Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas

NAME Thomas Aquinas. (Real name Thomas D'Aquino)

WHAT FAMOUS FOR Italian Monk, Theologian and Philosopher and having a rather unitalianish first name.

BIRTH Thomas was born in 1225 at the Castle of Roccasecca near Aquino into a wealthy noble family. Before he was born, a holy Hermit prophesied to his mother, (Thomas' Mother that is..) "He will enter the order of Friars Preachers and so great will be his learning and sancity that none will be found to equal him." To find out how much this came true read on.. or if you are bored already look up Thomas Aquinas' entry in a good encyclopedia.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Thomas was was born into a family of the south Italian nobility. The youngest Son of Count Landuff, a Nobleman of Lombardic descent, his mother was Countess Theadora of Theate. Thomas' family were related to the Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, in addition to the King of France.

CHILDHOOD A fat, slow, pious boy, Thomas was placed by his parents in the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, where his uncle was the Abbot. Early in his life Thomas was noted as being diligent and devoted to prayer.
As a teenager Thomas decided to enter the Dominican order. His mother and father determined that it was an improper way for an upper class member of an Italian family to behave, and opposed him. They had set their heart on Thomas becoming a Benedictine abbot.

EDUCATION 1230-39 at the age of five, Thomas was placed by his parents in the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, where his Uncle Sinibald was the abbot. The family intended Thomas to follow his uncle into that position; this would have been a normal career-path for a younger son of the nobility. Diligent in study, Thomas was often heard to ask such profound questions as "What is God?"
1239-44 Thomas attended University of Naples. It was there that he came under the influence of the Dominican preacher John of St. Julian. Impressed by the Dominican, he joined that order whilst still an Undergraduate.
1245-52 A pupil of Albertus Magnus,(Albert the Great) at Paris and Cologne (a fellow Dominican ,and one of the most learned men of his time-he needed to be with a name like that). At first the ponderous student made a poor impression but Albertus predicted that " this Ox will one day fill the world with his bellowing." Well, that was one way of putting it .
In 1256 Aquinas was awarded a doctorate in theology. He became one of the great teachers of his age and attracted many students.

CAREER RECORD Here is Thomas Aquinas' CV:
1243 Joined the Dominican Order
1250 Ordained a Priest
1252 Began to teach at the University of Paris
1256 Appointed Professor of Theology at the University of Paris, where he lectured on the Bible as an apprentice professor.
1259-66 Pope Alexander IV, who reigned from 1254 to 1261, summoned Aquinas to Rome in 1259, where he acted as adviser and lecturer to the papal court until 1268 when he returned to Paris. For the first two years he was also the Head of Dominican Studies in Naples
1266-69 Taught and wrote in Rome and Viterbo
1269-72 Professor of Theology at Paris University (again)
1272-73 Professor of Theology in Naples. After a year, Aquinas was forced to retire due to ill-health. He refused all high appointments offered to him in the Church, preferring to remain a simple friar and concentrating on writing, teaching and regulating the Theological studies of the Dominican Friars.

APPEARANCE Thomas was nicknamed at Paris University by fellow Students, "The Dumb Ox", due to his lofty bulk and slowness. Heavy but well proportioned with a large head, bearded, receding hairline, and one huge eye dwarfed his other; he could have modelled for a gargoyle sculptor. His dark complexion was apparently "like the colour of new wheat". Charming.
Contemporaries described Thomas as a big man, corpulent and dark-complexioned, with a large head and receding hairline

FASHION Thomas had the monk's habit of no hair on the top of his head and a halo-if you believe the medieval paintings of him.

CHARACTER Thomas was nicknamed more kindly this time, "The Angelic Doctor" due to the purity of his teaching. Despite his large head, the alleged Dumb Ox was a man of humility and a gentle disposition, with a phenomenal retentive memory, powers of concentration and intellect. Thomas' manners showed his breeding; In argument he maintained self-control and won over opponents by his personality and great learning. Introspective and silent most of the time, when he did speak, it was often completely unrelated to the conversation. Taciturn, serious and meditative, he appeared to have less zip in him than a soggy sock but he was a tireless worker and he achieved far more than your average energetic Joe.

