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The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

 The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 21:33–46 at worship, here is an excerpt from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew.


42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet.[1]

Jesus saith to them. Here, the confirmation of the judgment is related. Firstly, a passage of Scripture is cited; and secondly, its explanation is related. He says, Have you never read in the Scriptures (this is found in Psalm 117:22): The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? And He points out four things. Firstly, He points out their reprobation; secondly, He points out their dignity; thirdly, He points out the reason for their reprobation; and fourthly, He points out their admiration. He says, The stone, etc. The stone is Christ, who is called a stone based upon many similitudes. “Behold I will lay a stone in the foundations of Sion, a corner stone,” etc., (Is. 28:16). The builders are the Apostles. Let every man take heed how he builds. Hence, that rock, which they rejected, meaning which they cast away, the same is become, meaning is constituted, the head of the corner, meaning the head of the Jews and the Gentiles. Hence, He was made the head of the Church. But they could say: He made Himself the head; for that reason, He says: By the Lord this has been done. “The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength” (Ps. 117:16). And what sort of exaltation is this? And it is wonderful in our eyes; “Behold ye among the nations, and see: wonder, and be astonished: for a work is done in your days, which no man will believe when it shall be told” (Hab. 1:5). Their dignity was so great that it could only have been produced through the grace of God. “By grace you are saved through Christ” (Eph. 2:8). Afterwards, He expounds the passage; and He makes two conclusions. Firstly, He expounds what was said in the parable; and secondly, He expounds what was said in the passage. It is said, therefore, Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, meaning Sacred Scripture, because you will lose the understanding of Sacred Scripture. “He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart and be converted: and I should heal them” (Jn. 12:40). Or, you will lose your authority over the Church of the faithful, because their glory has been transferred to others. And shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof. “Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles. Behold thou shalt call a nation, which thou knewest not: and the nations that knew not thee shall run to thee” (Is. 55:4–5). But how shall it be given to them? Above, it was said that He let it out, here, however, that it is given: because when it does not yield fruit, it is said to be let out, or rented; but when it is given, then it bears fruit. He indicates a twofold punishment, And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken. It is expounded, according to Jerome, as follows: He falls upon a rock, meaning Christ, who holds the faith from Him, that is to say, from Christ, but falls by sin because he acts against Him. The reason why sinners fall is because they do not have charity. But on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. Christ, however, falls upon unbelievers. There is this difference, namely, that when a vessel falls upon a rock, the vessel is not broken because of the rock, but because of the way that it fell, inasmuch as it fell from a greater height; but when a rock falls upon a vessel, it breaks it according to the weight of the rock. So a man, when he falls upon a rock, which is Christ, then he is broken according to the greatness of the sin; but when he becomes an unbeliever, he is completely crushed. Or someone falls upon a rock when he perishes by his own free choice; but then a rock, in fact, falls upon him, when Christ punishes him, and then the whole man is crushed. “I shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind” (Ps. 17:43). The time of wickedness follows, And seeking to lay hands on him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him as a prophet. And the meaning of these words is clear.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthewavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 21:42–46). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Thomas Aquinas. (2012). Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew. (P. M. Kimball, Trans.) (pp. 696–706). Dolorosa Press.

St Thomas Aquinas on Knowing God

We hope you have enjoyed our introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas throughout January’s Verbum Monthly Sale!

Let’s close with a few of Aquinas’ thoughts on knowing God, from the beginning of his masterpiece, Summa contra Gentiles:

That certain divine truths wholly surpass the capability of human reason, is most clearly evident. For since the principle of all the knowledge which the reason acquires about a thing, is the understanding of that thing’s essence, because according to the Philosopher’s teaching the principle of a demonstration is what a thing is, it follows that our knowledge about a thing will be in proportion to our understanding of its essence. Wherefore, if the human intellect comprehends the essence of a particular thing, for instance a stone or a triangle, no truth about that thing will surpass the capability of human reason.

But this does not happen to us in relation to God, because the human intellect is incapable by its natural power of attaining to the comprehension of His essence: since our intellect’s knowledge, according to the mode of the present life, originates from the senses: so that things which are not objects of sense cannot be comprehended by the human intellect, except in so far as knowledge of them is gathered from [the senses]. Now [things we grasp from the physical senses] cannot lead our intellect to see in them what God is, because they are effects unequal to the power of their cause. And yet our intellect is led by [sense experiences] to the divine knowledge so as to know about God that He is, and other such truths. Accordingly some divine truths are attainable by human reason, while others altogether surpass the power of human reason ( 1, 5).

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Jacobs Ladder by Jacques Stella, 1650.

This is the last day to enjoy these special savings!

 

Celebrate the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas

On the feast day of  St. Thomas Aquinas, we will feature him in his own words! Here is this Sunday’s gospel reading from Mark:

And they went into Caperna-um; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit;  and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee (Mk 1:21-28).

To demonstate the tremendous scope of his erudition, we excerpt the Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels. St. Thomas Aquinas’ masterful treatment of this same passage includes the works of the early church fathers, as well as scripture:

BEDE. (in Marc. i. 7) Since by the envy of the devil death first entered into the world, it was right that the medicine of healing should first work against the author of death; and therefore it is said, And there was in their synagogue a man, &c.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.) The word Spirit is applied to an Angel, the air, the soul, and even the Holy Ghost. Lest therefore by the sameness of the name we should fall into error, he adds, unclean. And he is called unclean on account of his impiousness and far removal from God, and because he employs himself in all unclean and wicked works.

AUGUSTINE. (de Civ. Dei, ix. 21) Moreover, how great is the power which the lowliness of God, appearing in the form of a servant, has over the pride of devils, the devils themselves know so well, that they express it to the same Lord clothed in the weakness of flesh. For there follows, And he cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth, &c. For it is evident in these words that there was in them knowledge, but there was not charity; and the reason was, that they feared their punishment from Him, and loved not the righteousness in Him.

BEDE. (ubi sup.) For the devils, seeing the Lord on the earth, thought that they were immediately to be judged.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.) Or else the devil so speaks, as if he said, ‘by taking away uncleanness, and giving to the souls of men divine knowledge, Thou allowest us no place in men.’

THEOPHYLACT. For to come out of man the devil considers as his own perdition; for devils are ruthless, thinking that they suffer some evil, so long as they are not troubling men. There follows, I know that thou art the Holy One of God.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.) As if he said, Methinks that Thou art come; for he had not a firm and certain knowledge of the coming of God. But he calls Him holy not as one of many, for every prophet was also holy, but he proclaims that He was the One holy; by the article in Greek he shews Him to be the One, but by his fear he shews Him to be Lord of all.

AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) For He was known to them in that degree in which He wished to be known; and He wished as much as was fitting. He was not known to them as to the holy Angels, who enjoy Him by partaking of His eternity according as He is the Word of God; but as He was to be made known in terror, to those beings from whose tyrannical power He was about to free the predestinate. He was known therefore to the devils, not in that He is eternal Life, but by some temporal effects of His Power, which might be more clear to the angelic senses of even bad spirits than to the weakness of men.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.) Further, the Truth did not wish to have the witness of unclean spirits; wherefore there follows, And Jesus threatened him, saying, &c. Whence a healthful precept is given to us; let us not believe devils, howsoever they may proclaim the truth. It goes on, And the unclean spirit tearing him, &c. For, because the man spoke as one in his senses and uttered his words with discretion, lest it should be thought that he put together his words not from the devil but out of his own heart, He permitted the man to be torn by the devil, that He might shew that it was the devil who spoke.

THEOPHYLACT. That they might know, when they saw it, from how great an evil the man was freed, and on account of the miracle might believe.

BEDE. (ubi sup.) But it may appear to be a discrepancy, that he should have gone out of him, tearing him, or, as some copies have it, vexing him, when, according to Luke, he did not hurt him. But Luke himself says, When he had, cast him into the midst, he came out from him, without hurting him. (Luke 4:35) Wherefore it is inferred that Mark meant by vexing or tearing him, what Luke expresses, in the words, When he had cast him into the midst; so that what he goes on to say, And did not hurt him, may be understood to mean, that the tossing of his limbs and vexing, did not weaken him, as devils are wont to come out even with the cutting off and tearing away of limbs. But seeing the power of the miracle, they wonder at the newness of our Lord’s doctrine, and are roused to search into what they had heard by what they had seen. Wherefore there follows, And they all wondered &c. For miracles were done that they might more firmly believe the Gospel of the kingdom of God, which was being preached, since those who were promising heavenly joys to men on earth, were shewing forth heavenly things and divine works even on earth. For before (as the Evangelist says) He was teaching them as one who had power, and now, as the crowd witnesses, with power He commands the evil spirits, and they obey Him. (1 John 5:20. John 17:3) It goes on, And immediately His fame spread abroad, &c.

