human cognition by referring to angels as the extreme of what is possible for an intellectual nature to be. He also discusses them for their own sakes, but all the time keeping his remarks bound by the limits of the definitive teaching of Sacred Scripture, and by the rigors of consistent thinking.

    What are angels and how do we know of their existence?

    Thomas gives an argument that the perfection of the universe requires the existence of intellectual creatures. Since God intends the good for His creation, he intends that it be like Himself. And since an effect is most like its cause when it shares with it the feature whereby it was caused, God’s creation must contain something with intellect and will since that is how God creates, i.e. by first knowing it and loving it into being.

    Hence the perfection of the universe requires that there should be intellectual creatures. Now to understand cannot be the action of a body, nor of any corporeal power…. Hence the perfection of the universe requires the existence of an incorporeal creature.

    ST Ia 50, 1

    However, since humans are intellectual creatures, as he indicates at the end of this very argument, the need for some intellectual creatures is not sufficient to give us knowledge of the existence of purely intellectual creatures which the angels are.

    Since Sacred Scripture does speak definitively about the existence of angels, it belongs to Sacred Doctrine, i.e. theology, to treat of angels in a truly scientific manner. The divine science has the intellectual tools (faith in Scripture) to establish both the fact of angels and their nature (ST Ia, 1, 3). Having accepted on faith that angels exist, or taking their existence to be purely hypothetical, one can still draw certain philosophical conclusions about their nature. Thomas’ words in the Summa are an excellent guide for how one can think clearly about the angelic hosts.

    For Thomas, given that angels are intellectual creatures, they must be pure spirit, i.e. self-subsistent forms. They are completely incorporeal they are in no way material, and have no bodies of any kind.(Ia 50, 2) Some, Franciscan theologians of the 13th century (St. Bonaventure among them), believed that angels, like everything other than God, were composed of matter and form. These thinkers, holders of the theory of “universal hylomorphism” as it was called, believed that, whereas sensible things in the world around us had corporeal matter, angels had spiritual matter. For Aquinas, the idea of spiritual matter was a complete confusion. If a thing is spiritual, then, insofar as it is spiritual, it is not material in the sense that it is not composed of matter. (Even though humans are both spiritual and material, their spiritual soul is not composed of spiritual matter and form as the Franciscan believed.)

    (The view of universal hylemorphism lives on today, ironically enough, in the truly physicalist theory in the philosophy of mind called functionalism, insofar as functionalists (such as Hilary Putnam) claim that if there were disembodied spirits, their mental states would be functional states. In order for such a statement to be true, such spirits would have to have parts made of spiritual matter which interacted in the way that functional theory specifies.)

    Angels are not merely ethereal, vaporous kinds of material things since they are not material things at all. Nor are they the souls of dead humans. (The state of human souls after death is an interesting topic with which Thomas deals, but it will have to await separate treatment.) It is natural for humans to know through their bodies, and for their souls to enliven their bodies. Angels, on the other hand, are pure intellects and not naturally united to a body (Ia 51, 1). Consequently, angels know things in a way that is (almost) completely alien to how humans act and know. This is sufficient to show that angels are not separated souls. Thomas, then, has ample philosophical reasons to resist identifying angels with the souls of our deceased relatives and friends.

    The Bodies of Angels

    What is somewhat surprising is that, even though angels are completely immaterial creatures, Thomas believes, given what is said about them in Scripture, that they sometimes assumed bodies.

    Yet divine Scripture from time to time introduces angels so apparent as to be seen commonly by all…. From all this it is clearly shown that such apparitions were beheld by bodily vision, where the reality seen exists outside the person beholding it, and can accordingly be seen by all.

    Thomas takes it to be a philosophical principle that a thing must be physical in order to be seen by bodily vision: “Now by such vision only a body can be beheld.” He then draws the conclusion that the body, which those in Scripture see an angel to have, must have been assumed, i.e. not be their own, but borrowed, as it were.

    Consequently, since all angels are not bodies, nor have they bodies naturally united with them, as is clear from what has been said, it follows that angels sometimes assume bodies.

    ST Ia 51,2

    The body which one sees to belong to an angel cannot belong properly to it, since angels are perfect intellects (Ia 50,1), and intellectual knowledge cannot be accomplished by a bodily nature (Ia 51,1). So if one grants for theological reasons (i.e. on the authority of scripture or for the sake of the perfection of God’s creation) that angels exist and appear, then it follows as a consequence that they manipulate matter in order to appear that they have bodies: “…by divine power sensible bodies are so fashioned by angels as to fittingly represent the intelligible properties of an angel”(Ia 51, 2 ad 2).

    Angelic Bodies Are Not Living

    Nevertheless, angels are not properly said to be alive while they are assuming their bodies. For in order for the body assumed by an angel to be living, the angel’s union with it would have to be as the body’s form, and such a union would be natural, since life is a natural activity for the thing that is alive. The fact that the body which an angel assumes is not alive implies that it does not, strictly speaking, see or hear or taste since these are functions of living things. An angel, then, does not receive sensible forms, nor derive any enjoyment from such a reception as humans do (Ia 51, 3 ad 2). Likewise, angels do not engage in sex while assuming their bodies (cf Ia 51, 3 ad 6) It is interesting to note that Aquinas felt the need to consider six objections (a somewhat large number for the Summa) in Question 51, a. 3 apparently, there were many in his day, as in ours, who thought it made sense that angels could live a human life while assuming bodies.

