Xavier Journal of Undergraduate Research

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The Angelic Doctor as Poet


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Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote a total of five Eucharistic hymns for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in the year 1264. This research paper analyzes the stylistic features of one of these hymns, the Pange Lingua. The text of the hymn is considered, so any melodies to which the hymn has been set are outside the scope of this essay, which is at its core a literary analysis. In other words, the hymn is viewed as a poem.

In the Pange Lingua, Aquinas uses word-play and verbal allusion as tools for the development of imagery. This method of poetical expression bears noticeable resemblance to that of classical lyric poetry—in which a poem commonly features an extended series of images, which convey the logical steps in the poem’s message or train of thought. On the one hand, the imagery veils the poem’s message in mystery; but on the other hand, the imagery makes the poem’s message more tangible and engaging.

The imagery found in Aquinas’ Pange Lingua is on par with Aquinas’ Eucharistic theology. Aquinas held that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a participation in Christ’s Sacrifice at Calvary. The Pange Lingua expresses this point by blending imagery pertaining to the Crucifixion with imagery pertaining to the Eucharist. This fusion of imagery begins in the hymn’s opening line, which is based on the opening line of an earlier hymn (penned by Venantius Fortunatus) about the Crucifixion.

The Eucharistic hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas do not receive much attention in contemporary scholarship. The main cause of this deficiency seems to be that the hymns are not well-suited to the current interests of various academic disciplines. While this lack of secondary sources certainly poses difficulties, it also encourages a more thorough engagement with the primary source.

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