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Saint Thomas Aquinas [Thomas of Aquin, or Aquino] (c. 12257 March 1274) was an Italian Catholic philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Universalis. He is the most famous classical proponent of natural theology. He gave birth to the Thomistic school of philosophy, which was long the primary philosophical approach of the Catholic Church. He is considered by the Catholic Church to be its greatest theologian and one of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church. There have been many institutions of learning named after him.


Early years[]

The life of Thomas Aquinas offers many interesting insights into the world of the High Middle Ages. He was born into a family of the south Italian nobility and was through his mother, Countess Theadora of Theate, related to the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Holy Roman emperors.

He was probably born early in 1225 at his father Count Landulf's castle of Roccasecca in the kingdom of Naples (which is today in the Province of Frosinone, belonging to the Regione Lazio). Landulf's brother, Sinibald, was abbot of the original Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, and the family intended Thomas to follow his uncle into that position; this would have been a normal career-path for a younger son of the nobility.

In his fifth year he was sent for his early education to the monastery. However, after studying for six years at the University of Naples, he left it in his sixteenth year. While there he probably came under the influence of the Dominicans, who were doing their utmost to enlist within their ranks the ablest young scholars of the age, representing along with the Franciscan order a revolutionary challenge to the well-established clerical systems of early medieval Europe.

This change of heart did not please the family; on the way to Rome, Thomas was seized by his brothers and brought back to his parents at the castle of San Giovanni, where he was held a captive for a year or two to make him relinquish his purpose.

According to his earliest biographers, the family even brought a prostitute to tempt him, but he drove her away (allegedly by reaching into the fire and chasing her out of the room with a firebrand, then slamming the door and using the firebrand to mark a cross on the door). Finally, the opposition of his family was overcome by the intervention of Pope Innocent IV, and Thomas assumed the habit of St Dominic in his seventeenth year.

His superiors, seeing his great aptitude for theological study, sent him to the Dominican school in Cologne, where Albertus Magnus was lecturing on philosophy and theology; he arrived probably in late 1244. He accompanied Albertus to the University of Paris in 1245, and remained there with his teacher for three years, at the end of which he graduated as bachelor of theology. In 1248 he returned to Cologne with Albertus, and was appointed second lecturer and magister studentium. This year may be taken as the beginning of his literary activity and public life. Before he left Paris he had thrown himself with ardour into the controversy raging between the university and the Friar-Preachers respecting the liberty of teaching, resisting both by speeches and pamphlets the authorities of the university; and when the dispute was referred to the pope, the youthful Aquinas was chosen to defend his order, which he did with such success as to overcome the arguments of Guillaume de St Amour, the champion of the university, and one of the most celebrated men of the day.

For several years longer Thomas remained with the famous philosopher of scholasticism, presumably teaching. This long association of Thomas with the great philosopher theologian was the most important influence in his development; it made him a comprehensive scholar and won him permanently for the Aristotelian method.


In 1252 Aquinas went to Paris for his master's degree, but met with some difficulty owing to attacks on the mendicant orders by the professoriate of the University. Ultimately, however, he received the degree and entered upon his office of teaching in 1256, when, along with his friend Bonaventura, he was created doctor of theology, and began to give courses of lectures upon this subject in Paris, and also in Rome and other towns in Italy. From this time onwards his life was one of incessant toil; he was continually engaged in the active service of his order, was frequently travelling upon long and tedious journeys, and was constantly consulted on affairs of state by the reigning pontiff.

In 1259 he was present at an important chapter of his order at Valenciennes. At the solicitation of Pope Urban IV (therefore not before the latter part of 1261), he took up his residence in Rome. In 1263 we find him at the chapter of the Dominican order held in London. In 1268 he was lecturing now in Rome and Bologna, all the while engaged in the public business of the church.

During 1269 to 1271 he was again active in Paris, lecturing to the students, managing the affairs of the church and consulted by the king, Louis VIII, his kinsman, on affairs of state. In 1272 the provincial chapter at Florence empowered him to found a new studium generale at such place as he should choose, and the commands of the chief of his order and the request of King Charles brought him back to the professor's chair at Naples.

