in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Monday, 27 January 2014

Happy Feast of St Thomas Aquinas!

Happy Feast Day of St Thomas Aquinas!
Especially to all my Dominican friends and their supporters and my university colleagues!

For this post I have gone back to my Indian lectures which I am presently writing up looking at how Thomas’ theology influenced both St John of the Cross and St Ignatius Loyola (both studied him at Alcala and Salamanca Universities). I attach the relevant passages below arguing that John and Ignatius acquired two important qualities from Aquinas:

·        The notion that ‘grace builds upon nature’, ie. that matter is not essentially evil and that the spiritual journey is not a continual struggle with the material elements of our life. Aquinas presents what we would today call a ‘holistic approach’ to the spiritual life.

·        And secondly, that the most direct way of achieving our spiritual potential is to imitate the ‘habit’ of Christ in all our behavior.

I hope you like the extracts and do spend today rejoicing in the beauty of God’s material creation.



‘In considering John and the appetites the first thing to take into account, as Chowning states, is that John’s negation ‘has nothing to do with neoplatonic dualism or a denial of creation… (he) is thoroughly Christian and incarnational. He exalts the beauty and dignity of creation and the purpose for which God created the world… thus, creation reflects the presence, beauty and excellence of God and increases love in the person who reflects upon it’ (Chowning 2000:3). As a teacher and novice-master John encouraged his students to find God in nature and the created order around. We saw above how Ignatius talked of ‘God in all things’ and the Exercises ends with a remarkable ‘Contemplation to Attain Love’ where we read of the soul contemplating how:

God dwells in creatures, in the elements, giving them being, in the plants allowing them to grow, in the animals feeding upon them, in people giving them to understand, and so in me, giving me being, animating me, giving me sensation and making me to understand (and how) God works and labours for me in all things created on the face of the earth – that is, behaves like one who labours – as in the heavens, elements, plants, fruits, cattle etc, giving them being, preserving them, giving them growth and feeling. (Exx 235,236)

For both John and Ignatius, God is seen as being in all creation and creation, as created by God, is very good indeed. Included in this is the human person, created in the image and likeness of God with all that that entails. In this respect both John and Ignatius have thoroughly absorbed St. Thomas Aquinas in their university training in Salamanca and Paris respectively. Both show a true Thomist grasp of God’s salvific action proceeding through ‘grace building upon nature’. Therefore, our spiritual practices are not so much concerned with escaping matter and creation but rather examining our own attitudes to nature and seeing how our craving and desire to seize matter is distorting our fundamental orientation as a being created in the image and likeness of God:

John insists that what obstructs our relationship with God is not material reality as such, but the human heart when it craves, desires and tries to possess material objects, people and situations for selfish reasons. (Chowning 2000:4)


Yet, as ever in his approach, John counsels two approaches to this steep and rugged path to perfection. First, that we should not despair in thinking about the path, but rather consider a practical approach to how these desires can be redirected. And secondly, that we take the same gentleness and pastoral sensitivity to the ascent which he himself took in his own dealings with penitents. Thus in A 1.13 he counsels four methods for ‘redirection of the appetites’.

The first is derived from the classic Thomist position described above. We must strive in all our actions and habits to ‘imitate Christ’ at all times. Thomas stresses that we should adopt the habitus of Christ, so that more and more in an unthinking (unconscious) fashion we adopt the ways and manner of living of Christ ‘by bringing your life into conformity with his’. See Summa Theologiae 1a2ae.49-54, Vol 22 translated by Antony Kenny: ‘Dispositions, like capacities, are concerned with good and evil, and dispositions, like capacities, are not always exercised in action’ (49,4.3).’

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