Thomas International’s Coat of Arms
Thomas International’s coat of arms was designed by Diana Ciullo, following guidelines offered by Fulvio Di Blasi. Its symbolism refers, of course, to the person and thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. The design seeks to embody both the canon of heraldry, and the communicative power of contemporary art.
The form of the shield symbolizes the vocation of intellectuals, to defend the truth against the errors and adversities of ideology and power.
The interior of the shield displays four principle symbols: from the upper left, five waves, the wing of an angel, an unsheathed double-edged sword, and a tuft of straw.
The Five Waves
The first symbol of the shield represents philosophy or “the love of wisdom” (from the Greek, philo-sophia).
The waves represent the famous “Five Ways,” or five proofs for the existence of God, which, in turn, are meant to be an image of Thomas’ philosophical thought that, beginning from material realm, ascends to reach the most spiritual and transcendent realities. Thomas’ philosophy begins its quest for knowledge by contemplating those things that present themselves to our five external senses. Because of this basis in reality and sense-knowledge, Thomas’ method has been called “philosophical realism”—to distinguish it from idealistic philosophies that begin from abstract concepts and ideas. From knowledge of the sensible world, Thomas achieves knowledge of the human, spiritual soul and scientific proof of the necessity of a First Cause and Ruler of the universe, that is, the existence of God. In the thought of St. Thomas, this does not mean that God, contained within the categories of human knowledge, is known as He is in Himself. Rather, it means touching the mystery of the ontological relationship that binds creatures to their Creator.
The five ways are the apex of a realistic philosophy open to the transcendental and the mysterious; a philosophy that neither shelters the proper vocation of wisdom in confronting the most profound problems of existence, nor avoids the rationalist temptation to constrain reality within the schemas, ideas, or systems of our mind.
Wisdom is the sublime apex of knowledge, when the particular comes to be observed in light of its universal and highest significance. The five ways are good representatives of this moment because they are, for the philosopher, the beginning of the contemplation of the world with reference to the Being who, from the height of His infinite wisdom and power, creates it from nothing.
The sea’s waves symbolize the inexhaustible majesty of the cosmos, which directs the mind of man to the mystery of the transcendent. Contemplating the sea, man is alerted to both the proper limits and the greatness of creation, and he opens himself to that which is beyond. The five ways, like the waves of the ocean, lead the eye over the open sea to that place where the horizon is mingled with the infinite and material reality seems united with the spiritual.
The wing of the angel
Thomas Aquinas is also known as “The Angelic Doctor” because he, more than any other, reflected on and wrote about the nature of angels. In our shield, the wing represents theology, which is the knowledge to which man arrives by virtue of the revelation of God throughout history and by the action of grace.
Theology is the highest form of wisdom since it approaches truth from God’s point of view. One might say that, while philosophy studies the world upwards from the bottom, theology proceeds to the depths from above. Theology does, however, presuppose a natural knowledge and builds upon this knowledge because revelation can only be offered to a being whose cognitive capacity and volition are already developed and ready for a higher explanation and a superior truth. God reveals himself to a man that is capax Dei, in other words, to one who is capable of recognizing Him and of receiving His message. This is one of the main principles of the Christian faith: that the human being is by his very nature oriented to a knowledge and love of God. However, by his own powers man only reaches God in an indirect and veiled manner through knowledge and love of created things. Grace, rather than destroying nature, elevates it into a direct relationship with God.
Thus, the wing also represents the inseparable union of philosophy and theology, or of human wisdom and supernatural wisdom. This union is present in an especially wonderful way in manner Thomas conducts his study of the angels. He knows by faith that certain creatures exist that, like man, act rationally using their intellect and will but that, unlike man, are not material beings, and thus, for example, do not see, touch, and do not possess images of things.
Urged on by this certainty and assisted by scriptural passages that refer to angels, Thomas rigorously applies proper philosophical knowledge—specifically, regarding human nature—to comprehend the modes of being and action that pertain to a creature lacking a body. And in doing so, he consistently maintains a clear distinction between those arguments based upon revealed facts and those based upon philosophical facts. The result is not only a brilliant excursus on the angelic nature but also an extremely refined, in-depth study of human nature and its animal and spiritual components. In fact, it is impossible to reflect upon how one can think and love while being deprived of the corporeal dimension without first sharpening, at the same time, the conceptual difference between that which, in man, is intellect and will and that which is his animality. St. Thomas’ treatment of angels is a splendid example of how the knowledge of faith unites itself to purely human knowledge without diluting either of the two, meanwhile, offering this human dimension a point of departure and an incentive for further advances in philosophical reflection.
