Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dumb Ox

Today, on the Church's calendar, we celebrate the feast day St. Thomas Aquinas, Flannery O'Connor's favorite saint. By the time she finished college Flannery possessed an impressive knowledge of the thirteenth century saint fondly dubbed "the dumb ox." Later, as an adult, she would read portions of Aquinas's magnum opus, The Summa Theologica, before retiring for the night. In a letter to Betty Hester she quipped, "I read it [the Summa] for about twenty minutes every night before I go to bed. If my mother were to come in during this process and say, 'Turn off the light. It's late,' I with lifted finger and broad bland beatific expression, would reply, 'On the contrary, I answer that the light, being external and limitless cannot be turned off. Shut your eyes.'" (FOC to Betty Hester, August 9, 1955, CW, 945) O'Connor's devotion to St. Thomas also found its way into her fiction most memorably in the short stories, "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" (where there are numerous allusions to Aquinas) and "The Comforts of Home" where the main character, Thomas, chases a "nimpermaniac," Star Drake, from his room by "holding the chair in front of him like an animal trainer driving out a dangerous cat." (CW p.574). According to legend, St. Thomas once chased away a prostitute with a red-hot poker. Regarding this incident, Flannery remarked, "It would be fashionable today to be in sympathy with the woman, but I am in sympathy with St. Thomas." (FOC to Betty Hester, August 9, 1955, CW, 946.)
- Mark

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