Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Thomas was born on January 28, 1225, in Roccasecca, a town about 75 miles (120 km) from both Rome and Naples. His mother was Theodora, countess of Teano, and his father was Landulf, count of Aquino, and he was the youngest of nine children. His father’s brother, Sinibald, was the abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, about 16 miles (25 km) from Roccasecca. His parents planned to have Thomas eventually replace his uncle as abbot there.

Thomas started studying at the monastery when he was five. When he was 14, he moved to Naples where he continued to live with the Benedictines as he started studies at the university in Naples. There he discovered the philosophies of Olympian Aristotle, Muslim Averro√ęs, and Jewish Maimonides. He also listened to the preaching of a Dominican named John of St. Julian.

In 1244, Thomas decided he would rather join the Dominicans than become a Benedictine as his mother Theodora wished. The Dominicans decided to send Thomas to Rome. Theodora decided to have her older sons take Thomas to the family castle in Monte San Giovanni Campano, about 12.5 miles (20 km) northwest of Roccasecca. There his mother kept him for two years. Eventually, after persistent attempts to change her son’s mind failed, Theodora allowed him to escape.

In 1246, the Dominicans sent Thomas to learn theology at the University of Paris under the Dominican Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great). When the Dominicans sent Albertus to teach in Cologne in 1248, Thomas went with him. While in Cologne, Thomas was ordained a priest (1250) and instructed students on the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. He also began writing profound theological books which he would continue to do until shortly before his death. His young colleagues called Thomas (who was already large) a dumb ox, but his teacher Albert predicted—accurately—that, unlike the rest of them, Thomas would become a theologian of world-historical significance.

In 1252, Thomas returned to the University of Paris. After receiving his doctorate in 1256, he became a professor of theology at the university for three years as he continued writing.

In 1259, Thomas left Paris for Naples. There he became a leading preacher for the Dominicans, assumed responsibility for the education of his fellow monks as preachers, and engaged in spirited public debates on important questions of the times.

In 1265, Thomas moved to Rome after being appointed theological adviser to the pope. During this time he continued to serve as a teacher of Dominican friars. He also started writing what would be his most significant work and perhaps the single most important explanation of Roman Catholic theology: the Summa Theologica (Sum of Theology).

From 1268-1272, Thomas was back in Paris teaching theology at the university. There, in addition to teaching and writing the Summa, Thomas actively participated in intellectually and emotionally intense public debates on Aristotle and Averro√ęs.

In 1272, he returned to Naples to start a new university for the Dominicans. He also continued writing his Summa. Then, just after morning prayer on December 6, 1273, the Feast of St. Nicholas, Thomas experienced a life-transforming vision of Jesus Christ. Afterward he stopped writing, saying all he’d written to that point seemed “like straw.”

In 1274, on his way from Naples to the Second Council of Lyon, Thomas got sick and rested at Monte Cassino. Leaving, he again fell ill about 31 miles (50 km) later and was taken to the Cistercian Abbey in Fossanova. There he died on March 7, 1274, at the age of 48.

In 1277, the bishop of Paris formally condemned 219 propositions, 20 of which were advocated by Thomas. This seriously diminished his apparent significance as a Roman Catholic theologian. Eventually, Thomas’ theological work, especially his Summa Theologica, proved to be much more profound than the bishop’s. While writing his Divine Comedy (1308-1321), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) placed Thomas (and not the bishop) in Heaven. In 1323, the pope declared Thomas a saint. In 1567, another pope declared Thomas, along with Saints Ambrose (330-397), Jerome (347-420), Augustine (354-430), and Gregory (540-604), one of the five best scholars of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1879, yet another pope declared that Thomas’ theology was the normative exposition of Roman Catholic theology.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.