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William Scott reads  of Aquinas's prayer

24 April 2015

William Scott reads of Aquinas's prayer


Aquinas at Prayer: The Bible, mysticism and poetry

Paul Murray

Bloomsbury £16.99


Church Times Bookshop £15.30

WHEN I was a student, I had a confessor who always reminded me, (probably quoting from someone else) that the study desk and the prayer desk are one. In this book, Paul Murray very successfully demonstrates that the extensive works of the Angelic Doctor are bedded and rooted in prayer and that the works of the great theological divine are at all times undergirded and surrounded with prayer.

There are three distinct parts: "Aquinas - Man of Prayer"; "Prayer considered - Soundings in the Biblical Commentaries"; and "Poet of the Eucharist - The Hymns and Canticle of Aquinas". The author demonstrates that he is very well acquainted with his subject.

He begins by looking at the revelations received by Aquinas and the criticisms of Adrienne von Speyr, who says that Aquinas was too full of himself to have real communication with God! The biographer Bernard Gui tells us, however, that Aquinas "never set himself to study or argue a point, or lecture or write or dictate without having recourse, inwardly - but with tears - to prayer". St Thomas himself contends: "Humility is what makes a man capable of God." The influence of Humbert of Romans, who was Master of the Dominicans in St Thomas's time, is examined, and the prayers thought to be influenced by Humbert are printed. They make a very good resource for those who practise affective prayer.

The second part introduces us to St Thomas as a scripture scholar and exegete. I found this in some ways the most positive part of the book, as various strands of prayer are examined from scripture, especially the Pauline epistles. He looks at petition and gratitude, demonstrating that asking and thanking are approaches that all people, of whatever spiritual level, can undertake. The Psalms are then examined especially in regard to praying in time of need - useful to all who pray the Office.

The third part discusses Aquinas's fervent belief in the Lord's presence in the Sacrament of the Altar and the material that he produced for the feast of Corpus Christi. Here, Aquinas is revealed not only as a man of intense scholarship and prayer, but also as a poet of no small ability. The various eucharistic liturgical hymns are examined and well translated.

This is all in keeping with what some sources say are the last words of St Thomas. "If in this world there be any knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament. I receive thee, the price of my redemption, for whose love I have watched, studied and laboured."

Prebendary Scott was until recently Sub Dean of the Chapels Royal.

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