Harmony Exists Between Faith and Reason, Says Pope

Offers Reflection on Life and Works of St. Thomas Aquinas

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 2, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The «great work» of St. Thomas Aquinas was to show not only that faith and reason are compatible, but also that there is «a natural harmony» between the two, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square in which he returned to his series of catechesis on the great thinkers of the Middle Ages with a reflection on the figure of St. Thomas Aquinas.
 
Quoting Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI said, «The Church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology.» He also noted that St. Thomas is called the Doctor Angelicus «perhaps because of his virtues, in particular the loftiness of his thought and purity of life.»
 
Thomas was born between 1224 and 1225 near Aquino, in present-day Lazio. He was from a wealthy family, and was sent to study in Naples, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. It was there that St. Thomas first came into contact with the works of Aristotle, «whose great value he intuited immediately,» the Pope said.

In 1245, Thomas entered the Dominicans, and was sent to Paris to study theology under St. Albert the Great.

«Albert and Thomas forged a true and profound friendship and they learned to esteem and wish one another well,» the Pontiff commented, «to the point that Albert wanted his disciple to follow him also to Cologne, where he had been invited by the superiors of the order to found a theological study.»

During his stay in Paris, St. Thomas «made contact with all of Aristotle’s works and with his Arab commentators,» the Pope explained, «which had been ignored for a long time.»

Aristotle

«They were writings on the nature of knowledge, on the natural sciences, on metaphysics, on the soul and on ethics, rich in information and intuition that seemed valid and convincing,» he continued. «It was a whole complete vision of the world developed without and before Christ, with pure reason, and it seemed to impose itself on reason as ‘the’ vision itself.»

It was in this context that «two cultures met,» the Holy Father noted, «the pre-Christian culture of Aristotle, with his radical rationality, and the classic Christian culture.»
 
And it was also in this context, Benedict XVI added, that St. Thomas Aquinas «carried out an operation of fundamental importance for the history of philosophy and theology, I would say for the history of culture.»

The Pope explained that St. Thomas «studied Aristotle and his interpreters in depth,» he obtained improved translations from the original Greek texts, and no longer relying on the Arab commentators, he provided his own commentaries on «the Aristotelian works, distinguishing what was valid from what was doubtful or to be refuted all together.»

«In short,» the Holy Father said, «Thomas Aquinas showed that there is a natural harmony between Christian faith and reason.»

«This was the great work of Thomas,» he continued, «who in that moment of encounter between two cultures — that moment in which it seemed that faith should surrender before reason — showed that they go together, that what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith, in so far as it was opposed to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis, which shaped the culture of the following centuries.»

Benedict XVI noted the «excellent intellectual gifts» of St. Thomas, as well as his «literary production, which he continued until his death, and which is something prodigious: commentaries on sacred Scripture — because the professor of theology was above all interpreter of Scripture — commentaries on Aristotle’s writings, powerful systematic works, among which excels the Summa Theologiae, treatises and discourses on several arguments.»

The Pope noted as well that attributed to St. Thomas are the liturgical texts for the feast of Corpus Domini: «Thomas had an exquisitely Eucharistic soul. The very beautiful hymns that the liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are attributed to his faith and his theological wisdom.»

Straw

Regarding his death, the Holy Father said that «the last months of Thomas’ earthly life remained surrounded by a particular atmosphere — I would say a mysterious atmosphere.»

«In December 1273,» the Pontiff continued, «[St. Thomas] called his friend and secretary Reginald to communicate to him the decision to interrupt all work because, during the celebration of Mass, he had understood, following a supernatural revelation, that all he had written up to then was only ‘a heap of straw.’

«It is a mysterious episode, which helps us to understand not only Thomas’ personal humility, but also the fact that all that we succeed in thinking and saying about the faith, no matter how lofty and pure, is infinitely exceeded by the grandeur and beauty of God, which will be revealed to us fully in Paradise.»

The saintly theologian died a few months later in 1274 while traveling to Lyon, where he was to participate in the Second Council of Lyon, convoked by Pope Gregory X.

«The life and teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas could be summarized in an episode handed down by the ancient biographers,» Benedict XVI concluded. «While the saint, as was his custom, was praying in the morning before the crucifix in the Chapel of St. Nicholas in Naples, the sacristan of the church, Domenico da Caserta, heard a dialogue unfolding.

«Thomas was asking, worried, if what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was right. And the Crucifix responded: ‘You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What will be your recompense?’

«And the answer that Thomas gave is that which all of us, friends and disciples of Christ, would always wants to give: ‘Nothing other than You, Lord!'»

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-29447?l=english

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