SATURDAY, JANUARY 28: Today, Catholic schools and churches (plus Anglican churches and some other Christian denominations) revere the extensive intellectual legacy of St. Thomas Aquinas: a philosopher, theologian, author, Church Doctor and Italian Dominican priest whose influence greatly impacted Western thought—even to this day. Thomas Aquinas’ works ranged from ethics and political theory to natural law and metaphysics. Many Christian leaders continue to regard Thomas Aquinas as an ideal role model and teacher for those studying for priesthood. (Wikipedia has details.)
St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 to the Count Landulf of Aquino and Theodora Countess of Theate. From his birth, Thomas’ family expected he would enter the abbey—although not as a Dominican, but rather as a Benedictine. A respectable education led a teenaged Thomas in the direction his family had expected, but when he announced his desire to join the Dominican Order, his family kidnapped him and held him in a castle for two years. Despite all their efforts—including the release of a prostitute in his room to persuade him—the family ultimately failed. (Learn more at Catholic.org.) Finally, Thomas’ mother helped him to fake a nighttime escape through his window, thus freeing Thomas and saving the reputation of his family.
In 1245, Thomas proceeded to study at the University of Paris. Following extensive writing, which included the liturgy for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Thomas experienced a revelation in 1273; following his divine experience, Thomas regarded all of his previous work as “like straw.” (For a full biography, check out the Global Catholic Network.) Thomas focused his efforts on reuniting the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, but fell ill and never fully recovered. Some theorize that he was poisoned, although no witness accounts give evidence of this theory.
Here are just a few of the ideas St. Thomas Aquinas explored in his writings:
• Thomas believed that truth is known through both reason (natural revelation) and faith (supernatural revelation). For instance, he taught: Humans may come to the conclusion that God exists but require specific revelation in order to come to know the Trinity.
• Thomas asserted that God made heaven and earth and all of its living and non-living materials. He supported spontaneous generation, arguing that some species simply weren’t meant to exist forever.
• Thomas theorized about the human soul in that it is perfected in the human body—even though it does not depend on the body for existence. Thus, the material body has potential for a human being, but is not realized until a soul actualizes it.