How One of the Most Devout Students of Scripture Became One of Its Greatest Teachers

by Scott Hahn

thomas aquinas, aquinas institute

When I was a sophomore at Grove City College, years before any of my theological conversions, I underwent a radical transformation in my understanding of philosophy. Perusing the college library, I’d found some books by a man named Aquinas, which I took home, devoured, and immediately began expounding to my friends. They, evangelicals all, were shocked and urged me to flee this temptation. “How can anyone be a ‘Thomist Calvinist’?”

Yet I’d never read anyone like Saint Thomas—such a clear, penetrating, and deep thinker. And so I began a lifelong commitment to understanding this saint, who was not only a genius, but a man who contemplated truth and opened his soul to being, with a radical openness that I had never encountered in any teacher.

How did he get that way? I propose that Saint Thomas is best understood not simply by looking at his metaphysics, or by studying his appropriation of Aristotle, or by updating him with modern science. Rather, I suggest that Saint Thomas is fundamentally a biblical theologian. In fact, many of his biographers tell us that Thomas would have described himself primarily as a teacher of Scripture.

One of Thomas’s earliest biographers, the Dominican Bernard Gui, has written (during Thomas’s canonization process, c. 1318): “His knowledge was like an overflowing river of scriptural doctrine, sprung from the fount of Wisdom on high and then branching out through all the variety of his writings.”1

Many scholars now are rediscovering the biblical depth of his teachings, and the importance of appropriating the scriptural categories that formed the framework of much of his thought. Today he is recognized by many as one of the greatest biblical theologians in history.

We need, each and all, to return to the books that Thomas studied and venerated.

Where does all this begin for the Catholic who wants to understand the Scriptures and evangelize? It begins for you and me where it began for Saint Thomas Aquinas. We begin as he did, on our knees, with Bible in hand.

Praising the habits of our hero, Bernard Gui writes:

O wondrous mystery of Providence, that at first God conceals the meaning of His Scripture and then at last reveals it, in order to show how far short of His mysteries comes human understanding and that whoever desires the least insight into them must have recourse to Him who chose to reveal His secrets to the Prophets and the Apostles! O happy soul whose prayer was heard by God in His mercy, who thus teaches us, by this example, to possess our questioning souls in patience, so that in the study of divine things we rely chiefly on the power of prayer!6

Introducing The Aquinas Institute

Aquinas’ influence in Dr. Hahn’s life is a personal reflection of the profound impact Aquinas’ theology has had on the Church. Many popes have praised Aquinas as a model priest and offered him as the quintessential teacher of teachers—a perfect example of the work the St. Paul Center desires to promote.

In light of this, the St. Paul Center is very pleased to announce a new partnership with The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine.

For years, the Aquinas Institute’s team of world-class scholars have undertaken the task of translating and publishing all the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Since the majority of these texts have never been translated into English, including Aquinas’ commentaries on Scripture, their work is a vital contribution to Catholic scholarship.

Through collaboration with Emmaus Academic, the Aquinas Institute will not only continue their important translating work, but will be able to assist the upcoming generation of priests and Catholic scholars through wider distribution.

Every volume produced by the Aquinas Institute, including the full Summa Theologiae, is imitation leather bound and beautifully designed to last for generations. The Latin-English format makes the work of this intellectual giant accessible to a broader audience than ever before.

The Aquinas Institute’s volumes are perfect for pastors, seminarians, or anyone who seeks a deeper intellectual reflection on Scripture, philosophy, and theology. We hope that, together, the St. Paul Center and the Aquinas Institute can bring more people closer to God though the writings of Aquinas.

An intellectual giant of the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas is best known for the clarity of thought in his philosophical and theological writings. His primary occupation at the University of Paris was as a theologian and a commentator on Sacred Scripture, and his philosophical work was always at the service of his Scriptural meditations. The writings of Thomas Aquinas remain widely influential to this day. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought. (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio)

1. Bernard Gui, The ‘Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas,’ in Kenelm Foster, O.P., ed. and trans., The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959), 51.

6. Bernard Gui, as quoted in Foster, The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 39.