All this time he was preaching every day, writing homilies, disputations, lectures, and finding time to work hard at his great work the Summa Theologiae. Such rewards as the church could bestow had been offered to him. He refused the archbishopric of Naples and the abbacy of Monte Cassino.

Aquinas had a mystical experience while celebrating Mass on 6 December, 1273, after which he stopped writing, leaving his great work, the Summa Theologiae, unfinished. When asked why he had stopped writing, Aquinas replied, "I cannot go on...All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me." Other mystical experiences reported include a voice telling him from a cross that he had written well and monks finding him levitating. The 20th century Roman Catholic writer/convert G. K. Chesterton describes these and other stories in his work on Aquinas, The Dumb Ox, a title based on early impressions that Aquinas was not proficient in speech. These impressions were refuted by Albertus Magnus, who declared, "You call him a Dumb Ox; I tell you the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud his bellowing will fill the world."


Thomas Aquinas from the Demidoff Altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli

Contemporaries described Thomas as a big man, corpulent and dark-complexioned, with a large head and receding hairline. His manners showed his breeding; he is described as refined, affable, and lovable. In argument he maintained self-control and won over opponents by his personality and great learning. His tastes were simple. His associates were specially impressed by his power of memory. When absorbed in thought, he often forgot his surroundings. The ideas he developed by such strenuous absorption he was able to express for others systematically, clearly and simply. Because of the keen grasp he had of his materials, in his writings Thomas does not, like Duns Scotus, make the reader his associate in the search for truth, but teaches it authoritatively. On the other hand, the consciousness of the insufficiency of his works in view of the revelation which he believed he had received was a cause of dissatisfaction for him.

Death and canonization[]

In January 1274 Pope Gregory X directed him to attend the Second Council of Lyons, to investigate and if possible settle the differences between the Greek and Latin churches, and, though far from well, he undertook the journey. On the way he stopped at the castle of a niece and there became seriously ill.

He wished to end his days in a monastery and not being able to reach a house of the Dominicans he was taken to the Cistercian monastery of Fossa Nuova (today Fossanova), one mile from Priverno, where, after a lingering illness of seven weeks, he died on 7 March, 1274.

Dante (Purg. xx. 69) asserts that he was poisoned by order of Charles of Anjou. Villani (ix. 218) quotes the belief, and the Anonimo Fiorentino describes the crime and its motive. But Muratori, reproducing the account given by one of Thomas's friends, gives no hint of foul play.

Aquinas had made a remarkable impression on all who knew him. He was placed on a level with the Saints Paul and Augustine, receiving the title doctor angelicus (Angelic Doctor). In the Divine Comedy Dante sees the glorified spirit of Aquinas in the Heaven of the Sun, with the other great exemplars of religious wisdom.

In 1319, the Roman Catholic Church began investigations preliminary to Aquinas's canonization; on 18 July, 1323, he was pronounced a saint by Pope John XXII at Avignon; and in 1567 Pius V ranked the festival of St Thomas with those of the four great Latin fathers, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory.

At the Council of Trent only two books were placed on the altar, the Bible and St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae. No theologian save Augustine has had an equal influence on the theological thought and language of the Western Church, a fact which was strongly emphasized by Leo XIII in his Encyclical of 4 August, 1879, which directed the clergy to take the teachings of Aquinas as the basis of their theological position, stating that his theology was a definitive exposition of Catholic doctrine. Also, Leo XIII decreed that all Catholic seminaries and universities must teach Aquinas' doctrines, and where Aquinas did not speak on a topic, the teachers were "urged to teach conclusions that were reconcilable with his thinking."

In 1880 Aquinas was declared patron of all Roman Catholic educational establishments. In a monastery at Naples, near the cathedral of St Januarius, a cell is still shown in which he supposedly lived. His feast day is celebrated on 28 January.


The writings of Thomas may be classified as:

  1. exegetical, homiletical, and liturgical;
  2. dogmatic, apologetic, and ethical; and
  3. philosophical.

