Friday, July 3rd, 2009
These ads have popped up on buses all over New York City.
Now where have I heard that before . . .
Dawkins? No. Hitchens? No. Saint Thomas Aquinas? Yes!
The poor atheists. They’re not very original with this one. Nearly eight centuries ago, St. Thomas said basically the same thing. Grounded in his appreciation of the the integrity of human nature even after the fall, he taught that man does not require the help of faith or grace to do good things. Though he did doubt whether many persons could fulfill the whole of the Decalogue without God’s help, St. Thomas in principle affirmed its possibility. Check out his thought here and here.
Unfortunately for its sponsors, this ad renders itself ineffective not only by agreeing with Christianity’s greatest thinker, but also by making a simple mistake. It presumes that believers treat faith simply as a tool of the moral life. Maybe some believers do this, but as St. Thomas demonstrates one need not believe in order to receive an education in virtue. Faith enables the believer to do something else. As the assent to revelation that leads to charity, faith opens human life to the gift of love that can pervade the moral life and change it qualitatively. A supernatural gift given in baptism, faith elevates the moral life to the pursuit of a supernatural end—the everlasting vision of God.
I touched the mark of the nails with my fingers;
I put my hand into his side and said:
My Lord and my God, alleluia.
Today, July 3, is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, infamously venerated through the ages as the “doubter.” Tradition has it that this “twin,” called by the Lord to be an apostle, carried the Gospel to India, where he suffered martyrdom.
Early in the third century, the Apostle’s relics were carried to Edessa (in modern day Turkey), which at the time was an important center of Christian evangelization. Over the next millennium, the relics traveled to several other cities before landing permanently in the cathedral of Ortona, Italy, where they are venerated today.
On September 27, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his General Audience address to studying the life and witness of St. Thomas. Click here to read the Holy Father’s text. Of particular note is Pope Benedict’s use of another holy Thomas, surnamed Aquinas, to highlight the meritorious faith of those who, after the Apostle’s doubt, believe without seeing.
It is interesting to note that another Thomas, the great Medieval theologian of Aquino, juxtaposed this formula of blessedness with the apparently opposite one recorded by Luke: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!” (Lk 10:23). However, Aquinas comments: “Those who believe without seeing are more meritorious than those who, seeing, believe” (In Johann. XX lectio VI 2566).
Still, someone like St. Gregory the Great appreciated the workings of divine providence in St. Thomas’s stubborn—one might even say prideful—doubt. Through the merciful condescension of our Lord, Gregory noted, the Apostle’s folly has become our glory. The following is a an excerpt of a homily given by St. Gregory that appears in today’s Office of Readings.
Dearly beloved, what do you see in these events? Do you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched and believed? It was not by chance but in God’s providence. In a marvelous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.
Through the intercession of St. Thomas, may the wounds of our disbelief be healed.
as we honor Thomas the apostle,
let us always experience the help of his prayers.
May we have eternal life by believing in Jesus,
whom Thomas acknowledged as Lord,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.