    Purpose of Angelic Appearances

    Aquinas in a few passages indicates what the purpose of angelic appearances is. In Ia 51, 2 ad 1 he says that the purpose of angelic conversation is to “give evidence of that intellectual companionship which men expect to have with them in the life to come,” and in the Old Testament, “as a figurative indication that the Word of God would take a human body.” In Ia 51, 3 ad 1 & 2 he claims that angels appear so that spiritual properties and works may be manifested more fittingly than by men. In all cases, the purpose of the appearances of angels is to inform humankind of divine realities, and so to lead people to God.

    Hence Angels propose the intelligible truth to men under the likeness of sensible things and strengthen the human mind by an intellectual operation. In this twofold action consists angelic illumination of men. By adding to the human understanding to pierce the mysteries of being, the pure intelligences enable it to derive greater truth from the species abstracted from sensible things. Thus men rise with angelic assistance to a more perfect knowledge of God drawn from a knowledge of his creation (p. 322).

    Angelic power is truly cosmic in its range according to the Thomistic account. On every level in the hierarchy of created being, angelic agency has a proper function to fulfill in accordance with the designs of divine wisdom. Although creativity cannot belong to them [since only God can create from nothing] angels are nevertheless the chief ministers employed by God in the governance of the universe, in securing His own glory and in distributing His goodness to all creation. Everywhere there is a gracious adaptation to the capacity of the various orders of nature to participate in the divine likeness which all things desire in their proper way (p. 328).

    James Collins, The Thomistic Philosophy of the Angels, a Dissertation, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1947)

    Dangers Associated with Angels

    Although Thomas believes that angels, like everything else in creation, actually do contribute to the greater glorification of God, he does recognize some dangers. In Ia 61, 1 ad 1 he responds to the objection that, because angels are not mentioned in the Biblical account of creation, God did not create them. He says God created everything that exists, and the fact that angels are not mentioned in Genesis 1 is no indication that God did not create them. Aquinas attributes their omission to the danger posed by knowing about them and too much attention being paid to them. Indeed, it seems as though the Israelites in the Old Testament were in constant danger of worshiping something other than God as God. So rather than mention them, Aquinas says that Moses sought to remove an occasion of idolatry from the people. This shows that there is a danger in focusing too much on angels as opposed to God without whom they would not exist, and without whom their existence is unintelligible. Angels are, after all, messengers, and one ought not attend too much to the messenger while neglecting the message, which is God’s Word.

    Moreover, Aquinas also warns us that not all angels are good. Indeed, some remarkable things that are apparently done by magicians or psychics, may in fact be due to the influence of bad angels.(cf Summa Contra Gentiles III, c.104ff.)

    The Angelic Doctor's Five Remedies for Pain and Sorrow

    Should “Old Aquinas” be forgot and never brought to mind?

    Rather, St. Thomas should be well remembered because he helps to form the mind. This is sufficient reason to remember and honor him on his Jan. 28 feast day. Apart from being a philosopher and theologian of unparalleled excellence, he, along with William Shakespeare, stands among the greatest psychologists of Western history.

    A good example of the Angelic Doctor’s psychological acumen can be found in his Summa Theologiae (I-II, Q. 38, a.3), where he presents five remedies for pain and sorrow. Since pain and sorrow enter the lives of everyone born into this valley of tears, these remedies have great practical significance and should be of widespread interest. What is more is that they all have the virtues of being natural, readily available, cost-free and devoid of side effects.

    The first of his quintet of remedies is delectation (pleasure). Aquinas reasons that pain or sorrow result from causes that are not natural to the human appetites, which, of themselves, are ordered to something good. Pleasure, on the other hand, “is a kind of repose of the appetite in a suitable good.” Therefore, because pleasure is, in this way, the opposite of pain and sorrow, which is a kind of “weariness,” it can assuage them. Food at a funeral, for example, can assist in relieving the sorrow caused by the loss of a loved one.

    The second remedy Aquinas lists is tears (and also other outward expressions such as groans and spoken words). He offers two reasons that explain why tears can assuage pain or sorrow. The first is based on the notion that something hurtful hurts all the more “if we keep it shut up.” Weeping is an escape route for pain and sorrow in a way that lessens their torment. “Tears and groans,” he wrote, “naturally assuage sorrow.” The second reason is that any good action is a source of pleasure since it demonstrates that the sufferer is at least doing something to alleviate his condition.

    Remedy No. 3 is the compassion of friends. Sorrow has a depressing effect and tends to weigh a person down. The compassion of friends tends to pick a person up — lighten his burden — as if these friends “were bearing the burden with him, striving, as it were, to lessen its weight.” Yet, for Aquinas, a more important reason has to do with the love his friends manifest. The recognition of this love offers a kind of blessing that mitigates the sufferer’s burden. He takes heart, so to speak, when he witnesses the love that others have for him. As Shakespeare writes in Timon of Athens, “A friend should bear his friend’s infirmities.”