In his 1956 catalog of Thomas's works, I.T. Eschmann, O.P., lists:

  • 3 theological sytheses ("Summas")
  • 9 treatises in the form of academic disputations (some of great length)
  • 12 quodlibetal disputations
  • 9 exegeses of Scriptural books
  • A collection of glosses from the Church Fathers on the Gospels
  • 11 seriatem expositions of Aristotelian works
  • 2 expositions of / treatises on works by Boethius
  • 2 expositions of works by Proclus
  • 5 polemical works
  • 7 treatises on specific subjects
  • 5 expert opinions ("responsa") (one a theological treatise)
  • 15 letters on theological, philosophical or political subjects
  • A liturgical text
  • 2 famous prayers
  • 85 (or so) sermons
  • 4 prolusions to sermons
  • 8 philosophical treatises and 1 sermon of questionable authenticity

It has been said that Thomas's output constitutes the largest body of work of any philosopher, great or small. Be that as it may, few have written so much of high quality in a little more than two decades.

Exegetical, homiletical and liturgical writings[]

Philosophical writings[]

Thirteen commentaries on Aristotle, and numerous philosophical opuscula of which fourteen are classed as genuine.

Other works have been attributed to him.

Works in Chronological Order[]

(major works in bold)

  • De fallaciis ad quosdam nobiles artistas, 1244-1245
  • De propositionibus modalibus, by 1251
  • On the Principles of Nature (De principiis naturae ad fratrem Sylvestrum), c. 1255
  • On Being and Essence (De ente et essentia, ad fratres socios), 1252-1256
  • Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, 1256
  • Scripta super libros Sententiarum , 1256
  • Two Sermons from MS Florence [Principium (?)], 1256 (?)
  • Disputed Questions on Truth (Quaestiones disputatae de Veritate), 1256-1259
  • Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew (Expositio in evangelicum s. Mattaei), 1256-1259 or 1269-1272
  • Literal Commentary on Job (Expositio in Job ad litteram), 1260
  • Commentary on Boethius's Book De hebdomadibus (Expositio in librum Boethii De hebdomadibus), c. 1260
  • Commentary on Boethius's Book On the Trinity (Expositio super librum Boethii De Trinitate), by 1261
  • De articulis fidei et Ecclesiae sacramentis, ad archiepiscopum Panormitanum, c. 1261
  • De emptione et venditione ad tempus, 1262
  • Summa contra Gentiles (Tractatus de fide catholica, contra Gentiles [contra errores infidelium]), 1261-1263
  • Against the Errors of the Greeks, to Pope Urban IV (Contra errores Graecorum, ad Urbanum IV Pontificem Maximum), 1263
  • Sermon on the Holy Eucharist preached in Consistory before Pope Urban IV and the Cardinals, 1264
  • Officium de festo Corporis Christi, ad mandatum Urbani Papae IV , 1264
  • On the Reasons of the Faith against the Saracens, Greeks and Armenians, to the Cantor of Antioch (De rationibus fidei contra Saracenos, Gracos et Armenos, ad Cantorem Antiochiae), 1261-1264
  • The Golden Chain (Glossa (expositio) continua in Mattheum, Marcum, Lucam, Joannem [Catena aurea]), 1263ff.
  • Responsio ad fr. Joannem Vercellensem, Generalem Magistrum Ordinis Praedicatorum, de articulis CVIII ex opere Petri de Tarentasia, by 1266
  • Disputed Questions on the Soul (Quaestiones disputatae de Anima), 1267
  • On Kingship, to the King of Cyprus (De regno [De regimine principum), ad regem Cypri), 1267
  • Expositio in Dionysium De divinis nominibus, by 1268
  • Expositio super primam decretalem "De fide catholica et sancta Trinitate" et super secundam "Damnamus autem", 1259-1268
  • Disputed Questions on the Power of God (Quaestiones disputatae de potentia Dei), 1259-1268
  • Commentary on the Prophet Jeremiah (Expositio in Jeremiam prophetam), 1267-1268
  • Commentary on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics (In libros posteriorum Analyticorum expositio), c. 1268
