Aquinas on “Revelation” from Thich Nhat Hanh & His Teachings

Thomas Aquinas says that “Revelation has been made to many pagans. . . . The old pagan virtues were from God.”  It is clear from this teaching that Aquinas is a Deep Ecumenist, a man of interfaith commitment open to learning how the Spirit works through people of all religions and cultures.  

Preserving pagan knowledge: “On Aristotle’s Physics by Thomas Aquinas. Eight commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics from the most ancient and most trusted hand-written copy with a double translation, ancient and revised at Argyropolis.” 1595 AD, from the Collection Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura. Wikimedia Commons.

Rightly would he declare, were he living in our times, that Thich Nhat Hanh, who brought so much of the Buddhist tradition to the West, was and is a source of revelation to us all.

This includes TNH’s invitation that we overcome our dualisms and recover our mystical tradition so that the “jewels” in Christianity might return.  These jewels have been covered over by many detours of empire building and reductionist education that Thomas Berry calls “academic barbarism” that defines truth as “clear and distinct ideas” and rewards the rational in our head at the expense of our hearts and breath and bodies.  Knowledge, not wisdom.

Words alone are cheap.  Breathing deeply is required also.  Connecting to the heart, not just the eyes.  Meditation, mindfulness, contemplation, art and creativity–accessing the right hemisphere of our brain, not just the verbal hemisphere, is needed. 

Incorporating and honoring our bodies, breathing deeply, not just leading with our heads.  The heart after all resides in the body and disperses its blood and values from that center.  And breath is the same word as “spirit” in many languages (including Biblical ones).

Thich Nhat Hanh offers a dharma talk on the importance of practicing breathing as a foundation of meditation and a way to find clarity in the mind. Video by Sounds True.

The teaching that “the old pagan virtues were from God” is another affirmation of the importance of Deep Ecumenism from Thomas Aquinas.  This means that the virtues Thich Nhat Hanh teaches such as compassion and both inner and outer peace, developing the mystic and prophet within all of us, are “from God.”  Our times of Deep Ecumenism are marvelous and full of grace and can help heal the many troubles of our times, beginning with our inner selves and moving from there to our outer work and citizenship and service.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 71-76. 

And from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, p. 31.

And from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Time, p 35 ff.

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

Banner Image: “Mudra.” Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What does it mean to you to hear that “revelation has been given to many pagans” and that “old pagan virtues are from God” and that Thich Nhat Hanh brought revelations as well as virtues to the West?


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

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality & The Transformation of Christianity

A modern-day theologian’s call for the radical transformation of Christianity that will allow us to move once again from the hollow trappings of organized religion to genuine spirituality. A New Reformation echoes the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in 1517 and offers a new vision of Christianity that values the Earth, honors the feminine, and respects science and deep ecumenism.
“This is a deep and forceful book….With prophetic insight, Matthew Fox reveals what has corrupted religion in the West and the therapy for its healing.” ~Bruce Chilton, author of Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography


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11 thoughts on “Aquinas on “Revelation” from Thich Nhat Hanh & His Teachings”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you ask in our queries for contemplation: “What does it mean to you to hear that ‘revelation has been given to many pagans’ and that ‘old pagan virtues are from God’ and that Thich Nhat Hanh brought revelations as well as virtues to the West?
    First of all I remember studying the Doctrine of Revelation in seminary and learning that according to tradition there are two forms of revelation: Special Revelation (which comes from scripture) and Natural Revelation (what can be known about God in nature). For “pagans” Special Revelation wasn’t possible but Natural Revelation was, and I believe that if there are inborn qualities to human beings, such as a sense of right and wrong, and compassion, then the so-called “pagan” virtues should also be considered as true revelations of God. And as far as Thich Nhat Hanh goes…. God can speak through anyone She wants, so long as their message does not contradict truth which has already been revealed.

  2. Avatar

    The Spirit, Lady Wisdom, moves where and how She wills. She will teach you all things, you need no other. Trust this eternal truth, and you will encounter Her essence and presence, and the gifts of revelations She so freely offers.

    Thank you Mathew, for so beautifully weaving the threads of this reality, through the many mystics, who walked various pathways, which all lead to wholes within wholes… the fountain of fullness. Thank you also for reminding of us the playfulness within contemplation.

    Thank you also for the references on You-tube, of memorials to THN. I found the song tribute with photographs of THN’s life journey, titled “The Rising Sun”, to be quite moving… a reflection of such a beautiful soul.

  3. Avatar

    The Christ of Divine LOVE must be universal else (They/He/She) are not. }:- a.m.

    Hoofnote: This must be certain.

    Hoofnote: And for this many will be called heretic and blasphemer by the religious.

  4. Avatar

    Early Christian theologians were reluctantly forced to concede that pagans had received revelations of Truth because the Gospel of John and other interwoven teachings in the New Testament, by continuing the mystical theology of the Old Testament, incorporated direct expressions of Neoplatonic Truth into their primary conceptions of God that were already circulating in the pagan communities at the time the Gospel was written. Also, the Neoplatonic philosophy/theology was impressively refined by pagan mystics such as Plotinus, whose texts later Christians used as primary sources for their own contemplative instruction and theology. If Christian theologians hadn’t made that concession, the “pagan” scholars would have scornfully (and accurately) accused them of hypocrisy and plagiarizing. Furthermore, there were increasing numbers of famous pagan mystical texts that became widely available for all theologians to examine, so it wasn’t as if they could hide from the facts, at least not back then.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, Thank you for your comments, which by reading them I can see that you are a fan of Plotinus. There are however a few inaccuracies to your arguments. First, your first statement has two problems: first, not all Christians theologians followed Plato and then Plotinus–Christians of the school of Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle rather than Plato or Plotinus–and Aquinas is consider the greatest theologian/philosopher in the Catholic tradition. Secondly, most of the Early Church Fathers saw the similarities between paganism and Christianity; such as the many virgin birth stories and dying and rising saviors such as Mithra, Osiris, Adonis and others as Satanic counterfeits. So Christians didn’t swallow all of what paganism had to offer. It is however true that God still spoke to them through Natural Revelation–in what could be known about God in nature, in human relationships, and in a moral sense of virtue. And as far as the possibility of Christians plagiarizing pagan scholars, if they were not plagiarizing writings, truth of itself cannot be plagiarized for it is available to all who will listen…

  5. Avatar

    It has always amused me a bit that the famous and often quoted words of Paul in Acts 28-17 …”In him we live and move and have our being” are possibly from the 6th century B.C.E. poet and philosopher Epimenides, according to my Harper-Collins Study Bible. Paul is actually using the argument of universality of the search for God in Athens to gather converts. “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” I just wonder why this is omitted or passed over. He concedes that there is a general search for God.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, I’m not sure of what you feel is “omitted or passed over.” You said this is often quoted, and the text itself says Paul was quoting a Greek poet. But yes, he does concede that there is “a general search for God.” This is what is called, “General Revelation,” meaning God’s revelation outside of the scriptures. In Creation Spirituality, this is a foundational text for our view of God, which is called “panentheism”–the idea that we are in God, and God is in us.

  6. Avatar

    When we learn to quiet our mind and be more aware of the inner and outer Presence of God’s Spirit in our daily lives, I interpret being able “to play” as responding and flowing with God’s Loving~Wise~Creative~Joyful~Oneness Spirit in the Sacred Process of the Living Eternal Present Moment….

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