Transforming Our Culture through Education: Wisdom from St. Thomas Aquinas
By Laura Kizior
Education is more than just learning facts and answers to questions. Any teacher can tell you that the best students don’t simply memorize their lessons, they put this knowledge into practice. Saint Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of students and universities, not only because of his great love for students and teachers, but also because of his dedication to improving education.
Saint Thomas was born in 1225 in Italy, the youngest son in a wealthy family. His parents wanted him to join a local monastery, but Thomas had other plans. While at the Studium generale in Naples, he was introduced to the newly founded Dominican Order and the Dominicans’ passion for education and evangelization.
Thomas joined the Dominican Order and was sent to study at the University of Paris for his graduate degree. He travelled to Cologne, Germany, to complete his studies. Silent, but studious, Thomas earned his master’s degree in theology and was appointed regent master in theology at the University of Paris where he taught theology for several years. During his student years, his tenure in Paris, and eventually his tenure in Naples, Thomas began to write works on subjects ranging from Old Testament exegeses to a defense of Aristotelian logic in his works Expositio super Isaiam ad litteram, Postilla super Ieremiam, and Postilla super Threnos. In 1265, Thomas was called to serve as the papal theologian in Rome. It was then that he wrote the bulk of his famous Summa Theologica, which has become one of the most influential Catholic writings of our day.
In 1272, Thomas travelled again to Naples to establish a university where he completed the Summa. While in Naples, he received a vision of the crucified Jesus, Who commended Thomas for his writing.
After the vision, Thomas stopped writing. He felt that everything he had written was “straw” compared to the glory of heaven that Jesus had revealed to him in the vision. Thomas died soon after on March 7, 1274. He is buried at the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, France.
Saint Thomas is regarded as one of the greatest Catholic educators of all time. As Thomas knew well, education is vital to sustaining the Church and building a Christian culture. Aquinas once said, “Wonder is the desire for knowledge.” In today’s society, how can we apply his wisdom to pro-life education?
Young students look with awe and wonder at images of a tiny baby developing in his mother’s womb. Teaching children about a preborn baby’s development encourages them to understand the full definition of what it means to be a person. Older students are interested by the intricate levels of development that each of us went through in order to become who we are today. It is this wonder and amazement at the beauty of a human person that inspires students to share their knowledge with others.
Aquinas also said: “[It is] better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.”
St. Thomas recognized that education was good, but only if it was used to serve others. Education must focus on formation as well as evangelization. If we want to end abortion, we know that we have to start changing people’s hearts and minds and enlighten them with the truth that abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. Education, if done correctly, not only informs a person about human dignity, it also inspires positive action to correct the injustices in society.
Aquinas believed that education should inspire action and that the best way to learn is to go out and do. Learning by doing makes abstract concepts tangible. Students can discuss ideas to end poverty all day, but they only come to understand the difficulties of the poor when they volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen and gain firsthand experience.
If we want to transform our culture, we have to walk with people who are hurting—moms and dads who have lost children through abortion and miscarriage, teenage girls who believe the lie that birth control is good for them, or children who have trouble making friends at school. The list goes on and on. Transforming our culture takes compassion and love. If we don’t teach our children these things, they will never learn. But when we do, when we build this culture of life, wondrous things will happen. And it is only then that hearts and minds will change.
Laura Kizior is a content developer for American Life League’s Culture of Life Studies Program, which stresses the culture of life as an integral part of every academic discipline. CLSP is dedicated to helping students become effective communicators of the pro-life message. Not only do students in our program read medieval epic poems, or learn about the dangers of euthanasia, they also understand how to use their knowledge to build a culture of life in their own communities. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter to see how we can help you foster a culture of life at home and in school.