Q. I’ve heard that St. Thomas Aquinas (feast day, January 28) had a vision near the end of his life that showed him his work was just “straw.” What does this mean?
A. On the feast of St. Nicholas, 1273, while celebrating Mass, St. Thomas received a revelation from God that caused him to stop writing, leaving his brilliant lifelong work, Summa Theologiae, unfinished. He told his secretary: “The end of my labors has come. All I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”
When his friend begged him to finish writing, Thomas insisted: “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.” The saint died three months later.
We have no reason to believe that Thomas’s vision was a retraction of what he had written. If so, he would not have been named a Doctor of the Church, and Pope Leo XIII would not have later urged the Church to study his works. In fact, on an earlier occasion, the saint had reported that Jesus had said to him in another vision, “You have written well of Me, Thomas.”
Most interpreters agree it’s more likely that St. Thomas had a vision of heaven’s glory that day. Compared to what he saw, everything else seems worthless, no matter how magnificent it might be.