  • Commentary on Aristotle's De anima [On the Soul] (In libros De anima expositio), c. 1268
  • Commentary on Aristotle's On Sense and What Is Sensed (In librum De sensu et sensato expositio), c. 1268
  • Commentary of Aristotle's Memory and Recollection (In librum De memoria et reminiscentia expositio), c. 1268
  • De substantiis seperatis, seu de angelorum natura, ad fr. Reginaldum, socium suum carissimum , c. 1268
  • De secreto, by 1269
  • Disputed Questions on Spiritual Creatures (Quaestiones disputatae de spiritualibus creaturis), 1266-1269
  • De perfectione vitae spiritualis, 1269
  • Commentary on the Book Of Causes (Super librum De causis expositio), by 1270
  • On the Unitity of the Intellect against the Averroists (De unitate intellectus, contra Averroistas), 1270
  • De perfectione vitae spiritualis, 1270
  • Contra pestiferam doctrinam retrahentium pueros a religionis ingressu, 1270
  • Sermons from MSS Madrid and Sevilla, 1270
  • Two sermons from MS Paris, 1270
  • Sermon on Christ the King from MS Soissons, 1270
  • Commentary on the Eight Books of Physics (In octo libros Physicorum expositio), 1268-1271
  • De regimine Judaeorum, ad Ducissam Brabantiae, 1270-1271
  • De aeternitate mundi, contra murmurantes, 1271
  • Responsio ad fr. Joannem Vercellensem, Generalem Magistrum Ordinis Praedicatorum, de articulis XLII, 1271
  • De motu cordis, ad Magistrum Philippum, 1270-1271
  • De mixtione elementorum, ad Magistrum Philippum, c. 1271
  • Responsio ad lectorem Venetum de articulis XXXVI [two versions], c. 1271
  • Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah (Expositio in Isaiam prophetam), 1256-1259 or 1269-1272
  • Four Exordia (Prothemata) of sermons from MS Angers, 1269-1272
  • De forma absolutionis, ad Generalem Magistrum Ordinis, 1269-1272
  • De occultis operationibus naturae, ad quendam militem ultramontanum, 1269-1272
  • De sortibus ad Dominum Jacobum de ... (?), 1269-1272
  • Quaestiones disputatae de unione Verbi incarnati, 1269-1272
  • Disputed Questions on Evil (Quaestiones disputatae de malo), 1269-1272
  • Disputed Questions on the Virtues (Quaestiones disputatae de virtutibus), 1269-1272
  • Commentary on the Gospel of John (Expositio in evangelium Joannis), 1269-1272
  • Commentary on Aristotle's Meteorology (In libros Meteorologicorum expositio), 1269-1271, 1269-1272 or 1272-1273
  • In libros Peri Hermeneias expositio, 1269-1272
  • Commentary on the Twelve Books of Metaphysics (In duodecim libros Metaphysicorum expositio), 1270-1272
  • Commentary on the Ten Books of [Nicomachean] Ethics (In decem libros Ethicorum expositio), 1271-1272
  • Commentary on Aristotle's Politics (In libros Politicorum expositio), 1271-1272
  • Quaestiones de quodlibet I-XII, 1256-1259, 1269-1272
  • Summa Theologiae , 1265-1272
  • Commentary of the Epistles of St. Paul (Expositio in s. Pauli Epistolas), 1259-1265 and 1272-1273 (?)
  • Commentary on the Psalms of David (In Psalmos Davidis expositio), 1272-1273
  • Commentary on Aristotle's On the Heavens and Earth (In libros De caelo et mundo expositio), 1272-1273
  • Commentary on Aristotle's On Generation and Corruption (In libros De generatione et corruptione expositio), 1272-1273
  • Lenten Sermon-Cycle delivered at Naples (57 vernacular sermons, e.g., On the Two Laws of Charity and the Ten Commandments [De duobos praeceptis caritatis et decem legis praeceptis]; Devotissima expositio super symbolum apostolorum; Expositio devotissima orationis dominicae), 1273
  • Devotissima expositio super salutatione angelica, 1269-1272 or 1273
  • Compendium of Theology (Compendium theologiae ad fratrem Reginaldum socium suum carissimum), c. 1273 (?)
  • To Bernard, Abbot of Monte Cassino (Ad Bernardum, abbatem Cassinensem), 1274

