Thomas Aquinas: Always look for the bright side of life

Take the time to smile

Not for nothing is St Thomas Aquinas remembered as the 'patron saint of common sense,' writes Dr Andrew Kania in The Record. Life is too short to just 'appear,' the philosopher-Saint believed - but never too short for a laugh.

- By Dr Andrew Kania, The Record.

Aquinas writes: 'Our outward gestures betray our inward disposition: the apparel on our bodies, the smile on our face, the way we walk, all show what we are. Insofar as such gestures are directed towards others they must be controlled by friendliness and affability; insofar as they express our inward dispositions they must be controlled by truthfulness.' (Saint Thomas Aquinas, ST, III, q 168, a1).

Look carefully at the importance that Aquinas places on the inner man and woman, and how what is churning away on the inside determines what the world sees on the outside.

What Aquinas wishes to stress is that our outward gestures should not find us out as liars.

The American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau would put it simply, that we should never take up a new occupation, that required from us that we change our wardrobe – for by doing so we run the risk of becoming on the outside, something quite distinct from our inner being.

Appearances, is what Aquinas condemns. Life is too short to just 'appear' – one must strive to be genuine, to be real, to be both inwardly and outwardly truthful.

Aquinas continues his passage on moderation: 'Just as we relieve bodily tiredness by bodily rest, so we relieve tiredness of soul by pleasure, which is rest to the soul. We take a break from serious intent and take refuge in words and deeds which are playful and humorous, giving us the pleasure we seek ... What we actually do in play has no other goal; but the accompanying pleasure serves the soul's recreation and rest.' (Saint Thomas Aquinas, ST, III, q 168, a2).

So here is one of history's most serious thinkers and contemplatives telling us that going to parties and telling jokes, is in fact a God-given necessity, for good living.

How can we deal with so much of the seriousness of life, if we cannot take time to see the lighter side of living?

Thomas teaches us about balance.

There are many people who wish to 'appear' intelligent, but few who wish to 'be' intelligent, and the latter are those who, as Aquinas teaches, are willing to risk saying a few silly things if the time and place allow.

As Desiderius Erasmus once wrote about his friend, St Thomas More, he could not determine whether More was a wise foolish man, or whether he was a foolish wise man; he only knew he loved him dearly.

Read full article: The Captain of Common Sense (The Record)

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