Modified Rapture

I love the picture of Thomas Aquinas that emerges in the recent post from the New Liturgical Movement website (I know, RC traditionalists, yet important for me to keep an eye out for developments that affect my current post). It’s commonplace for readers of Thomas to infer from his dispassionate reasonings that he was himself a stolid, unimaginative creature, a sort of theological-genius-Bert from Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. The only departure from this image of Aquinas that I recall from my first instruction in the Summa was the note that after his revelatory experience near the end of his life (6 December, 1273) after which he ceased writing and compared his prior exertions to straw.

The excerpts and exposition at NLM, however, foreground Thomas’s affective side. They underscore Thomas’s mystical side all through his religious life (he was often lost in contemplation at the Mass, sometimes when celebrating (!): ‘he sometimes became so absorbed that he just stopped and had to be roused by the brethren to continue with the celebration’ (NLM, citing Simon Tugwell, Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1988), 264).

Though I have accorded his wisdom and analysis the greatest respect, I have not always admired St Thomas (sometimes particularly when I was cracking my thick skull against the Summa); but after years of use of his Catena, and under the influence of my beloved, and in frequent service at the altar, I’ve come to appreciate more than the conventional image of Thomas as arid rationalist. The fuller character of the Angelic Doctor touches me deeply, and I’m thankful for having grown better acquainted with the whole man.

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