Naiveté of St. Thomas Aquinas

I want to relate to you a short anecdote I heard today involving a great church saint.

Alongside Agustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas is considered one of the greatest theologians and indeed one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived. R.C. Sproul has stated that he considers Aquinas among the five greatest theologians with of course Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards being the other four. They each had their strengths and talents however if one looks to sheer magnitude of intellect, surely Thomas Aquinas would be at the top.

St. Thomas lived in the 13th century and became a monk of the Dominican order. His wealthy family disapproved of his entering the ministry and sought to stop him by kidnapping him and retaining him in the family castle (his father was a count…ah, ah, aaaah!! sorry). However while being detained in the family home he continued to don his habit and perform all of the duties of the Dominican order at the appointed times as though he were still at the abbey. Finally his mother, impressed with his zeal and dedication to God, helped him to escape. In true Pauline fashion she actually lowered him out of one of the castle windows in a basket. From there he returned to the ministry and began his formal study of theology and philosophy.

He entered the Dominican school in Cologne and studied under the tutelage of Albertus Magnus,Albert the Great. Now St. Thomas was not an attractive person being rather rotund, with big feet and an unusually large head. For those among us who have ever been teased because of their appearance or features, you know how hurtful this can be (because there is nothing you can do to change it). The other students would tease and mock him. They called him “the dumb ox.” How deceived they were. Once overhearing this prejorative Albert responded “You call him ‘a dumb ox,’ but I declare before you that he will yet bellow so loud in doctrine that his voice will resound through the whole world.”

We are told that Thomas was affable, kind, compassionate toward the poor, and meek. In addition there was a sort of naïve, trusting element to Thomas’s nature that may even be called gullibility. He believed what people would tell him especially those with whom he studied. You would think that eventually he would disbelieve anything they would tell him. But St. Thomas had an interesting way of looking at it. A glimpse into this (and perhaps the reason for his trusting) is evident in one occurrence that took place in the class room where he studied with the other students. One of his classmates, gazing out of the window, exclaimed “Thomas, come look! There is a cow flying!” Thomas rushed to the window to see this amazing sight. The laughter of the other students coming from behind him confirmed the deception. They could not believe his naiveté. Why would someone fall for such a gag? But Thomas turned and faced them and replied “I would rather believe that cows can fly than that my brothers would lie to me.” The laughter ceased at that point.

Josh H.

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