Friday, January 28, 2011

Notes on the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I typically post something on this blog in observance of the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, which the Roman Catholic Church celebrates on this date. Earlier posts in this category include a philosophy student's humble reflections on the scholarly influence of St. Thomas Aquinas, some words on the unlikely and very indirect relationship between St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Thomas Aquinas, and a London pub, and an appreciation of "Our brother, the Dumb Ox" by a young Dominican friar.

This year, I'm going to keep my Aquinas post fairly simple by sharing a photograph that I took last summer in Austria. The mosaic visible in the above image is part of the reredos behind the high altar in the domestic chapel of the Jesuitenkolleg in Innsbruck. I encourage you to click on the image for a more detailed look at the mosaic, which depicts St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Thomas Aquinas kneeling before Christ. Each saint has a book with him - the Constitutions in the case of St. Ignatius, and the Summa Theologica in the case of St. Thomas.

I'm not sure whether the artist who created the above image expected viewers to make something of the fact that St. Thomas holds the Summa in his hands while St. Ignatius comes before the Lord with open hands and the Constitutions resting on the ground beside him. At the very least, I hope that some of my brother Jesuits who struggle with philosophy studies can take some consolation in seeing Father Ignatius united with the Angelic Doctor.

On this Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, my prayers are with all students of philosophy and theology. In a special way, though, I'll be praying today for two particular groups of philosophy students: my fellow Jesuit scholastics in First Studies at Fordham, Loyola University Chicago, and Saint Louis University, and the SJU undergraduates I'll teach this very morning. May God grant them all the wisdom and the grace that they need. AMDG.


At 1/29/2011 4:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Might the Dominican, as a Doctor of the Church, and his work product be more privileged in the ecclesiastical pecking order?


At 1/29/2011 3:08 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


That may be so, though it strikes me that the contributions each made to the Church were different enough to make direct comparisons difficult and perhaps even unfair.

Regarding the position of the two books, I wonder whether the artist intended to express the idea that St. Thomas' greatest offering to Christ was his scholarly work while St. Ignatius' greatest offering (and perhaps by extension that of the Society of Jesus) was the open-(or empty-)handed offering of self - the offering articulated in the Suscipe.

At 1/30/2011 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think so, and perhaps also to emphasize the value of humility, that virtue which makes the very bright so much more effective, to those who own the mosaic.


At 1/30/2011 11:09 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Yes, I agree with that interpretation as well.

At 1/31/2011 6:57 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Coming to this topic with a certain distance, having been away from most of the Jesuit environment for 6 years (except for the wonderful presence of this blog and conversations with Joe), to myself to a *certain* extent, and I would argue to many others to a *great* extent, the pairing of the two is rather unique and even surprising. My background makes the placement of the two greats of our Church together seem quite understandable, yet I think many Catholics, even well-educated Catholics, let alone non-Catholics, might be puzzled or at least skeptical. I say this not to diminish what I indeed agree is an appropriate pairing, but to emphasize that what can seem immediately obvious to some can lack such logic for others. Ignatius was not a professional philosopher, I would not say, and his greatest contributions in a certain broad sense can be understood to be pastoral - read as meaning having introduced an institution that conducts a wide-ranging and effective apostolate - quite different from those of Thomas. But both men were committed to the idea of uniting the intellect and the soul, and introducing greater rational articulation to our Christian beliefs. And much of Thomas' work are far from remote from pastoral concerns. One could go on. Yet again, their eras, their roles, and indeed temperament, probably make the connection a less obvious one for many. But perhaps pairs which are less obvious can be all the more rewarding when we get to understand them by reflection. And while in a Jesuit college, the connection is clear, I would still venture to guess that such an artistic pairing of the two great men is quite rare in the Church, even in Jesuit circles.

Just my momentary reflection.

Thanks for the post and the image!

At 1/31/2011 12:11 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thank you for the extensive comments. This is the only artistic pairing of the two that I can remember seeing, though I wouldn't be surprised if there have been others. Historically, the pairing makes some sense if you consider the venue - the Jesuitenkolleg is a residence for Jesuits who teach philosophy and theology and, when the mosaic was installed, the residence also housed many young Jesuits who were studying for the priesthood.

Still in the realm of history, the pairing is also reflective of intellectual movements within the Church and the Society of Jesus that are particular to the 19th and 20th centuries. You may recall that Pope Leo XIII did much to give St. Thomas Aquinas a pride of place in Catholic theology and philosophy that he had not previously enjoyed. This naturally had an effect on the Society of Jesus and on the place given to Aquinas in our formation - before Pope Leo's time, one probably wouldn't see many mosaics like this in a Jesuit house.

As an aside, the Society used to have its own Scholastic philosopher-theologian of choice, Francisco Suárez. At one time, I think the attitude was that the Dominicans had Aquinas, the Franciscans had Bonaventure, and the Jesuits had Suárez - each was seen as a sort of house philosopher-theologian for his respective order. Suárez has long since fallen out of fashion, though I know some scholars (non-Jesuits, no less) who are trying to bring him back. That being said, I have a hard time imagining a Jesuit house with a mosaic of Francisco Suárez (though I suppose that anything is possible!).


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