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St. Thomas Aquinas

1225-1274

 

Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 at the Castle of Roccasecca, near Aquino, Italy. At the age of six, his parents gave him over to the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino as an oblate. In 1239, Aquinas began his educational career studying the liberal arts at the University of Naples. 1244 marks the beginning of his religious career when he entered the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). He studied in Paris and then in Cologne, where he studied under Albert the Great. He returned to Paris for further theological studies and was licensed to teach by the University of Paris in 1256. In 1259 he went to Italy to teach. Before returning to Paris, Aquinas taught for nine years at Anagni, Orvieto, Rome, and Viterbo. In 1272, at the age of 47, Aquinas was relieved of teaching duties in order to start a house of studies in Naples. After being summoned to the Council of Lyons by Pope Gregory X, Aquinas died at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova on his way to Lyons. After his death, he was honorably recognized numerous times. In 1323, Aquinas was canonized by Pope John XXII. In 1567, Pope Pius pronounced him the "Angelic Doctor," and in 1880, 606 years after his death, Aquinas was named the "Patron of Catholic Schools" by Pope Leo XIII.

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The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas developed as a result of renewed interest in the philosophy of Aristotle. This interest was in part the product of renewed interest in logic and physics which came with increased political stability and economic prosperity. But it was also a result of contacts with Muslim scholars, who had worked to reconcile Aristotle's teachings with the beliefs of Islam. This reconciliation was necessary since Aristotle was the principle source for logic and for physics in the ancient period, yet many of his teachings contradicted teachings of the Koran and the Church Fathers.

The printed edition of Aquinas's works fill 34 volumes. His works include commentaries on the works of Aristotle, commentaries on several books of the Bible, and treaties on philosophical issues. But the most important works are the two great Summas or summaries: the Summa contra gentiles (1259-1264) and the Summa theologiae (1265-1273).

His basic position is a rethinking of Aristotle in light of Christian teaching. He often sought a middle ground among conflicting philosophical positions. For example, he adopted a position known as "moderate realism." He denied Plato's contention that universals were really existing entities, but also denied Peter Abelard's contention that universals were merely mental constructs.

His moderation is also seen in his beliefs regarding the relation between faith and learning. He believed there were ways to knowledge of God. There was the way of the philosopher and the way of the theologian. The theologian begins with revelation while the philosopher begins with ordinary experience. One of his most cited texts is five the Summa theologicae, where he uses philosophical arguments to demonstrate God's existence. However, philosophy cannot give us the knowledge of God we need for salvation. That knowledge can only come through revelation.

Sources:

Pegis, Anton. Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas. (New York; Random House, 1945).


Edited by: Susan J. Blauwkamp
Researched by: Matthew S. Johnson
Written by: Sarah D. Nietering
December 11, 1996

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