If the shield is the defense of truth, then the unsheathed sword—with its point towards the heavens—represents the powers of attack and seniority.
The union of the first two symbols—the union of human wisdom and supernatural wisdom—simultaneously represents the entire truth of which man is the intended recipient, and the work of Thomas, which is an exemplary effort to understand and penetrate this same truth.
Despite appearances to the contrary, truth is the authentic ruler and queen of history. This is the case in spite of every power, wealth, ideology, and intrigue with which man inebriates himself in the present life. Truth is loyal! The hero of truth, the righteous man, must neither waiver nor despair!
The two-edged sword is an apocalyptic symbol for the full truth by which the world and every individual shall be judged. The sword emanates from the mouth of God and invites all to conversion while threatening combat if unheeded (Rev 1:16; 2:16). The sword is the Word of God, it is Christ, it is the Truth. The heroes of the truth on this earth, those who give testimony to it with their actions and teach it with their words and writings, are thus privileged figures of Christ along with their privileged testimonies; and they fittingly symbolized by a double edged sword in the position of attack.
At the end of time, the victory of Christ will manifest itself in the unveiling of the truth throughout history. At this time, all will understand that good has always conquered evil, that the force of love has always prevailed against the forces of hatred. And subsequent judgment shall be just because the truth of good and evil—the law of God—has always been present in all men, engraved upon their nature. Thus to every conscience, even the most depraved, has been given the possibility of introspection and discovery of the truth. In the bottom of every heart, all have always known good and evil. No one shall be able to say that he didn’t know. The final judgment will award those who are good because they knew to act well and it will condemn those who are evil because they knew to do evil. Ignorance is irrelevant and error will not be attributed to those who, in perfect sincerity of conscience, believed that they did good.
The Tuft of Straw
Towards the end of his life, Thomas had a special revelation from God, the details of which remain unclear. It is only known that, from that moment on, he almost ceased to speak and write. The silence of Thomas has remained throughout the ages as an eloquent sign of the greatness of his vision. During that period, he, referring to his writings, said that they were sicut bacula (like straw); not in the sense that that which was contained in them was mistaken or that anything should be eliminated, but in the sense that, when compared with that which God is in Himself, all that man can think and write is as nothing… sicut bacula.
Following the first symbol, which represents the greatness of human wisdom, the second, which represents the greatness of supernatural wisdom, and the third, which represents the power and the significance of both, the last symbol represents intellectual humility.
Man is created with extraordinary powers to elevate himself with his mind and heart to God. He is called “the priest of creation” in the sense that, except for the angels, he is the only being that is called to consciously return the world to its creator. The greatest temptation and ruin of man comes from intellectual pride, from not accepting the limits proper to reason and perspective, and from wanting to understand everything, thus closing the door to faith and mystery. The individual’s inability to discover the entire truth is thus an invitation to seek it in community: nobody knows everything but together we know what is necessary. Moreover, human knowledge of the truth is always mingled with the difficult and arcane.
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve easily understood everything—the nature of all things—except the prohibition of eating the fruit of a particular tree. Why that one tree? Why that fruit? Why this command? They did not place their trust in God in that one case in which their intellect was not satiated, they disobeyed, and original sin entered the world. The closer man is to the truth, the more he should exercise intellectual humility to be at peace with himself, with others, and with God.
The Colors of the Shield
The dominant color of the shield is red, representing the theological virtue of charity. The white represents the purity of heart that constitutes charity’s background.
Thomas put knowledge and love of God at the center of his entire reflection, both philosophical and theological. God is the ultimate end of man, whose nature tends to love God before himself and with a greater love (ST, I, q. 60, a. 5). This tendency of nature is perfected by grace by means of the theological virtue of charity that elevates man to the point of making him participate in divine nature itself.
Charity directs the will of man to God as his final end in the most perfect way. For this reason it informs (it gives the correct form or color to) every good act of man and every other virtue. Charity shapes every study and investigation of the truth Thomas undertakes in response to his specific vocation, acts of service to and love of God.
A pure heart is a detached heart that gives itself without reservation to others and to The Other. It is the heart that does not put base desires and disordered passions over and above charity. Scripture says that the pure of heart shall see God… and that God is Love. Purity and charity become the place and method of that truth to which Thomas has invited us to return our sight.
Fulvio Di Blasi