Keeping the Great Commandment
Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38 (NRSV)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), whose feast day is celebrated today, was an intellectual giant whose thought became foundational for the Catholic Church. To this day, official Catholic theology begins and ends with Thomism.
Thomas couldn’t have foreseen such outsized influence. In his lifetime, he troubled his contemporaries by incorporating Greek, Jewish, and Muslim wisdom into Christian theology. And he really rattled them by teaching that we can partially know God with our unaided human reason.
He blazed trails, but he was no firebrand. As a student, he was so quiet his teachers thought he was stupid. Because he was fat, they intolerantly assumed he was lazy. They called him “The Dumb Ox.” Thomas didn’t care. He kept on loving God with his whole heart and his whole mind, writing academic theology one day, popular sermons about Baby Jesus the next.
And then, as he was finishing his greatest work, the Summa Theologica, he had one of those blazing mystical encounters with God after which nothing is ever the same. He stopped writing. Urged to continue, he reportedly replied, “It’s all straw.” He never finished. Three months later, he died.
So next time you defend a role for reason in the life of faith, or appreciate the wisdom in traditions not your own, or blaze a new trail seeking greater light, or reassess everything you once valued after meeting the Living God, remember Thomas. He was there before you, keeping the Great Commandment, opening the way.
“Grant me, my God
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct that pleases you,
perseverance to wait for you,
and the hope of embracing you
when everything ends.” – Thomas Aquinas
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.