JMC : Saint Thomas Aquinas / by Raïssa Maritain

IX The Holiness of Intelligence

HE who wishes to be taught the doctrine of the Angel of the Schools, should approach truth with love.

Because Wisdom is a very delicate and difficult thing, "it fleeth from the heart without understanding," says Scripture.

If Saint Thomas was raised to such a high degree of knowledge and wisdom, it was not only because of his exceptional genius. He thought very little of his genius, as a matter of fact. And he laid everything at the door of prayer, and considered it the gift of God.

"While he lived, my Master prevented me from revealing many admirable things about him which I myself saw," said Brother Reginald, his faithful companion, after the death of the saint. "One of these things is that he acquired his knowledge by the merit of prayer; for every time that he wished to study, to teach or to write or dictate, he went first and prayed and shed many tears. And by the merit of this prayer, having been in uncertainty before he prayed, he came back knowing what to do."


This is why we say that the holiness of the Angelic Doctor was "the holiness of intelligence."

Holiness! We can see right away what this word means, it is enough just to pronounce it. It is perfection of the soul, the immense love of God and of one's neighbour, purity, humility, gentleness of heart, good will.

Intelligence! Who does not know that it is a light, the light of the soul? Through mere appearance it pierces to the heart of things -- and we know. We know that God exists, that He is good, that He is truth itself. And that He is worthy of love. We know a great many other things about earth and heaven. Without intelligence we can learn nothing, know nothing, just as without eyes we cannot know light or colour.

Ill-will, deceit, laziness, pride, gluttony, all the great sins put out the light of intelligence. Those who allow these things to enter into their souls carry empty lamps and truth does not shine upon them.

On the other hand, wisdom increases with holiness.

The Angel of the Schools, Saint Thomas Aquinas, lifted his heart towards God alone. This was his only care. With all his strength he wished to know Him because he loved Him, and -- in order to love Him more -- to know Him better, to make Him better known and loved by all men.

This was his vocation. He carried it out perfectly.

And "the eternal sweetness of divine truth wrapped him around, and spread round him like warmth about the sun, so much so that we are told that just to look at him was a great consolation.


His mind was tremendously active. He knew all the Bible by heart, and the most beautiful writings of the Fathers of the Church. No work on philosophy was unknown to him.

He wrote no less than eighty-five works of philosophy and theology.

Nevertheless, he found time to teach and to preach, and to take long, slow journeys, going on foot or mule-back from Italy to France, from France to Germany, from Germany to France and Italy, and from Italy to France, back and forth several times.

He was full of learning. His hand was not quick enough to write the thoughts that came to his mind so quickly and easily that it "seemed only to reveal what had been gathered in heaven from the treasure of the Spirit of Wisdom in its many-sided forms."

Also he used to dictate at one time and on different subjects to two or three secretaries, sometimes even to four or five. Once when he was in Rome, he dictated in two or three days a book of two hundred and fifty pages.

The best known and most important of his works are the Summa against the Gentiles, the Summa Theologica, and the Office of the Blessed Sacrament, which he composed at the request of Pope Urban IV.

Jesus is the Truth, Jesus is also the Eucharist. It is the same Jesus that Saint Thomas glorified in all his works.

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