St. Thomas and Obedience to the Truth

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Dominicans are not especially zealous in promoting the veneration of our saints, a tendency that goes all the way back to our beginnings and the cultus of St. Dominic himself. When at last the brethren approached Pope Gregory IX concerning the cause of their founder, he lectured them about their tardiness in bringing the matter before him. Our earnest promotion of St. Thomas Aquinas might seem an exception, but it is not so much St. Thomas whom Dominicans promote as his teaching.

Here we often encounter a fundamental misunderstanding of Dominican love for the Angelic Doctor, namely that we ought to have other teachers besides St. Thomas in order to balance the influence of his personality with that of others. To the contrary, he could confidently lay down answers that began, “I respond that,” not as one appealing to his own person but as one seeking to diffuse the splendor of wisdom. “He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of Him who sent him is true” (John 7: 18). He seems to have deliberately adopted this unadorned writing style so that no particle of himself should impede the transmission of truth. This itself is eminently Thomas: by careful discipline, he became a pellucid vessel for both truth and sanctity. St. Thomas taught truth as one first a disciple of truth. He was a master of truth because he was first obedient to truth.

The word oboedire (“to obey”) comes from audire (“to hear”). The obedient person hears his superiors; the disciple hears his teacher. This is a habit Thomas had developed since his youth, and cultivated further in response to St. Albert’s teaching. He became more silent, studious, and prayerful in his thirst for knowledge. He took to heart Wisdom’s words: “Happy the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting besides my doors” (Proverbs 8: 34). The Dumb Ox was not silent simply from religious decorum or humility, but because he found silence conducive to listening to God speaking in the natural world, through wise teachers, in the liturgy, in Scripture, in his personal prayer. Numerous witnesses testify to how Thomas “sought wisdom openly in prayer” (Sirach 51: 13), shedding many tears as he besought God to enlighten him. We think of great men as bursting with self-confidence, but Thomas’ way was to have recourse to the Lord.

This was his sanctity, not something he attained despite the pursuit of wisdom, but because of it. He considered that loving truth helps one love God, makes one beloved of God, Who is Truth. Thomas held wisdom to be something divine, especially the wisdom that is a gift of the Holy Spirit; but at the end of his life the greatest gift Thomas received—an overwhelming communication of God Himself—reduced him once more to silence, so that he considered all he had written to be straw in comparison.

We venerate the saints because they have been conformed to Christ, because they help us conform to Christ. Similarly, the cultus of Thomism exists only insofar as Thomas’ teachings conform to reality, and help our intellects do the same. We live in a culture that encourages us to find a bespoke metaphysics and a personalized spirituality—your truth, my truth. Let us imitate St. Thomas and purify our souls from all self-centeredness by obedience to the truth (1 Peter 1: 22). We should listen.

Br. Columban Mary Hall, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE