I came across these four words earlier this week and was hard pressed to look up their meaning (unfortunately, my latin high school education was sub-par). These words were uttered by the Angelic Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, back in the mid 13th Century. St. Thomas, also known as the “Dumb Ox”, is revered by the Catholic Church as the greatest theologian the Church has ever known. St. Thomas exemplifies the proper marriage of faith and reason throughout his many works, including most notably, his Summa Theologiae. He is also known for his 5 proofs for the existence of God, and for adopting the ancient Greek philosophy of Aristotle to become the most widely recognized philosophical method of the Church. Because of the importance of his works, the Code of Canon Law points to Aquinas as the primary teacher of “dogmatic theology” within priestly formation.
Ultimately, those who study Aquinas in the academic setting seek to learn the how, i.e. how to think and properly form the intellect. However, the ethics that St. Thomas promoted concerns both the how and the what in which we are ultimately in pursuit. There is a lot to be learned from the writings of St. Thomas, and I for one know that if I can just but scratch the surface of his works, there will be a lot of riches to uncover. But I think the most profound truth that origins from this accomplished Doctor of the Church cannot be found in his writings (ironically so, considering his nickname, the “Dumb Ox” was given to him due to his large stature and quiet nature).
Toward the end of his life, it is told that St. Thomas had a miraculous vision of Christ on the Cross while deep in pray. Before him, St. Thomas saw all of his works he had written during his life. Referencing all that Thomas had done to grow the theological and philosophical riches of His Church, Christ addressed him saying, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward will you have?”
To which, St. Thomas humbly replied: “Non Nisi Te, Domine” (“None other than you, Lord”).
There are many gifts we have all been given in our lives, but I find very few comparable and as extensive as that of St. Thomas’. Such an intellectual ascendancy and ensuing influence within the Church could have easily led St. Thomas to have praised that gift for what it’s worth. But remember, Aquinas not only tells us the how (means), he also demonstrates to us the what (end). The gifts, accomplishments, talents, social status, interpersonal prowness, etc., are all but tools that we have been given to offer God all rightly deserved glory. But they are only that- tools that can just as well be taken away. I think there are times when God allows these gifts to be taken away from us so He can ask a similar question of us. What God wants of us, and what He will ultimately asks of all his saints is if we ultimately desire Him above all else. There is no greater good or higher end than to desire just that. As St. Thomas saw, everything else is but straw in comparison.
So later on this week, when you have a few moments of quite time to reflect, ask yourself this question: We have all been given tremendous gifts, some greater than others. But when we ultimately get down to the core- to the heart of the matter- what is it we really desire? If we are striving to properly use our gifts and talents, great or small, in the service of the Church, what reward would we ask for? I hope and pray we all can answer the same way, as St. Thomas did: “Non Nisi Te, Domine.”