GLOSS. (non occ.) For those things which men wonder at they soon divulge, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Mat. 12:24)

PSEUDO-JEROME. Moreover, Capernaum is mystically interpreted the town of consolation, and the sabbath as rest. The man with an evil spirit is healed by rest and consolation, that the place and time may agree with his healing. This man with an unclean spirit is the human race, in which uncleanness reigned from Adam to Moses; for they sinned without law, and perished without law. (v. Rom. 5:14. 2:12) And he, knowing the Holy One of God, is ordered to hold his peace, for they knowing God did not glorify him as God, but rather served the creature than the Creator. (1:21.25) The spirit tearing the man came out of him. When salvation is near, temptation is at hand also. Pharaoh, when about to let Israel go, pursues Israel; the devil, when despised, rises up to create scandals.

Be sure to take advantage of all the excellent St. Thomas Aquinas resources as we come to the close of January’s Verbum Monthly Sale!

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Jesus Casting Out Demons, Strasbourg Cathedral

Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part 4

Bloomsbury Studies on Thomas Aquinas is on pre-pub for 18% off!

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In his book, On Aquinas, Herbert McCabe tells the story of a propitious meeting between St. Thomas Aquinas and an Irishman named Peter (Petrus Hibernicus), who introduced St. Thomas to “some bewildering and exciting new thinking that was filtering in from Islamic sources” (1).

McCabe goes on to indicate that discovery of Aristotle’s method from these newly-translated sources was an intellectual turning point for Aquinas:

A whole  lot of texts of Aristotle were beginning to make their way through Naples into Europe, texts that nobody there had seen before.

Aristotle, a student and critical disciple of Plato, and a teacher of Alexander of Macedon, was a marine biologist who not only observed and classified his specimens but used the same methods in all sorts of other areas like physics, astronomy, the study of society, and of what makes human begins tick. He found time to invent logic in the modern sense, and moreover was intensely interested in what we would nowadays call philosophy of science—questions about what it means to pursue such studies, and questions about language itself and so on. Medieval Europe was being quite suddently hit by systematic scientific investigation and thinking. Many of Aristotles’s answers turned out to be wrong, but that didn’t matter. It was the method that mattered. This is what the young Aquinas fell in love with. One outstanding feature of it all was that it seemed completely subversive of Christianity, especially as it came through Christendom’s main enemy, Islam. This didn’t worry the Emperor too much but it must have presented an exciting challenge to Thomas. Anyway he spent much of his life painstakingly showing that if you found Aristotle right, broadly speaking, that didn’t mean you had to stop being a Christian; and indeed it sometimes helped you to express the Gospel (2).

Take advantage of the pre-pub savings for this 13-volume scholarly resource!

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The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas by Benozzo Lozzoli, 1468-1484

Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part 3

The Verbum monthly sale features several valuable resources from St. Thomas Aquinas, leading up to his feast day, January 28th.

Contemporary moral issues are considered by academics and experts in several fields from the Georgetown University Press Aquinas Studies Collection, specially priced through the end of January!

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This 4-volume set has been highly praised. Here’s a review of The Ethics of Aquinas, edited by Stephen J. Pope:

[A] must have for every theology library and an invaluable resource for moral theologians, philosophers, and students alike. Pope has gathered some of the best Thomistic scholars and ethicists in Europe and America to contribute to this book.

Horizons

Included in the set is Aquinas on the Emotions, lauded by Jean Porter,  John A. O’Brien Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Notre Dame:

Diana Cates’ book thus fills a real need, offering us a comprehensive, reliable, and engagingly clear guide to Aquinas’ complex theory, firmly placed within the wider context of his thought. What is more, by comparing Aquinas’ account with that of central contemporary theories of the emotions, she draws Aquinas into our own conversations, where he proves to be a surprisingly illuminating interlocutor. This fine book makes an important contribution both to Aquinas studies and to contemporary religious ethics and moral philosophy, and it deserves, and I expect it to have, wide influence.

Be sure to take advantage of the savings and add to your library now!

Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part 2

The Verbum monthly sale is featuring several works of St Thomas Aquinas.

Here’s an excerpt from Commentary on the Gospel of John: Chapters 1-5, part of the 8-volume set, Thomas Aquinas in Translation.

