Friday, February 10, 2006

Drinking for the Lord: In Vino Veritas est

We don't tend to associate Thomas Aquinas with the idea of drunkenness. We regard him rather – and for good reason – as a very brilliant but sober intellectual. Thomas, however, no less than Jordan of Saxony, uses the image of drinking and of being made drunk to explore some of the most basic aspects of Christian and Dominican experience. "Wine," he notes in his commentary on Boethius' De Trinitate, "often signifies divine wisdom," whereas "water signifies secular wisdom." St Thomas, in his own work as a theologian, draws again and again on the wisdom of secular, non-Christian sources, a fact which disturbed more than a few of his own contemporaries. Was there not a danger, they wondered, that such reliance on secular knowledge would in some way water down the great wine of God's teaching ? Thomas confronted this question head on, and answered it with what would seem to be an allusion to Christ's first miracle at Cana in Galilee. Human learning in itself is not, according to Thomas, the problem. If teachers make accurate use of "the water" of secular knowledge, they don't so much "mix water with wine," Thomas argues, but rather change the water of human learning into the wine of Gospel truth!

Dominicans and the New Wine of the Gospel

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