St. Thomas Aquinas: A saint for students

Academic life and study is far from easy, as almost anyone on a college campus can attest to. In times of stress over the student life, it can be helpful to have role-models to look up to for inspiration. Among the saints, one particularly inspiring academic that students and teachers alike can look up to is St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas lived during the Scholastic Age of the thirteenth century, a time of flourishing in the development of the university system itself with rigorous debates and questions encouraged in the classrooms in the search for the truth. Holding two professorships in Paris at one point in his life, he contributed greatly to the understanding of theology through both writings and academic approach. Here are a few lessons that can be taken from his life for the inspiration and benefit of students in particular.

The first lesson from the life of this saint is to pursue your vocation, no matter what stands in your way. St. Thomas came from a wealthy noble family and his mother wanted him to rise to a position of prominence. If he was going to be drawn to religions life, she thought that he should be in a position of power, like an abbot. Unfortunately for her plans, Thomas felt God call him to join the humble Dominican order. His mother was so against this that she had his brothers kidnap him until he agreed to do what she thought was best. His brothers, deciding that confinement wasn’t enough to break his stubbornness, snuck a prostitute into his quarters to get him to break his vow of celibacy. Infuriated for perhaps the only time in his mild-mannered life, St. Thomas defended his purity by scaring the seductive woman out with a brand from the fireplace and using it to mark a cross into the door as a reminder against temptation. Against these, and all other odds placed in his path, St. Thomas Aquinas persevered and followed the path that God had set for him in his studies.

The second lesson is one of academic honesty. In perhaps his greatest work, the “Summa Theologiae,” he never stoops to portraying his opponents as stupid or muddying their arguments. Instead, following the tradition of the medieval university system, he carefully and clearly laid out the objections to his own position in as persuasive a manner possible before answering them. At times, he would even come up with arguments his opponents hadn’t thought of yet and lay those out as well. His writings and studies were never driven by a personal or political agenda, but by a sincere desire to aid in understanding the truth.

The third lesson is that no area of knowledge is exclusive. Much like the concept of a well-rounded liberal arts education, understanding elements outside of your chosen focus can still be beneficial to understanding the whole.  While St. Thomas was a deep believer in the revealed teachings of God through the Church, he was also key to implementing dimensions of logic and philosophy from Aristotle into theological thought. Through this, he was able to demonstrate how evidence supporting the revealed truths of faith can be found through observation, common sense, and philosophical thought. He wasn’t a stranger to the natural sciences either, having studied with Albert the Great, another saint who, in addition to his theological studies, contributed to the studies of psychology, metaphysics, meteorology, mineralogy, and zoology. The approach of St. Thomas and his fellow Christian academics of the time was that all such knowledge was worth perusing because it helped people to better understand and appreciate God and His creation.

All three of these lessons can be relevant to the life of any student—or professor for that matter—no matter which field of study they are called to. Whenever you feel stressed about an assignment, pray to St. Thomas Aquinas for help.

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How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization by Thomas Woods, Ph.D.

Saint Thomas Aquinas by G. K. Chesterton

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Daniel Charland is a staff writer for The Lorian.

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