Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 1274) may be the brightest theological and philosophical light in the history of the Catholic Church. His teaching and voluminous writings have profoundly influenced, deepened, and informed Catholic thought for over seven hundred years.
Thomas was born sometime near 1225. He had noble beginnings, born in the castle of Roccasecca in Italy, the son of Count Landulf of Aquino. When he was only five he was sent to the Benedictine Monastery School at Monte Cassino, and when he was fourteen he was sent to the University of Naples where he was exposed to a variety of philosophies including Aristotle and the Islamic philosopher Averroes of Cordoba.
In 1244 Thomas joined the Dominicans, a decision his family opposed so strongly that his brothers kidnapped him from the friary and carried him to the family castle at Roccasecca where he was held captive for more than a year. In 1245 Thomas was given release, returned to the Dominicans, and shortly thereafter moved to Paris where he studied from 1245 to 1248. Thomas spent the next four years at the new Dominican studium in Cologne where he was an understudy of the intellectual giant, St. Albert the Great. Thomas was ordained a priest while at the studium.
Thomas returned to Paris in 1252 as professor, lecturer, and author. By 1256 he was renowned as a Master of Sacred Theology and taught fellow Dominicans from 1259 to 1268 at Naples, Orvieto, Viterbo, and Rome. It was during this period that he began his writings, his Cantena Aurea, a commentary on the gospels, Summa contra Gentiles, an aid for missionaries to the Muslims, as well as his most comprehensive work, the Summa Theologiae, a thorough and comprehensive explanation of Catholic theology.
Thomas returned to Paris in 1269 where he resumed his teaching and continued his writing. He also became embroiled in a controversy over the rights of secular clergy and the friars to serve on the faculty, and bitter disputes with Siger of Brabant, John Peckman, and Bishop Tempier of Paris, all whom he opposed because of flaws in their logic. With the University of Paris in upheaval, in 1272 Thomas was sent to serve as the director of the new Dominican house of studies in Naples. It was there that he completed the third section of his Summa, and then, in December, 1273, he abruptly stopped all of his writing, calling it “so much straw compared with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”
Thomas was asked to attend the Council of Lyon in 1274 where Pope Gregory X intended to discuss the reunification of the churches of the East (Greek) and the West (Latin), but as he set out he fell ill, was taken to the Cistercian abbey near Terracina, Italy, and died on March 7, 1274.
In addition to his Summa, other notable works include Quaestiones disputatae, Quaestiones quodlibetales, De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, and commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and numerous biblical texts. Thomas also wrote several well-known hymns: Adoro to devote, O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum ergo, and Pange lingua.
Thomas Aquinas was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323, named a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. Pius V in 1567, and designated the patron saint of Catholic schools, colleges, and universities by Pope Leo XIII in 1880. He is also the patron saint of theologians, philosophers, students, and booksellers. Since the Sixteenth Century he has also been known as the “Angelic doctor.” His memorial was moved from his death anniversary to January 28, the date his body was transferred to Toulouse in 1369.