Oscar vs. Thomas Aquinas

Hey, we've almost made it through the entire Saintly Sixteen! After Oscar/Ansgar takes on Thomas Aquinas (he of the one vote victory over Jerome), we'll be on to the Elate Eight.

On Friday, Origen edged his way past Juana Inés de la Cruz to make it to the next round.

And since it's Monday, you can start refreshing your browser until a new episode of Monday Madness magically appears. Which it will. eventually. Now go vote!


“I, St. Ansgar, Archbishop of Hamburg and Bremen, Enlightener of Denmark and Sweden call on the people to repent.  God’s flaming sword of righteousness will smite Odin, Thor, Loki, and Freya.  The wrath of God will tear down your high places built to false God’s.  The retribution of your maker will cause your people to quake in fear and bow down before the Lord our God and repent.  Repent, I tell you, people of Denmark, people of Sweden, people of Hamburg and Bremen.  Repent, before the wrath of God descends upon you and causes you to live in purgatory all your days.  Burning in hell forever.  Hear the words of your Bishop and heed my warning. Repent.”

These are not the words of St. Ansgar AKA Oskar.  Purely fiction, but I bet I had you believing, just for a moment that a man might go into another nation, pointing fingers and calling for justification through repentance by use of force.  Perhaps you judged before knowing?  Perhaps your beliefs of how the old traditions of some people were overwhelmed by the uncomfortable relationship the Church has had with power and conquering armies in history.  Perhaps your assumptions colored your beliefs.

It's not uncommon.  Some of what we know about the saints are shrouded in myth and legend, where it is difficult to discern truth and clarity.  What we do know about many of the saints, especially those without historical documentation of their words, is that they made such an undeniable impression on the course of Church history that they are remembered.  While Ansgar’s words are not recorded for perpetuity, he is documented as at captivating preacher, caring individual, whose actions cared for the sick, the needy, the poor.  He did not treat the Vikings as pagans unworthy of the love of God.

Ansgar did not come to the north men with a flaming sword of retribution.  He came preaching and speaking about Christ.  He told the story of the man who died on a cross for our sins.  And he took action to alleviate the burdens and atrocities of the Viking slave trade.  He came with love and compassion and caring for a people which ultimately turned their hearts to God. My favorite description of Ansgar is that the Church remembers the works of Ansgar as one who worked to make a crooked road straight.  Ansgar came to a harsh and hard people with a belief that soft over comes hard.  That love could make a difference.  And it did.

Anna Fitch Courie

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas, founder of the basics of Western philosophy, was a scholar, priest, and writer.  While he wrote only a few actual books, the impact of his contributions is so vast that it is hard to overstate how profoundly his work has shaped the way we in the Western church think about our faith, our world, and our entire existence.  What’s striking (besides the whole “Thomas invented our civilization” part) is that he wrote as little as he did: Summa contra Gentilies, and Summa Theologica, which was never finished were his two major works, along with some commentaries and hymns, and liturgies.  A great portion of his time was spent teaching, and in particular teaching new monks the basics of their faith.  In fact, Summa Theologica is designed to be a primer to theology for newcomers.  Aquinas felt that the best vocation was to teach the beginners how to learn and think about God, and so he spent much of his time doing just that, instead of pursuing ever loftier flights of heady fancy.

His hymns, however, also have staying power, and we in the Episcopal church still sing certain texts, like Humbly I Adore Thee, and Now my Tongue the Mystery Telling.  Not content to put his ideas into theoretical texts alone, Thomas also wanted to put them into liturgical texts, and so he wrote hymns, and the whole Roman Catholic liturgy for the (then-new) Feast of Corpus Christi.

Thomas, of course, was a veritable fount of excellent quotes.  To wit: “Suppose a person entering a house were to feel heat on the porch, and going further, were to feel the heat increasing, the more they penetrated within. Doubtless, such a person would believe there was a fire in the house, even though they did not see the fire that must be causing all this heat. A similar thing will happen to anyone who considers this world in detail: one will observe that all things are arranged according to their degrees of beauty and excellence, and that the nearer they are to God, the more beautiful and better they are.” 

