Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. (Job 40:4)
On the 6th December, 1273 St Thomas Aquinas celebrated mass. It was the feast day of St Nicholas when many delighted children received presents, but in Naples the burly friar stood in silent wonder. The service had ended, but it was clear that its effects had not. Aquinas had not long finished writing on the Communion in his great Summa Theologiæ and some have speculated that perhaps his labours had produced a fresh understanding. Others speculate some sort of breakdown. All that was apparent at the time was that he was silent.
Up until that time Aquinas had long laboured on the Summa, producing over one and a half million handwritten words. It is a work of breathtaking scope, almost audacious in its range. It deals with God. It deals with the human. It deals with the created order. It is both encyclopaedic and detailed. It sets out an understanding as to how the world works.
Eventually the ecstasy subsided and the saint was urged to return to his work, but he could not: “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me”. And so it is that the Summa stands unfinished. Whatever it was that Thomas experienced, he certainly did not view the world in the same way again. It was all straw.