This is a sermon for the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian, given in the chapel of an Anglican convent.
Today the church calls us to remember Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican theologian.
I have to admit, he’s not one of the saints for whom I have a soft spot. His theological works frequently made my head hurt, when I had to try to make sense of them in college! So I came to prepare this reflection with more of a sense of duty than of joy.
But I discovered in the library a small work of his; not his great and heavy Summa, but really a tract, a justification of the religious life, written at a time when his order was under public attack.*
He begins his defence by defining religion as a re-binding of the creature to its creator. After all, he says, we all of us began our existence in the mind of God, before creation meant we were brought forth, and given to have a measure of existence in our own essence.
Religion, then, or re-binding of us to the source from which we came, allows us to be most truly and deeply ourselves, and most true to the purposes for which we are created.
And on that basis, Thomas went on to build a typically subtle argument for the existence of religious orders as the instruments by which such re-binding might be fostered. “For perfection of religious life,” he wrote, “depends more upon interior justice, than upon external abstinence.”
It seemed to me that this gave us a helpful yardstick for evaluating the things which we do, and their place in our own practice. Do they re-bind us to God? Do they re-bind others to God? Or have they become something else, something which needs careful attention and re-shaping?
Those are questions which might also make our heads hurt, but I hope that if they do, they will help us to be as fruitful in the life of the church as Thomas asserted that we could be.
*I read this work in the English translation titled “An Apology for the Religious Orders: Being a Translation From the Latin of Two of the Minor Works of the Saint.”