The painting above is titled “The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas” and was produced by the 14th century artist Andrea da Firenze. This is quite an elaborate scene and it represents for us the truth of Catholic Philosophy conquering all heresy and enlightening all sciences. I’d like to walk you through this painting, explaining the significance of the images.
First of all, find at the center of the scene the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. In his hand, he holds a book which contains the Latin text of Wisdom 7:7, “Optavi, et datus est mihi sensus; et invocavi, et venit in me spiritus sapientiae; et praeposui illam regnis et sedibus.” This translates as, “I willed and understanding was given to me, I prayed, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me; and I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones.” St. Thomas, blessed with miraculous wisdom, devoted himself exclusively to the service of the Christian faith. He is honored as the greatest of all Christian teachers and the conqueror of the enemies of the Christian faith.
Above St. Thomas, we see a number of angels and above them we see Jesus Christ above all at the center. I am not yet able to make out who the men are in the windows of the arch, as it were. They are holding scrolls, which likely reveal their identity, but they are illegible.
Beneath the feet of St. Thomas are the three great heretics. Averroes, center, referred to by St. Thomas as “The Commentator” is in the center, an Arab philosopher whose interpretation of Aristotle filled the world before St. Thomas and led many to reject Aristotle because of Averroes’ interpretation. To his sides are Sibellius, who denied the Trinity, and Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ. These three great heretics, sources of falsehoods that have corrupted, an continue to corrupt, all of the arts and sciences, are defeated and held before St. Thomas, that is, before his doctrine.
To St. Thomas’ right and left are five men on each side. To the right are the Evangelists St. Matthew and St. Luke, the Prophets Moses and Isaiah and King Solomon. To the left are the Evangelists St. John and St. Mark, King David the Psalmist, and two others whose identity I cannot yet make out.
Update: Our friend Andrew Nuar helped find a high resolution image of the painting which allows us to identify the remaining two figures St. Paul and the Prophet Job. Thanks Andrew!
On the bottom of the painting things get more interesting, we see 14 women seated, with a man at each of their feet. On the left side, starting from the center, are the three theological virtues: we have Charity in red, with St. Augustine seated before her, then Hope with St. John of Damascus, and Faith represented by Dionysius. Beyond them we have the two divisions of Theology, Practical Theology with Boethius, and Speculative Theology with Peter Lombard. At the far left we have the two divisions of Law, with Canon Law, represented by a Pope, and Civil Law, likely represented by Justinian.
On the right, we find the seven classical liberal arts. First, the four arts of the Quadrivium: Arithmetic with Pythagoras, Geometry with Euclid, Astronomy and Ptolemy (I assume), and, lastly, Music with Tubalcain (see Genesis 4:22). Then, the three arts of the Trivium: Reasoning, with Zeno the Stoic, Rhetoric with Cicero and, lastly, Grammar with Donatus.
Why this Painting is Important
In the 21st century, Christians are lost at sea. The Church has taken a passive approach in world affairs, reacting to what the world does rather than showing the world what it should do. Catholic education is non-existent if, by Catholic education we do not merely mean that there are schools administered by the Catholic Church, but that these schools teach true Catholic Philosophy. Catholic parents usually have desires to give their children something true, good and beautiful, but they have no clue what it is. They bounce around from school to school or home school program to home school program, never satisfied because, really, they don’t know what they’re looking for.
This painting gives us the answer.
The focus of Catholic education should be the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. If you desire your children to receive a true Catholic education, not just a public school education dressed up to look Catholic, but a holy and wise education, you need to provide them with the opportunity to study the classical liberal arts. Those seven arts in the bottom right hand corners are the school curriculum of the Catholic faith. They are the academic studies which , when joined with the virtues and the writings of Sacred Scripture, prepare us for the wisdom of Catholic Philosophy, which defeats all false teachings and enlightens all of our life’s pursuits. Rather than saying they wish to be doctors, our children should say that they want to be Christian doctors, whose work is enlightened by their knowledge of Christian Philosophy. Rather than saying they wish to be lawyers, our children should say that they want to be Christian lawyers, whose work is enlightened by their knowledge Christian Philosophy. The same is true in all fields–this is what it means to be Christians “in the world, but not of the world”. All of our lives should enlightened by the wisdom of Christian Philosophy, which is found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.
That is the significance of this painting.
The Classical Liberal Arts Academy
This education, described above, will be found nowhere but here in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. From the first lessons in Grammar through the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the entire classical liberal arts curriculum is available here in a format that makes this learning accessible for all students, and affordable for all parents. We can share these images from the past because they represent exactly what we are teaching, and we can explain them because our studies reveal what they represent. Don’t be distracted by pretenders, who copy and paste our work. Everything you need for a true and complete education in Catholic Philosophy is available right here at the source at: www.classicalliberalarts.com.
Classical Liberal Arts Academy
Mr. William C. Michael is the founding headmaster of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. He graduated from Rutgers University with an honors degree in Classics & Ancient History and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the National Association of Scholars. Mr. Michael has worked in private education as a Classics teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is a Roman Catholic homeschooling father of ten children, and keeper of a quiet family farm in North Carolina. Mr. Michael enjoys studying ancient natural philosophy, gardening, and running.