Get a hint of the capacious and lucid intellect of St. Thomas in his Prologue to the Gospel of John:

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the whole house was full of his majesty, and the things that were under him filled the temple (Is. 6:1)

These are the words of a contemplative, and if we regard them as spoken by John the Evangelist they apply quite well to showing the nature of this Gospel. For as Augustine says in his work, On the Agreement of the Evangelists: “the other  Evangelists instruct us in their Gospels on the active life; but John in his Gospel instructs us also on the contemplative life.”

The contemplation of John is described above in three ways, in keeping with the threefold manner in which he contemplated the Lord Jesus. It is described as high, full, and perfect. It is high: I saw the Lord seated on a lofty throne; it is full: and the whole house was full of his majesty; and it was perfect; and the things that were under him filled the temple.

As to the first, we must understand that the height and sublimity of contemplation consists most of all in the contemplation and Knowledge of God: “Lift up your eyes on  high, and see who has created these things” (Is. 40:26). A man lifts up his eyes on high when he sees and contemplates the Creator of all things. Now since John rose above whatever had been created—mountains, heavens, angels—and reached the Creator of all, as Augustine says, it is clear that his contemplation was most high. Thus, I saw the Lord. And because, as John himself says below (12:41), “Isaiah said this because he had seen his glory,” that is, the glory of Christ, “and spoke of him,” the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne is Christ.

Now a fourfold height is height is indicated in this contemplation of John. A height of authority; hence he says, I saw the Lord. A height of eternity; when he says, seated. One of dignity, or nobility of nature; so he says, on a high throne. And a height of incomprehensible truth; when he says, lofty. It is in these four ways that the early philosophers arrived at the knowledge of God.

 

 

 

Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas During the Month of January

The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas is January 28th, and Verbum is celebrating with sales on Aquinas texts and scholarship in the Verbum Monthly Sale.

Here’s an excerpt from British Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols’ Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to His Life, Work, and Influence:

Aristotle had asked, fundamentally, two questions. What is reality like, and what are the rules of argument which get us from one conclusion about it to another? The first kind of question is answered in his Physics, Metaphysics and Ethics; the second in his logical writings, the Organon, a name we can paraphrase as ‘the philosopher’s tools of trade’. The latter had been percolating through, in dribs and drabs, for some time, but a logical rule is empty unless you have some content for it to deal with, and it was the philosophical and ethical writings that caused the stir. In them, the different kinds of things in the world around us, including man, are analysed in terms of general principles of being and action which all beings in different ways exemplify; happiness is said to be the goal of specifically human life; it is reached by the exercise of virtues which are ways of being at harmony with myself and my human environment. There is little in Aristotle about the divine, for the philosopher lacked the concepts both of creation and of the personal nature of God, even if he saw a place for an unmoved Mover to keep the whole cosmic process of coming-to-be and passing-out-of-being in operation.
Thomas’s achievement was to integrate such naturalism into the traditional Christian vision of life which the earlier monastic theologians entertained. In the early Middle Ages theology had been by and large the spiritual theology practised in the monasteries. While issues of logic were beginning to exercise monastic minds (one thinks of St Anselm), and such ruminations on the fundamental grammar of theological discourse were even more at home in cathedral schools, the aim was predominantly (not least in Anselm) the expression of the prayerful orientation of man to God. Preferred theological themes were closely relevant to spiritual living: religious self-knowledge, one’s status as creature and sinner; the grace of Christ and how it heals from sin and raises up to share the life of God; the goal of earthly pilgrimage in the beatific vision, sitting down with the Trinity at the banquet of heaven in the celestial city. Monastic theology, so well described in Dom Jean Leclerq’s The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, included, as that title tells us, ardour for erudition. The same monastic milieux transmitted, after all, much of the pagan classical inheritance as well as the Church Fathers. It was Thomas’s conviction, evidently, that this programme could be taken much further. The naturalism of the pagans at their best—the thinking, both theoretical and practical, of the ‘good pagans’—could be textured into the fabric of Christian theology, without losing—and here is the point that Thomas’s more rationalist disciples in later centuries were in danger of forgetting—the spiritual and eschatological (in a word, the heavenly) orientation of theology itself (14-15).

Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francis de Zurburan, 1631.

Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francis de Zurburan, 1631.

 

Interview with Dr. Peter Kreeft, Part 1

Verbum interviewed Dr. Peter Kreeft, Catholic convert, author, professor, and apologist. We are pleased to offer 27 volumes of Kreeft’s work,  the Peter Kreeft Bundle, including 3 separate collections, featured on Verbum’s Monthly Sale through the end of September.

