CATHOLIC MEDITATIONS

Today, January 28, 2020 is the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the patron saint of Aquinas Institute, Aquinas Legal Interpreters and Aquinas Hope International Society.

This day marks the beginning of Aquinas Institute sharing with you, the reader, religious literary treasures, such as papal encyclicals, pastoral homilies, scriptural readings, spiritual essays, songs, hymns, poems and testimonials of popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, theologians, religious nuns, seminarians, members of the laity and children from around the world.

It is our hope that whatever you read in this website would help you learn, realize and meditate on the love, mercy and forgiveness of God the Father; the love, sacrifice and salvation of mankind by Jesus, God the Son; and the love, light and power of God the Holy Spirit. It is our intention to help you know God the Blessed Trinity, be close to God the Three Divine Persons, and love the Triune God. It is also our intention to bring you closer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Master of Scripture

by Zane Chu

St. Thomas Aquinas holding the Church and Scriptures
St. Thomas Aquinas
by Carlo Crivelli , 15th Century
(Wikipedia)

St. Thomas Aquinas invites us to a deep and thorough knowledge of Scripture. While many aspects of the biography of the Angelic Doctor are familiar—he composed the hymns Tantum ergo and Panis Angelicus, he commented on the philosophy of Aristotle, he wrote the unfinished theological masterpiece, the Summa theologiae—it does not often come to mind that Aquinas was a master of Sacred Scripture. In fact, this was his official title as a professor at the University of Paris in the 13th century. More importantly, however, Scripture profoundly shaped Aquinas in both his person and his work. The writings of Aquinas invite us, under his guidance, to form for ourselves a thoroughly Scriptural imagination, which conforms us to Christ himself, in order to know and love Christ more deeply and imitate his example.

Aquinas was formed in Scripture by two great spiritual movements in the 13th century. As a child, young Thomas was educated at the Benedictine monastery in Monte Cassino, Italy. There he was exposed to the already ancient tradition of lectio divina, the prayerful reading and meditation upon Scripture as an entire way of life. As a teenager, Thomas enrolled at the University of Naples and, against his family’s wishes, joined the radical new mendicant order, the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans. Both the Benedictine and Dominican ways of life were centred on Scripture, though in different ways. Benedictines stayed in the monastery, where they dedicated themselves to the mission of personal holiness through lectio divina. Dominicans went out into the world; having studied Scripture, they dedicated themselves to the mission of preaching and the care of souls.

The thorough shaping of one’s life by Scripture was aided by the particular educational resources of the 13th century. This period of history may be characterized as a memorial culture. Because of the scarcity of books, training of one’s memory is needed for literacy and education. In contrast, our culture may be described as a written culture, or even a digital culture. We depend on physical books and digital media for the transmission of information. With the dominant influence of Christianity in the 13th century, remembering Scripture was the foundation of literacy and education. Memorization, however, was not done merely in a rote way, which is how we tend to think of memorization. Rather, training the memory in the 13th century involved carefully dividing up a text into meaningful units, which could then be commented upon and/or recombined in various compositions, for example, for personal meditation, as the monks did, or for preaching, as the mendicants did.

We get a good sense of what this involves from the Biblical Commentaries of Aquinas. These commentaries show us how Aquinas invites us to know more deeply and thoroughly the words of Scripture. This certainly presupposes familiarity with the entirety of Scripture, immediately inviting us to read the Bible from beginning to end. But the primary exercise that we are invited to perform is to read one part of Scripture in light of another, to interpret Scripture according to Scripture. Doing this is what helps us to know more deeply and thoroughly the words of Scripture. We already receive training in this at Sunday Mass, where the First Reading, often from the Old Testament, is chosen because of some definite relation to the Gospel Reading. The preacher ought to help us make these connections. Studying the Biblical Commentaries of Aquinas supplements this training, and further develops our Scriptural imagination.

Let’s see how Aquinas does this in his Commentary on the Gospel of John. An illustrative example is Christ’s new commandment of love: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). As we mentioned, the first step in medieval reading of the Bible is to divide up the text into meaningful units. Aquinas divides Christ’s words into three parts: first, Christ mentions the quality of the commandment in its newness (“I give you a new commandment”); second, Christ tells us what he commands (“that you love one another”); and third, Christ gives us an example of what he commands (“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”). I will discuss only the first consideration, the newness of Christ’s commandment. Aquinas draws us into a profound meditation on this newness.

