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The Fierce Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

By Matthew Fox

I am currently completing a short book on St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) called The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times. You might ask me: What does this have to do with Climate Change? Sacred Activism? The Extinction Rebellion? Or the demise of democracy? 

I reply: Everything. For it has to do with deepening our spirituality today for the challenges that beset us. The deeper that humanity digs itself into a hole, the more we need wisdom to escape that hole. And wisdom often comes from our ancestors. 

Aquinas is one of those ancestors, an absolute genius, who offers depths of awareness and critical thinking useful for our times, and especially for the youth of our times. He instructs us in how to be both contemplative and active, mystical and prophetic. How to be more deeply human therefore.

You ask: But why Aquinas? Isn’t he boring and scholastic and passe? First, he is not passe because pre-modern wisdom is especially needed in post-modern times like ours. This is why we find ourselves turning to Indigenous thinkers — and Aquinas’ worldview (like St. Francis, also of his era) begins not with the human but with the cosmos

As for scholasticism, remember that in his day it was a revolutionary method of learning that came from the Muslim world, the most advanced culture of the time. So too did the translations of Aristotle that were pouring into Europe by way of translators in Baghdad, which totally excited Aquinas — so much so that he wrote twelve commentaries on Aristotle. Why did he do that? Because he felt a fierce need to bring science and religion together. He was attacked and ultimately condemned three times for doing just that, and for recognizing the nondualism that lies at the heart of all things, matter and spirit, masculine and feminine, body and soul, etc. 

We too sense a need to bring science and the new cosmology and spirituality together today, psyche and cosmos, before it is too late. Said Aquinas: “The greatness of the human person consists in this: that we are capable of the universe.” He honored the scientist’s vocation when he insisted that “a mistake about creation results in a mistake about God.”

I descholasticized Aquinas years ago by interviewing him in my major study: Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality. In that work I translated many of his works that never before had been translated — in Italian, German, English, or French, including many Biblical commentaries and more that operate outside the scholastic form and offer deep insights from his amazingly creative and supple mind. Of course, I draw on those passages in this current book.

Another reason for knowing Aquinas anew — and especially the young who seek a deep spirituality that leads to action — is the influence he has had directly on numerous spiritual or intellectual giants since his time. These include Mechthild of Magdeburg, Dante (whose primary teacher had been a student of Aquinas), Father Bede Griffiths, Rupert Sheldrake, M. D. Chenu, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few. And of course his Dominican brother Meister Eckhart (who was 14 years old when Aquinas died; 13 years old when Rumi). This means that anyone who Eckhart influenced owes a serious debt of gratitude to Aquinas, for there would have been no Eckhart sans Aquinas.

Among some of those influenced by Eckhart directly - -and by Aquinas indirectly therefore — are: Carl Jung, Karl Marx, Thomas Merton, Martin Buber, Martin Heidegger, Howard Thurman, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, the radical protestants Hans Hutt, Sebastian Franck, and Hans Denck, Dorothee Soelle, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, the anonymous author of Theological Germanica, Martin Luther, Ignatius of Loyola, John Tauler, Angelus Silesius, Jakob Boehme, Nicholas of Cusa, David Bohm, D. T. Suzuki, Ananda Coomeraswamy, Rufus Jones, George Fox, Rudolf Otto, Saul Bellow, John Updike, Annie Dillard, Alan Watts, Ira Progoff, Erich Fromm, and more.

It’s quite a list, isn’t it? You can see what a giant Aquinas was, along with his famous pupil Meister Eckhart. If you are grateful for any of these people above, then you are necessarily grateful to Aquinas — and I would think curious and eager to know him firsthand.

In The Tao of Thomas Aquinas, as in Sheer Joy, I try to present Aquinas firsthand in his own words. I gather 30 sentences which constitute the Table of Contents of the book and carry his teachings — teachings that can wake us up and deepen our love of life and of Earth and arouse our warrior energy to defend both. Following are these chapter titles, teachings directly from Aquinas.
 

Do you agree that there is deep wisdom here? Read my new book, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, with a Foreword by Ilia Delio, and explore that wisdom more deeply. It appears in January 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

 
The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

Table of Contents

Each chapter title is a sentence from Thomas Aquinas

 

Chapter 1

The experience of God 

must not be restricted 

to the few 

or to the old.

Chapter 2

They shall get drunk 

on the beauty 

of thy house,

i.e. the Universe.

Chapter 3

Revelation comes 

in two volumes: 

Nature 

and the Bible.

Chapter 4

The greatness of the human person

consists in this:

that we are

capable of the universe.

Chapter 5

A mistake about nature

results in

a mistake about God.

Chapter 6

Sheer joy is God’s

and this demands

companionship. 

Chapter 7

Joy

is the human’s

noblest act. 

