Have you ever been stuck with a cruel nickname you couldn’t shake? Have you ever been called to make a decision you knew was right, even though all your family insisted you were wrong? You’ll be encouraged by the story of Thomas Aquinas.
The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.
Thomas was born into a noble Italian family. His six older brothers were soldiers, like their father. The family expected that Thomas, too, would find a high position in the army or the government.
Instead, Thomas chose to become a Dominican friar and take a lifelong vow of poverty. The family tried to force Thomas to change his mind. His brothers held him captive at home for over a year hoping a combination of persuasion and imprisonment would turn him from religious life.
But Thomas stood firm. He was never hateful or argumentative. He spent the year reading and studying and memorizing long portions of scripture.
The Dominicans sent Thomas to the University of Cologne, where he studied under St. Albert the Great. He is remembered as a quiet student. Fellow students mistook his silence and lumbering manner for stupidity and nicknamed him “the dumb ox.” In fact, Thomas was brilliant. When he went to the University of Paris to earn his doctorate in theology, he was recruited to become a professor there.
The rest of his life was spent in scholarly pursuits. His writings fill twenty volumes and they are, to this day, so influential in the life of the Church that an entire way of understanding theology bears his name: Thomism.
But Thomas’ goodness equals or excels his intelligence. He turned down an offer to become an archbishop and other offers of high office. He clung to wonder and always understood the limits of his mind, however nimble and disciplined. Perhaps nothing so speaks to this as Thomas’ faith and humility as he faced death. In December, some three months before he died, Thomas experienced a revelation while celebrating Mass. Afterwards he said, “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”
The Church calls Thomas “the Angelic Doctor.”