St. Thomas Aquinas
Recognized as perhaps the greatest theologian and philosopher in the history of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas led a life about which we know a great deal – without knowing some very basic facts. For instance, Thomas was born at Rocca Secca in the Kingdom of Naples, but historians are unclear if he was born on January 28 in 1225 or 1227. There is agreement, however, that he died on March 7, 1274.
Thomas’ parents were Landulph, the Count of Aquino, and Theodora, the Countess of Teano, and his family was related to the Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, as well as to the Kings of France, Aragon and Castile. Legend holds that before his birth, a holy hermit predicted that Thomas would enter religious life as a Dominican priest, and would be so great in learning and sanctity that no one in his time would be his equal.
Thomas was sent to train with the Benedictine monks of Monte Cassino at the age of five, and by eleven was enrolled at the University of Naples, where he soon surpassed his instructors. He entered the Order of Preachers some time between 1240 and 1243, but was captured and detained for several years by his family, who objected to his vocation. After they relented and returned his to the Dominicans, Thomas took his vows and was sent to study in Paris and Cologne under Albertus Magnus, who was a renowned Dominican professor.
Eventually Thomas began to teach at the University of Paris and earned his Doctorate in Theology. From this time his life was consumed by praying, teaching, preaching and writing, and his fame as a scholar spread far and wide. When offered the post of Archbishop of Naples by Pope Clement IV, he declined the position to continue doing the scholarly work he so loved.
Throughout his life, and especially so in his later years, Thomas experienced frequent ecstasies – undergoing levitations and having verbal conversations with Jesus. It was after one of these ecstasies on December 6, 1273 that Thomas put down his pen and chose to write no more, believing that the secrets revealed to him demonstrated his writings to have little real value.
Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274 at a Cistercian monastery in Fossa Nuova, in the province of Latina in western Italy. He was canonized by Pope John XXII on July 18, 1323. In 1567, Pope St. Pius V proclaimed Thomas a “Doctor of the Universal Church”, and in 1880, Pope Leo XIII designated him to be the patron of all Catholic universities, academies, colleges and schools throughout the world.
Thomas was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology and the father of Thomism. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy was conceived in development or refutation of his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory. The works for which he is best known are the Summa Theologica and the Summa contra Gentilis.