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St. Thomas Aquinas on Easter, c. 1265 CE

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We paint the eggs because the Holy Spirit loves pastels

St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the foremost intellectual and philosophical forces of medieval Christendom.  His writings on theology formed the basis for much of the Church’s dogma of the period, and he remains influential to this day. What follows are excerpts from a long letter Aquinas wrote to the Archbishop of Genoa about the Easter holiday.

To the Pious and Most Reverent Archbishop of Genoa,

Aquinas is almost certainly being sarcastic in his salutation here. Archbishop Fettuccine had been reprimanded by the Pope himself in 1261 for selling knock-off holy relics in his church, in what is now widely recognized as the first gift shop in Europe since the closing of Crazy Julius’ Togas n’ Tings. Just months after this letter was written, the Archbishop found himself in hot water again, this time for conspiracy to think the Jews are actually not that bad.

I do agree that our symbols for Easter, this most holiest of days on the calendar, are confusing and complicated to understand with respect to Our Lord. Take, for example, the hollow chocolate rabbit, perhaps the holiest of Easter symbols. Though appearing firm and full of delicious chocolate, the inside is empty, representing the emptiness of man’s life in the absence of God (or more chocolate). By eating the ears first, we symbolically condemn those heathens who cannot hear the word of God.

Chocolate rabbits remain to this day the holiest symbol of Easter. Catholic churches across the world swap out their communion wafers for chocolate bunnies, which at least partially explains why Easter Mass is so well-attended.

 Just as Christ taught “let he who without sin cast the first stone,” so too must we teach “let he who is without fat eat the first chocolate.” Just as Christ taught that the meek will inherit the Earth, so too must we teach that the children will inherit the brightly colored basket filled with treats. And finally, just as we must be ever-vigilant against Satan and his temptations, so too must we teach our flocks to be vigilant against those who would deceive us and tempt us to believe that a rabbit, and not Our Lord God, brings us the sugared bounty.

Aquinas later refined this thought and used it as the backbone of a long treatise on the nature of evil and how it relates to rabbits. Aquinas believed that cream-filled chocolate eggs were the ultimate symbol of God’s love for his creation, and though he never published it, his closest friends said he truly believed Christ rose after three days just to get more.

When the children search for eggs, they are applying a level of thought and hard work from which we can learn in our search for meaning. Let us remember the famous story Paul told to the Sicilians: “Where does God hide his eggs? Certainly not in the open, where they would be easy enough for a German to find. Nor does he hide them deep in the caves and seas of the Earth, where we could find them, but really who has the time? He hides them in plain sight, inside chickens. And so in each of us, except the Jews obviously.” When your nephew returns from his search after seven long years, if he has all ten eggs you must reward him. If he has returned without finding them all, you must send him away.

When hiding Easter eggs, it was medieval custom to send them to the Holy Land and hide them there, in hopes of sparking young people’s thirst for crusading. The ill-fated and tragic Children’s Crusade started by accident when a shipment of Easter Eggs (at the time controlled and distributed entirely by the Pope himself) was re-routed to Jerusalem. When the Pope realized he would be spending Easter with no eggs, he called on good Christian children to go find them for him. Though Aquinas was not philosophically opposed to crusades in general, he believed Jesus was clear on the matter of Easter egg hunt-based crusades:

As it says in II Corinthians 3:12-19, Our Lord did most love a game of hiders and finders (a medieval variant of hide-and-seek won by those who remained hidden long enough for their pursuers to die of plague). However, he never appreciated our searching for objects or things rather than people or knowledge. And though he did participate in the hiding of the Afikoman at Passover every year, and he was really good at it, he always found it trivial compared to the search for truth. And also the search for brightly colored eggs theoretically laid by a rabbit, which obviously represents the Holy Spirit. Or maybe a rabbit.

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