One of the things which greatly helped my launch of Challenged to Grow were reviews from other authors and experts in the theological world. One particular author I found very intersting in Kevin Vost, an expert on Thomas Aquinas. I asked Kevin to help me better understand this titan of the middle ages before the Christian world divided during the Reformation.
Me: I believe we lose a lot by not teaching ourselves and our children about the great church leaders and theologians of the past. We seem more interested in Washington and Lincoln than in the saints of our Church. Much of your writing is about one of the greatest of all theologians, Thomas Aquinas. In a paragraph or two, can you summarize why Aquinas was important to the Church and relevant to us today?
Kevin: I think it is a good thing to learn about great secular leaders in our country’s history. I’ve been on a bit of a historical reading jag myself in the last year or so, gobbling up biographies of Alexander Hamilton, Grant, Sherman, Lafayette, Frederick Douglas, and Booker T. Washington among others. People who have done noble, difficult things can inspire us to try to do the important, difficult things we face in our lives.
I must say though, that if I could have access to either the biographies and writings of all the world’s secular heroes or only those by and about St. Thomas, I’d go with him! St. Thomas was so important because he produced the world’s greatest integration or synthesis of the very best of human reason and philosophy with God’s divine revelation as expressed in the writings of Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Thomas sought truth wherever it could be found, in the writings of pagan philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, or Seneca, in a host of Church Fathers, as well as in Jewish and Arabic theologians and philosophers. He separated the wheat of truth from the chaff of error and presented it to the world in a vast number of writings on scripture, philosophy, and theology.
Popes have said that you can obtain more profit from St. Thomas’s works in one year than you can from a lifetime studying the works of others, and that he so loved the writings of the Church Fathers that he made their thoughts his own. Every Catholic should know about St. Thomas, through reading his own firsthand works or at least through introductions or biographies.
Me: You published a book called One-Minute Aquinas: The Doctor's Quick Answers to Fundamental Questions. Why is Aquinas referred to as a ‘doctor’ and how does the Church benefit from these ‘doctors’ of the faith?
Kevin: The Church is blessed with a vast multitude of saints and with I believe only 36 officially recognized “doctors” to date. This does not mean these saintly theologians were physicians, but it derives from the Latin word “docere” – to teach. These doctors are the Church’s greatest teachers, who help us understand more deeply the mysteries of the faith in various areas. Many have honorary titles that, in keeping with a medical metaphor, we might say indentify their specialties. St. Augustine, for example, is called the Doctor of Grace, while St. Teresa of Avila is called the Doctor of Prayer. St. Thomas Aquinas has two titles. He is often referred to as the Angelic Doctor, because of his own angelic demeanor and intellect, along with the fact that he wrote well about the angels, and he has also been declared the Common Doctor, meaning the doctor that all the Church in common turns to for answers. This is not to say that he was infallible, but that his writings were particularly extensive and rich in the wisdom of the doctors who preceded him, and because his philosophy provides the most proper grounding for Catholic theology. One way this can be seen is to look at the vast number of footnotes in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that cite St. Thomas’s writings.