Homeschooling parents learn all sorts of things. This is today’s interesting tidbit. I’ll comment on it below after sharing the basic story here:
Thomas Aquinas, was born to an Italian aristocratic family, and sent to a Benedictine monastery. Smart, and with the right connections, he was expected to go far in the church. However, the Pope and the Emperor were feuding and the monastery closed as a result. So Thomas headed off to university, which was as open and exciting a place as the monastery was closed and dull.
Scholars there were translating ancient Greek scientific works which had been languishing only in Arabic for a 1000 years. These works had been unread by Europeans in all that intervening time, because their Greek editions had burned in the library at Alexandria. These authors were stimulating and invigorating in a way unprecedented during the Dark Ages. Thomas Aquinas started studying these works and was also attracted to a new democratic order of monks: the Dominicans who took a vow of poverty, had a mission of usefulness, and had to beg to exist.
Thomas Aquinas’ ambitious mother was horrified. Begging for food and reading works in Arabic? She arranged to have her son kidnapped, and then locked him in the tower of her castle, until he would come to his senses. However, he did not abandon his convictions, and finally, at the age of 20, she released him and let him go back to school.
Thomas Aquinas was fascinated by Aristotle, who did not focus on life in the hereafter, but instead on observation and classification of the here-and-now. Thomas Aquinas was also taking the idea of a round earth seriously. He brought those two forces who have been a 1000 years in conflict – the church and science – into harmony. He thought they are part and parcel of a single truth and shouldn’t be considered rivals. He declared faith and reason compatible, which was (and still is) revolutionary.
For this he was not only sainted, but started the ball of science rolling again after it had idled in inertia for over 1000 years.
First, and foremost, I love the joining of science and faith. I would that more modern people saw the correlations and strong connection between these two important pursuits. Mary Baker Eddy discovered 700 years after Thomas Aquinas that Christianity and Science are inseparable. Although Thomas Aquinas and Mary Baker Eddy paved the way on this issue, there is more reconciling to be done in public thought on this matter!
But, I was also fascinated by the mother in this story. She went to great lengths to manipulate her son to fulfill her own ambitions for him. Ironically, if he had done what she wished, we wouldn’t be reading about him many centuries later. He was successful beyond what she could have imagined. How much better for her to have known that, as Mary Baker Eddy would later say, “Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds.”