Beyond Words

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) is one of the church’s most celebrated defenders of the faith. Yet just three months before his death something caused him to leave unfinished his Summa Theologica, the massive legacy of his life’s work. While reflecting on the broken body and shed blood of his Savior, Aquinas claimed to see a vision that left him without words. He said, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings seem like straw.”

Before Aquinas, Paul too had a vision. In 2 Corinthians, he describes the experience: “This man [Paul himself]—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and hear inexpressible things” (12:3–4).

Paul and Aquinas left us to reflect on an ocean of goodness that neither words nor reason can express. The implications of what Aquinas saw left him without hope of finishing his work in a way that would do justice to a God crucified for us. By contrast, Paul continued to write. But he did so in the awareness of what he couldn’t express or finish in his own strength.

In all of the troubles Paul encountered in service to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:16–33; 12:8–9), he could look back and see, in his weakness, a grace and goodness beyond words and wonder.

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