ST. THOMAS AQUINAS ON THE EUCHARIST

Material food first changes into the one who eats it, and then, as a consequence, restores to him lost strength and increases his vitality. Spiritual food, on the other hand, changes the person who eats it into itself. Thus the effect proper to this Sacrament is the conversion of a man into Christ, so that he may no longer live, but Christ lives in him; consequently, it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual strength he had lost by his sins and defects, and of increasing the strength of his virtues.” St. Thomas, Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences, d.12, q.2, a.11

A few passages from St. Thomas’s greatest work, the Summa Theologiae, Part III

Q. 74, Art 1. “Bread and wine are the proper matter of this sacrament. And the reasonableness of this is seen, first, in the use of this sacrament, which is eating: for, as water is used in the sacrament of Baptism for the purpose of spiritual cleansing, since bodily cleansing is commonly done with water; so bread and wine, wherewith men are commonly fed, are employed in this sacrament for the use of spiritual eating.”

Q. 75, Art 2, ad 3. “Christ’s body is not in this sacrament in the same way as a body is in a place, which by its dimensions is commensurate with the place; but in a special manner which is proper to this sacrament. Hence we say that Christ’s body is upon many altars, not as in different places, but sacramentally: and thereby we do not understand that Christ is there only as in a sign, although a sacrament is a kind of sign; but that Christ’s body is here after a fashion proper to this sacrament.”

Q. 75, Art. 4. “Yet this change is not like natural changes, but is entirely supernatural, and effected by God’s power alone. . . . Hence this is not a formal, but a substantial conversion: nor is it a kind of natural movement: but, with a name of its own, it can be called transubstantiation.”

Q. 75, Art. 5. “It is evident to sense that all the accidents of the bread and wine remain after the consecration. And this is reasonably done by Divine providence. First of all, because it is not customary, but horrible, for men to eat human flesh, and to drink blood. And therefore Christ’s flesh and blood are set before us to be partaken of under the species of those things which are the more commonly used by men, namely, bread and wine.”

Q. 76, Art. 1. (Whether the Whole Christ is Contained under This Sacrament?) Objection #2 says “Only the flesh and blood of Christ are contained in this sacrament. But there are many other parts of Christ’s body, for instance, the nerves, bones, and such like.” Thomas’ response: “It is absolutely necessary to confess according to Catholic faith that the entire Christ is in this sacrament.”

Tags:
Thomas Aquinas, St.

In the middle of the thirteenth century, a noble family named Aquinas from Southern Italy had a plan for their son. Thomas had been born in 1225 (in the lifetime of St. Francis of Assisi) and had received his initial education from the Benedictines at the historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, founded by St. Benedict himself. His parents knew he was religiously inclined, so his father planned to pull a few strings and get Thomas appointed Abbot of Monte Cassino, a position with power and prestige befitting the son of the Count of Aquinas.

But before taking such a step, the Count sent him to the newly founded University of Naples to get some further education. While there, Thomas was inspired by the members of a new, unconventional religious order called the Dominicans or Order of Preachers. Over the protests of his parents, Thomas, joined this new group. The young friar grew rapidly in holiness and knowledge of the things of God. It helped, of course, that he had St. Albert the Great as one of his principal teachers. Ultimately, Thomas Aquinas was appointed professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Paris where he taught alongside a Franciscan professor named Bonaventure.

Though not sufficiently appreciated until the Council of Trent three hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas, who died in 1274, ultimately came to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church and as indeed one of the greatest Catholic teachers of all time. He wrote commentaries on various books of the bible as well as the multi-volume apologetics work “Summa Contra Gentiles.” Yet St. Thomas was first and foremost a man of prayer, a true disciple of Jesus and Jesus’ disciple Dominic. His study flowed from his prayer and his profound holiness made it possible for him to discern the wheat from the chaff in the intellectual currents of his day, and integrate that wheat into the established fare of the Catholic Tradition. His most notable achievement along these lines was to show how many of the ideas of the pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle, could be utilized with great benefit in Catholic theology, an idea that was quite controversial in his day.

St. Thomas’ greatest theological work, the Summa Theologiae is, though unfinished, nevertheless a masterpiece of theology that covers all aspects of Catholic doctrine from the Trinity to Morality.

 

St. Thomas died in 1274 (the same year as his Franciscan Colleague, St. Bonaventure) while on his way to participate in the Ecumenical Council of Lyons. As early as 1277, his work was attacked by a number of Catholic theological faculties and remained under a cloud until the time of Council of Trent some 300 years later. Pope Leo XIII, in the late 19th century, recognized that the achievement of St. Thomas in the area of truly Christian philosophy and theology had to be emulated in the modern era if the Church was ever to meet the challenge posed by atheism and secularism.