May 28, 2011

St. Thomas says prayer is a mouthful of reason: oris ratio

In his treatment on Christian prayer in the Summa Theologica II-II, q 83, St. Thomas wants his students to see that prayer is not only something that involves deep emotions and desires, but that it also takes up all the powers of reason.  For him, prayer is not simply a naked impulse of the will toward the Divinity - but it also involves human intelligence raised on high by grace, by a participation in the very mind of the Living God.

Oris - what comes out of the mouth, what is expressed for someone to hear - in the case of prayer, this Someone is God.  Christians dare raise up their petitions with confidence because by faith in Christ and by baptism they have become the sons and daughters of the Most High.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, they voice (whether out loud or in the silent words of their hearts) desires, which no human speech can adequately express, with loving trust in Christ to their merciful Father.

Ratio indicates not only reason but also dimensions of "Logos" beyond what "word-verbum" immediately suggest to contemporary English speakers.  "Ratio-logos" also calls to mind truth, harmony, mediation.  Yet even in relation to the Latin Vulgate "Verbum," "Ratio" extends to the biblical concept of "dabar," God's word of power by which Divine Will is accomplished, the Word through whom all things were made.

On Earth as it is in Heaven: Prayer revealed and given by the Word made Flesh lifts up the soul into the canticle of praise sung in the heavens and through such a soul allows those harmonies to echo on earth.  Prayer mediates the true goodness and glory of God, even when the Lord appears all too absent.  Indeed the unfolding of the world and our lives in time and space is never accidental, but everything has been carefully planned for by the Author of Life from the beginning so that no matter what happens - we are always awaited by love.  In prayer all of creation resounds with the splendors of divine life, light and love which the Lord has longed to share from the beginning.

Wisdom, goodness and love characterize this plan: this is why the world explodes around us with such beauty even when everything seems to be going wrong.  Prayer enters into the Almighty's reasons for the most difficult things and finds Christ.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, grace infused reason sees beyond misery's deep abyss to contemplate the deeper abyss of Mercy: the Truth who is limit of every evil and falsehood, in whom is realized the victory of good over evil.

Christian's pray with a mouthful of reason - divine reason given as a gift from the Father for the salvation, not only of themselves, but of the whole world.  If it is a cry of the heart - a cry of recognition and love embracing both trials and joys - it is also a spoken truth which shakes the foundations of the heavens and the earth, standing firm on the Word Himself.  And for those who most need it, at death's hour or some other insurmountable trial, the spoken truth of such prayer is a light that shines in the darkness, a flickering hope which anchors the cosmos in the hand of God.


  1. Another example of an extraordinary preacher who embodies the depth, intelligence and reality of the Catholic experience.\\

    Michael F Brennan
    St Petersburg, FL

  2. Very simply, the role of the intellect in prayer is to stir the will to love. Some continue with the powers of the intellect much too long, making prayer an exercises of study more than one of love. Others neglect the use of the intellect to such an extent that their will is hardly moved. They never present the beauty of the great truths of our faith to the will so that it may be moved to love them, as though they expect the will to fall deeply in love with that which it does not know.

  3. it is "reason of the mouth," not mouthful of reason.