Chapter 8

Religion is

supreme thankfulness

or gratitude.

Chapter 9

The first and primary meaning

of salvation

is this:

To preserve things

in the good.

Chapter 10

The same Spirit

who hovered over the waters

at the beginning of creation

hovers over the mind

of the artist

at work.

Chapter 11

We ought to cherish the body

and celebrate

the wonderful communion

of body and soul.

Chapter 12

Every truth without exception—

--and whoever may utter it—

is from the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 13

Revelation

has been made

to many pagans...

The old pagan virtues

were from God. 

Chapter 14

Every being

is a name for God;

and no being

is a name for God.

Chapter 15

We are united

to God

as to One Unknown.

Chapter 16

The greatest accomplishment

of the human mind

is to know

that it does not know

who God is.

Chapter 17

The first requirement, then,

for the contemplation of wisdom,

is that we should take complete possession

of our minds

before anything else does.

Chapter 18

It is a great thing

to do miracles.

But it is a greater thing

to live virtuously.

Chapter 19

The proper objects

of the heart

are truth

and justice.

Chapter 20

The vision of God

is arrived at

through Justice.

Chapter 21

Compassion is the fire

that Jesus came

to set on the earth.

Chapter 22

Conscience is

more to be obeyed

than authority imposed from

the outside.

Chapter 23

It pertains to magnanimity

to have

a great soul.

Chapter 24

The prophet’s mind is moved

not only to apprehend something,

but also

to speak

or to do something.

Chapter 25

A trustworthy person is angry

at the right people,

for the right reasons,

expresses it in the appropriate manner

and for an appropriate

length of time.

Chapter 26

Playfulness 

or fun 

is a virtue.

Chapter 27

Angels carry thoughts

from prophet

to prophet.

Chapter 28

There is

a double

Resurrection.

Chapter 29

God is

a Fountain

of Total Beauty,

the most beautiful

and the superbeautiful.

Chapter 30

Christ is

a dew for cooling;

rain for making fruitful;

a seed

 for bringing forth the fruit of justice.

It is impossible

that anyone

hide the words of God,

when their heart

is inflamed by love.

Amen.

Conclusion: The Holy Spirit, Fire in the Heart, and Aquinas’ Poem on Fierce Wisdom 

 

Want to explore Aquinas more deeply? Next summer, I’ll be offering a course with guest lecturer Rupert Sheldrake in beautiful Orvieto, Italy, where Aquinas taught and preached. Click here for more information.

 
DEEPEN YOUR OWN SPIRITUAL JOURNEY AS MYSTIC AND PROPHET

A 5-Day Retreat with Matthew Fox, Claudia Picardi, Meschi Chavez, and Gianluigi Gugliermetto
Featuring a Special Visit by Rupert Sheldrake

 

Study the spiritual teachings of one of the greatest minds of Western civilization — Thomas Aquinas — with a preeminent scholar of Christian spirituality, Matthew Fox, and a special visit by British scientist Rupert Sheldrake, who joins us one night to dialog with Fox on "Aquinas' Wisdom for Our Times."
 


Matthew Fox is a prolific author of books dedicated to renewing the ancient tradition of Creation Spirituality. This tradition is feminist, welcoming of the arts and artists, wisdom-centered, prophetic, and committed to eco-justice, social justice, and gender justice.

Matthew’s effort to reawaken the West to its own mystical tradition has included revivifying awareness of Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, and the mysticism of Thomas Aquinas, as well as interacting with contemporary scientists who are also mystics. He believes that "by reinventing work, education, and worship, we can bring about a nonviolent revolution on our planet."

Most recently, Matthew co-founded the Order of the Sacred Earth, and started up DailyMeditationsWithMatthewFox.org, which was launched on Mother’s Day 2019 in honor of the Divine Feminine, to bring much-needed attention to the current perils of Mother Earth. 

Matthew received his doctorate summa cum laude in the History and Theology of Spiritualities from the Institut Catholique de Paris. He was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years, and he established an Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality that operated for seven years at Mundelein College in Chicago, and for 12 years at Holy Names College in Oakland.

He founded the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California in 1996, and was president and professor until 2005, when he left to create a pilot project to reinvent the educational experience with inner-city teenagers.

Matthew speaks regularly at professional and community gatherings around the world, and has led a renewal of liturgical forms with "The Cosmic Mass" (TCM), which mixes dance, techno and live music, DJ, VJ, rap, and contemporary art forms with the Western liturgical tradition. They celebrated the TCM at the recent World Parliament gathering in Toronto and at more than 100 other venues in North America. 

Matthew is a recipient of the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award; other recipients have included the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks. He is also a visiting scholar at the Academy for the Love of Learning in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Click here to visit Matthew's website.

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This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 23: Visionaries Global Summit