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Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Oration”

10 January 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Oration" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

Saint Thomas Aquinas OP (1225-1274) is one of the Doctors of the Church. His teaching has been especially promoted by the Church as an exemplar of philosophical clarity and theological orthodoxy. In his great systematic work called the Summa Theologiae (a “summary” or “manual” of theology), he treats of nearly all aspects of Christian doctrine, from the doctrines of God as Creator, as Triune, and as Incarnate, to rigorous reflections on the sacraments and the so-called Four Last Things (judgment, hell, purgatory, and heaven). In the Summa, he also considers the nature of prayer, bringing to bear the reflections of Scripture and the saints who came before him. This reflection is the first of four in which we look at Saint Thomas’s treatment of the four parts of prayer, namely: oration, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession. As we progress through this Year of Prayer, we will return to these basic themes presented by Saint Thomas, showing how his fundamental insights are shared by saints and holy figures from throughout the Church’s history

Saint Thomas did not invent this fourfold division. Although it was first codified in a systematic way by the monk Saint John Cassian (360-435), the roots of this division comes from Saint Paul himself in 1 Timothy 2:1: “I urge… that petitions, orations, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people.” In this reflection we will consider oration.

Oration is derived from the Latin oratio, which can be translated simply into English as “prayer,” but the theological tradition has given it a more specific meaning. Related to the noun os (oris), meaning “mouth,” an oration is something spoken aloud toward someone or something. It pertains to the first part of the definition of prayer given in the Catechism, “the raising of one’s heart and and mind to God,” but this ascent is done by explicitly calling out to God.

But who is the source of this calling out? Does it come merely from ourselves? Or is it already a participation with God’s own action? Indeed, we are only able to call out to God because God has called us first. Indeed, as the Creator who is the source of all things, our call to God can only be a response to the one who gives us our being as the very first gift. When we raise our hearts and minds to God and call upon his Name, we are in a sense returning ourselves to the source of our being, acknowledging his greatness and our humility before him. This humility is the basic posture of prayer: we place ourselves before God and call out to the one who made all things visible and invisible. All prayer, all oration, starts from God and returns to him.

In the next instalment, we will consider a second aspect of prayer: thanksgiving.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.