Today, in Churches around the world, the hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas will be sung. The traditional chanting of Pange Lingua, with its famous last two verses collectively known as the Tantum Ergo, accompany the Transfer of the Eucharist. And while most of us have at least cursory knowledge of the 5 ways and some of his prayers and chants, it is vital that the Catholic Gentleman increases his understanding of the Angelic Doctor.
When Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Aeterni Patris, he intended it to be a launching pad to a revitalized Catholic Philosophy and Theology, founded upon the thought and works of St. Thomas Aquinas. In naming St. Thomas the theologian par excellence, the study of his teachings became mandated in Catholic seminaries and schools throughout the world.
While the Angelic Doctor’s influence has certainly waned in Catholic Schools since the 1960’s and the near collapse of neo-scholasticism, his importance is still recognized by the Church. The document Gravissimum Educationis of Vatican II, in its section on Catholic Universities, emphasized turning to the approach of St. Thomas when considering new problems. Furthermore, the 1983 Code of Canon Law called for the teaching of St. Thomas in the formation of Clerics (Canon 251). We are all called to know our faith, both to increase our own faith and to assist those around us. Knowing the thought of St. Thomas goes a long way in achieving this ideal.
I want to emphasize that we should know something not just about St. Thomas himself, but about Thomism in general. The continuation and development of the work of St. Thomas form the philosophia perennis, the perennial philosophy which forms the backbone of much of our Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings. Familiarizing yourself with this school of thought will help you speak Truth better to those around you, and to understand it better yourself.
One fantastic resource for learning more about St. Thomas and Thomism is A Short History of Thomism, by Fr. Romanus Cessario, OP. The book is written as both an introduction to the basic tenets of Thomism and an overview of the figures who continued to develop his thought through the centuries. Well-written and concise, A Short History of Thomism is a great introduction to the school of thought that, more than any other, speaks the truths taught by the Catholic Church. The Church speaks best when she speaks St. Thomas, and this short work is the perfect way to familiarize yourself with the thought that grounds much of Catholic teaching.
St. Thomas Aquinas, ora pro nobis.