Q. What role do you see philosophy playing in the work of the New Evangelization?

A. The role of professional philosophy has steadily decreased in Western culture for the last half a century at least. I think philosophy will have little or no role to play in “the New Evangelization” because professional philosophy has become a victim of its own technological sophistication and it has abandoned even the attempt to communicate to ordinary people as distinct from scholars. What we could call amateur philosophy, however, will have a crucial role, because it is universal and necessary and distinctively human. “Amateur” literally means “lover.” Real philosophy, then, is an “amateur” affair because that is what philosophy is and means, according to its inventors: “the love of wisdom”; not the cultivation of cleverness.

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Philosophy asks fundamental questions like “Why?” and “What?” If we do not ask why we are doing evangelization, and why it must be new, and what the New Evangelization essentially is, we will be muddle-headed in our actions as well as our thought.

Q.  You have written extensively on the philosophy and theology of St Thomas Aquinas in A Shorter Summa and A Summa of the Summa. In your experience as a teacher, how would you suggest getting young people excited about the Angelic Doctor?

A. Getting anyone excited about Aquinas is mainly a matter of exposure. His clarity and commonsense and intelligence all sell themselves and don’t need salesmen. There is no need to package him for youth, or for moderns, or for any other subclass of human beings. You don’t even need to translate him into modern language. Once you understand the meanings of a few basic technical philosophical terms like “form” and “matter” and “efficient cause” and “final cause,” you see that Aquinas is very simple and clear.

Q. Among the works which are part of this Verbum collection, are there one or two that you really enjoyed writing? Was there one which was particularly difficult to write?

A. I enjoyed writing all my books; none were just duties. But I especially enjoy writing dialogues. An article in Aquinas’ Summa is really a dialogue, though in condensed form, a dramatic conflict between two ideas, Yes or No, with one winning and refuting the other. Of all the dialogues I’ve written, I suppose A Refutation of Moral Relativism is the most important culturally now and for the New Evangelization. As recent popes have told us, Western culture is dying because of this cancer (moral relativism) above all others. That’s the abstract and general way of putting it; the more concrete and personal way of putting the same point is Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s point in his great 1978 Harvard commencement address, “We have forgotten God.”

3 important topics discussed by St. Thomas

the-triumph-of-st-thomas-aquinas-1484Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant Doctor of the Church who gave us such great works as the Summa TheologicaSumma Contra Gentiles, and over 60 other texts that have deeply impacted the course of theology throughout history. Here are three topics that St. Thomas Aquinas talked about that are especially relevant today:

1) Atheism

In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas begins by providing his famous Quinque viæ—or five ways—a set of five arguments to prove from reason that God indeed exists. Aquinas first admits “that God exists is not self-evident,” but goes on to list ways in which God’s existence can be logically demonstrated:

1)   The argument from motion

2)   The argument from causation

3)   The argument from contingency

4)   The argument from excellence

5)   The argument from harmony

Aquinas teaches us how to better engage in the most important questions through implementing reason

2) Theology

St. Thomas understood theology as a science. In his Summa Theologica, on the question of Sacred Doctrine, Thomas sets out to prove that though reason provides us with knowledge, Revelation is primarily necessary for salvation. After revelation is received, man can proceed to explain them it and draw conclusions—this is the science of theology. St. Thomas understood it as a science because the conclusions that flow forth from theology begin with certain revealed principlesAquinas reminds us of the importance of not just listening to revelation, but understanding it, which is precisely what he his works help us with.

3) Scripture 

Aquinas understood the Scripture as having several senses: it is not just historical (excluding the allegorical) or literal (excluding the tropological, moral, and anagogical), it takes on different meaning depending on context. Aquinas says, “The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify his meaning, not by words only . . . but also by things themselves . . . [therefore] it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii) if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Write should have several senses.” Aquinas’ exposition of the Scriptures in all his works maintains not just a high regard for the authority of Scripture, but also a deep understanding of the Scriptures, one that helps us read and study today.

In Verbum, you can study the great writings of Thomas Aquinas like never before. With an integrated library of texts that reference both the Angelic doctor’s citations and other texts that reference Aquinas, you can read St. Thomas in very same context he was thinking in.

Verbum is also working on translating never-before-translated Aquinian works that you can help put into production.

Take some time in honor St. Thomas’s feast day to read and study this great theologian and Doctor of the Church.

Pascal And Passion: Using Verbum’s Search Tool

Today I was reading through Pascal’s Pensées and came across this point in his argument:

280: The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him.

