Thomas Aquinas on the Greatness of the Apostles

I stumbled on this interesting passage in which Thomas Aquinas, commenting on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, bursts out in praise of the greatness of the Apostles. I knew the tradition had greater devotion than we often do to the Apostles, but I enjoyed reading a sober mind express that devotion.

We each have vocations, and God gives us grace for our vocations. But think of the vocation of the Apostles: to found the Church, to set out when there was no one to help them, to begin the traditions, both of liturgy and of doctrine, on which the Church infallibly stands.

Next time you see a statue of an apostle, imagine what riches of grace God gave them. Love the Church, which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and receive her as a gift from Christ. And imagine the power of grace, that could build such a Church, with such depth of wisdom, to stand through the ages as a beacon of hope.

 St Thomas AquinasFirst Paul says: by the riches of his grace, all the faithful, you the same as we, have redemption and the remission of sins through the blood of Christ – but that grace superabounds in us, that is, it is more abundant in the apostles than in others.

We see then the gall, not to mention the error, of those who presume to compare the other saints to the apostles in terms of grace and glory. For it is clear from these words that the apostles have greater grace than any other saints, after Christ and the Virgin Mother.

One might say that the other saints can attain the same merit as the apostles, and thus can receive the same greatness of grace. To this we say that it is true, if by “grace” you mean “merit” – but that is not grace, as Paul says in Romans 11:6.

And thus, as God preordains some saints for higher honors, so he pours into them a more abundant grace – just as he gave a truly singular grace to Christ the man, whom he assumed into the unity of his person. And the glorious virgin Mary, whom he chose as mother, he filled both body and soul with grace.

And so to the apostles: as he called them to unique majesty, he bestowed on them the privilege of a unique grace, which Paul mentions in Romans: we ourselves are given the first fruits of the Spirit (8:23). It is therefore insolent to compare any saint to the apostles.

The grace of God superabounded in the apostles in all wisdom. For the apostles were put forward as pastors of the Chuch. As Jeremiah says: I will give you pastors according to my own heart, and they will pasture you with knowledge and doctrine (3:15)

Now pastors require two things, namely that they be sublime in the knowledge of divine things, and industrious in religious deeds. For those beneath them must be instructed in the faith, and for this is necessary wisdom, which is knowledge of divine things, and so he says [in Ephesians], in all wisdom. I will give you a mouth and wisdom, against which your adversaries cannot speak or resist (Luke 21:15).

Also, they must govern those beneath them in exterior things, and this requires prudence. For they govern the temporalities of the Church, and thus he says prudence. Therefore be prudent (Matt 10:16). Thus we see the advantages given to the apostles with regard to the excellence of wisdom.

Next he speaks of their advantage with regard to the excellence of revelation, that the mystery was made known to us, as if he says, “our wisdom is not that we would know the natures of things, and the movement of the stars, etc., but Christ alone.” For I judge myself not to know anything among you, except Christ Jesus (1 Cor 2:2). Thus he says, the mystery, that is, the sacred secret, namely the mystery of the incarnation, which was hidden from the beginning.

-Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Ephesians


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