In the hymn Adoro te devote, Thomas Aquinas expresses his understanding of the theological virtue of faith, as it is a poem directed at the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For Aquinas, faith consists, for the most part, in knowledge; faith is an act of reason that seeks truth. And so, in the Adoro te devote, Aquinas is expressing the faith that he has in the presence of God in the Eucharist. He says, for example, “I devoutly adore you, hidden deity, Who are truly hidden beneath these appearances. And in contemplating You, it surrenders itself completely.”1
We can see how Aquinas believes in the presence of God, “deity”, “hidden beneath” the appearances of bread and wine. Meaning that though he does not see God in the Eucharist, he yet believes in the truth that He is present in it, and therefore his heart “surrenders itself completely”. In other words, because Aquinas already knows that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, he comes to God to “contemplate” and adore Him. In the second paragraph he writes:
Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you,
But hearing suffices firmly to believe.
I believe all that the Son of God has spoken;
There is nothing truer than this word of Truth.
He’s saying that although one does not see, feel or “taste” God in the Eucharist, it is enough for Aquinas to believe in what Jesus has said and spoken. Aquinas may be referring to Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”2
It is also Christ who speaks through the Catholic Church, through which we come to believe that Christ is really, and substantially contained3 in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. So, Aquinas believes in the presence of God in the Sacrament through reason and he is adoring the Eucharist as an expression of his faith. Halfway through the poem he writes:
I do not see wounds as Thomas did,
But I confess that You are my God.
Make me believe much more in You,
Hope in you and love You.
After Jesus’ Resurrection, Our Lord appeared to his disciples on many occasions, but the Apostle Thomas had yet to see Jesus and doubted that the Crucified Master had even resurrected from the dead. Then Jesus appeared once again to all of the disciples and, after having touched Jesus’ wounds and placed his finger in his ribcage, the apostle finally came to believe and exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus answered to doubting Thomas (and to all of us), "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."4
Thomas Aquinas, however, states that even though he has not seen the Lord, Aquinas confesses that Christ is his Lord, present in the Eucharist. Though he is not like doubting Thomas, Aquinas is still humble enough to ask God to help him believe, hope, and love Him more. This is, once again, another example of Aquinas expressing his faith through this hymn.
Adoro te devote is beautiful, not just because of the rhyming or rhythm that it is made up of or even for the way that the poem expresses devotion to God in the Blessed Sacrament; it is most amazing because it was written by a brilliant man who dedicated his entire life in mind, body and soul to understanding and sharing Christ with everyone.
Aquinas teaches us that faith is, as St. Paul writes, ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” that requires of reason and the intellect to seek truth.
By Edgar Avendano @latinofilmmaker
1 This is a literal translation of Adoro te devote. I’m more interested here in the exact words Thomas Aquinas uses, than in the rhyming or rhythm of the poem. Various Authors, “Adoro te devote,” at Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoro_te_devote (12 December 2019)
2 John 6:35, Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, at Vatican Online, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM (12 December 2019)
4 John 20: 24-30