“We call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.” Saint Albert the Great
A few things started me thinking: firstly, a Twitter exchange about “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole and another about the phrase ‘straw man’ as a device in philosophical argument.
Then, whilst reading about Saint Joseph of Cupertino, the saintly ‘dunce’, I came across this observation by Professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira:
“The right notion of efficiency is to do what one is supposed to do according to his vocation. Therefore, in order to be efficient, each one should ask if he is accomplishing the plans of God for him. If he works in collaboration with the plans of God, the grace will multiply his efforts and he will do much more than he is capable of otherwise. This rule, which applies to St. Joseph of Cupertino, also applies to St. Thomas Aquinas, who is situated at the other pole of human capacity.”
Carlo Crivelli – Altar of San Domenico, Ascoli Picena
This juxtaposition of the two saints – the stupid, clumsy reject and the learned ‘angelic doctor’ – made me think that it is good to be grateful that we have a Church which gives us saintly examples for all experiences and all trials in life. We have the cloud of witnesses to intercede for us but also to act as examples to us: saints of nature, of love and earthly joy, of scholarship and of stupidity, of success and of failure. What they all have in common is perseverance, courage, devotion and humility.
What Saint Joseph and Saint Thomas have also in common is that they both faced obstacles in fulfilling their vocations: Saint Joseph faced rejection and attack. Saint Thomas was kidnapped by his own brothers and tempted by a prostitute.
The ‘straw man’ debate reminded me of another phrase about straw….in 1273, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, author of one of our greatest treasures of learning, reason and scholarship, refused to continue with his work, possibly after a stroke, or possibly after a dialogue with the Lord. He told Brother Reginald, who was urging him to continue:
“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me. “
He fell ill and died four months later.
He is said to have levitated, too. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: