[The following material includes the text of a lecture on Thomas delivered by TAMike Bone in 1997.]
Life and Works
c.1225: Born in Roccasecca near Monte Cassino, youngest son of Count Landolfo and Teodora of Aquino. Landolfo was a relative of the Emperor and the King of France.
1231: Sent to school at Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, and destined by his parents for life as abbot there
1239-1244: Studied liberal arts Naples; encountered the works of Aristotle
1243: Tried to join Dominican Order (recently founded), because of his attraction to its ideal of an intellectual apostolate. His family strongly opposed this move, and held him prisoner for about 15-18 months at Roccasecca, to no avail. He eventually joined in April, 1244.
1245-1248: Studied in Paris with St. Albertus Magnus, who introduced him to Aristotle. Moved with Albertus in 1948 to the new Dominican school at Cologne.
1252: Lecturer at Dominican Convent of St. Jacques, and advanced study in theology at the University of Paris.
1256: Received the magistrate (equivalent of doctorate) in theology.
1257: First professorship at University of Paris begins, over the objections of some faculty members.
1259: Sent to Roman Province, where he taught at Anagni and Orvieto (1259-1265), at Santa Sabina and the Dominican School in Rome (1265-1267), and at Viterbo (1267-1269).
1269: Recalled to second professorship at University of Paris.
1272: Returned to Naples to set up a Dominican School, preached a famous set of vernacular sermons there, and worked hard on his Summa Theologiae.
March 7, 1274: Died at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanuova, Italy, near his birth place, on his way to the Council of Lyons. His body is buried in Toulouse.
He was canonized by John XXII in 1323, and declared Doctor of the Church by Pius V in 1567.
Thomas produced an immense number of writings, among the most important of which are:
Several parts of his writings were condemned by Tempier in 1277, by Dominican Archbishop Kilwardby in 1277, and by Archbishop Peckham in 1284. The Franciscans forbade study of his works for a while. In 1278, the General Chapter of Dominicans insisted that his teaching be used in all Dominican schools. Thomass writings were not studied with much fervor for many years leading up to Leo XIIIs bull Aeterni Patris (1879), which commended the Study of Aquinas to all students of theology, and led to a resurgence of interest.
K. Foster (see bibliography) comments that there are three sources of information on Thomas:
1) The minutes of his canonization enquiry (1319). Bartholomew of Capua is the most informative witness, a major source for biographical information on Thomas. He studied at Naples while Thomas was there, 1272-4. He is also named as an authority by Tocco.
2) Three Lives written by Dominicans (1318-1330): those of William Tocco (knew Thomas for about one year, around 1272-3 in Naples; Bernard Gui; and Peter Calo.
3) Fifteen chapters from the Dominican Tolomeo of Lucca's Historia Ecclesiastica (c. 1317). (He knew Thomas, but mostly depends upon information from Reginald of Priverno, Thomas' socius, who knew Thomas very well.)
Gui's Life (comparison with Tocco and Calo carefully footnoted), the canonization minutes, and the Tolomeo chapters are included in Foster's book.
Story of his "interment" in family estate
Bartholomew says that Thomas' father hoped he would become abbot of Monte Cassino. Thus, when Thomas chose the Dominicans, the family was not pleased. When it was discovered that this had happened, Thomas was "captured" by his brothers and held at the family estates of Montesangiovanni and Roccasecca against his will, apparently to get him to change his mind. How long he was at each place is not clear. There are several accounts of this. Here is a summary of Gui's account:
Tolomeo notes the abduction as occurring at the hand of Thomas' brother Reginald, a man with some standing at the court of Frederick. This brother was later put to death by Frederick. Gui records that, near his death, Thomas mentions to his socius Reginald that God had granted him 3 wishes: that his mind would never be perverted by the world/flesh; that he would never be lifted from the ranks of his Order to a position of high dignity in the Church; and that he might know what had become of Reginald's soul. Tolomeo does not mention any attempt at seduction or the mother's role in Thomas' escape. He also says that no Dominicans were allowed to visit.
Story about the "dumb ox"
Thomas studied with Albert the Great from 1245-52. He was probably in Paris from 1245-8, and then in Cologne from 1248-52 (the dates for each location are debated).
