Teaching the Faith: Contributions from Thomas Aquinas | Brother Michael Weibley, O.P. | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
God’s love, mediated through the articles of faith, is a communication of God’s love speaking to us. Those who hear, and cling to the merciful speech of God, in faith, are the ones who attain this saving knowledge.
“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:8
This is a striking, and relevant, question. It has become somewhat common to note the inadequate retention rates of many RCIA and sacramental catechesis programs in parishes. Recent converts cycle in and out of programs, seemingly designed to teach the faith, only to find at the end of the program that they are still incapable of connecting to an authentic faith life in the Church. Many pastors will see people walk into their parishes, then quickly walk back out. The poignancy of Jesus’ question for the Church of the 21st century is, therefore, very much relevant. The problem, naturally, elicits another question: What are some solutions to the need for robust and abiding catechesis at the parish level?
Looking to the traditions of the Church, any catechist will inevitably fall upon the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. One encounters in Aquinas a master of theological understanding. He was a man guided by the Holy Spirit, who pursued the science of God in wisdom and truth, which directed his every teaching towards the goal of every man: eternal life. Aquinas was not purely an academic, but a man who found his abiding attraction to God in the love that God first had for him. It was this love that urged him to write his Summa Theologiae for the sake of beginners, so that they, too, could be ever pointed toward their final goal and lead others in that direction. Likewise, it is the goal of every catechist to orient his or her students to that same end. Recourse to Aquinas’ method of teaching, therefore, is certainly relevant for the catechist of the 21st century.
In this short essay, I will draw upon the prevailing wisdom of Aquinas and his importance for catechists today. I will first outline Aquinas’ thought on the role of teaching, using the structure of the Summa Theologiae as an example of theological teaching. Next, I will develop how his thought on teaching corresponds to his teaching on the Articles of Faith. In summation, I will describe how the wisdom of Aquinas provides a model for catechists today in orienting their students towards the goal of Christian life.
Aquinas on Teaching
Aquinas saw the reality and dignity of being a human person in the fact that the individual is able to come to know the truth and choose the good.