St. Thomas Aquinas OP, a 13th century Dominican friar, priest, and the patron saint of colleges and scholars, made innumerable contributions to theology and philosophy over the course of his five decades on this Earth.
His impact on scholarship was so great, notes Fr. Gregoire Fluet, Interim President of Mount Saint Mary College, that “Aquinas still sets the tone today.”
At the Mount, the title of “Aquinas Scholar” is awarded to junior or senior students who excel in academics. The college’s main academic building, Aquinas Hall, is named after the theologian. Even our motto, Doce Me Veritatem (which translates to “Teach Me Truth”), was inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas.
This past summer marked the 700th anniversary of Aquinas being canonized as a saint by Pope John XXII. And in the coming months, there are two other major milestones to commemorate: The 750th anniversary of Aquinas’ passing on March 7, 2024, and the 800th anniversary of Aquinas’ birth on January 28, 2025.
The Mount’s Catholic and Dominican Institute – which cosponsors the annual summer Thomistic philosophy workshop on campus with the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. – is already planning events to celebrate these anniversaries.
Looking back to look forward
St. Thomas Aquinas embraced Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Averroes, fusing their philosophies with the principles of Christianity. Along with some more of his insights, he created a school of thought that encompasses both theology and philosophy, now known as Thomism.
One of the simplest, yet most profound aspects of Aquinas’s philosophy is the notion that truth can be found in many ideas and texts, even those one does not expressly agree with. Aristotle is a good example: Though he lived more than 300 years before the birth of Christ and, therefore, was not looking at his work through a Christian lens, Aristotle had many philosophies that Aquinas valued.
“Aquinas says to read everything you can, then begin to tease truth out of it,” Fr. Fluet said. “What insight am I going to get? What truth can be found in this? He tells us, ‘Don’t be afraid. Let’s look at this material.’”
Fr. Fluet notes that this methodology “is more valid today than ever. We might be on completely different sides of things, but I want to know what your side is. What does it look like to walk a mile in your shoes?”
It’s in this understanding, said Fr. Fluet, that we can develop a better idea of truth.
Aquinas also posited that reason and faith do not have to be exclusive. In fact, reason can strengthen faith.
“When I believe, I don’t exclude rationality or reason,” Fr. Fluet explained. “In fact, my reason is a gift from God and I rely on it.”
Reason helps us to sift through information, and reason, Aquinas said, can help establish the existence of God. As Fr. Fluet puts it, Aquinas helps us to ask big questions. These questions can help us to explore science, math, literature, and all other forms of scholarship.
“At Mount Saint Mary College, we’re not afraid to ask big questions,” said Fr. Fluet.
Finding great truths
Each summer, a mix of Mount students, faculty, and staff travel to southern France for a two-week pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of another important religious figure: St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominican order. For years, this trip has been cosponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Hope and has given members of the Mount community another fantastic opportunity to search for truth.
While on that pilgrimage in the summer of 2022, Fr. Fluet experienced a touching moment at the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, where the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas is located.
“To celebrate mass with a Dominican priest on the altar above his body was amazing,” Fr. Fluet explained. “That was a high point of the trip.”
Fr. Fluet’s experience was one of a kind, but one doesn’t need to go on a pilgrimage to find important truths. One of Aquinas’s most famous insights – and a favorite of Fr. Fluet’s – is that any human being can have access to great truths.
There are great truths all around us, in the mundane and the extraordinary. As St. Thomas Aquinas might say, one just has to look for them.