Thomas Aquinas Had a Vision

Dan Graves, MSL

Thomas Aquinas Had a Vision

If you've ever been told you are stupid, you know how Thomas felt. The boy was puffy and seemed to be a slow thinker. His quick-witted classmates had a name that exactly fitted his case. "Dumb Ox," they jeered, wrapping his stupidity and bigness into a single taunt.

Thomas ignored them. He knew what he wanted out of life. He wanted to be a godly friar and a scholar. St. Dominic had founded an order of friars who used their brains for God's glory and Thomas saw their path as his path.

His rich family was annoyed. It would have been okay for him to become abbot of some great monastery. There was prestige in that! But a begging friar...? Thomas must change his mind. They locked him up in a tower in their high castle and told him he'd stay there until he caved in to their demands. But Thomas was as stubborn as they were. When they saw he wasn't changing his mind, his brothers pushed a beautiful, naked courtesan into the room to tempt him. That was the last straw. Bellowing like an ox, he grabbed a blazing stick of wood from the fire and drove the screaming prostitute out.

After two years in the tower, Thomas got his way. He was allowed to rejoin the Dominicans. The "Dumb Ox" proved to be anything but dumb. Studying the logic and teachings of Aristotle, he adapted them to the use of the church. He wrote an immense summary of theology and a defense of Christian thought against the "gentiles."

The greatest of the Medieval theologians, his commonsensical philosophy, known as Thomism, undergirds much of Catholic thought. He is considered one of the doctors of the Roman Church. Yet he did not consider his knowledge something to brag about. As he pointed out, there are things about God we can take only on faith because God has revealed them to us. Not opposed to reason, they are beyond reason. "If the only way open to use for the knowledge of God were solely that of reason, the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance."

St. Thomas Aquinas was called to defend the unity of man's mind. Siger of Brabant's theology seemed to say a statement could be true in theology although false in philosophy. Aquinas won that battle. He could have become proud.

Instead, he stopped writing. What happened, according to an early biographer, was this: While saying mass on this day, December 6, 1273, the noble-minded philosopher experienced a heavenly vision. Urged to take up his pen again, he replied, "Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life."

In the 20th century, his philosophy was revised in light of modern findings. You may meet it as neo-Thomism.


  1. "Aquinas, St. Thomas." Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Editor Charles Coulston Gillispie. New York: Scribner's, 1970.
  2. Chesterton, G. K. Saint Thomas Aquinas; the Dumb Ox. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image Books, 1956.
  3. Guillen, Michael. Bridges to Infinity; the human side of mathematics. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1983.
  4. Kennedy, D. J. "St. Thomas Aquinas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  5. McKeon, Richard. Selections from Medieval Philosophers II. Roger Bacon to William of Ockham. New York: Scribners, 1930. p. 149.
  6. Morris, Clarence. Great Legal Philosophers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1959.
  7. Runes, Dagobert D. A Treasury of Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library, 1945.
  8. Russell, Bertrand. Wisdom of the West. New York: Fawcett, 1964.
  9. Sproul, R. C. "Thomas Aquinas." Chosen Vessels : portraits of ten outstanding Christian men; edited by Charles Turner. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Vine Books, 1985.
  10. Thomas Aquinas. Christian History Magazine, #73.

Last updated May, 2007.

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