“St. Thomas Aquinas: For Children and the Childlike” by Raissa Maritain, originally published in 1934. Illustrated by Ted Schluenderfritz. New edition published by Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, New Hampshire, 2009. Available from The Catholic Company.
This young reader introduces children to the lofty notions of saints, angels, and theology in poetic terminology that they can understand, and yet does not condescend. Each brief chapter includes an appealing illustration done in soft charcoal that demonstrates one of the many virtues of Saint Thomas Aquinas. With all his amazing attributes, he still comes across as a humble fellow that one would like to have known personally.
The story of his life starts in childhood, describing the unusual graces and influences that the boy carried as he embarked on his education. It describes how he was called to the Dominican Order and obeyed that calling despite the opposition of his parents. His mother even had him held captive to thwart his actions, but he escaped. She would eventually remember that his calling had been foretold to her long ago.
St. Thomas was so humble that he allowed himself to be known as the “Dumb Ox”. Time would tell that he was wrong, and he brought so much Divine Knowledge to the Church that he is now widely known as the “Angelic Doctor” or “Angel of the Schools”. Although there is no reference section, it is clear that the author drew on many original documents for her information.
Maritain does not talk down to children. She knows that many ideas are within their grasp, and presents them in a way that whole families can benefit. Parents of younger children might want to read this aloud, stopping often for discussion. Middle-grade children would enjoy reading this alone. Parents who would like to know about St. Thomas and are afraid to pick up an adult text on this awesome giant will enjoy the brief chapters and the focus on one-idea-at-a-time.
Separate chapters are dedicated to each of his outstanding virtues: his search of Truth, the Holiness of his Intelligence, Charity, Divine Wisdom, and Humility; the behavioral characteristics of his constant preaching, prayer without ceasing, frequent weeping, and distractibility when focused on a certain problem; the important work of The Office of the Blessed Sacrament, the Miracles of the Roses and the Star, and his Divine Favors. Most biographies end with death, but this book goes into great detail about the special way that he died, how he was glorified afterwards, and his final canonization.
Children and adults alike can glean much from this character study. The message comes through that everyone has a calling from God that he or she must listen to and follow.
This classic work was originally published under the title “L’ange de l’eicole (Paris: Desclee, de Brower, & Cie, c. 1934)”. An English translation by Julie Kernan, titled “St. Thomas Aquinas: The Angel of the Schools”, was published by Sheed and Ward, NY, in 1935. This 2009 edition, which includes minor editorial revisions to that English edition, is published by Sophia Institute Press, a nonprofit institution dedicated to making knowledgeable works more available to the public by publishing out-of-print books, translations of foreign works, and new books.
For more about Raissa Maritian see Brenna Moore’s
Feminized Suffering in Modern French Catholicism: Raïssa Maritain (1883–1960) and Léon Bloy (1846–1917). Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality - Volume 9, Number 1, Spring 2009, pp. 46-68.
This review was written as part of the Catholic Book Reviewer Program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on “Saint Thomas Aquinas”.