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  • Writer's pictureJohn Mortensen

One thing only: Why I love Thomas Aquinas

March 7th is the 750th anniversary of the death of St. Thomas Aquinas. The St. Paul Center is offering a discount on our books if you go here and use the code AQUINAS750.

Growing up Catholic I had a respect for Thomas Aquinas as a great thinker. He was one of those large saints whose name and legends are everywhere in Catholic culture and art. Of course I had no idea who he was, I just knew that if you were really Catholic, you had to respect Thomas Aquinas. It wasn’t until I read Fides et Ratio that I realized just how big of an intellectual giant he was: “In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought…” (FR 78)


I began to read his works slowly and carefully. I guess you really can’t read what he wrote unless you read it slowly and carefully. I tried to let my thoughts be formed by his, pondering each sentence until it made sense. I tried to read him in Latin, since it helped slow my reading down, and since through the Latin I could get to the man himself in his own words.

But I didn’t fall in love with Thomas Aquinas, I didn’t become his friend, until I met St. Thérèse. I never thought of St. Thérèse as a saccharine-sweet teenage girl gushing with emotions of love. I have only ever thought of her as a small child, like that picture of her as a little girl. She had to be young enough so that no one would think it amiss if she were to run over and climb onto the lap of the King of the Universe while he was holding court. I think that would make her about two or three years old. And I began to love Thomas Aquinas as a friend when I saw that he had the heart of a three-year-old with respect to the King of the Universe: “Only you, Lord.”


Thomas had a simple heart: he had only one thing in his heart. The rest of us have many things in our hearts. We are always torn between seeking human comfort and seeking the Lord. Our faith is not strong and pure, believing that there is one God, that he cares for us individually, that he cares for the people we love more than we do, that the pains in this life are the result of our continued attachment to comfort and that he is using them as a remedy to purify us, etc. If we had only the smallest faith that all these things were true, if we could cling to them with simplicity, and not be constantly taking breaks from the spiritual life to feed the desires of the body, if we could love with the simple heart of a child, then we would catch a glimpse of the simplicity of hearts of Thomas and Thérèse.


Because Thomas had one thing in his heart, he had the intuition that comes with being in love, and through his study he was constantly piling logs onto this bonfire in his heart. Like a little child, he would chat with the people involved in the things he was studying. He asked St. Paul for answers to the hard questions while he was writing his commentary on Romans. He chatted with the Lord himself when writing about his Incarnation. Thomas had child-like personal relationships with the saints, and a particular devotion to St. Nicholas. It was in the chapel of St. Nicholas, in fact, that the Lord asked him what he wanted, and that he answered “Only you, Lord.” It was in that same chapel that he received a vision three months before he died.


I don’t think we should understand Thomas’s “devotion” to St. Nicholas in a classic Greek or Roman sense of “a deep respect for the divine,” but rather in the sense St. Francis de Sales lays out: devotion is love that has burst into flames. Thomas had a deep and childlike love of St. Nicholas. He probably chatted with St. Nicholas frequently, and it was somehow because of his love of St. Nicholas that he saw his own thoughts and writings as being worth very little in the end.


In our modern society it is really only children who think fondly of St. Nicholas. He delights them in the way that is particularly suited to their littleness, and he helps sweeten their path to Christmas. Most people, however, treat the saints like vending machines: you put in your order, you insert the right prayers, and then you get what you want. We think that we are the active ones, and that the saints will follow along if we can convince them to. Our real relationship to the saints, however, is very much the other way around. Before we are born they single us out. They are in charge of us, and reveal themselves to us as being our benefactors, and as having loved us before we knew they existed.


St. Nicholas, the wonderworker whose special virtue is mercy, took a liking to Thomas Aquinas before he was born. St. Nicholas took care of Thomas throughout his life. Thomas was drawn to St. Nicholas because St. Nicholas had already chosen Thomas.


Three months before his death, St. Thomas experienced a vision of Christ that filled his heart so much that it left no appetite for study. He remarked afterward that his theological writings now seemed like so much straw. This vision did not make him seem more knowledgeable than ever, like a new Solomon full of wisdom. Rather, it made him more simple and more at peace, resting in one simple thing.


Reginald said that Thomas’s last confession was like that of a 5 year-old boy. It seems that the trajectory of our lives is not to become bigger and better, but simpler and smaller. We begin life much to large, much too full of ourselves. Progress in the life of study, in the intellectual life and in the spiritual life, should be a process of being emptied of ourselves and of being filled with one love, one desire, one thing: Only you, Lord.

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2 comentários

08 de mar.

Very inspirational and interesting 👏👏👏❤️🙏


07 de mar.

These words ring true, and call me back to ponder what I often forget in the midst of my many failures as a wife and mother. I continually wish to be somehow farther, better, than I am now, when in fact I should seek to be simpler. To desire only the Lord, not a better image of myself. Thank you, Dr. M.

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