Italian Dominican priest, philosopher, and theologian (Angelic Doctor of the Church), Thomas Aquinas was noted for systemizing theology by infusing ancient Greek philosophy, particularly Aristotle, with divine revelation as depicted by Judeo-Christian faith. Born at Roccasecca to nobleman Count Landulf and Countess Theodora (related to Emperor Fredrick II and Royalty in Spain and France), Aquinas received a classical education from the Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino and later received higher instruction (Trivium and Quadrivium) at the University of Naples. Aquinas, both educated and wealthy, rejected the rewards of the privileged class in favor of a humble and contemplative life associated with religious orders. Although the reasons for Aquinas wanting to join the Order of St. Dominic are a point of speculation, the news of Aquinas’s entry into religious life was not well received by all; particularly by his mother Theodora, who imprisoned him for almost 2 years behind the walls of San Giovanni. As he was unrelenting in discerning his vocation, Theodora eventually released him to the Dominican Order.
After close inspection by Dominican superiors and Pope Innocent IV, Thomas Aquinas took his vows and continued his vocation to fulfillment. Among the administrative works, teaching, and ministry, Aquinas attended the University of Paris. Despite conflict between the university and religious Orders over an oath of loyalty, which ultimately caught the attention of both civil and papal authorities alike, Thomas Aquinas received a degree of Doctor of Theology in 1257. Before his death in 1274, Thomas Aquinas was known for his intelligence and reserved nature. Toward the end of his life, Aquinas was said to have had more frequent religious experiences (ecstasy) that would eventually lead him to quit writing in 1273. Aquinas’s writings are profound and influential. Among these writings include two important writings: Summa de veritate catholicae fidei contra gentiles (1252-1259) and Summa theologica (1266-1273). Thomas Aquinas was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323, and Pope Leo XIII declared Aquinas’s written works as the true philosophy of the church in 1879.
Contributions and Perspectives
The influences of Thomas Aquinas upon philosophy (particularly in ethics), theology, and science are profound. Although his writings are directed toward infidels (Jews and Arabs), heretics, and schismatics, Aquinas infused basic Aristotelian principles with sacred scripture to establish a cogent basis for theology. As put forth by the philosophy of Aquinas (subsequently supported by ecclesiastical authorities), the foundations for Catholic theology are threefold: the existence of God, the existence of humankind (in relation to themselves and to God), and revelation (as per Christ). From the five proofs of God’s existence (for example, an unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being, absolute perfection, and intelligence), God not only created humankind (fixed) in His image (intellect) but also instilled a directive, via eternal law, natural law, and revelation, for humankind’s theologically justified ontology and teleology. Good (being) and evil (privation) are part of an indeterminable array of theistic determinates. Humankind’s existence (as with all existence), from beginning to end (including the eternal soul), is an expression of His will and as the ultimate end in itself. This theological view provided both a geocentric and anthropocentric view of our species.
Thomism, though it has experienced deaths and revivals, remains the cornerstone of Catholic philosophy. Surviving philosophical attacks from Orthodox Greeks, Martin Luther, and the philosophies of rationalists and empiricists, the foundational assertions that provided Thomism its logical cohesion began to slowly erode away in light of critical evaluation and scientific advancements. Ironically, it was science, the same science that was considered in the realm of philosophy, which produced the greatest problem for Thomism. Challenges from Bruno, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo had contributed evidence in support of heretical views. However, it was Charles Darwin (1809-1882) who provided a cogent theory based on observations, that being the theory of organic evolution. Consisting of common descent, multiplication of species, gradualism, and natural selection, Darwin provided an explanation for diverse life forms on this planet. The metaphysical implications are evident; the evidence for a God (designer), the soul, and afterlife are rejected in light of evidence and rational explanation. Although the philosophies/theology of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin incorporates a mystical interpretation of evolution, Pope John Paul II (as with previous popes) reaffirmed Thomism as the foundational philosophy of the Church.
- O’Meara, T. F. (1997). Thomas Aquinas theologian. South Bend, IN: Notre Dame University Press.
- Torrell, J.-P., & Royal, R. (1996). Saint Thomas Aquinas: The person and his work. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.