Works of uncertain date:

  • De iudiciis astrorum, ad quendam militem ultramontanum
  • De modo studendi
  • Commentary on the Song of Songs (Expositio in Canticum Canticorum)
  • Commentary on the Lamentations of Jeremiah (Expositio in Threnos Jeremiae prophetae)
  • Hymn: "Adoro te"
  • Hymn: "Concede mihi misericors Deus"
  • Quaestio disputata utrum anima coniuncta cognoscat seipsam per essentiam
  • Disputed Questions on the Immortality of the Soul (Quaestiones disputatae de immortalitate animae)
  • Responsio ad lectorem Bisuntinum de articulis VI
  • Three sermons from MS Paris
  • Three sermons from MS Venice

Works of uncertain authenticity:

  • De demonstratione
  • De instantibus
  • De natura accidentium
  • De natura generis
  • De natura materiae et dimensionibus interminalis
  • De quatuor oppositis
  • De natura verbi intellectus
  • De principio individuationis
  • Sermon: Beata Virgo nec originale nec mortale nec veniale peccatum incurrit , 1269-1272 or 1273

(from I.T. Eschmann's catalog)

Modern criticism[]

Some of Thomas's ethical conclusions are at odds with the majority view in the contemporary West. For example, he held that heretics "deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death", and thus that heresy should be punished by death (ST II:II 11:3), He also maintained the intellectual inferiority of women and their subjection to men on that account (see [1]) ST I:92:1, which is one reason why he opposed the ordination of women (see ([2]) ST Supp. 39:1; he did say, however, that they were fit for the exercise of temporal power. He also held that "a parent can lawfully strike his child, and a master his slave that instruction may be enforced by correction". ([3]) ST II:II 65:2.

On the other hand, many modern ethicists, both within and outside of the Catholic Church, have recently become very excited about Aquinas' virtue ethics, notably Philippa Foot and Alasdair MacIntyre, as a way of avoiding utilitarianism or Kantian deontology. Through the work of 20th century philosophers such as Roman Catholic convert Elizabeth Anscombe (especially in her book Intention), Aquinas' Principle of double effect specifically and his theory of intentional activity generally have been influential.

Modern readers might also find the method frequently used to reconcile Christian and Aristotelian doctrine rather strenuous. In some cases, the conflict is resolved by showing that a certain term actually has two meanings, the Christian doctrine referring to one meaning, the Aristotelian to the second. Thus, both doctrines can be said to be true. Indeed, noting distinctions is a necessary part of true philosophical inquiry. In most cases, Aquinas finds a reading of the Aristotelian text which might not always satisfy modern scholars of Aristotle but which is a plausible rendering of the Philosopher's meaning and thoroughly Christian.

It is remarkable that Thomas' aesthetic theories, especially the concept of claritas deeply influenced the literary practice of modernist writer James Joyce, who used to extol Thomas as the greatest Western philosopher. The influence of Thomas' aesthetics can be also found in the works of the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco, who wrote an essay on aesthetic ideas in Thomas Aquinas (published in 1956 and republished in 1988 in a revised edition).

Many biographies of Aquinas have been written over the centuries; perhaps the most notable is that by G.K. Chesterton.


The best modern edition of the works of Aquinas is that prepared at the expense of Leo XIII. (Rome, 1882-1903). The Abbé Migne published a very useful edition of the Summa Theologiae, in four 8vo vols., as an appendix to his Patrologiae Cursus Completus; English editions, J. Rickaby (London, 1872), J. M. Ashley (London, 1888).


  • "Bibliography of Additional Readings" (1990). In Mortimer J. Adler (Ed.), Great Books of the Western World, 2nd ed., v. 2, pp. 987-988. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Aquinas & Homosexuality: Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.), Garland Publishing, 1990. pp. 71-72.

See also[]

  • Thomism
  • Treatise on Law (text)
  • School of Salamanca, 16th century Spanish Thomists
  • Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain, 20th-century Thomists

External links[]

By Aquinas[]

About Aquinas[]

This article was forked from Wikipedia on April 1, 2006.

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Thomas Aquinas. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.