St. Thomas Aquinas: “All I have written seems like straw!”

Thomas Aquinas was the famous medieval theologian who created one of the greatest intellectual achievements of Western Civilization: his Summa Theologica. It is a massive work! It is 38 treatises, three thousand articles, and ten thousand objections. Thomas was trying to gather into one coherent whole all of truth. In this master work, one of the great doctors of the Church gathers the findings of anthropology, science, ethics, psychology, political theory, and theology all under God.

Then, on December 6, 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas completely stopped writing. On that date, as Aquinas was celebrating Holy Communion during the Feast of St. Nicholas, he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more. In fact, he left his great work, the Summa Theologica, unfinished. While celebrating Holy Communion in the Chapel, he caught a glimpse of eternity. He was given a revelation from God that let him know that all his efforts to describe God fell so far short that he decided never to write again.

When his secretary and friend, Reginald, tried to encourage him to do more writing, he said “Reginald, I can do no more. The end of my labors has come. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.”

Aquinas died three months later while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons.

Aquinas’ vision may have been a vision of heaven, compared to which everything else, no matter how glorious, seems worthless. We can only speculate on this point. But one thing about which we can be sure: Aquinas’ comment has never been understood as a retraction or refutation of anything he wrote. Instead, his evaluation of what he had written before his vision, has been taken to mean that even the greatest of human minds cannot fathom the greatness of God.

The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament sheweth His handiwork, as Psalm 19:1 declares. And as Psalm 8:4-6 asks, “What is man that Thou are mindful of him?”

And yet God who is so incredible, values us inestimably! No wonder the vision that God gave to Thomas Aquinas left him speechless.

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