Leading up to this thought, Pascal had quoted one M. de Roannez saying, “Reasons come to me afterwards, but at first a thing pleases or shocks me without my knowing the reason…” And also: “It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by reason.”

Besides this all seeming a little ironic coming from one of history’s greatest mathematicians and philosophers, I wonder whether or not the tradition of the Church would agree with Pascal’s assertion here. Is it true that reason plays so little a role in our love of God? And what exactly does Pascal mean when he says, “the knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him”? Does he mean to say that one can love God without knowing Him, or simply that knowledge and love are two distinct things (which seems too obvious.)

Let’s take a look in our Verbum library and see what we can find.

The first thing I want to do is pull up a search. Now, to begin I’d like to find instances of when the words “love of God” and “knowledge of God” are used anywhere in our library. I might start by opening two instances of the search panel and typing in “love of God” in one and “knowledge of God” in the other, but when I do this I find that I get thousands of results in each window:

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There’s way too much info here to sift through (although I do see a few interesting hits in the Summa I might want to check back on later.) Let’s narrow this down by opening up a new search window and searching for “love of God” and “knowledge of God” on the same line:

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OK —782 results is a lot better than the 7000+ we were looking at before. But we can do better. If I type in “NEAR” between these two phrases, we’ll find every time in our library that the phrase “love of God” is close to “knowledge of God”:

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30 results? Much better. If we sort our results by “Ranked” we can see the most relevant results first and simply move down the list. This first result here is from A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (you can click on this link to open it up in your Verbum desktop). It reads: “True and solid knowledge of God is not just theoretical but practical. True knowledge of God leads to love of God, which manifests itself in a constant effort to carry out the divine will expressed in the commandments. Christ must serve him as Model in this respect.”

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I think this is a good response to Pascal’s quote earlier, but let’s see if we can find any more primary sources in the Tradition.

In The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, we read St. John’s 94th Maxim:

“The perfect love of God cannot subsist without the knowledge of God and of self.”

Here John lays out the idea that in order to have a perfect love of God, we must have knowledge so that our love can persist and flourish. St. John also ads that we need a knowledge of our selves—but that may be beside the point right now. Let’s look further.

The last two results are from Saint Thomas’ Summa. Let’s take a look at the first result from P1, q.82, article 3:

“…Wherefore the love of God is better than the knowledge of God; but, on the contrary, the knowledge of corporeal things is better than the love thereof.”

The second result comes from Part II-II, q.27, article 4:

“Since to love God is something greater than to know Him, especially in this state of life, it follows that love of God presupposes knowledge of God. And because this knowledge does not rest in creatures, but, through them, tends to something else, love begins there, and thence goes on to other things by a circular movement so to speak; for knowledge begins from creatures, tends to God, and love begins with God as the last end, and passes on to creatures.”

And just above, Aquinas states:

“Knowledge of God, through being mediate, is said to be enigmatic, and falls away in heaven, as sated in 1 Cor. 13:12. But charity does not fall away as stated in the same passage…”

So it appears here that Aquinas ranks the love of God above the knowledge of God, both in terms of greatness and priority. Notice that Aquinas’s statement does not contradict St. John’s: St. John states that the love of God cannot subsist without the knowledge of God, but not that the love of God cannot begin without knowledge.

Finally, let’s go back to the search results pulled up with the phrase “love of God” only. If we scroll down a little in results listed in the Summa, there’s one heading that stuck out to me. It’s Pt I-II, q.27, article 2: “Whether Knowledge is a Cause of Love?”

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Aquinas states clearly that, “Augustine proves (De Trin, x. 1,2) that none can love what he does not know. Clicking on the link to De Trin we see Augustine writes:

“No studious person, then… loves things he does not know, even while he is urgent with the most vehement desire to know what he does not know.”

Does this contradict what Aquinas has previously said about the primacy of love over knowledge? No. In fact, Augustine here is just stating the obvious: You can’t be disposed towards something—one way or the other—if you don’t know of its existence (or any of its attributes.) Augustine (and subsequently Aquinas) isn’t claiming that reason is what allows us to experience God, only that in order to love Him we must know Him at some level.

In the final analysis, what we find is that Pascal’s thoughts aren’t incompatible with Tradition. Though Pascal’s words seem, at first blush, to encourage a kind of sensory or emotionalist approach to God, we see that his carefully worded argument is making a much more nuanced claim: That the desire for the knowledge of God is just that: a passion. God has revealed Himself to us, but we must have ears to listen and hearts to believe if we are to know and love Him.

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