Tuesday, February 02, 2021

I have come to cast fire upon the earth

 “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism . . . an openness to the whole of reality in all its parts and dimensions, without either reducing reality or confining thought to particular forms or aspects . . . as intelligence demands in the name of objective and integral truth about what is real.” (John Paul II, Address to the International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas, Section 6, 17 November 1979).

I think the profound announcement of the title of “doctor of humanity” given by John Paul II to Saint Thomas Aquinas is grounded in this openness and universalism of his thought described in the above quote.  Openness to the “whole” of reality is a very difficult endeavor and constantly disturbs one’s sense of security derived from the barriers of one’s hermeneutical filters.  It is not for the faint-hearted.

Saint Thomas wrestled with the great disturbance of his era, the arrival of works of Aristotle that had streamed into Latin during the twelfth century as a result of reconquest of parts of the Islamic empire.  The importance of these works and the seeming contradiction of parts of these texts with Christian revelation greatly disturbed the worldview of established theologians.  Many reacted against Aristotle’s thought, some to the extreme of banning it.  Saint Thomas instead used his freedom to study and integrate this challenging new system of thought that excited the younger generation.

Openness to reality itself is not sufficient for the appellation, "doctor of humanity", however; the core is the desire for the truth of reality, for aletheia, a desire to know God : “the [prevailing characteristic of the philosophy of St. Thomas” is that it is always in search of the truth . . . Philosophy is not studied in order to find out what people may have thought but in order to discover what is true.” (Ibid., Section 8).  This passion for truth is what truly makes Saint Thomas the teacher of humanity because all human persons are created in the image of God and, thus, desire to know Him the source of their being.  His heart burning within him, filled with love for God, Saint Thomas lights the path for the rest of us to help show us the Way: “knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapter 5, Lecture 6, section 812, translated by James A. Weisheipl, O.P. {relevant text: “John [the Theologian] was perfect in his nature because he was a lamp, i.e., enriched by grace and illumined by the light of the Word of God. Now a lamp differs from a light: for a light radiates light of itself, but a lamp does not give light of itself, but by participating in the light. Now the true light is Christ: “He was the true light, which enlightens every man coming into this world” (above 1:9). John, however, was not a light, as we read in the same place, but a lamp, because he was enlightened “in order to bear witness to the light” (above 1:8), by leading men to Christ. We read of this lamp: “I have prepared a lamp for my anointed” (Ps 131:17).  Further, he was blazing and impassioned in his affections, so he says, blazing. For some people are lamps only as to their office or rank, but they are snuffed out in their affections: for as a lamp cannot give light unless there is a fire blazing within it, so a spiritual lamp does not give any light unless it is first set ablaze and burns with the fire of love. Therefore, to be ablaze comes first, and the giving of light depends on it, because knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love”}).

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