Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas was born at Roccasecca, Italy, to Count Landulf and Countess Theodora. From early on, Thomas was diligent in his studies and had a meditative mindset. He received his education from the monastery of Monte Cassino and the University of Naples.

Thomas entered the Dominican Order and then studied in Paris from 1245 under the well-known philosopher Albertus Magnus (1195–1280). He spent 10 years visiting Italy, France, and Germany. In 1248 he lectured on the Bible at a college in Cologne, Germany. He was in Paris from 1252 c.e., eventually becoming a professor of theology and writing books.

He was awarded the degree of doctor in theology in 1257. Between 1259 and 1268 he lectured as professor in the Dominican covenants of Rome and Naples. Thomas also worked at the papal court as an adviser. He was a well-known figure by the time he came to Paris in 1269.

His intellectual inquiries about the relationship between philosophy and theology made Thomas a controversial figure. His Scholasticism made him an avid reader of works pertaining to Christian theologians, Greek thinkers, Jewish philosophy, and Islamic philosophy. Thomas wrote his first book as a commentary on Sentences, a seminal book on theology by Peter Lombard (1095–1161).

Aristotle (384–322 b.c.e.) influenced him greatly, and his comments on Sentences contained about 2,000 references to Aristotle. Critics also associate Thomas with the doctrine of Averroës (1126–98), distinguishing between knowledge of philosophy and religion. The Dominicans sent Thomas to Naples in 1272 to organize a studium generale (a house of studies).

The pope had asked him to attend the Council of Lyon on May 1, 1274, and to bring his book Contra errores Graecorum (Against the errors of the Greeks). In spite of his deteriorating health, he started the journey in January. He died on his way there on March 7, 1274, at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova.

Cistercian abbey of Fossanova
Cistercian abbey of Fossanova where Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274

In Christian theology the 13th century was an important time, as two schools of thought were raging with controversy. The Averroists separated philosophical truths from faith. They did not believe in divine revelations and believed that reason was paramount. The Augustinians gave faith the predominant position. For Thomas both reason and faith were important.

Both were complementary to each other, and the nature of their relationship did not conflict. He believed that the truths of philosophy and religion were gifts from God. The moderate realism of Thomas postulated that both the medium of thought and that of the senses led to knowledge of the intelligible world or the universal. Thomas was a sharp thinker, combining philosophical truths with theological postulations. His natural law accommodated the divine law. He synthesized Christian theology with the philosophy of Aristotle, the Stoics, and Ibn Rushd.

Thomas was a prolific writer, penning 60 works. His manuscripts were preserved in the libraries of Europe, and multiple copies came out after the invention of printing. The first published work of Thomas was Secunda Secundae (1467). The Summa Theologica, one of his best-known works, was also printed. It brought out great debate between the rational inquiry of Thomas and the Catholic doctrines.

He defended the Christian faith in Summa de veritate catholicae fidei contra gentiles (Treatise on the truth of the Catholic faith against unbelievers). In the Quaestiones disputatae (Disputed questions), he gave his opinion on various topics.

The pernicious theory that there was only one soul for all persons was refuted brilliantly in De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas. He proved in Opusculum contra errores Graecorum that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son. His deep knowledge of the fathers of the church was found in Catena Aurea.

Pope John XXII canonized Thomas Aquinas on July 18, 1323. In 1567 he was made a Doctor of the Church. The Summa Theologica became the standard textbook in theology in the syllabus of universities all over Europe. There was renewed interest in his writings after the papal bull of 1879.

Leo XIII, in his Providentissimus Deus (November 1893), took the principles behind his criticism of the sacred books from Thomas. St. Thomas Aquinas was the “Christian Aristotle” who wielded immense influence on future popes, universities, and academia. He combined the best of faith and reason with a careful synthesis.

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