Saint Thomas Aquinas

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“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” Thomas was most probably born in the castle of Roccasecca, located in Aquino, old county of the Kingdom of Sicily (Lazio region, Italy), in 1225. He was born in the castle of his father, Landulf of Aquino. Though he did not belong to the most powerful branch of the family, Landulf of Aquino was a man of means. As a knight in the service of King Roger II, he held the title miles. Thomas’ mother, Theodora, belonged to the Rossi branch of the Neapolitan Caracciolo family. Landulf’s brother Sinibald was abbot of the first Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino. While the rest of the family’s sons pursued military careers, the family intended for Thomas to follow his uncle into the abbacy; this would have been a normal career path for a younger son of southern Italian nobility.

Saint Thomas Aquinas became a Catholic Priest in the Dominican Order and one of the most important medieval philosophers and theologians. He was immensely influenced by scholasticism and Aristotle and known for his synthesis of the two aforementioned traditions. Although he wrote many works of philosophy and theology throughout his life, his most influential work is the Summa Theologica which consists of three parts:

  • The first part is on God. In it, he gives five proofs for God’s existence as well as an explication of His attributes. He argues for the actuality and incorporeality of God as the unmoved mover and describes how God moves through His thinking and willing.

  • The second part is on Ethics. Thomas argues for a variation of the Aristotelian Virtue Ethics. However, unlike Aristotle, he argues for a connection between the virtuous man and God by explaining how the virtuous act is one towards the blessedness of the Beatific Vision (beata visio).

  • The last part of the Summa is on Christ and was unfinished when Thomas died. In it, he shows how Christ not only offers salvation, but represents and protects humanity on Earth and in Heaven. This part also briefly discusses the sacraments and eschatology. The Summa remains the most influential of Thomas’s works and is mostly what will be discussed in this overview of his philosophy.

In June 1272, St. Thomas Aquinas agreed to go to Naples and start a theological studies program for the Dominican house neighboring the university. While he was still writing prolifically, his works began to suffer in quality. During the Feast of St. Nicolas in 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas had a mystical vision that made writing seem unimportant to him. At mass, he reportedly heard a voice coming from a crucifix that said, “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” to which St. Thomas Aquinas replied, “None other than thyself, Lord.” When St. Thomas Aquinas’s confessor, Father Reginald of Piperno, urged him to keep writing, he replied, “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value.” St. Thomas Aquinas never wrote again.

In January 1274, St. Thomas Aquinas embarked on a trip to Lyon, France, on foot to serve on the Second Council, but never made it there. Along the way, he fell ill at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova, Italy. The monks wanted St. Thomas Aquinas to stay at the castle, but, sensing that his death was near, Thomas preferred to remain at the monastery, saying, “If the Lord wishes to take me away, it is better that I be found in a religious house than in the dwelling of a layperson.” Often called “The Universal Teacher,” St. Thomas Aquinas died at the monastery of Fossanova on March 7, 1274. He was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323.

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