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St Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225, near Aquino, Sicily) was an Italian Dominican
theologian whose scholarship propelled him to the first rank among the Scholastics
of the Middle Ages. His major works are the Summa theologiae and the
Summa contra gentiles. Thomas joined the Dominican order in his teens
and was sent in 1245 to study at the University of Paris. His mentor there was
Albertus Magnus (1206-80), a noted scholar during a time when the influx of
Arabic-Aristotelian thought was arousing a sharp reaction among Christians.
Some feared that Islam's appropriation of the ancient philosophers would somehow
be used to prove a rational basis for Islam over Christianity. Others feared
the influence of rationalism, especially the form advocated by the adherents
Taking up the work begun by Boethius, both Thomas and Albertus believed that
philosophy could be used to strengthen religious conviction in general, and
to vindicate Christianity in particular. The two men traveled to Cologne in
1248 and remained there for four years, studying and conducting classes. In
1252 the two returned to Paris so that Thomas could prepare for the master's
degree. He obtained his degree in 1256 and began teaching that year. In 1259
he was appointed adviser and lecturer to the papal Curia. He remained in that
position until 1268, and then returned to Paris to argue his position concerning
the relation of faith and reason.
Like Augustine, Boethius, Rhazes, Averroes, Maimonides, and even the founder
of Neoplatonism, Plotinus, Aquinas did not believe that philosophy and religion
were in conflict. He went the furthest of them all, however, in attempting to
delineate, in good Aristotelian fashion, the various categories that constitute
the spiritual nature of man. Where Augustine relied on a Platonist notion of
the abstract but perfectly real city of God versus the corrupt and
sinful city of man, Aquinas, who otherwise accepted humankind's helplessness
without God's active grace, attempted to show that man's imperfection and its
relation to the divine could be understood and described rationally.
Ironically, some have argued, this very attempt placed religion and philosophy
in even sharper contrast to each other. On the one hand, the tools of reason
imply a definite power on the part of man to comprehend Creation; on the other
hand, human imperfection denies that this is ultimately possible. This tension
eventually worked to break asunder the delicate consensus over the mysterious
union of free will in a divinely predestined universe, with some theologians
favoring one or the other extreme, as exemplified in the later split between
Luther and Erasmus. But these consequences were not Aquinas's intention. Indeed,
the "neo"-Averroeists in the West, also taking their predecessor's
positions to unintended extremes and contending that reason was faith, were
the main focus of Thomas's opposition. Aquinas hoped to demonstrate that reason
could work within faith but was not the same or superior. It was a delicate
balance. In 1272, he established a Dominican house of studies at the University
of Naples and defended the Aristotelian current of thought against the Franciscan
scholar Bonaventure. Aquinas died on his way to the second Council of Lyons
in 1274. He was canonized in 1323. His feast day is January 28.
Works by the Author
Aquinas, Thomas. The Soul: A Translation of St. Thomas Aquinas' De Anima.
Translated by John Patrick Rowan. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1949.
Aquinas, Thomas. The De Magistro of St. Thomas Aquinas. Translated
by James Shannon. Annapolis: St. John's Bookstore.
Aquinas, Thomas. Concerning Being and Essence. Translated by George
G. Leckie. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1937.
Aquinas, Thomas. Truth. 3 vols. Translated by Robert W. Mulligan.
Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1954.
Aquinas, Thomas. The Political Ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas. Edited
by Dino Bigongiori. New York: Hafner Publishing Company, 1953.
Aquinas, Thomas. Selected Political Writings. Translated by J.G. Dawson.
Edited by D'Entreves. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1954.
Aquinas, Thomas. Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. 2 vols. Edited
by Anton C. Pegis. New York: Random House, 1945.
Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas - Treatise
on Law: XC-XCVII. Chicago: University of Chicago Bookstore.
Works about the Author
Pegis, Anton C., trans. Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas. Edited
by Anton C. Pegis. New York: Random House, 1948.
Hutchins, Robert M. St. Thomas and the World State. Milwaukee: Marquette
University Press, 1949.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.