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St. Thomas Aquinas and the life of the mind: A University of Chicago lecture

SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS
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The so-called "Dumb Ox" died on this day in 1274.

In a recent lecture he gave at the University of Chicago, Fr. Stephen L. Brock relayed a comment that the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn, once made — that St. Thomas Aquinas is the only man the Church has ever canonized simply for thinking.

Thinking certainly was a large part of Aquinas’ life’s work. He loved the life of the mind so much that he turned down an offer to be made Archbishop of Naples. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that if he had accepted the appointment, the Summa Theologica most likely would never have been written.

But just months before his death, St. Thomas spoke about an ecstasy he had experienced during Mass. “Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value,” he said. Some translations have him speaking of his work as “straw.”

His work was so cherished by the Church while he was still alive that Pope Gregory X summoned him to present his thought at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, in an effort to reunite the Latin Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches. Thomas obeyed, setting out from Naples for Lyons on donkey and on foot, even though his strength was already failing him. He made it as far as the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, southeast of Rome, where he died on this day, March 7, 1274. He was not yet 50.

In this lecture, Fr. Brock, Professor of Medieval Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, speaks about St. Thomas Aquinas and the mind as a form of life. Fr. Brock at the time was Visiting Scholar with the university’s Department of Philosophy and its Virtue, Happiness & the Meaning of Life Project.

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