Meeting St. Thomas Aquinas

Our philosophy lecturer at university has food stains on her ample bosom. Dishevelled, like she slept in those clothes. Mousy brown strands of hair slithering away like a modern Medusa.

Greek philosophers I could grasp, sort of. Allegory of the cave: did I understand the real thing? Or was it the shadows of those ideas that I thought I grasped? That was good enough for me. All I wanted was to pass the finals and move on. 

Things got more complicated for me when we hit Christianity and the Middle Ages. Same professor, same classroom, but Heraclitus was right, you cannot step into the same river twice.

One would have thought that I was better equipped to understand, say, St. Thomas Aquinas ideas having attended Catholic school, and run by Dominican nuns at that. One would be wrong. As much attention as I paid in class, read my notes, even consulted the primary sources, Aquinas’ Unmoved Mover thing made no sense. Although it clearly made an impression on me, as I’m talking about it almost thirty years later.

Visiting the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas in Toulouse, France, brought back memories of philosophy class in college. #micromemoir #nonfiction #amwriting

I scraped through my final exam. What an ordeal. Clammy hands, a slight stammer, brain trying to comprehend the questions asked. One of the three professors conducting the exam, a young man with kindly eyes, asked me about the Aquinas Prime Mover and to compare it to a mundane object by way of explanation.

I blabbered something, which turned out to be enough to get a pass. The answer came to me much later, like the anesthesia that doesn’t catch while you’re at the dentist. A magnet! The Prime Mover is like a magnet as in it can move objects without itself moving.


Years later, in the fortress-like Medieval church of the Jacobins in Toulouse. A simple altar with an elaborate gold cross. Underneath, a gold casket protected by an iron grille. It’s St. Thomas Aquinas’ reliquary. Flooded by memories of lectures and cramming before exams, drowning in a sea of ideas beyond my comprehension. I stood there, silently recriminating St. Thomas for the hell he put me through.     

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