Good News in Times of War: We are Capable of Compassion (Aquinas)

In the midst of war — war in Gaza and Israel, war in Ukraine, and constant preparations for war around the world — it behooves us to hear news that is rarely in the headlines. News like this: We humans are capable of compassion

A graphic illustrates the “circle of compassion.” Art by Lbeaumont. Wikimedia Commons.

That is what spiritual teachers the world over keep telling us. In recent DMs, we have shared teachings from Rabbi Heschel and Elie Weisel from Judaism, and Muslim poet Mosab abu Toha, about compassion.

Today, let us focus on a Christian teacher, Thomas Aquinas. He writes:

Through compassion, human beings imitate God.

In every work of God, viewed at its primary source, there appears compassion.

God is said to be rich in compassion because God possesses an infinite and unfailing compassion, which human beings do not. 

Compassion is the fire that Jesus came to set on the earth.

Residents of Martha’s Vineyard step up to assist Venezuelan migrants who were flown there illegally. Video by MSNBC.

What is compassion for Aquinas? “To be compassionate is to have a heart that suffers from the misfortune of others because we think of it as our own.” 

But compassion means action. “We are truly compassionate when we work to remove the misfortune of others.”

Compassion springs from love: The love of neighbor requires that not only should we be our neighbor’s well-wishers, but also their well-doers, according to 1 John 3:18: ‘Let us not love in word or in speech, but in deed and in truth.” And in order to be a person’s well-wisher and well-doer we ought to succor their needs. 

A man in a Boston subway station with a homemade sign. Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash.

Aquinas believes that two principal obstacles lie in the way of compassion. First is a “contempt for the wretched.” In other words, a belief that others are not worthy of our attention and concern. The second obstacle is “assurance of one’s own power.” 

When people want to lord over others, there is no room in them for compassion. Power trips drive compassion aside. As does fear.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 400f. 

See also Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 109-116.

And Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths.

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

Banner Image: Three ladies show compassion to a disabled man, while passers-by look on in puzzlement or judgment. Photo by Jacob Granneman on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Which of these teachings from Thomas Aquinas speak to you most deeply of the journey humanity is on, to become our better and best selves?

Recommended Reading

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

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

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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3 thoughts on “Good News in Times of War: We are Capable of Compassion (Aquinas)”

  1. Avatar

    The words that speak most deeply to me are, “In every work of God, viewed at its primary source, there appears compassion.” The all and the everything of creation, including us humans are the work of God. At our primary source, within the true nature and essence of our beingness, there in the depths of our soul, appears this living Spirit of compassion present in its presence within.

    The choice is for each one to make; to either deny and reject or respond and surrender to, this primary source that nurtures, maintains and sustains all life. We have a co-creative part in this, through our choices. We are not the primary source, however we are created in the image and likeness of this primary source of compassion. Its up to each one, to kindle the spiritual fire of this; through being and living in a sacred relationship with this primary source, known by many names, experienced in many diverse pathways.

    Choosing to deny and reject this spiritual reality, we experience inner poverty, loss of our soul identity and our meaning and purpose… who we are, where we come from and why we are here.

    Accepting, acknowledging, responding to, and surrendering in faith, hope and trust in this spiritual reality we are assured of experiencing the unfolding, evolving, emergence of this living Spirit of compassion; as our soul converges with this spiritual essence and presence dwelling within. Jeshua spoke of this assurance, through the Beatitudes in the sermon on the mount.

  2. Avatar

    Hatred, hypocrisy, and fear are the enemy of hope and the possibility of compassion, so we must guard against getting entangled in them; it is so easy to give in to despair when our world is seemingly crumbling around us, and the barrage of news seldom brings any good news. So this DM and other sources of spiritual strength and renewal are very much appreciated. I also take inspiration from the many unknown people who are helping in every dire situation–we just don’t hear about them, except here and a few other places. We are capable of compassion, it’s God’s gift and manifestation, and we need to feed it.

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