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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

How Fat Was He? As Fat as.....

I'm not sure why it is that people become so upset when we mention that saints weren't perfect. It's not necessary to be perfect to be a saint. It's a good thing, too, or there wouldn't be any.

Thomas Aquinas walked half the earth (or something equally ridiculous). Dominicans of that day and age couldn't possibly be as big as a house...

Good for him! I walk all over the place, too. However, I did not make it up that St. Thomas Aquinas was as big as a house. This fact first came to my attention because a priest I used to know always used St. Thomas Aquinas as his one and only similie for fatness. If Father Bill wanted to say something was fat, he would say, "as fat as Thomas Aquinas..."

It was only after that I noticed Thomas Aquinas looked rather portly in his pictures. These aren't necessarily pictures that were drawn many years after his death. It's only in recent years that St. Thomas has slimmed down on his holy card.

If I may digress for a moment, most saints are prettied up for their holy cards. I understand the reason is to show that everyone is beautiful in heaven. I wish this practice would be discontinued. It's bad enough that everyone has to be pretty on TV where no one is particularly fat even on a Pizza Hut commercial. Saints aren't saints here on earth. You have to be dead to be a saint. But you have to have lived a life of heroic virtue here on earth to be a saint. We call people who are living lives of heroic virtue 'living saints'. But to be an actual canonized saint you have to be dead. The holy card is usually a depiction of the saint while he was alive. I would appreciate seeing someone's homely mug on a holy card. That type of thing gives everyone hope.

I love seeing St. Therese's potatoey little face much more than her prettied up holy card. I think her real face is all the more beautiful.

I love the idea that Our Lady appeared to this unfortunate looking nun, as opposed to the beautiful young girl we always see.

Leave the models for Palmolive dish soap and show me the everyday faces of the people who are the real models for living.

My soap box is breaking under the weight of the New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce someone fed me during the Christmas break.

What was I talking about?

Oh, yes, St. Thomas Aquinas, the tubby. They didn't call St. Thomas Aquinas "The Dumb Ox" when he was a school boy for nothing. The 'dumb' part came from the fact that he was a quiet boy. But, let's fact it, they didn't call him the dumb mouse, or the dumb beanpole, or the dumb greyhound. "This dumb ox will fill the earth with his bellowing." (Albert the Great, Aquinas' Parisian professor)

You don't have to take my word for it. Here's G.K. Chesterton (a 'takes one to know one' example in the weight department, Chesterton's coffin was too big to be carried down the stairs and had to be lowered from the window like a piano) on St. Thomas Aquinas:
"St. Thomas was a huge heavy bull of a man, fat and slow and quiet; very mild and magnanimous but not very sociable; shy, even apart from the humility of holiness; and abstracted, even apart from his occasional and carefully concealed experiences of trance or ecstasy."

Myron Shibley of the Franciscan University writes:
"St. Thomas Aquinas was a compulsive over-eater who was not just fat but morbidly obese and physically grotesque."

I have read, but not been able to verify, that St. Thomas Aquinas had to cut a semi-circle in the table for his stomach so he could fit himself in there. Now, this may not be true, but no one would have made up a story like that if Aquinas was skinny, because no one would have believed it. They would have said, "Posh! Aquinas is a beanpole! What are you talking about?"

Instead, they said, "Reeeaaally?"

So all the walking didn't work for St. Thomas. I doubt he could walk that much anyhow. It takes a lot of sitting to write as much as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote. He didn't even have a typewriter.

It's okay with me. I like him that way. A peron can't have heroic virtue if they have no problems to try to overcome. You're not brave if you're not afraid. Bravery means you are afraid, but you still do the deed. If you're not afraid, maybe you're just fool hardy. Or stupid.
There can be no strength of character without temptation, no virtue without the existence of vice. Being a fatso doesn't make Thomas Aquinas a hypocrite. It makes him human, which allows him to become a saint.

I want the fattest holy card I can find of him.


KimK said...

Yes! I love this post, especially your comparisons of photos and holy cards. I *need* to know that the saints were not perfect. That's one reason I love St. Peter so much. The poor guy messed up an awful lot, yet our Lord still loved him and gave him great work to do for the Kingdom.

Thank you for your blog. It's one of my necessary reads.

Unknown said...

Good for you, Sister! I too hate the prettied up Holy Cards people foist off as if some porcelain doll is going to inspire devotion in me. Give me the reality of the saint, not some commercialized, catholi-crud image that doesn't even look human. And hey! I'm fat.

Smiley said...

Hi Sister,

I heard that St Thomas Aquinas had many scribes. He would have 4 or 5 around him and he would dictate to each scribe different chapters of different books. one book would be about the eucharist, another about angels, another about God etc. This brilliance of this saint is that he could dictate many things at the same time to each scribe on different topics without losing his train of thought.

I also heard that one day after he wrote a book He asked God is the book did justice to God and then St Thomas heard god Awnser back 'Yes Thomas you have done well to defend me'

bearing said...

Oooooooh, I am so with you on St. Thérèse.

Hey, you're the nun with the Etsy shop. How about manufacturing some holy cards of the Little Flower that use her PHOTO (which is beautiful) instead of some inaccurate drawing? I'm sure you can come up with the right text for the back.

Pretty please?

You could come up with a whole series of modern-day saint holy cards that use photos. St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati (and how about a medal of him attached to a carabiner, by the way? Patron saint of rock climbers, maybe? You're welcome.) St. Faustina. Etc. etc. etc.

