"Thomas Aquinas: Servant of the Word"
by Edward Schillebeeckx.

In The Schillebeeckx Reader, edited by Robert Schreiter.
New York: Crossroad, 1984, pp. 288-291.

Rarely has human thinking been a liturgical service as it was with Thomas Aquinas. We can see this clearly from two typical events from Thomas's life, and from his expressed declaration of his own program.

On a Holy Thursday, while his confreres were carrying out the services of Holy Week in choir, Thomas was editing his little work "Declaratio questionum ad Magistrum Ordinis" On another occasion when he was sojourning outside his priory due to a question of inheritance, he wrote

his book De Substantiis Separatis, and accounted for it as follows: "I must make up through study and writing for the time which I cannot devote to the singing of psalms." These individual facts become meaningful and are only then not misunderstood when we put them against the back-ground of Thomas's expressed life program. Writing by way of exception in the first person singular (albeit in the form of a quote), Thomas formulated boldly in his first great work, the Summa contra Gentiles, how he saw the mission of his own life. This is what he said: "I see clearly as the very primary task of my life, that I am indebted to God to let him see-and-speak (loqui) through all my words, thoughts-and-feelings (sensus) (I, 2)." Thomas sees the general vocation of serving God concretized for him in the form of serving God by speaking about him to other human beings. The reasons for the existence of his life lie in that service of charity or servanthood to his fellow human beings, which consists of being; ex professo involved with God, and to share these experiences and reflections about him with others. The thinking religious activity with God and human beings as being of service to humanity: that was for Thomas a liturgical action. Thinking itself becomes here liturgy and apostolate; thinking is for Thomas the matter he sanctifies and offers to God, and at the same time that with which he would be of service to his fellow human beings.

As a theologian, Thomas Aquinas is a servant of God and human beings. He experienced the reality of this word "servant" in its feudal context of the poor who stood to wait on their lord, on whom they were dependent in all things, as people who felt themselves to be a gift from another to another in complete self-expropriation and absolute appropriation by their feudal lord. Thomas called this lordly service and subservience the ministry of truth (ministerium veritatis). His principium or inaugural address on the occasion of his promotion to bacchalaureus biblicus is concerned exclusively with "serving the truth." He is a doctor of truth (doctor veritatis).

I would like to consider the life of Thomas as a priestly doctorate, a priestly service of the word in a thoroughly thought-out form of expression appropriate to its time As a theologian, Thomas abides in the faith with the whole power of his human reflection. He is aware of the fact that theology is a scientific study of a non-scientific datum, of a datum that is not subject to scientific verification, of a datum offered only to those who believe, to those who in thought can rise above thought to a child-like acceptance of God's self-evidence that for us, problematic people, is of course a mystery and may even become a problem. It is remarkable that this consummate theologian admits that he daily prays to God that he not lose the faith, as he says explicitly in one of the prayers which we have from his own hand.

Not to lose the faith! For Thomas this has a twofold meaning. It means, on the one hand, that his theological thinking ought never to diminish or adulterate the word of God's revelation. It means, on the other hand, that he ought never to present as God's commanding word what is in fact its human and ephemeral expression, so as not to burden others with a yoke that is not of God, but has been prefabricated by theologians.

First of all, the theologian ought never to diminish or adulterate the faith. The liturgy of the opus divinum that is the service of the truth implies for Thomas that he accept the Other -- God -- as other, so that the datum upon which he reflects as theologian not be distorted by his own creative imagination, but rather that he mold his thinking according to the self-revealed image of God. As servant of the truth, Thomas is attached to the Other, God, precisely as he has manifested himself to us. Thomas has no patience with a blind spot that would cause us to be selective in the face of divine truth. To gloss over a single facet of that truth would mean being unfaithful to his priestly doctorate.

Secondly, the theologian ought never to present as God's word something that is not. For Thomas, this is also a form of not losing the faith. In this respect he has an unusual sensitivity which found expression in the phrases derisus infidelium and articulus fidei. I have encountered the former expression at least twenty times in Thomas's writings and he means by it that we should not present the faith in such a way that it appears naive, passé and ludicrous to the non-believer. In modern terms, this indicates the necessity of a continual reinterpretation of dogma in line with the dogma itself, and thus of a certain measure of demythologizing demanded by loyalty to the truth. Thomas is also careful to ascertain whether or not he is dealing with an articulus fidei, that is, a religious truth that can be known only through revelation and cannot be arrived at by human thought alone. This shows his concern for not offending the thought of others, for allowing human thought freedom in its own domain, and for making clearer distinction between God's revealing word and human speculations.

Thomas's perceptive solicitude for not losing the faith explains also the fact that he battles equally on two fronts in order to preserve this faith, in order to accept God as the Other.

On one front, he fights against various forms of conservative integralism that would make a farce out of genuine confrontation. His library is full of works considered suspect by the theologians and hierarchy of his day: the latest novelties of pagan philosophers and of Jewish-Arabic thinkers. This amounted to a medieval modernism, in reference to which

Thomas' no less holy but more excitable confrere, Albert the Great, had written:

Our opponents are too lazy to study these works; they merely leafed through them in order to charge us with whatever heresies and errors they may run across, and so they feel that they are doing Christendom a service. They are the ones who have murdered Socrates, who have driven Plato away, and whose machinations have banned Aristotle from the universities.
Thomas thought the same, but said nothing; he worked and constructed a new Christian synthesis from these modernistic writings.

But there is yet a second front on which Thomas struggled for the purity of the faith. He entered the lists against all kinds of excessive progressivism, the excesses of Siger of Brabant and his associates, which brought discredit to the progressivism of Thomas himself. And because this cast suspicion on his life work of service to the truth, the usually serene and imperturbable Thomas suddenly became fierce. It is only in this context of an excessive progressivism that threatened any authentic renewal, and almost inevitably brought about a reactionary integralism that we find Thomas, remarkably enough, using the uncommon epithets stupidum, absurdum and stupidissimum.. . .

When we look for the key to the life of this man of study, we find it in his own words. At the time of his last reception of the eucharist, just before his death, he called out: "Jesus, for the love of whom I have studied, have stayed awake nights, have preached and taught."Jesus ... pro cuius amore!"' No ivory-tower scholarliness, no ambition or intellectual curiosity explains his life of study, but the generous love for a living person, the Lord Jesus Christ. On his way as peritus to the Council of Lyon where he was to be made a cardinal along with his colleague Bonaventure, Thomas asked God that he might rather die than reach Rome as a cardinal. Bonaventure arrived in Rome and became a cardinal. Thomas died on the way. If being a cardinal meant the end of his priestly doctorate, it was better for him to die, for his task was accomplished. For us, however, his unfinished Summa is a constant reminder that the task of the priestly doctorate is always an unfinished life work, that every generation must begin again and press forward.

"Jesus, pro cuius amore" -- because he loved. Love is the form of the priestly or ministerial doctorate That is why Thomas is a saint, and an unusual one It is for that reason that we gratefully celebrate his life as a glowing example for all theologians. [19651