SENSE OF HUMOUR The Angelic Doc was renowned for his seriousness but he did have a dry wit.

RELATIONSHIPS AND FAMILY During the period when Thomas was having to battle against his family, who opposed his joining the Dominican order, Thom's brothers laid sexual snares for his virtue. However the novice drove the prostitute temptress from his room with a brand, which he snatched from the fire. Afterwards he knelt in prayer and implored God to grant him integrity of mind and body. He fell asleep and felt two angels gird him with a white girdle of perpetual virginity. From that day Thomas was never tested in the same way.
The Dominican Saint based his stern sexual morality on the belief that animals in the "natural " world did not commit sexual sins as they mated for reproductive purposes. He advocated celibacy for Priests as "virginity alone can make men equal to angels."

MONEY AND FAME Aquinas taught that interest charged on loans for business purposes were allowable as the money would be used to produce new wealth. However it would be sinful to charge interest on loans for the purchase of consumer goods.
Furthermore. he was the first person to teach that an individuals wage should be enough to enable the recipient to live in a manner subject to his social position.

FOOD AND DRINK Once when dining with the saintly Louis IX of France, Thomas dropped out of the conversation deep in thought, then suddenly struck his temple and exclaimed "that is a decisive argument against the Manchees." The king at once called for writing materials so that the dreamy Dominican could record the argument before it slipped his mind.

MUSIC AND ARTS Thomas defined music in Summa Theological, as "The excaltation of the mind derived from things eternal bursting forth in sound."
He saw beauty as something with perfect proportions and "something pleasant to behold."

LITERATURE Aquinas in his lifetime produced an enormous literary output with about 80 works are ascribed to him. The Bible, Augustine, Aristotle, Plato and the "sentences" of Peter Lombard were among his influences. At first, Thomas wrote his works with his own hand. His writing suggests someone left-handed, writing in great haste in the Latin shorthand of the time. Thomas's hand has been dubbed the litera inintelligibilis, unreadable writing. No wonder that with time he was assigned secretaries to take dictation. In his later years , at times he was dictating to several different scribes on several different subjects at the same time. Here is his literary CV.
1254 Thomas' first writings- summaries of his lectures.
1259-64 Summa Contra Gentiles. Written at the request of an obviously persuasive Ramon de Penatuerle to convert the Spanish Muslims, this three volume masterpiece reconciled reason with revelation.
1265-73 Summa Theological. Aquinas' epic, unfinished work which strove to account for all phenomena logically. Basically a compendium of all human knowledge in relation to religion, written for novices, it is still accepted as the final authoritative exposition of the Catholic doctrine. However if this grabs your interest I must warn you that it comes in 22 volumes and is unlikely to be in your local WH Smith or Borders store.
Amongst his other works are a series of commentaries on his hero Aristotle.
In 1273 Aquinas had a mystical experience that convinced him to stop writing. All he had written seemed like straw compared to what he had seen during that experience. Or so he said.
Thomas' books were banned, burnt and not widely read for three centuries but became influential leading up to the renaissance and became the embodiment of the world view taught in Universities for the following three centuries.

NATURE Aquinas was the first great advocate of Christian natural theology, where you learn about God from creation using reason alone.

SPORTS The closest the rotund cove got to sport was wrestling... with obscure passages of Scripture-ho ho. He often prayed and fasted to assist his understanding. I suspect the Angelic Ox was unlikely to be particularly athletic.

