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Traveling in the Footsteps of St. Thomas, 750 Years Later
Jun 4, 2024
A 2021 Fromer in the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino. Photo by Molly Zepeda, BA ’24.

The figure of the Dumb Ox, the Angelic Doctor, is familiar to every UD student. Philosophy and the Ethical Life, our first Core course, culminates by offering students a glimpse into the Summa Theologiae — either its treatise on happiness or its treatise on law. In Philosophy of the Human Person, we may study his account of the soul as the substantial form of the body, and Western Theological Tradition introduces the famous five ways. But his greatest, most memorable presence comes in Philosophy of Being, in which every student treks through the tightly argued metaphysical ascent of On Being and Essence, which leads beyond all finite being to God as first cause.

In the Rome Program, fall semester students make it to the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino. There Thomas spent his childhood asking the question, “What is God?” Spring students make it to Orvieto and the Church of San Domenico, where he finished the Summa Contra Gentiles and wrote the beautiful office for Corpus Christi. Rome itself features Santa Sabina, the lovely 1,600-year-old church perched on the Aventine Hill in which Thomas came up with the plan for his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae. Sometimes students are lucky enough to make it to his castle birthplace or to Naples’ San Domenico, where he abandoned work on the Summa, declaring that all that he had written was as straw compared to the things that he had seen.

In many ways, then, is Thomas perennially close to the heart of the UD student’s experience, both in the classroom and on the road in Rome. Yet this year he is closer still, for we are in the middle of three anniversaries. The year 2023 marked the 700th anniversary of his canonization; 2024 marks the 750th anniversary of his death; and 2025 will see the 800th anniversary of his birth.

To celebrate the anniversary of his death, the Philosophy Department worked with Campus Ministry to introduce a eucharistic procession on the Feast of St. Thomas, close to our annual Aquinas Lecture. The department also sponsored a panel discussion on the opening chapters of the Summa Contra Gentiles, widely regarded as Thomas’ most personal work.

The procession, led by our Dominican chaplain Fr. James Martin Nobles, OP, traversed the Mall from the Tower to Braniff. It featured readings from Fides et ratio and Thomas himself, and it ended with veneration of the Church of the Incarnation’s first-class relic of St. Thomas.

The seminar, using Dr. Matthew Walz’s translation of the opening of the Summa Contra Gentiles, featured a discussion among several members of the Philosophy and Theology Departments. What is wisdom? How does Thomas’ account of wisdom draw from while challenging the Aristotelian horizon of first philosophy? Discussion focused on the way Thomas’ concrete examples developed from out of the lifeworld of 13th-century Paris, where these pages were penned by the young master of theology.

What a blessing it is to travel in the footsteps of Thomas, whose deep respect for the power of human reason was so thoroughly animated by the love of reason’s Creator!

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