Coming up for Air: Spirituality and Justice from Thomas Aquinas

We have, necessarily it seems to me, been meditating on the very dark news coming from the current very compromised Supreme Court since they laid their year of decisions on us beginning ten days ago. 

Water in an arid land: elephants refresh themselves at a watering hole in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Photo by JackyR on Wikimedia Commons.

Sad news of a court busy destroying its credibility than questing for justice and remedying injustices past and present.  Not the best of news surely.

But it is always good to return from time to time to a watering hole, an oasis of spiritual sanity in the midst of engaging humanity’s capacity for evil.  So I choose to do that with Thomas Aquinas as our guide. 

After all, he is accredited with bringing the important principle of the common good into western jurisprudence and he also one of the thinkers Martin Luther King, Jr. turned to in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” for his support of civil disobedience when human laws and lawmakers separate themselves from the work of justice which is the guarantor of the common good. 

Sister Marianne Farina, CSC discusses Aquinas’s contribution to our understanding of the common good as integrating philosophy and theology, nature and grace. Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

The common good and justice and common sense have taken a beating from the currently constituted unsupreme court.  Let us consider some of Aquinas’s wisdom here to refresh our souls and nourish our actions–four of which I proposed regarding remedying the current SC situation in yesterday’s DM and several other ideas came from readers in the Comments page such as doing away with Citizens United that paves the way for temptations from dark corporate coffers that have proven far too much for some justices to resist.  (Or was passing it the purpose?)

All of us seek a vision of the Divine.  How does that come our way? Contemplation on the beauties of nature and contemplative practice are one route (the via positiva and via negativa) and creativity is another.  In addition, for Aquinas another route is the Via Transformativa, the way of working for justice and compassion. 

“Justice (Aquinas 101)” – Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., discusses the principles of Justice as laid out in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. The Thomistic Institute

As he says, “God is Justice” and thus work for Justice itself can be a doorway to the Divine for “the vision of God is arrived at through justice.”

Justice “leads to the reign of God” for Jesus, in preaching the coming of the reign of God, “did not come to call the just to penitence, but to greater justice.”  

Justice is intrinsic to holiness for “the saints have a heart full of justice….The saints have justice, charity, and effects of this kind, which are most like God.”  

To be continued.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 109-111. 

And Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, p. 419.

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

Banner Image: “St Thomas Aquinas.” This mosaic of St Thomas Aquinas is on the facade of the church of St Joachim in Rome. Photo by Lawrence OP on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

What does it means to you to be reminded that “saints have a heart full of justice”?  Does this strengthen your own commitment to justice and your own experience of the holy in your work and citizenship and moral outrage?


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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5 thoughts on “Coming up for Air: Spirituality and Justice from Thomas Aquinas”

  1. Avatar

    Evil invites our silence and also our moral outrage when we consider ourselves to be so bold. What can be more fitting and ‘useful to evil’ than for us to ‘hate evil’ in all regards and in all aspects and in all appearances, so much so that we forget to be loving. Does our focus not leave love and look at separation, anything less than what we believe to be just and provide unity in our estimation? Jesus did not take up ‘a sword’ against evil and neither should we. If we seek out evil, we will surely find it somewhere and almost everywhere as it can lurk in the duality of both heart and mind.

    Do we not see the power that can be brought forth by love in the face of evil? What way then can we be more loving and useful to God’s purpose for us? If we prescribe to God as pure love and it is only Divine Love and Truth that is ‘real’, then that is the ‘mantle’ that we wear, the ‘staff’ that we carry and the pain we bear. Call that the ‘Via Truth-A-Be-A’. ‘Winning’ hearts and souls comes through love. Did Jesus ever ‘win over’ or change the heart set of one we would consider evil by bringing a cure to one of their family members? So, we should do the same or similar. – BB.

  2. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew for reminding us personally and socially of the spiritual wisdom of Thomas Aquinas in today’s DM and your two recommended books about him, especially about Divine Justice!
    God’s Divine Spirit of LOVE in our hearts, like the saints experienced and lived, includes Wisdom~Truth~Peace~Justice~Healing~Forgiveness~Transformation~Freedom~Creativity~
    Beauty~Joy~Compassion~Oneness… PRESENT within, through, among us in our daily lives with one another, with Sacred Mother Nature, and within ALL our ongoing co-evolving, physical and non-physical, sacred multidimensional-multiverse ETERNAL ONENESS COSMOS….

  3. Avatar

    Kia ora Matthew. Greetings of good health and well-being. Thank you for your outstanding commitment to these daily reflections; they have provided much to reflect on over the years, as have your many books.

    I wonder if you would help me to square the much-touted reputation of Thomas Aquinas as a champion of justice, with his position on women.

    In gratitude,

    Te Ruru

    1. Avatar

      I have written about the “clay feet” of T. Aquinas in the lengthy introduction to my book “Sheer Joy” and his ambiguous position on women is part of that section (pp. 37-46 ). I think we should always meditate on the “clay feet” of our saints, for one reason it is easier to identify with them then. In a nutshell, he is a proto-feminist because he is non-dualistic and fought that fight his whole life and patriarchy, as Rosemary Reuther says, is based on dualism. He talks about the “perfect friendship” between man and wife and calls for a relationship of mutuality. “The greatest friendship is that between man and wife”, etc.; he praises the women who stayed with Jesus at the cross while the men fled and Mary Magdalen for her “courage and “boldness” and calls her a “prophet” and “apostle of the apostles” who as a “woman first announced the words of life.” Yet he quotes Aristotle’s “science” that “woman is defective” and too subject to their emotions. He insists that both man and woman are made in the image of God (unlike Augustine who said only men are). So he is ambivalent and let us admit confused. Hopefully we have learned more about women since.

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