Why didn't Jesus Christ write a book? Of course, we Christians believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but Jesus never Himself put pen to paper. I can imagine the possible titles of His works now: How to Win Converts and Influence Pagans by Jesus Christ, or Make Every Day a Sunday: How to Live 7 Days a Week by the Crucified Lord. But seriously, think about the benefits of Jesus writing down his teaching. If Jesus had recorded his preaching, it would have been preserved more directly for posterity. Arguing with nonbelievers would be easier; for heaven’s sake, we could just quote his autobiography or his manifesto.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the heroic Dominican theologian, actually asks this same question in his great work the Summa Theologiae. Aquinas argues Christ didn’t write a book because the teaching of our Lord cannot be contained in writing and is intended for the heart. Saint Thomas continues to say that if we had Christ’s teaching in writing from His own hand, it would be accepted at face value and believers would have no further reflection on His teaching than the surface value of these words. So here we have one of the greatest theologians of the Church asking a somewhat whimsical question and providing a very deep, spiritual answer. The teaching of Jesus Christ is not meant to be memorized and repeated thoughtlessly by rote, but it’s intended to be engaged at the deepest levels of our being.
To engage Christ’s teaching doesn’t require Christians to put their reason aside and accept things blindly on faith. For Thomas Aquinas, proclaiming and teaching the Catholic religion involves both the God-given gift of faith, and the God-given natural faculty of our human reason. God would never have endowed us with the ability to think if He didn’t expect us to use this gift! When we use our reason and begin to think and question, create or build, as long as these are honest and genuine quests, we pursue the good, the true and the beautiful. Since the Truth is one, we must conclude that truth can be approached by many different kinds of human activity. Theologians don’t have a monopoly on truth, but neither do biologists, musicians, poets or philosophers. Ultimately, because the created world is good, when we engage the goodness of creation and our natural abilities, we human beings will give glory to God’s name and become more complete, authentic versions of ourselves.
Aquinas knew this, and believed it wholeheartedly. This is why he fearlessly used the work of Muslim philosophers, Sacred Scripture, the scientists of his day and traditional Christian writings in his theological work. Exploring truth wherever found not only led Aquinas to excel in the academic discipline of theology, it made him happy! God used his personality, talents, and work to sanctify him, and he is now a saint. Following the example of Thomas Aquinas we can deduce a few solid principles for Catholic Christians who wish to grow more learned and holy during the year of faith.
1. Why Study? Saint Thomas helps us to see three solid reasons to make time to study the faith: First, to know God. For Saint Thomas, our whole life is directed toward eternity. God is the very source of our being, and as such, the more we learn about Him, the better we understand ourselves and the world. Second, to know how to live. Living a meaningful life is a priority of every man. We are all forced to make decisions about who to marry, what career to pursue and we face many moral choices every day. Knowledge of the faith can help us to live well, and thereby live fully. Third, to spread the faith. No one’s interested in practicing a faith they don’t know or defending Church teaching they don’t understand. And while it’s the responsibility of pastors to teach the faith, believers have the obligation to learn the teaching of the Church.
2. How can I go deeper? It can be a daunting venture to study the faith. One way to begin could be by taking a look at Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. In it the Pope considers at length the harmony between faith and reason. To read more about Saint Thomas check out his biography by G.K. Chesterton The Dumb Ox or to read his teaching try My Way of Life published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, which is an eloquent and accessible guide to the Summa Theologiae.
3. Persevere. Saint Thomas spent years developing his doctrine. During his own life he studied vigorously and only after exerting much effort and standing the tests of time did Saint Thomas win the acclaim of the Dominican Order and the Church. Dominicans often speak of being “nailed to the wood of the desk” as Christ was his cross, to connect the trials of study with the suffering of our Lord. Study can be difficult, but it’s redemptive.
And so with Saint Thomas as our companion and guide, may we continue to grow ever closer to our heavenly Creator, the source of all Truth and Wisdom!