    The fourth remedy is the least corporal and most spiritual. It is the contemplation of truth. This remedy works “the more perfectly,” as St. Thomas notes, the more “one is a lover of wisdom.” In the contemplation of divine things, we are drawn to a higher region where God alone knows why certain difficulties and afflictions have arisen. We may not know exactly why certain torments occur, but the thought that God has his reasons is a source of consolation and comfort. The contemplation of truth can also be a source of pleasure, just as knowledge is a source of pleasure.

    Aquinas’ final remedies are sleep and baths. He reasons that remedies that are good and natural for the body tend “to bring nature back to its normal state.” Sleep and bathing help to restore nature’s equilibrium. Pain and sorrow are naturally “repugnant to the vital movement of the body.” Therefore, the natural pleasures associated with sleep and baths offer a certain recovering pleasure.

    In Macbeth, Shakespeare offers a virtual hymn to sleep’s natural benefits, noting “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” that is “sore labor’s bath, balm for hurt minds, great nature’s second course” and “the chief nourisher in life’s feast.” In the words of St. Ambrose, “Sleep restores the tired limbs to labor, refreshes the weary mind and banishes sorrow.”

    Aquinas, a doctor of the Church, is also a doctor of common sense. He understands the nature of the body as well as the nature of the human being. He is more practical than theoretical, more clear and direct than abstruse and academic. His thought, though he lived and wrote in the 13th century, is permanent. He is to philosophy and theology what Michelangelo is to sculpture, what Beethoven is to music, what Leonardo is to painting and what Sir Isaac Newton is to physics.

    In our present technological society, our first thoughts concerning the alleviation of pain and sorrow are often products that are not natural but commercial. We reach for Aleve, Advil, Tylenol and other painkillers, sometimes ignoring natural remedies that can be quite effective.

    It is well documented that tranquilizers and the like are highly overprescribed. Aquinas would not oppose the use of synthetic drugs, but he would not want us to ignore natural remedies.

    The Catholic Church has not forgotten St. Thomas. A more recent saint, St. John Paul II, has reminded us that “the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology.”

    We are on firm ground when we listen to what one saint has to say about another saint.

    Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International, professor emeritus at

    St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Canada,

    and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Connecticut.

    Studies in Paris

    Thomas held out stubbornly against his family despite a year of captivity. He was finally liberated and in the autumn of 1245 went to Paris to the convent of Saint-Jacques, the great university centre of the Dominicans there he studied under St. Albertus Magnus, a tremendous scholar with a wide range of intellectual interests.

    Escape from the feudal world, rapid commitment to the University of Paris, and religious vocation to one of the new mendicant orders all meant a great deal in a world in which faith in the traditional institutional and conceptual structure was being attacked. The encounter between the gospel and the culture of his time formed the nerve centre of Thomas’s position and directed its development. Normally, his work is presented as the integration into Christian thought of the recently discovered Aristotelian philosophy, in competition with the integration of Platonic thought effected by the Fathers of the Church during the first 12 centuries of the Christian Era. This view is essentially correct more radically, however, it should also be asserted that Thomas’s work accomplished an evangelical awakening to the need for a cultural and spiritual renewal not only in the lives of individual men but also throughout the church. Thomas must be understood in his context as a mendicant religious, influenced both by the evangelism of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, and by the devotion to scholarship of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order.

    When Thomas Aquinas arrived at the University of Paris, the influx of Arabian-Aristotelian science was arousing a sharp reaction among believers, and several times the church authorities tried to block the naturalism and rationalism that were emanating from this philosophy and, according to many ecclesiastics, seducing the younger generations. Thomas did not fear these new ideas, but, like his master Albertus Magnus (and Roger Bacon, also lecturing at Paris), he studied the works of Aristotle and eventually lectured publicly on them.

    For the first time in history, Christian believers and theologians were confronted with the rigorous demands of scientific rationalism. At the same time, technical progress was requiring men to move from the rudimentary economy of an agrarian society to an urban society with production organized in trade guilds, with a market economy, and with a profound feeling of community. New generations of men and women, including clerics, were reacting against the traditional notion of contempt for the world and were striving for mastery over the forces of nature through the use of their reason. The structure of Aristotle’s philosophy emphasized the primacy of the intelligence. Technology itself became a means of access to truth mechanical arts were powers for humanizing the cosmos. Thus, the dispute over the reality of universals—i.e., the question about the relation between general words such as “red” and particulars such as “this red object”—which had dominated early Scholastic philosophy, was left behind, and a coherent metaphysics of knowledge and of the world was being developed.

    During the summer of 1248, Aquinas left Paris with Albertus, who was to assume direction of the new faculty established by the Dominicans at the convent in Cologne. He remained there until 1252, when he returned to Paris to prepare for the degree of master of theology. After taking his bachelor’s degree, he received the licentia docendi (“license to teach”) at the beginning of 1256 and shortly afterward finished the training necessary for the title and privileges of master. Thus, in the year 1256 he began teaching theology in one of the two Dominican schools incorporated in the University of Paris.