I would buy some.

Dymphna said...

Hey, that photo of St. Catherine was taken when she was old. None of us look good at 70.

Unknown said...

Sister Mary Martha ~ Keeping it real!

Wendy said...

Well...yeah..but... We know he DID walk all over the place because he did different things in different cities all over Europe.

Dominicans of the time were not allowed any transportation but walking. I guess they carried St. Dominic out of the monastery that was planning to claim his body if he died there, but, even then, the brothers carrying him walked. Anyway, the contemporary documents say Aquinas walked. And dictated to several scribes at once.

Still, I've heard the table cut out story! And that he REALLY liked smoked herring. Or maybe pickled herring.

Love your blog!

Jade Dunlop said...

Haha! Potatoey!! Now I feel bad that my mom said I looked like her! Oh well, at least I know a potatoey face cannot keep you out of heaven.

I do have an Aquinas-related question. I actually attend mass at St. Thomas Aquinas church, and I've noticed every one there pronounces "Aquinas" differently (ah-KEY-nas, ah-QUEE-nas, ah-QUIN-as, AH-quee-NAS, etc.) Is there any particular way his name is supposed to be pronounced, or is it just up in the air?

Dory said...

TheIntrepidPie, your face is not potatoey. Your mom must have meant the saint's holy card picture. Is your parish multicultural? His name is probably pronounced differently in different languages. But now you have me wondering about St. Augustine.
Should he be pronounced awwgusteen or awwgustin? I heard awgusteen in my younger days, but lately have heard awwgustin. I am rather attached to saying awgusteen, so I hope that is right. Still, I wouldn't want to call him by the wrong name...

Anonymous said...

I loved your post about the holy cards because I'm also sick of looking at the 'prettied up
pics instead of the real ones. There's a site I think catholicprayercards.org and they have loads of prayer cards and they are pictures of actual saints! By the way, Someone mentioned Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and I really think you should add him to your shop. I don't know if you've looked into him or not, but he's really amazing, so please look him up!!

Anonymous said...

There is hope for us yet!
One of my favorite pictures is of St Therese Calcutta, the one where it shows all her wrinkles and smiling.

Shannon said...

I love the Blessed Mother Teresa's wrinkles. Maybe I'll be as wrinkley as that one day.

Anonymous said...

Let's not leave out Mother Theresa, whose face was so very wrinkled, yet whose Love of Our Lord was so very beautiful.

Candlestring said...

I liked this post, but the best part was when you mentioned Chesterton. Love him!

Unknown said...

Don't know if this is from a holy card, but he sure looks like a big boy in this picture.
Doesn't quite look as large as the "morbidly obese" patients that I've cared for--5oo & 6oo pounds. We even had a 900 pound man, but very sadly he died. Now that I'm thinking, a truly obese person may not have lived long enough to become so excessively large without the medical facilities and ICU's to treat the complications. Oh well...guess there's no bread pudding with rum sauce left, is there??

~C~ said...

Love, love, love your blog! You tell it like it is and make no apologies for it. I'm not Catholic, so I don't know a whole lot about saints but I do know that seeing someone as human and having struggles to face and still having that devout faith means more to me than if they were perfect their whole lives. I struggle everyday, I need to know that even in that struggle God can love me. If that makes sense. I do have a question for you. What is your take on public/parochial/Christian/homeschooling? I'd like to know a nun's official view. We're struggling to find the best education for our children and public school just isn't cutting it. Private is good, but on one, not very substantial, income it's daunting trying to find a place we can afford. Based on the tuition scales I keep telling my husband we need to have another child and convert in order to afford it.

Anonymous said...

The Catholic Church would tell you that it is your responsibility to see to it that your children receive solid instruction, particularly in morals and faith. If the schools you're being forced to pay for can't or won't provide, then you need to find somebody else to do it, even if it's your self.

Amy Giglio said...

Hi Sister! This is my first time on your blog and I love that it's a post about one of my favorite saints!

I just have to tell this story: My second son has what a polite person might call a good-sized head. His noggin was 15.5 inches around at birth and was as wide as his shoulders. He was (and is still) perfectly healthy, he just has a big melon.

We had a priest who was retired but in residence named Fr. Sheehan. Fr. Sheehan has been around for too long and seen too much to sugar-coat anything. He is a good and holy man and I love him dearly.

So our family was leaving church after Mass one Sunday when our son was about 3 months old. Fr. Sheehan greeted us and when he got a good look at my baby he said, "Whoa! Look at the head on that kid!" Realizing that what he said might offend us, Father recovered: "That means he's going to be very smart. Thomas Aquinas had a big head."

Anonymous said...

Myron Shibley of the Franciscan University writes:
"St. Thomas Aquinas was a compulsive over-eater who was not just fat but morbidly obese and physically grotesque."

Did Mr Shibley provide a source that statement?

Anonymous said...

I would challenge your last point about "no strength of character without temptation". Not because I necessarily disagree...it's an issue I'm in the process of working out myself. I do tend to think, however, that strength must be properly defined by the nature of its own being, and not by the nature of that which surrounds it. That being said, righteous post! These holy cards 'pretty up' the saints because it seems hard to express inner beauty with a drawing, and so inner beauty is perhaps represented by their pretty faces. However, this only feeds into the false conception that most people today have: that beauty is an exterior feature. As you most righteously identify, true beauty is that which lies within. Right on.