Selection from M. C. D'Arcy, S.J., St. Thomas Aquinas

(Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1954), 39-40.


There are many heroic types in the thirteenth century: St. Louis, the representative of justice and kingliness; St. Francis, the poor man of the Gospels. St. Thomas stands out in that age as the embodiment of wisdom, of a wisdom which springs from the root of Christian virtue. The belief that interior holiness is essential for wisdom is not exclusively Christian. It is shared, for instance, by Plato, and is exemplified in the life of a Plotinus. But whereas Plotinus sought for self-emancipation in a One beyond all being, St. Thomas looked—where Augustine and Anselm and Francis of Assisi had looked—to a Wisdom which is personal, to a Logos which is incarnate, and it is this ideal which colors all his thought and conduct.

The domains of philosophy and Christian revelation are distinct, and the truth of St. Thomas' theories can be studied apart from his religious beliefs; but no true and proper appreciation of the man is possible unless we bear in mind his ideals and longings: The truth which he sought by philosophy was open to his embrace by a higher and surer way, and there came a time when all that he had laboriously pieced together by thought seemed to be but as straw compared with what had been vouchsafed to him by grace.

There is a story told in his Life of how one day before Matins the sacristan saw him in ecstasy before a crucifix. A voice appeared to come from the image, saying: “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what recompense wouldst thou for thy labors ?” And St. Thomas answered : “Nothing save thyself, Lord.” There could be no better summary of his character and life's work.