Aquinas uses the standard medieval format of the ‘question’ in his commentary here. The format of questioning is not meant to lead us into doubt, but to deepen our understanding, especially when one part of Scripture appears to contradict another. Since there is already a commandment about loving one’s neighbour elsewhere in Scripture, how can Christ’s commandment be said to be new? Christ himself knows the Old Testament command to love one’s neighbour. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees ask Christ, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36). Christ replies, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Christ directly quotes Leviticus 19:18.

It is clear that Christ’s new commandment is already formulated in the Old Testament. Aquinas resolves the question by suggesting three particular ways that Christ’s commandment can be said to be new. He plays on the meaning of newness, drawing in other parts of Scripture to perform his commentary.

First, Christ’s commandment is new because it produces renewal within us. St. Paul discusses this renewal at length in Colossians 3, and Aquinas brings this discussion to mind by quoting verses 9-10: “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” Aquinas sums up the teaching of St. Paul by identifying the root of the new self and its practices: charity, the love of God and neighbour, to which Christ urges us by giving us the new commandment to love one another.

Second, Christ’s commandment is new because of its source and cause, which is a new spirit, the Holy Spirit himself. Aquinas explains that there are two spirits, old and new. The old spirit was a spirit of slavery, and the new spirit is the Spirit of Love, who makes us adopted children of God. St. Paul teaches this explicitly in Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” This fulfills the promise of Ezekiel 36:26: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you.” Aquinas completes this explanation of Scripture according to Scripture by quoting Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” This relates the first and second ways together: we are renewed in our hearts by a new spirit, the Holy Spirit, who is the cause of the charity that makes us new.

Third, Christ’s commandment is new because it establishes the New Covenant. Again, the New and Old Covenants are marked respectively by a difference between love and fear. The Old Covenant itself points toward the New, as it says in Jeremiah 31:31: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.” This passage goes on to describe the New Covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Aquinas’ discussion of the establishment of the New Covenant as a way in which Christ’s commandment is said to be new helps to explain the appearance of the commandment to love one’s neighbour in the Old Testament. This command is given as preparation for Christ’s new commandment.

Aquinas’ commentary on the newness of Christ’s commandment to love one another deepens our understanding of this commandment according to the words of Scripture itself. We experience the newness of this commandment when we act from it, namely, when we act out of charity toward our neighbour. The cause of this charity in us is the Holy Spirit himself, the cause of our renewal, who produces the enduring effect of the New Covenant between God and human beings. Aquinas helps us to read Scripture—the Old in light of the New, and the New in light of the Old—in order to understand how God’s Spirit has brought newness to our hearts, a new relation between God and human beings, such that we can have new selves that can truly love our neighbours, following both Christ’s command and his example. This, in fact, summarizes the very intention of Scripture, to which Aquinas invites us as an entire way of life.

References

Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2 vols. Translated by Larcher, F.R. Lander, WY: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2013.

Carruthers, Mary. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Chenu, Marie-Dominique. La théologie comme science au XIIIe siècle. Paris: J. Vrin, 1969.

Mongeau, Gilles. Embracing Wisdom: The Summa theologiae as Spiritual Pedagogy. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2015.

Mulchahey, M. Michèle.“First the Bow is Bent in Study….”: Dominican Education Before 1350. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1998.

Roszak, Piotr, and Jörgen Vijgen, eds. Reading Sacred Scripture with Thomas Aquinas: Hermeneutical Tools, Theological Questions and New Perspectives. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015.

Torrell, Jean-Pierre. Saint Thomas Aquinas, 2 vols. Translated by Royal, Robert. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2005.

About the Writer

Zane Chu is a PhD candidate at Regis College, the Jesuit school of theology at the University of Toronto. He studies Thomas Aquinas’ theology of charity in relation to Trinitarian theology and Christology in the Commentary on the Gospel of John and Summa theologiae. He holds a Master of Divinity from Regis College, and a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Toronto. He contributed the essay “Our God Journeys with Us” to the collection Portraits of Faith: Young Adult Catholics Share Their Stories (Novalis, 2016). He is married to Monica, a PhD candidate in moral theology. He was born and raised in Vancouver and attended St. Jude’s School and Vancouver College.

About Aquinas

We are a group of two companies and one society bearing the name of Aquinas in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. We are Aquinas Institute Corporation, Aquinas Legal Interpreters Corporation and Aquinas Hope International Society. We all use the same original logo of Aquinas Institute Corporation.

