Thich Nhat Hanh—“Greater than a Miracle” ~~ Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas, prophetic theologian who dared to step beyond the dualisms of Plato and the Neo-platonists and who dedicated his life to bringing science into religion, had something to say that is thoroughly applicable to Thich Nhat Hanh’s exemplary life. 

“The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas” showing Saint Thomas Aquinas between Aristotle and Plato. Painting by Benozzo Gozzoli on Wikimedia Commons.

He said, “It is a great thing to do miracles, but it is a greater thing to live virtuously.”  According to Aquinas, living virtuously is more marvelous than miracles!

Aquinas does not overindulge in commentaries on the commandments, nor in threats and fear as a motivation for healthy actions. Instead, he develops a lengthy discussion on the Beatitudes, which he says “contain the whole process of forming the life of a Christian.” There “the whole perfection of our life is contained.”

Instead of proposing a “rule book” to follow, Aquinas follows the teachings of a “pagan” in his commentaries on Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics. This is significant for our times, for it demonstrates Aquinas’s Deep Ecumenism—that as human beings we all struggle with living lives of integrity, and we can learn from one another. No single tradition or lineage holds all the answers to life’s ethical dilemmas. We can and must listen to one another, and sometimes even reach back into our histories to discover wisdom.  Thich Nhat Hanh’s life and teachings offer holy pathways.

Following Aristotle, Aquinas chooses to build his ethics not on shoulds and don’ts, but on virtues, which he defines as powers. “Human virtue is a participation in Divine power,” he declares.  

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches a young girl how to transform anger into compassion during a retreat at
Plum Village, January 2015.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s gifts were a participation in Divine power therefore.  He, like Aquinas, celebrates our capacity for prudence and wisdom, justice and love, courage and fortitude, and—what is Aquinas’s favorite virtue—magnanimity.  Both recognize the healthy masculine to be found in virtue, where manhood and virility find their true home. 

TNH, being a man of virtue, was therefore a carrier of the sacred masculine.  That he made enemies of bullies should come as no surprise.

By inviting us to develop our inner selves, Aquinas teaches that virtue is a lifelong effort. Rightly therefore can we conclude that Thich Nhat Hanh’s life and work was a marvel or miracle and “greater than a miracle.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 97f.  

And from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 326, 502, 350.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: People’s Climate March 2017 in Washington DC. Ordained members of the Earth Holder Sangha wearing brown robes carry banner and a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, and practice mindful walking. Photo by Dcpeopleandeventsof2017 on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

How do Aquinas’s teachings and Thich Nhat Hanh’s bring the wonder and miraculous and more-than-miraculous alive in you?

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

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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11 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh—“Greater than a Miracle” ~~ Thomas Aquinas”

  1. Avatar

    In today’s DM, Mathew speaks of the virtues being divine power… the right use of power being practiced. I would add that this is based on a conscious choice, not a feeling. We misunderstand this, because the energy of our inner emotions are often in conflict, creating a tension in relationship with the virtues. For example, someone does or says something that hurts, that wounds, and we feel the emotional energy of this… we often then react from this energy in the moment… even when we know there is another option, another choice available of response… that of understanding, compassion and forgiveness. We struggle and wrestle with the inner conflict, the tension between what we feel and what we know. The virtues within this inner battle, appear to be in these moments powerless in relationship to the injustice suffered and the pain this has caused. We want to lash out, to protect, to defend, to retaliate, to fight against what we feel, what we are experiencing, what we have encountered. We do not feel the power of the virtues, therefore we do not often choose these options of response. We often fail to understand how all these feelings, all this inner conflict and tension, that we are wrestling and struggling with… is simply energy in motion that will eventually pass, like clouds floating in the sky, through the practice of breathing… taking space… an entering into the process and practice of discernment, which then leads to the clarity of other options, other choices of response that can be made… those of the virtues.

    The right use of power to me, is not in the reactive feelings nor the responsive virtues, but rather is discovered and awakened to, in and through the process of discernment and act of choosing itself. Our choice either leads to human reaction or divine response, death or life. Often we do not choose wisely. We underestimate, devalue, misunderstand, disrespect, and often misuse the responsibility and accountability to the whole… our being and living in right relationship with the all and the everything of creation, that comes with this co-creative power… the gift of free will choice given us all.

    It is this co-creative power that we must awaken more consciously to, within the practice and process of our discernment and the act of choosing itself, in a more responsible, accountable and mature manner.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I agree acting on virtues may not come natural–that is, as our first response, and in those cases we must “fake it till we make it”–but I would rather learn and practice as a way of life, where being virtuous comes natural…

  2. Avatar

    With regards to my earlier comment, this is what St. IGNATIUS taught within the Christian faith and what the Indigenious people’s lived within their spiritual traditions… being mindful of the power of their choices, and the practice and process of discerning this in relationship to the next seven generations.

  3. Avatar

    This is a new look at Thomas.
    I saw him as. Thomas the Theologian. It is difficult for me to see him as Thomas the virtuous. I suppose this shows that what I learned in the 50’s is difficult to augment with Mathew’s presentation of Thomas. I will give it another try.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Donald, I have had to do the same myself. But staying open, and considering all that Matthew has written on Aquinas, I have found him to be more of a mystic than I would have ever thought…

      1. Avatar

        Speaking of mystics…Matthew opens today’s message about Aquinas as going “beyond the dualisms of Plato and the Neoplatonists,” but the Neoplatonists, and particularly Plotinus, created a mystical philosophical belief system that necessarily USED dualistic concepts to convey and facilitate a paradigm shift of consciousness and, ideallly, lifestyle, from duality to non-duality, and from selfishness to virtue, allowing people to live closer to “higher levels” or “truer degrees” of awareness. Their core belief was that there was a highest level, a single ultimate source of all Goodness, “the One” or “Being,” which was a radical, total non-duality, i.e., God. They spoke of ordinary, dualistic, selfish awareness as “false,” and the ultimate non-dualistic “Being” as “the Real” or Truth. Any “duality” perceived in their teachings contradicts their intent.

        1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
          Richard Reich-Kuykendall

          Melinda, There are a number of reasons that Matthew does not care for his philosophy–one of them being his dualistic approach. But another reason is his adherence to the “Three Paths” to union with God through: purgation, illumination, and only then to union. Matthew feels, and I totally agree with him, that the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality is a far more realistic approach in light of the cycle our lives go through in life. And with a panentheistic God–meaning God is in us, and we are in God–we are never not at union with God, though we may not always be conscious of it. So our spiritual practices are meant to help us remember our union with God, and become aware of it again…

  4. Avatar
    Here is a link to join Plum Village and the worldwide community today on the Feast of Thomas Aquinas for the Final Ceremony-Funeral and Cremation of Thich Nhat Hanh.
    Final Ceremony – Funeral and Cremation – Live from Huế, Vietnam
    15:00 – Friday 28 (US PST / California, USA)
    18:00 – Friday 28 (US EST / New York, USA)
    00:00 – Saturday 29 (CET / Paris, France)
    06:00 – Saturday 29 (GMT+7 / Vietnam)

    Ellen Kennedy, DM Team

  5. Avatar

    Mitakuye oyasin, hozho naasha doo, beannacht. }:- a.m.

    Translation: All are my relatives (Lakota), therefore I will walk in harmony and beauty (Navajo/Diné), blessed to be blessing (Irish Gaelic).

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