Thomas Aquinas, Doctor, Theologian, Monastic

Thomas Aquinas, Doctor, Theologian, Monastic

Thomas’ parents had especially high expectations for how his life should proceed. As members of the southern Italiannobility, their several sons all had very precise blueprints for how their lives and ambitions should flow. Thomas was one of the youngest of his brothers and they all shared an uncle who was an abbot in a Benedictine monastery. Without every considering questions of calling and how Thomas felt about it, his family simply assumed that young Thomas would become a Benedictine abbot and monk. They provided him with an exemplary education in a great institution but a war broke out and it became necessary to send Thomas to a school in Naples where he was introduced to the works of Aristotle, Averroes, and Maimonides. Further–and to the eventual dismay of his mother and father–he was introduced to a Dominican preacher by the name of John. As Thomas heard the stories of the Faith again from the lips of John, he felt a buzzing within him that seemed to call him inexorably toward service to God. This much had been expected but to serve in a Dominican monastery would have been considered unacceptable. Their plan had been made and there was no room for God’s calling within it.

The Dominicans were pleased to have an able mind like Thomas and knew well that his family would resist his desire to become a Dominican monk. Consequently, they arranged for him to be taken to Rome and sent to Paris from Rome. The plan was mapped out and executed but Thomas’ mother had a plan of her own. A few of Thomas’ brothers were waiting for him in Rome and they seized him and dragged him back to the home of their mother and father so that he might be dissuaded from following after God’s leading. It’s easy to look back and wonder why Thomas insisted on the Dominicans over the Benedictines if both are monastic groups that devote themselves to God. It’s easy for our minds to think that it would have been better for Thomas to give in and become a Benedictine because it would be “close enough.” But, this falls into the same trap that Thomas’ family fell into: a feeling that if our own will is “close enough” to God’s will, then that will be good enough without actually having to turn over our lives and wills to God. They imprisoned their own son and brother and did everything within their power to bend his will to theirs and away from God’s.

At one point, his brothers decided that it would be better to ruin Thomas then see him become a Dominican. Their dehumanization of their brother had reached its completion and they now saw him as a commodity to be traded for family honor and influence. They paid a prostitute to seduce Thomas and led her into his room where Thomas could not escape. He refused to be seduced and ran the woman out of his room with a burning stick from the fireplace. All the while, he was a tutor and teacher to his family–specifically his sisters. Eventually, Thomas’ mother arranged for him to escape and leave the home because she wanted to be rid of him but did not want to go through the indignity of disowning and abandoning her own son. Thomas escaped and eventually became a Dominican monk and theologian. He served the Church as a writer and thinker. His answers to theological questions–memorialized in his master work: Summa Theologica–informed and educated not only audiences of his day but also Christians of all subsequent generations. The one who had been imprisoned and persecuted for his call became a teacher and wise man whose words and works would carry God’s message into the hearts of many discerning the first inklings of God’s call upon their lives.

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