And of course, it is widely known that Thomas did not finish his Summa Theologica because he had some sort of mystic experience towards the end of his life.  He told his scribe at the time, “All I have written seems as straw to me, compared with what has been revealed” and he never wrote anything else.  Accounts differ as to what exactly he witnessed: some say he levitated during his celebration of the Mass, others that he beheld the Beatific Vision, or that Jesus appeared and spoke to him at length.  What is clear is that the experience so awed Thomas, that he retreated into silence for the final year of his life.

Megan Castellan


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64 comments on “Oscar vs. Thomas Aquinas”

  1. Though now his works seem to have dryness
    His writings did help to define us
    So vote for the guy
    Who praised god on high
    My vote goes to Thomas Aquinas!

  2. I am voting for Oscar because actions speak louder than words...and love overcomes hate.

    1. I'm with you, Ralph! I know Oscar doesn't stand a chance, but What he stood for wins.

  3. It occurs to me that so many of the saints are clerics—bishops, nuns, monks, priests and deacons. And yet the vast majority of Christians are not clerics. So I wonder about the disparity.

    1. I appreciate your observation. I often wonder about people who are saintly, but not necessarily officially recognized. Thanks for sharing your thought.

    2. Perhaps because the clerics were part of an educated community whose members could point out, document, and champion someone who they believed to be a saint? Whereas the lay people had no such advantage, and even if the saint's parish priest felt that this person was worthy of recognition, unless the priest had the ear of the bishop the saint's cause would be advanced no further than their own parish. So the saints come disproportionately from the ranks of the clerics and the nobility.

      I suspect many saints are like the Unknown Soldier -- their names are known only to God.

      1. Once saints were determined by local acclaim. Then entrepreneurs and jokers invented saints to attract pilgrims. Other would-be saints were always legendary. St. Wilgefortis, a woman with a beard, got a lot of attention. The Council of Trent, reacting to the Reformation and trying to stablize the church and return it to a place of reverence and respect, created many reforms including a systematic approach to recognizing who were actually saints. That system favored organized approaches to getting someone canonized, and some religious orders and dioceses designated a "champion" for the cause of a person deemed worthy. Ordinary working people, homemakers, Christians working quietly for the glory of God had no champion. They are saints, nevertheless. That's why the Church instituted All Saints Day.

    3. This is probably why "I sing a song of the saints of God" is one of my favorite hymns. It speaks to my heart in recognizing how many *are* saints without recognition in their quiet lives.

  4. Anna Fitch Courie's opening paragraphs certainly got my attention! Not easy to write compellingly about a saint of whom little is known. I'm voting for Oscar/Ansgar because he combined teaching with action to overcome the social conditions of his day. Still seems like a good approach.

  5. "Now my tongue, the mystery telling" -- the author of this profound hymn gets my vote today.

  6. Does anyone else, before clicking the Vote button, say silently, "I love you both"? I've been doing that a lot.

    1. I agree with you. I didn't expect to. I thought I would clearly approve Thomas Aquinas, and not Oscar. I was wrong. I love them both. I still have to figure out how to vote.

  7. Next week is Holy (Maundy) Thursday, at which liturgy we will chant Thomas's mystical expression of the Eucharist:
    Pange, lingua, gloriosi
    Corporis mysterium.
    Sanguinisque pretiosi,
    Quem in mundi pretium,
    Fructus ventris generosi,
    Rex effudit gentium.

  8. What a wonderfully difficult choice today, and what fine bloggery. My head is echoing with beloved hymns and illuminated by images of crooked roads straightening. Thank you to all.

  9. I do not know if my vote was counted today. The little circles kept going round and round for more than a minute before I clicked back, My one vote for Thomas may not be critical today, however. I do certainly appreciate the superb write ups of the celebrity bloggers. It always creates a conversation in my head about various approaches and strengths of these significant people we call saints. Makes me realize there are many paths to saintly life and the best of them have the right qualities for the times they live in. Challenging to my life here today to be better, to be more, to continue growing.

    1. "The best of them have the right qualities for the times they live in." Wow, that is an absolutely great way to put the saints' achievements in context! Thank you!

  10. I know Thomas Aquinas is going to win this one, and I'm okay with that. I just had to vote for Oscar because that opening, and indeed, the whole post was so creative when the author couldn't find any record of what Oscar said or did.