Aquinas Institute was originally registered as a sole proprietorship by Teresita Nixon in 1997 and incorporated in 2005. Its activities started with sponsoring successful spiritual retreats in parishes within the Archdiocese of Vancouver and assisting in parish fundraising.

The AI published Catholic prayer booklets, a magazine and a book. Its “Meditations on the Holy Eucharist” won Honorable Mention in the Religion Category at the Independent Publisher Awards in New York in 2005.

The AI organized pilgrimages to holy shrines in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Croatia in association with Derek Tsui of Sun Hang Canada Travel until it was granted a licence to operate a travel agency. Aquinas pilgrimages are well known for being highly spiritual in content and activities. The company operates under the dba Aquinas Holy Land Tours and the dba Aquinas Travel. See www.aquinasinstitute.ca and www.aquinaspilgrimages.ca and www.aquinasholylandtours.ca.

The AIC provided language interpreting services in court-judicial-legal settings from 2005 until 2016. Under the dba Aquinas Institute, the corporation currently offers the Aquinas Court-Judicial-Legal Interpreting Program to people desiring to become professional court interpreters. The Aquinas training is accepted by the BC Courts, Alberta Courts and English Courts. See www.courtinterpretertraining.ca.

Aquinas Legal Interpreters Corporation dba Aquinas Legal Interpreters was established in 2016 to take over the language interpreting services of Aquinas Institute Corporation. The ALIC has a large scope of 250 languages & dialects as well as a large database of 3,500 registered linguists. It provides language services to the Canadian Federal Government and legal firms. See the following websites: www.aquinaslegalinterpreters.ca and www.interpretersandtranslators.ca.

Aquinas Hope International Society was founded on July 25, 2019 by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo with Barry Charles Nixon and Teresita Nixon. Its motto is “Faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead.” – St. James the Apostle. See www.aquinashopeinternational.org and www.aquinashope.ca.

The AHIS has the mission of providing Catholic spiritual formation of its members through the new Aquinas Religious Lay Order and their commitment to good deeds not only in Canada but also in the poor countries of the world.

  • The Society is a combined spiritual, philanthropic, charitable and educational organization with allegiance to the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ.
  • To make God known to people; bring God’s love and mercy to people; and bring people closer to the Most Blessed Trinity.
  • To focus on the Holy Eucharist and encourage people to attend Mass daily; participate frequently in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and attend Eucharistic Congresses.
  • To encourage Catholics to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month.
  • To help people receive the graces from the Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ.
  • To honor and love the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God; to propagate the recitation of the rosary with the Fatima prayers; and to seek Her intercession for the success of all the Society’s works.
  • To seek the protection of St. Joseph and St. Michael the Archangel for all the Society’s works from Satan and from all evils.
  • To educate people on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the writings of St. James the Apostle and the charity of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
  • To give hope, love, joy, care, support, protection and advocacy for the unborn; children, students, single mothers, seniors, the poor, the homeless and abused victims.
  • To give scholarship grants to needy university students.
  • To assist the unemployed, those on welfare assistance, native Indians and visible minorities in job search and/or with job creation.
  • To help the spiritually challenged, the mentally challenged, the physically challenged, the lonely and those in despair through encouragement, counselling and joyful love.
  • To visit and give hope, love and joy to the sick, elderly priests and prisoners.
  • To console and financially support victims of calamities, disasters and earthquakes.
  • To give donations to humanitarian causes for the glory of God.
  • To propagate the vocations to the priesthood and the religious life as well as support seminarians prayerfully, morally and financially.
  • To sponsor seminars, conferences and/or workshops on the lives of saints, self-development, family values, social issues and other relevant topics that will help in creating responsible individuals, a strong community, a responsive society and a better nation.
  • Subject to financing availability, to operate a center that is open to people without discrimination in religion, race and culture.
  • The works of the Society will extend to Canada and to poor countries around the world.
  • In the end, the Society hopes to bring people closer to Our Lord Jesus Christ, the One and Only Savior of Mankind, and to Our Blessed Mother Mary, the one and only Queen of Heaven and Earth.

On December 1, 2019, the AIC & AHIS started a channel on Youtube.com entitled “Aquinas Time”. On January 28, 2020, the AIC & AHIS started publishing religious articles in a website entitled www.catholicmeditations.ca. We invite the readers to watch Aquinas Time on youtube.com and read the meditations website and benefit spiritually through these two media. May those who watch “Aquinas Time” and who read the meditations website be blessed abundantly with graces by God the Blessed Trinity.

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