St Thomas Aquinas
Saint, philosopher, theologian, doctor of the Church (Doctor Angelicus), patron of Catholic universities, colleges, and schools, born at Rocca Secca in the Kingdom of Naples, 1225 or 1227; died at Fossa Nuova, 7 March, 1274.
As a theologian he was responsible in his two masterpieces, the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles, for the classical systematization of Latin theology; and as a poet he wrote some of the most beautiful eucharistic hymns in the church’s liturgy. St Thomas is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as its foremost Western philosopher and theologian.
Thomas was born to parents who were in possession of a modest feudal domain. His father was of Lombard origin; his mother was of the later invading Norman strain.
Thomas was placed in the monastery of Monte Cassino near his home as an Oblate when he was still a young boy; his family doubtless hoped that he would someday become abbot to their advantage. In 1239, after nine years in this sanctuary of spiritual and cultural life, young Thomas was forced to return to his family when the Emperor expelled the monks because of their primary obedience to the Pope.
He was then sent to the University of Naples, recently founded by the Emperor, where he first encountered the scientific and philosophical works that were being translated from the Greek and the Arabic. In this setting Thomas decided to join the Friars Preachers, or Dominicans, a new religious order founded 30 years earlier. By this move he took a liberating step beyond the feudal world into which he was born and the monastic spirituality in which he was reared.
A dramatic episode marked the full significance of his decision. His parents had him abducted on the road to Paris, where his shrewd superiors had immediately assigned him so that he would be out of the reach of his family but also so that he could pursue his studies in the most prestigious and turbulent University of the time.
Thomas held out stubbornly against his family despite a year of captivity. He was finally liberated and in the autumn of 1245 went to Paris to the convent of Saint-Jacques, the great university centre of the Dominicans; there he studied.
Escape from the feudal world, rapid commitment to the University of Paris, and vocation to one of the new Religious Orders all meant a great deal in a world in which faith in the traditional institutional and conceptual structure was being attacked. The encounter between the gospel and the culture of his time formed the nerve centre of Thomas’ position and directed its development.
St. Thomas must be understood in his context as a mendicant religious, influenced both by the evangelism of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, and by the devotion to scholarship of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order.
During the summer of 1248, Aquinas left Paris and went to the convent in Cologne. He remained there until 1252, when he returned to Paris to prepare for the degree of Master of Theology. After taking his bachelor’s degree, he received the Licentia Docendi (“License to Teach”) at the beginning of 1256 and shortly afterwards finished the training necessary for the title and privileges of master. Thus, in the year 1256 he began teaching theology in one of the two Dominican schools incorporated in the University of Paris.
His nickname was “The Dumb Ox”, due to his large frame and quiet manner, yet Saint Thomas Aquinas was probably one of the most memorable and holy of all. His immense powers of thought and intellect enabled him to write both lengthy and short treatise which still hold good to this day.
The “Summa Theologica”, is a work which immortalized St. Thomas. The author himself modestly considered it simply a manual of Christian doctrine for the use of students. In reality it is a complete scientifically arranged exposition of theology and at the same time a summary of Christian philosophy.
A description of the saint as he appeared in life is given by Calo who says that his features corresponded with the greatness of his soul. He was of lofty stature and of heavy build, but straight and well proportioned. His complexion was “like the colour of new wheat”: his head was large and well shaped, and he was slightly bald.
All portraits represent him as noble, meditative, gentle yet strong. St. Pius V proclaimed St. Thomas a Doctor of the Universal Church in the year 1567. In the Encyclical “AEterni Patris”, of 4th August, 1879, on the restoration of Christian philosophy, Leo XIII declared him “the Prince and Master of all Scholastic doctors”. The same illustrious pontiff, by a Brief dated 4 August, 1880, designated him patron of all Catholic universities, academies, colleges, and schools throughout the world.