Thomas Aquinas is not generally thought of in relation to catechesis. In fact, he is not referred to in the General Directory for Catechesis. However, Aquinas can render a valuable service to catechesis today as a model of pedagogy and a doctrinal resource for catechists.
In his essay entitled “Thomistic Theology and Religious Education,” Fr. Mark Heath provides a great service in bringing Aquinas into modern catechetical discourse. He lays out three main points, which he claims define Thomas’ contribution to catechesis: synthesis (systematic), theocentricity, and doctrine. Thomistic theology integrates all true insights (as seen especially in Thomas’ Aristotelianism), treats all things through and in relation to God, and is ordered toward a deeper understanding of the faith. These three points stand in stark contrast to current trends in catechesis, which focus on experience and praxis, as well as theories that emphasize whole-community catechesis. Therefore, Heath’s essay provides a helpful service in addressing the current crisis of catechesis, particularly by bringing Aquinas back into the discussion.
However, Heath’s essay can only be viewed as a preliminary effort. While he effectively brings forth key elements of Thomistic thought, the full catechetical significance needs further exploration. The content of Aquinas’ theology is actually tightly knit into a methodology intended to order one’s mind and heart to God. By focusing on the content of Thomas’ catechetical sermons (as well as of the Summa Theologiae) one can grasp how Aquinas’ presentation of doctrine is meant to draw the listener/reader into a deeper engagement with the realities that he presents.