Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor – Readings

Commentary on Wisdom 7:7-10,15-16; Psalms 118; Matthew 23:8-12

The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom reflects very well the mind of Thomas Aquinas.  “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.”  

What is wisdom?  It is not just a vast amount of knowledge.  Wisdom involves a deep insight into the nature of things and into their relationships; it is a holistic view and understanding of our world, and of the values which govern that world.

This wisdom and insight into God and his creation was something which Thomas had in the highest degree.   He would identify, too, with the words of the writer: “I preferred her to sceptre and throne and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her.” 

What is the use of wealth and material abundance without an understanding of the meaning and direction of life? And this meaning comes to us in a unique way through Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God.  He is for us the Way – he is Truth and Life.  It is through people like Thomas Aquinas that that Word is unravelled and made clearer for us.

The Gospel reading comes from chapter 23 of Matthew in which Jesus denounces the pride and arrogance of the Pharisees.  In doing so, Jesus is not attacking every Pharisee because many of them were good people (we think of Nicodemus in John’s gospel and Gamaliel in the Acts of the Apostles). Rather, it is a denunciation of an attitude or state of mind which was undoubtedly found among some Jewish Pharisees, but was also found in the early Christian communities (not to mention later communities down to our own day). Part of this attitude was a sense of superiority over others indicated by the demand to be addressed by certain titles like ‘Teacher’ or ‘Father’ or ‘Master’.  

It seems that there were people in Matthew’s community who expected to be addressed in this way.  But in Christian communities we need to remember that we have only one Father, one Lord, one Teacher, one Master and that is the Divine Father with his Incarnate Son. 

In spite of his great learning and his being regularly called on to give advice to popes and kings, Thomas Aquinas shunned all such titles.  At different times, he declined being made Archbishop of Naples and Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy and, in spite of the powerful and educated circles in which he worked, he led a simple life.   He is an example for people at all levels of our Church.

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