One person I deeply admire for his spiritual leadership—and qualities of courage and trust that we indicated yesterday are necessary for it—is St. Thomas Aquinas. 

Detail of Trionfo di San Tommaso d’Aquino by Francisco de Zurbarán. On Wikimedia Commons.

Though I have been studying his work since I was fifteen years old–and was marinated in many of his writings through my years of study as a Dominican—it is only recently that I have awakened to how brave he was, how magnanimous and courageous. 

Indeed, he stood up to and digressed from the entire patristic tradition so grounded in Platonism and Neo-platonism’s dualism that it was.  In this sense, in his insistence on Aristotle over Plato (because Aristotle “does not denigrate matter” as he put it) Aquinas was truly committed to a non-dualistic view of the world.  This renders him a feminist or at least a proto-feminist since, as feminist theologian Rosemary Ruether puts it, the heart of feminist philosophy is non-dualism.

The issue of dualism vs. non-dualism was so significant an issue in Aquinas’s day that this was the number one charge against him when three bishops, following his death, condemned his teaching of the “consubstantiality of body and soul,” that is to say, matter and spirit. 

Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

In contrast to Augustine’s definition of spirit as “whatever is not matter,” Aquinas defines spirit as “the elan (vitality) in everything”—from a blade of grass to a tree, from a horse to a galaxy, from music to poetry to love-making. 

And he declares: “We ought to cherish the body [and] celebrate the wonderful communion of body and soul.”

Spirit is everywhere—and especially in our creativity where the “same Spirit who hovered over the waters [we would say the fireball] at the beginning of creation hovers over the mind of the artist at work.” 

Spirit is alive and well in human creativity.  How important it is that we use it for good and in defense of Mother Earth, not in the killing of Earth.

Aquinas, who wrote twelve books commenting on the works of Aristotle—and not a single book on Plato (or Augustine), would have been ecstatic about the new discoveries of science for he insisted: “The most excellent thing in the universe is not the human but the universe itself.” 

“A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?’ …’Do the stars gaze back?” Now, that’s a question.'” Photo by Keenan Barber on Unsplash

Here we see his sense of pre-modern and indeed indigenous consciousness: That we belong to the whole and we derive our reality from it.  Or as he put it, “the greatest thing about the human person is this: That we are capable of the universe.”  Little did he—or anyone in the last 8 centuries—know how vast and amazing the universe is since it was only two summers ago that we learned it was two trillion (!) galaxies big, each with hundreds of billions of stars. 

But he did know—and the modern era in its narcissism forgot this—that we belong to it; and not it to us.  The same is true of the Earth.

Adapted from: Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. xxxiff.

Banner Image: Sunrise Over a Calm Sea. Photo by David Emrich on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Are you on a quest for non-dualism as Aquinas was?  Is that not the meaning of becoming a mystic, overcoming the dualism between God and us…and between the rest of nature and us? (Cf. Meister Eckhart: “In breakthrough I learn that God and I are one.”)

Recommended Reading

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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10 thoughts on “The Spiritual Leadership of Thomas Aquinas”

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Ron,
      I am sorry that you are having trouble playing the video. If you are clicking on it in your email, the video may not play. On my touch screen, a finger poke takes me to the Daily Meditation website. At the top of each meditation is a link to the Daily Meditations website (always a good idea to do). Click on that and you will find everything you need there. Another possibility is to go to YouTUBE and search for Matthew Fox and the title of this meditation and it will pop tight up, along with many others.
      I hope this will work for you.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  1. Avatar

