Peter Kwasniewski

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Theology might seem complicated, but it’s really child’s play

The final days on earth of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church's greatest scholar, were marked by childlike faith.
Tue Dec 1, 2020 - 6:00 am EST
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December 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) -- On December 6, 1273, the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest intellectual the Catholic Church has ever known, underwent a life-changing mystical experience that left him unable to proceed with his theological projects and, in fact, marked the beginning of the end of his career. He would die three months later in the company of Cistercian monks at Fossanova on March 7, which remains his traditional feast day. Christians who know that every circumstance, great and small, falls within the plan of Divine Providence may reasonably ask: Why did the Angelic Doctor experience the peak moment of his life on the feast of the saint under whose patronage gifts are given to little children each winter?

An answer is implicit in the accounts of Thomas’s last days, which, remarks Fr. John Saward, “are truly moving to read”:

The big, heavy man, as silent and still as a babe asleep; the scholar at last without his pen. We can see Thomas and Reginald together, the friend anxious but finally accepting, the saint lost in contemplation of the divine beauty. By the “faithful testimony” of Reginald we are told that the last confession of Thomas was like that of a “five-year-old boy,” suggesting not only the purity of infancy but also that childlike trustfulness commended by the Lord, who reveals his mysteries not to the clever but to babies.

In the winter of this life’s pilgrimage, the wintry dark from which the eternal summer of heaven seems impossibly distant, God comes with light and warmth to men and women who are, in their hearts, little children, relying upon Him and trusting in Him no matter what the season’s weather may bring. God pours out the riches of His fatherly love most abundantly on the most childlike, who attract His gaze by their open-eyed wonder, their confident trust, their never-ending flood of questions, their innocent joy.

Fr. Brian Davies writes that St. Thomas

moves from question to question with a breathtaking eagerness. He is always asking “Why?” or “What?” One might even say that Aquinas’s whole system rests on a question. ... God, for him, is an answer to puzzlement (admiratio), an answer which leaves us with yet more questions.

What is more typical of a normal child than a stream of questions that runs dry only when adults grow impatient or cannot think of what to say? The model of the trusting, inquisitive child who “asks, seeks, knocks” is both the point of departure for discovering God and the point of arrival in the heavenly kingdom, where he who asks will be answered, he who seeks will find, and he who knocks will have the door opened unto him.

Fr. Saward again comments: “In the exercise of his science, as in the conduct of his life, the theologian must convert and become like a child, recovering and preserving a sense of astonishment at the grandeur of what God has revealed in His Son.”

The Savior seals His nuptial covenant with the pure of heart who seek the one thing necessary. To be a theologian is to be in love with the truth of God, to give oneself confidently and humbly to that truth which anticipates us at every step. Fr. Thomas Gilby reminds us of the personal presence that gives theology its very meaning: “The Word and the Spirit of Love are sent to us, and all the words of the science of faith and all affections within divine friendship are so many echoes and refractions of their presence.” The exemplar and fulfillment of theology is the beatific vision -- a vision of the infinitely great by the infinitely small, the Creator who is Father by the creature who is His child, the Savior who is bridegroom by the saint who is His bride.

A biographer of St. Thomas, Fr. Martin Grabmann, attempts to put this “theology of the blessed” into words:

Their total knowledge and love are uninterruptedly ordered in one continuous act toward God, the unveiled divine Love, whom they contemplate face to face. Their whole activity and life are an eternal, ineffably brilliant, glowing, and blessed ecstasy of love in this vision, enjoyment, and embrace of the infinite triune God.

In his sermons on the Apostles’ Creed, St. Thomas defines eternal life as the definitive union of man with God, which means seeing God face to face, giving Him perfect praise, enjoying the superabundant fulfillment of all desire and an inconceivable delight, “knowing all natures of all things, and all truth, and whatsoever we wish to know, as well as possessing whatsoever we desire to possess.” It brings with it perfect security, without sorrow, toil, or fear, and the pleasant fellowship of all the blessed, magnifying the joy of each into the joy of all.

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This is the paradise St. Nicholas of Bari won by practicing the mercy, humility, and faithfulness God had poured into his heart. This is the paradise St. Thomas of Aquino won by living the same virtues. Each in due course became a great saint and preacher of wisdom by turning to become a little child and a fool for Christ. May we, by doing the same here and now, join these two merry men in their eternal rejoicing.


  beatific vision, divine providence, mystical, nicholas of myra, theology, thomas aquinas

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