Catholic Vancouver Jan. 15, 2019

What you didn't know about St. Thomas Aquinas

By Agnieszka Ruck

St. Thomas Aquinas was a genius and philosopher, but that is only the tip of the iceberg, say organizers of the archdiocese's first-ever St. Thomas Aquinas Festival in Vancouver Jan. 26. (Wikimedia Commons).

He’s considered a brilliant philosopher, a human encyclopedia, a bulwark of orthodoxy – and completely unpalatable to the average Catholic.

“When you think about St. Thomas Aquinas, you think about someone who only experts, academics, and theologians know. That is true. St. Aquinas uses a scholastic jargon we are unfamiliar with,” said Father Gabriel de Chadaravian, OP.

“That’s why it’s time for St. Thomas Aquinas to take a step down from his unattainable pedestal.”

St. Thomas is best known as a clever philosopher and author of the hefty Summa Theologica, but Father de Chadaravian said the saint was more a humble theologian at heart.

“Once you get to know him, he becomes a fascinating model of holiness, of how to do theology, how to think in an orderly way, how to approach questions of morality, of theology, of people asking if life is worth living. He has insights and answers that are extremely relevant.”

And that is only the tip of the iceberg. St. Thomas was also a talented preacher and an accomplished poet; he composed the Tantum Ergo and the other Latin hymns that make up the office of the Blessed Sacrament.

The man was also incredibly humble and perhaps even a little gullible: according to one account, his Dominican brothers once shouted to St. Thomas that pigs were flying outside the window, and St. Thomas ran to the window to check.

“The innocence of a child in someone who is a living encyclopedia is a very rare characteristic,” said Father de Chadaravian. “It’s rare to find a scholar who is extremely humble.”

St. Thomas’ humility and seeming naivete, in addition to his bald head and large stature, earned him the unfortunate nickname of “the Dumb Ox.”

His teacher, St. Albert, famously responded to the nickname: “We call this man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.” The statement turned out to be true: St. Thomas wrote more than 60 works before he died under the age of 50, could dictate to four scribes at a time, and is acclaimed around the world.

Toward the end of his life, St. Thomas had a vision of Christ that changed him completely. After the encounter, he said all of his writings were “like so much straw compared with what I have seen.” He never wrote again and died while travelling to the Council of Lyon in 1274.

Father Gabriel de Chadaravian, assistant pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Vancouver. (Agnieszka Ruck photo)

Father de Chadaravian hopes to share these and other little-known facts about St. Thomas at the archdiocese’s first-ever St. Thomas Aquinas Festival coming up Jan. 26.

“He is my brother and one of my great heroes,” said Father de Chadaravian. “I don’t think such a thing has ever been organized in the Church, or outside of the Church, in Canada.”

The festival will include speeches, skits, and even a musical performance of one of St. Thomas’ hymns at St. Mary’s Parish in Vancouver. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, will start off the day’s events with Mass at 9:30 a.m.

More information is available at or by phoning 604-695-7421.