Our friends at the table were chatting delightedly, polishing off the last of brunch. Nearly everyone had had their fill. I turned to the range to make a few extra pancakes for the group, loading the pancake batter with a lavish portion of butterscotch chips.
I have discovered since that there are different approaches to pancake preparation. But at the time, as far as I was concerned, the sole point of pancakes was to deliver a landslide of butterscotch chips to my rapacious maw. As I commenced overloading, a fellow cook stayed my hand. “You might make a couple with fewer chips,” she suggested graciously. “Some people might like them better that way.”
The revelation exploded like a bomb: Other people like different things than I do. Perhaps I shouldn’t always universalize my particular preferences.
Since then, the revelation has undergone some nuancing. While there is a bewildering variety of things for which people can opt or not, still we can discern themes. Lots of people like fall foliage. Many like nature documentaries narrated by David Attenborough. Practically all like friendship. And everyone likes happiness. While the expressions of love may be distinct, some things are simply more fitted to the human heart. The trick is to discern which loves are more particular and which are more universal.
In the years since the butterscotch revelation, I entered religious life and spent some time in philosophical and theological formation. In the uninspired décor of my cell, buttressed by the poor lumbar support of my desk chair, I found something that I liked very much: the Christian intellectual tradition, specifically the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. This holy teaching healed my mind, made sense of my human experience, and gave expression to a knowledge and love that I had suspected possible, but had never before encountered in such a powerful way. Over time, I became deeply convinced, and began to universalize: Everyone should think this way!
But with that move came a tacit fear. Is this just an idiosyncrasy? Have I made the particular out to be more universal than it is, or does Thomism really correspond to what is in the heart of man and woman? At first, I had reason to doubt. I learned in my classes that Thomism had suffered various misadventures in history, never gained hegemony, and produced some strange birds along the way. Perhaps, I thought, it’s more particular after all.
But recent experience has given me hope. For the past year, I’ve worked for the Thomistic Institute in Washington, D.C. One of my main responsibilities has been to visit the men and women at universities who make up our campus chapters. Wherever I turn, I encounter students who desire to learn (and learn well) the substance of the Christian intellectual tradition. Not in ways that are occasional and eclectic, but as a wisdom that is orderly and luminous. And these students are eager for the thought of Aquinas.
I have met many who want to understand St. Thomas precisely because they want to reason well about revelation and reality—to know and to love in accord with what is—to live a truly and profoundly human life. And while I am willing to acknowledge that Thomism may not be for everyone, still it seems that it is for quite a few.
With this flood of interest, we feel duty-bound to supply for the need. This week, the Thomistic Institute is launching a new program called Aquinas 101, to form the interested enthusiast in the thought of the Angelic Doctor. is a series of free video courses that will help you engage the faith’s most urgent philosophical and theological questions with the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. In the end, you’ll be able to read Aquinas on his own terms and to master the essentials of his thought. It’s true and it’s good. And I think you will find it corresponds to the human heart—regardless of your taste in pancakes.
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., serves as Assistant Director for Campus Outreach at the Thomistic Institute.