Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Day St. Thomas Aquinas Went Shopping

My favorite story about Thomas Aquinas is the one where a young novice in the community was sent by the Superior to grab "one of the other friars" and go buy some fish.

This novice was very new. He saw only a community of more or less anonymous Dominican friars in black and white habits -- men who had committed themselves freely to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The first friar the novice came upon was the stout, older fellow with a big brow who was pacing or perhaps sitting with his books and papers, pondering something and probably not looking very busy.  The novice said to him, “The Prior wants you to go buy fish.”

Friar Thomas Aquinas was in fact engaged in doing his daily work: a work that was destined to play a singular role in the exposition and clarification of Catholic doctrine and theology; a work that also bequeathed to humanity philosophical breakthroughs that would lay foundations and open up new vistas in metaphysics and epistemological realism; a work that brought about the historical integration of Aristotle into the Christian west, and that established the charter for the reconciliation of faith and reason, thus opening the way in the future for so many great advances in the humanities and natural sciences; a work that also gave us the foundational exposition of a political philosophy that would shape what is best and most enduring in the emerging "modern" Western Civilization, and so many other things that bear upon what we need to learn now, in the dawn of the new epoch of the third millennium.

"The Prior wants you to go buy some fish" said the novice. 

And then Thomas, without a word, closed his book, set aside his magnificent intellectual labors, and went off to the fish market.