SCIENCE An early chemist, Aquinas made several discoveries using chemical techniques. After many centuries of declining interest in scientific knowledge, Thomas helped restore confidence in experience. He argued that a good Christian should be allowed to reason and experiment.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Well, where does one start.. Well Thomas Aquinas was a gifted preacher in a Neapolitan dialect, but that's not all. Here's one illustration of his theological nous. During one of his spells in Paris, the Dominican Friar-Preachers were being bitterly attacked by the secular clergy, over the issue of the liberty of teaching and they called Thomas to their assistance. The cause was argued before the Pope and the Angelic Doctor's brilliant defence (second only to Inter Milan's), completely demolished the opposition's case.
So what was his theology, you may.. or may not, be asking. Thomas preached the Word of God. He argued that Scripture alone was the basis of all theology and his sermons were full of solid instruction, scriptural illustrations and quotes. A great admirer of Mary, he once wrote, "As sailors are guided to port by a star, so are Christians guided to Heaven by Mary." However he opposed the Immaculate Conception, the belief that Christ's Mother was, by a special act of grace preserved free from sin. The Dominican scholar introduced the word "limbo" as a place for the souls of those who weren't Christians, but didn't deserve to go to hell went. Those in limbo he argued include unbaptised infants and the prophets of the Old Testament. He was instrumental in developing the doctrine of transubstantiation, by which the communion bread and wine upon consecration, became the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Angelic Doctor defended the practice of veneration of saint's relics during a time when some regarded it as mere superstition. Aquinas argued that the bodies of the saints are vessels of the Holy Spirit. He taught that man was a sinner and needed Christ's saving grace which comes to man exclusively through the seven sacraments which are, baptism, confirmation, the Lord's Supper, confession, anointing of the sick, marriage and ordination. To sum up, Thomas Aquinas is recognized as the greatest scholastic theologian of the Middle Ages and the influence he has exercised on Roman Catholic thought and doctrine is enormous.
His system of Philosophy called Thomism is still active in France, Philosophers such as Jacques Maritian and Etienne Gilson still operate within its framework. OK now back to the juicy bits..
to here

SCANDAL His Mother doubted her Thomas and opposed him joining an order that depended upon alms for a living. She confined her son to the San Giovanni Castle at Rio Secca for a year in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him to abandon his chosen cause. Eventually Thomas was released and was lowered in a basket into the arms of the Dominicans. Other attempts to dissuade him included the temptations of a prostitute and an offer of the post of the Archbishop of Naples.
Father Aquinas would have found himself in deep water today with his sexist views that males enjoy "stronger virtue" than women.

HOMES Thomas lived 1252-59 in Paris.
1259-61 in Naples.
1261-65 Oriveto.
1265-66 Rome.
1267-68 Viterbo.
1269-72 Paris
and from 1272-73 in Naples. The Dominican Monastery in Naples where he once taught still stands today besides the Church of San Domenico Maggiore.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS In December 1273, Thomas had a physical and mental breakdown from years of overwork.

DEATH In 1274, Thomas set out on foot for the General Council at Lyons already feeling ill. He had a fall and injured his head, which didn't help. On the way he stopped at the castle of a niece and there became seriously ill. He wished to end his days in a monastery and not being able to reach a house of the Dominicans he was taken to the Cistercan Abbey of Fossanova, one mile from Sonnino. He died there March 7, 1274. After Thomas had passed away, the monks at the monastery decapitated him and boiled his body, so that they could keep his bones, though they gave his sister a hand. Very sentimental. By the time the canonisation process began in 1319, the corpse had been reduced to bones, from which the flesh had been boiled away. In 1369 the Fossanova Cistercians, fearing that Thomas' remains might be stolen, moved his bones to the Dominican monastery at Toulouse, France. They were relocated to the church of St. Sernin during the French Revolution, then returned to the monastery and placed in the Church of the Jacobins in 1974. His remains rest there today.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA Amongst the famous paintings of the great Dominican Saint are, Guercino's imaginatively titled, St. Thomas Aquinas (1663), which can be seen today in San Domenico, Bologna, Italy.
Also, Francisiode Zurbaran's The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas (1631), which can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts in Seville, Spain and just to the left of this spiel.

ACHIEVEMENTS I will finish this Trivial Biography by summing up Saint Thomas Aquinas' achievments in four succinct paragraphs.
1. Thomas was canonised in 1323 and his Feast Day is 7th March. He is the Patron Saint of Students and Catholic Schools.
2. In his 1879 Encyclical, the Pope declared Summa Theological to be the basis of Roman Catholic theology.
3. Thomas organised the knowledge of his time in the service of his faith more successfully than any other theologian. His philosophy, called Thomist Philosophy, was the culmination of centuries of Greek and then Christian thinking.
4. After centuries of declining interest in rational & scientific knowledge, Thomas helped restore confidence in reason. He demonstrated faith and reason were not mutual enemies.


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