Saint Thomas Aquinas's impact on both Western thought and Theology can not overstated and innumerable works have been written from his legacy and writings. This article is a small biography of his life and impact, with future articles diving more deeply into his theology, philosophy and writings.
Saint Thomas Aquinas was born in the castle of Roccasecca, near the town of Aquino (at that time part of the Kingdom of Sicily, now modern day Lazio Italy). His father, Landulf of Aquino was a Knight in service of Emperor Frederick II and his mother THeodora was a member of the Rissi Branch of Neapolitan Caracciolo family. His uncle Sinibald was the abbot of Monte Cassino. At a young age, Saint Aquinas attended the university in Naples and became introduced to the philosophy of Aristotle, Averroes and Maimonides. He became close friends with John of Saint Julian, a Dominican preacher who was actively recruiting for the Dominican Order.
At 19, Saint Aquinas made up his mind to join the Dominican Order. On a journey to Rome, his brothers kidnapped him and brought him back to his parents who vehemently opposed their son joining the order. For a year he was held captive in the family castle as his entire family, including his extended family, came to try and persuade him not to join the Order. After a full year, his mother realized that it was more shameful to the family to keep him locked away and so arranged for Saint Aquinas to "escape" through a window and return to the Order.
In 1245, Saint Aquinas studied at the University of Paris under the Dominican scholar Saint Albertus Magnus who he followed afterwards to the new studium generale in Cologne around 1248. A quiet student, his classmates assumed that Saint Aquinas was slow or stupid, prompting Saint Albertus to tell them
"You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world."
In 1256 Saint Aquinas was appointed as regent master at Paris where he completed several famous works and began working on Summa contra Gentiles ("Book on the truth of the Catholic faith against the errors of the unbelievers") a series of four books that were written to explain and defend the Christian doctrine against unbelievers, with specific arguments refuting certain heretical beliefs or propositions. After his first regency ended, Saint Aquinas then traveled to Naples and Orvieto. At Orvieto he was called upon to be a conventual lector and was responsible for the formation of Friars who could not attend a studium generale. It was here he continued writing and wrote the liturgy for the newly created feast of Corpus Christi under Pope Urban IV. Portions of the liturgy he wrote are still sung on the feast today including the Pange lingua. When Pope Clement IV was elected, Saint Aquinas served as papal theologian and taught at the studium conventuale at the Roman convent of Santa Sabina. At Santa Sabina, Saint Aquinas began writing the Summa theologiae, his most famous work. He initially conceived this work to be directed at students, writing:
"Because a doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners. As the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 3:1–2, as to infants in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat, our proposed intention in this work is to convey those things that pertain to the Christian religion in a way that is fitting to the instruction of beginners."
In 1268, Saint Aquinas returned to Paris for his second teaching regency. At the university Saint Aquinas found a rising tide of a new philosophy called Averroism (sometimes also called radical Aristotelianism). Averroism was heretical because it taught that true happiness is attainable here in earth (versus with Christ), that time has no beginning or end, and that there is only one intellect shared by all humans. Saint Aquinas wrote two works to combat them (De unitate intellectus, contra Averroistas - On the Unity of Intellect, against the Averroists and De aeternitate mundi, contra mumurantes - On the Enternity of the World, against Grumblers).
In 1273, Saint Aquinas travelled to Naples where he established a studium generale, spending his time teaching and working on the third part of his Summa Theologica. That same year, while in the chapel of Saint Nicholas after Matins (a canonical hour of Christian liturgy) a sacristan by the name of Domenic of Castera saw Saint Aquinas levitating in tears in front of an icon of Christ. He heard Christ say to Saint Aquinas:
"You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?"
Saint Aquinas responded by saying:
"Nothing but you, Lord."
Later that year, on December 6th, while Saint Aquinas celebrated Mass he was suddenly caught up in ecstasy. Immediately afterwards, he would no longer write or dictate to Father Reginald who was urging Saint Aquinas to continue his work on the Summa. Saint Aquinas replied with :
"mihi videtur ut palea"
"Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me"
Pope Gregory X convened the Second Council of Lyon in an attempt to reunite the Catholic and Orthodox Church (split by the Great Schism of 1054) and summoned Saint Aquinas to attend. While riding his donkey along the Appian Way, Saint Aquinas hit his head on a fallen tree and became seriously ill. The party escorted him to Monte Cassino but were forced to stop at the Cistercian Fossanova Abbey after his health plummeted. It was here that he received his Last Rites. He prayed aloud, saying:
"I have written and taught much about this very holy Body, and about the other sacraments in the faith of Christ, and about the Holy Roman Church, to whose correction I expose and submit everything I have written."
Saint Thomas Aquinas died on March 7th, 1274. During his canonization process, the devils advocate objected saying that there were no miracles. A cardinal reportedly responded to this objection, saying:
"Tot miraculis, quot articulis"—"there are as many miracles (in his life) as articles"
Pope John XXII formally pronounced Thomas Aquinas a Saint on July 18th, 1323. His feast day was inserted into the Calendar for the day of his death, March 7th but was moved in the 1969 calendar to January 28th because the original feast date often fell within Lent. Today his relics are housed in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse.
He is considered a Doctor of the Church and is often referred to as the Doctor Angelicus.