Deepening Your Understanding of Faith “Isn’t Optional for the Believer”

“To continue humbly, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, understanding of faith is not optional for the believer, but it is part of the very dynamism of his faith”, affirmed the pope in a speech paying homage to Saint Thomas Aquinas, this Thursday, September 22.

Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the XI Annual Thomistic Congress organized by the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas and by the Thomistic Institute Angelicum, this Thursday morning, September 22, 2022. Entitled “ Vetera novis Augere. The Resources of the Thomistic Tradition in the Current Context”, the Congress is currently being held in Rome at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (19-24 September 2022).

Recalling that Saint Thomas was a “man passionate about the truth”, “a tireless seeker of the face of God”, the pope underlined that the search for the truth about God “is driven by love”: thus, – he explained, the Word of God “already received in the heart” must reach the intelligence to “renew our way of thinking” in order to “evaluate everything in the light of eternal Wisdom”.

Francis also quoted Pope Paul VI, for whom the teaching of Saint Thomas knew how to reconcile “the secular dimension of the world and the radicality of the gospel”. This is why, he added, “the Christian is not afraid to enter into a sincere rational dialogue with the culture of his time”, but he is “convinced that ‘all truths, whatever who expresses them, come from the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis, who addressed an improvised speech to the participants in the audience, handed them the written speech prepared for the occasion.

Here is our translation of the written speech.

Pope’s speech, not delivered and given to participants

Gentlemen Cardinals,

Distinguished Academicians, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to welcome you, all of you who have come to Rome from different parts of the world to participate in the Eleventh International Thomistic Congress. I thank Cardinal Luis Ladaria for the kind words he addressed to me. I greet Father Serge-Thomas Bonino, President of the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, as well as all the Academicians present here. I also express my gratitude to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi who, as President of the Coordinating Council of the Pontifical Academies, accompanied the life of the Academy for many years.

Next year we will celebrate the seventh centenary of the canonization of Saint Thomas Aquinas, celebrated in Avignon in 1323. This event reminds us that this very great theologian – the “Common Doctor” of the Church – is above all a saint, a faithful disciple of Wisdom Incarnate. This is why, in the prayer of collecting his memory, we ask God “who made him great through his search for a holiness of life and his passion for holy doctrine”, to “give us to understand his teachings and to imitate his example”. And here we also find your spiritual program: to imitate the saint and let yourself be enlightened and guided by the Doctor and the master.

This prayer underlines Brother Thomas’s passion for holy doctrine. Indeed, he was a man passionate about the truth, a tireless seeker of the face of God. His biographer says that as a child he would have asked: “What is God? »[1]. This question has accompanied Thomas and motivated him throughout his life. This search for the truth about God is driven and permeated by love. Thus he writes: “Indeed when one has a quick will to believe, one loves the truth which one believes, one thinks about it seriously, and one embraces all the reasons one can find for it”[2]. To continue humbly, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the intellect fidei is not optional for the believer, but it is part of the very dynamism of his faith. The Word of God, already received in the heart, must reach the intelligence to “renew our way of thinking” (cf. Rom 12,2), in order to evaluate everything in the light of eternal Wisdom. This is why the passionate search for God is both prayer and contemplation, so that Saint Thomas is the model of theology which is born and develops in an atmosphere of adoration.

This search for the truth about God uses the two “wings” of faith and reason. As we know, the way in which Saint Thomas was able to coordinate the two lights of faith and reason remains exemplary. Saint Paul VI wrote: “The central point and practically the heart of the solution that Saint Thomas gave to the problem of the new confrontation between reason and faith, with the genius of his prophetic intuition, was the reconciliation between the secular dimension of the world and the radicality of the gospel, thus avoiding the unnatural tendency which denies the world and its values, without however fleeing the supreme and inflexible requirements of the supernatural order”[3]. Consequently, the Christian is not afraid to enter into a sincere rational dialogue with the culture of his time, convinced, according to the formula of theAmbrosiaster dear to Thomas, that “all truths, whoever expresses them, come from the Holy Spirit”[4].

In the collection already cited, we ask for the grace not only to imitate the saint, but also to “understand his teachings”. Indeed, Saint Thomas is the source of a tradition of thought whose “perennial novelty” has been recognized.[5]. Thomism should not be a museum object, but an ever-living source, according to the theme of your congress: “ Vetera novis Augere. The resources of the Thomistic tradition in the current context”. It is advisable to promote, according to the expression of Jacques Maritain, a “living Thomism”, capable of renewing itself to answer the questions of today. Thus, Thomism advances by following a double vital movement of “systole and diastole”. Systole, because it is necessary first of all to concentrate on the study of the work of Saint Thomas in its historical and cultural context, in order to distinguish its structuring principles and to grasp its originality. But then comes the diastole: addressing the contemporary world in dialogue, to assimilate with a critical spirit what is true and fair in the culture of one’s time.

Among all the illuminating doctrines of Thomas Aquinas, I would simply like to draw attention, as I did in the encyclical Laudato si’, on the fruitfulness of his teaching on creation. It is no coincidence that the English writer Chesterton called him “Thomas of the Creator”. Creation is, for Saint Thomas, the very first manifestation of the incredible generosity of God, or rather of his gratuitous mercy. [6]. This is the key to love, says Thomas, who opened the hand of God and still holds it open [7]. He then contemplates the beauty of God which shines in the ordered diversity of creatures. The universe of visible and invisible creatures is neither a monolithic block nor pure formless diversity, but it forms an order, a whole, where all creatures are linked because all come from God and return to God and because they act on each other, creating a dense network of relationships. “Saint Thomas Aquinas wisely pointed out that multiplicity and diversity come from the intention of the first agent, who wanted what each thing lacks to represent the divine goodness to be compensated by the other things, because its goodness cannot be adequately represented by a single creature. This is why we need to grasp the diversity of things in their multiple relationships. We therefore better understand the importance and significance of all creatures, if we contemplate them in the whole of God’s plan.[8].

For all these reasons, dear brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of my predecessors, I recommend to you: Go to Thomas! Do not be afraid to increase and enrich old and always fruitful things with what is new. I wish you a good job and I bless you with all my heart. And I ask you, please, to pray for me.

Thanks !

© Translation by Zenit, Hélène Ginabat


[1] Petrus Calo, Vitas. Thomas Aquinatisin Fontes vitae s. Thomas Aquinatis, edited by D. Prümmer and M.-H. Laurent, Toulouse, nd, p. 19.
[2] Summa theologiae, IIa-IIae, q. 2, a. 10.
[3] Lett. ap. Lumen Ecclesiae (20 November 1974), 8: ASA 66 (1974), 680.
[4] Ambrosiaster, In I Cor 12.3: PL 17, 258. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 109, a. 1, add 1.
[5] Saint John Paul II, Lett. Enc. Fides and ratio (September 14, 1998), 43-44.
[6] Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, In IV Sent., d. 46, q. 2, a. 2, qla. 2, ad 1; Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 21, a. 4, ad 4.
[7] Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, In II Sent., Prologue.
[8] Lett. Enc. Laudato si’ (24 maggio 2015), 86.

Deepening Your Understanding of Faith “Isn’t Optional for the Believer” – ZENIT – English