  11. I was really moved by the bio of Oscar today. I appreciate that Oscar moved his audiences by witnessing to Jesus's Way of Love, instead of demonizing (literally!) a different culture's pantheon.
    Voting for Oscar!

  12. Oscar’s words spoke to me today as I also heard the tribute to Martin Luther King Jr on todays morning prayer from the Washington National Cathedral!

  13. I am voting for Thomas Aquinas solely because "Humbly I Adore Thee, Verity Unseen" is one of my favorite hymns. Sadly, today, I am crushed that Sister Juana is not advancing in Lent Madness . . . so just rallying the will to read on is a bit challenging . . .

  14. While Ansgar/Oskar did great things in northern Europe and Scandinavia, Thomas Aquinas has had a profound effect on the whole church which continues to the present day - the Christian version of act locally, think globally? So, it's Thomas for me today.

  15. I appreciate the big TA (no medievalist can do without him ...).
    But: I'm obliged to vote for Ansgar (here Oscar).
    I live near the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.
    Chapel of St. Ansgar is one of my favorites.
    Rooting for the home team. 😎

  16. I voted for Oscar because the write up reminded me that I can sometimes “judge before knowing”.

    1. Depending on how today's results end up, I'm actually about 50/50 for mine this year (11/23 as of this morning)...

      In years past it seems I tended to vote for those who didn't win as well. But as I have some inner tendency to vote for the underdog when torn between two (or not having a favorite to begin with), I should not be surprised by this.

  17. So are we headed for a Thomas v. Thomas match on Friday now?!

    Unless Ansgar/Oscar pulls ahead from way behind, it's looking that way. But it's still before noon here even on the East Coast (USA) so there's still a chance, I suppose.

    Enjoying Ansgar, but Aquinas is still my buddy from seminary!

      1. It reminds me a bit of the correct pronunciation of geographical names: it's however the people live there say it. SEC, let's please have a policy for future Lent Madnesses that saints' names should be posted the way they called themselves.

      2. Yeah. Wouldn't surprise me if his blogger didn't do that should that come about (which it's looking even more like now). And I love seeing his as Tomaś! I'm no true linguist but I have a penchant for words, especially names, and for whatever reason find them more... beautiful... profound when not in their anglicized form.

        It's funny, when he was first up I followed suit of a few others and wrote it as Tomaś in my comments that day, but today I did the anglicized version for the symmetry.

  18. Wow! I wish I could vote for the magnificent Megan Castellan! This has got to be one of the best write-ups ever. Even if I weren’t already predisposed to favor Thomas, I would have been all for him after reading this. Thank you, Megan Castellan - you are a joy in the world.

    1. Yes, she is! I’ve been a fan since she was in college, and she’s never disappointed me.

  19. I felt sorry for Oscar, so I voted for him.
    But Megan Castellan's bio of Thomas Aquinas was really, really good!

  20. Why are y’all knocking out all the women?
    Another recount for Juana & Emma!
    St Thomas Aquinas’ 7 Deadly Sins & 7 Saintly Virtues have been out topics for Christian Formation this Lent, so there’s my vote.

    1. I look at the saints, not their genders.

      This year there were 19 men, 12 women, and one archangel. Of those matchups, 9 were man-woman, 5 man-man, 1 woman-woman, and one woman-archangel.
      9 men and 7 women advanced to the next round. In the 9 man-woman matchups, 5 women prevailed -- and one more beat her archangel opponent. So 7 women in the Saintly 16.
      Of those 8 matchups, there were 5 man-woman, 2 man-man, and 1 woman-woman. And of the 5 man-woman, 2 women won.
      Now, getting to the third round, there are 2 man-man, one man-woman, and one woman-woman. There could be two women in the Final Four.
      The final matchup could be man-man or man-woman.

      I don't think people are necessarily voting based on the gender with which the saint is identified.

      And bear in mind that several Golden Halo winners were nominated in previous years and sometimes didn't make it out of the first round in their previous appearances. That's part of the enjoyment of Lent Madness, seeing who will win in a given year.

      And sometimes still very surprising. Who would ever have predicted Frances Perkins?

      1. So glad you remembered Frances Perkins! One of my favorite choices ever!

        Voted for Thomas the teacher. As a writing teacher I think the white ups this year have been fantastic