    Thank you so much for your life giving work. Your books, and (recently your email meditations) have brought me hope and helped me become more curious about the history of my faith and my place/ vocation in this world. Blessings.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Dale,
      Thank you for writing to us and letting us know that Creation Spirituality and Matthew’s work has made such a difference in your life. It is a time of seeking a new human vocation for this world, one that is in sacred communion with the spirituality of creation. ANd now you are a part of that.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    Once on a retreat in Gloucester MA, I was full of confusion , went outside towards the beautiful rocks overlooking the Atlantic, and yelled: “Lord, give me a word!” And they came very loud and clear: “YOU AND I ARE ONE!!” I was scared out of my mind, and ran way from that place. Years later, out of the convent, out of the blue, these words came: “The Father and I are One!” And I resisted: “This is blasphemy! It’s OK for Jesus to say these words, but ME???” But I was filled with such profound peace and joy for a few days, that I had to accept them. Again, a year or so later, these same words came to me. This time I was able to accept them right away, and the same peace and joy filled me. But I always wondered: “How do I really practice these words; what does it mean to be One with the Father?” A few days ago, for the first time I got an inkling : Every cell of my body, every part of me is filled with Father- Mother- God! In other words, I am full of God!! Amen, Hallelujah!! My God! I’m finally GETTING IT!!

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Vivian,
      Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Three times you’ve heard God tell you that you and God are one. What a gift to be sought out so persistently and to hear those words so clearly. Some of us have to come to this realization by less obvious means. This must be knowledge you were given to hold and to share. Thank you for sharing it with us.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      FOr the Daily Meditation Team

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    EVERYTHING is Energy! “Axon for axon we are strung, we are a kind of neurological guitar a star has strummed to music”. (poet Amit Majmudar)

  4. Avatar

    A new article of mine titled “Who is Americas God.” It is located at At the end of the article I have a couple
    of footnotes that I think are relevant to the above meditation. They read:

    The United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church are, jointly, working together to solve the current global ecological crisis, by actively engaging in dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and the people of Eastern religions, who both have a religious belief in Mother Earth and a related ecological spirituality-that the UN and Catholic Church believe could save the Earth’s endangered life supporting ecosystem. And do so, if the Church were to come to believe in the existence of Mother Earth (meaning the Earth, Sky and entire Universe), who is another God-in respect to its manifestation as light and divine consciousness, which would enable the Church to have a God immanent relationship with Mother Earth, along with its God Most High relationship with the transcendent Father-who is above and beyond the creation, and immanently in creation. If this were to occur, the Catholic Church would become a polytheistic church, and its influence on Americans could cause America’s monotheistic bigotry to come to an end.

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider is a leading critic of Pope Francis and the direction that the October 2019 Amazon Synod and its follow-up papal documents are taking the Church. In an analysis of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, an exhortation on the Amazon Synod, Schneider identifies its “implicit endorsement of a pantheistic and pagan spirituality,” its assertion that Christians may “take up an indigenous symbol [a statue of Pachamama (Mother Earth/God)] in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry” (n. 79),…” Meaning, Catholics can now believe in, and worship, God the Father and Mother Earth/God (not the material universe, but its manifestation as light and divine consciousness) without committing idolatry.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Thomas,
      Congratulations on your article and your informative footnotes. It is obvious that you have responded to your call and have responded with study and leadership in matters for which you have been given ability to lead. Your occasional comments in response to these meditations, point to your courage to push the theological envelope and share what you find. In this way, you open up the discourse for all of us.

      In the conversation on pantheism, polytheism, does it not seem to you that the arena is much too small and the religious leaders much too certain? These definitions of God are all extended from the human experience on this singular planet – as if God did not know Itself or how It went about Its business before the evolution of human beings. We westerners are wise to listen to eastern and indigenous spiritual traditions, for we are full of our own right answers and myopic moralisms.

      By the way, pantheism is not a principle of Creation Spirituality. Creation Spirituality speaks of panentheism. Instead of “all creation is God and Gos all creation.” we say “God is in all creation and all creation is in God.” The “en” is just one little syllable, but it makes a huge difference. In that syllable is the ability to have relationship between creature and Creator, for falling away and returning. It allows various creatures and creations to hold their particular form and nature while still being connected to the rest of the Cosmos.. It names the duality in the oneness – something I hope this UN project can also embrace.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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