Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Notes on the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas.

According to the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, today is the memorial of the great Dominican philosopher-theologian St. Thomas Aquinas. Coincidentally or providentially, this is also the date on which the Eastern churches honor the 4th-century theologian and hymnographer St. Ephrem the Syrian. I never took note of this parallel until now, but I suppose one could make something of it given that Ephrem and Thomas were both learned theologians who expressed their teachings in hymns and poetry as well as in academic works. I don't have anything more to say about this, but readers hoping for a lengthier reflection on St. Thomas Aquinas may consult my post from this date last year as well as the links offered there.

Reflecting on St. Thomas Aquinas this year on his feast day, my thoughts surprisingly drift back to the summer that I spent studying in London in 2002. I didn't have any significant contacts with Dominicans or with Aquinas' writings while I was in England, but I did come across a pub in London called The Black Friar. Found in a part of London called Blackfriars (named for a pre-Reformation Dominican priory that was located in the vicinity), this venerable 19th-century pub is architecturally significant on account of the influence that the Arts and Crafts movement had on its design. For present purposes, The Black Friar is most interesting on account of the statue placed above its front door, which you may see in the photo at the beginning of this post. When I saw this statue of a laughing friar for the first time, I immediately thought of Aquinas.

Some popular traditions hold that St. Thomas was a man of some girth, though I know a few convinced Thomists who would contest this point with great force. I also like to think of Aquinas as a jolly and mirthful sort, someone other friars would have enjoyed dining with and a teacher who may have enjoyed disputing with his students over drinks after he'd finished lecturing for the day. Even before I had finished thinking any of this through, the statue over the door of The Black Friar became fixed in my mind as an effigy of St. Thomas Aquinas - though I'm sure this was not the intent of the artist (who, to judge from the design of the habit, seems to have drawn little distinction between Dominican and Franciscan garb).

On this Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, I pray that he may intercede with God on behalf of the many Christian philosophers and theologians who continue to search for the truth and to share it with others. With a nod to The Black Friar, I also pray that those who are engaged in the quest for knowledge (including me and my brothers at Ciszek Hall) may find joy in our studies. AMDG.


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