The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas,
Painted by Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664),
Painted in 1631,
Oil on canvas,
475cm. high, 375 cm. wide
© Museum of Fine Arts, Seville, Spain
Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas
The mother and brothers of Jesus arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’
Reflection on the Painting
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). He is among the greatest writers and theologians of all time. His most important work, the Summa Theologiae, is an explanation and summary of the entire body of Catholic teaching. He is one of the Dominican order's greatest influential people in the history of the Catholic Church . He taught philosophy and theology with such genius that he is still considered one of the leading Christian thinkers, and still highly influential today. His humility, on a par with his genius, earned for him the title of ‘Angelic Doctor’. We study him in great detail here at seminary. For the little I personally have learnt so far about him, what strikes me the most is that whilst he was highly intelligent, he remained modest and a perfect model of childlike simplicity and goodness. He was very kind in word and in deed. It is this balance between the intellectual depth and the goodness of his heart which is so attractive and a great model for all of us.
Our painting today, The Apotheosis of Thomas Aquinas, is a huge, almost five-meter high painting by Zurbaran executed in 1631 for the College of St.Thomas in Seville. The lower half of the painting shows the foundation of the college, with on the purple velvet covered table the Act of Foundation of the College. The two founders of the college are shown: the Emperor Charles V and Cardinal Diego de Dez, with behind him the Dominican monks. In the upper half of the painting we see Christ flanked by His mother, and opposite them God the Father talking to Saint Dominic. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is casting its light on St Thomas who is depicted with a pen and book in hand. Around him are Saint Jerome and Augustine (who we discussed yesterday in our painting where he confronted the devil) on the left, Ambrose and George on the right.
As we continue to dive into the intellectual depth and beauty of St. Thomas' thoughts, we pray that we may follow his views on the goal of our human existence: union and eternal fellowship with God…
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