Gui reports he was an ardent student, and comments that "Thomas so studied to be quiet that his fellow students began to call him 'the dumb ox.' " But Thomas soon showed them what he was made of. Once, after a lecture by Albert on Dionysius' Divine Names , another student offered to explain the session to Thomas, "not aware of his intellect." Thomas accepted this cheerfully & humbly, but when the other student hesitated during his explanation, Thomas "lucidly expounded the lecture with additions of his own." The student, much surprised, reported this to the Student Master, saying that Thomas' explanations were clearer than those of the Master. The Student Master, interested, arranged one day to overhear Thomas without being seen, and, agreeing with the student's assessment, told Albert about it.
About this same time, Thomas inadvertently dropped some notes he had made on one of Albert's disputations. These were shown to Albert, who was much impressed, and who let Thomas know that he is "on" to defend publicly at the next disputation. Thomas prepared carefully and did so well that Albert was moved to say: "Thomas, you seem to be not only discussing the question--which is your task--but deciding it too!"
Gui then writes: "the story goes that" Albert then exclaimed: "we call this lad a dumb ox, but I tell you that the whole world is going to hear his bellowing!" (Gui's Life c.9-10, in Foster).
On Thomas habit of prayer, belief in inspiration
Gui and Tocco both report that Thomas' habit of prayer was "extraordinarily developed."
Tocco records a comment made by Reginald (Thomas' socius ) just after Thomas' death, that
Gui tells the following story:
Thomas stops writing near the end of his life
Gui and the Canonization Enquiry both comment on Thomas' behavior near the end of his life when he apparently abruptly stopped writing. He was, they note, working on the 3rd part of the Summa Theologiae.
Gui tells the following story. Thomas was praying in the church, observed by the sacristan. A voice from the crucifix said: "You have written well of me, Thomas; what do you desire as a reward for your labors?" Thomas replies: "Lord, only yourself." Gui then says that Thomas wrote little after this. (Gui, c. 23; cf c. 27)
During Thomas Canonization Enquiry, one of the witnessesLord Bartholomew of Capua, Chancellor to the King of Sicilystated that something happened at Mass on the Feast of St. Nicholas (Foster: 6 December 1273) "which profoundly affected and altered" Thomas, and that after the Mass, "he refused to write or dictate" and "put away his writing materials." Reginald asked Thomas why, and Thomas replied that he cannot go on. When pressed by Reginald, who had begun to think that Thomas' hard work "might have affected his master's brain," Thomas answered: "Reginald, I cannot--because all that I have written seems to me so much straw." The Enquiry witness comments that soon after St. Nicholas' Day, Thomas went to visit a sister (Countess of San Severino) to whom he was very close, and who was disturbed on seeing her brother in such a "dazed" state. They repeat the occurrence of the "straw" statement here: Reginald, surprised at Thomas' behavior, follows him to the Countess estate, and questions him about why he is not writing, and receives the same answer about "so much straw." (Can. Enq. 79)
Gui also mentions the visit to the sister, and comments further about Thomas' physical condition. He says Thomas not infrequently during this period fell into a "trance," and that the trance at the Countess' home lasted longer than any prior incident, such that Reginald had to question him multiple times and "tug violently at his cloak" before he could get any reply from Thomas. He also notes that Thomas was "insensitive to pain" during this period. He did not, for example, seem to feel a leg cautery, and one night, while dictating comment on Boethius' De Trinitate to Reginald, the candle burned down to Thomas' fingers without him noticing. (Gui, c. 27-28)
Thomas' preaching and intelligence
Gui reports that Thomas' preaching was powerful and moving, and always in the vernacular, without "far-fetched reasoning or in the sort of language that serves rather to tickle the curiousity of a congregation than do it any real good." He also notes that Thomas told his pupils that he had never read a book that he hadn't thoroughly understood. Gui comments further that his memory was such that he never forgot what he had once read. According to Reginald, he used to dictate to three and occasionally four secretaries on different subjects at the same time, speaking fluently, "never seeming to search."
Gui says he was tall and stout, with a healthy complexion "in color like ripe wheat," and a large, somewhat balding head "with a full development of the organs that minister to reason."
Sources for this Report
Foster, Kenelm, ed. and trans. The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: Biographical Documents.
The Summa Theologica was written as a theology textbook for preachers. Thomas was constantly getting memos from the chapter house to convince his students of the importance of studying theology. He had to convince them that preaching was based on theology.
The Middle Ages saw a resurgence of confidence in reason, of increasing dependence on the philosophical point of view. For example, Anselm used reason to find independent ways to confirm faith. But in the twelfth century, when Aristotles physics and metaphysics were reintroduced to the Latin west, thinking people in the west encountered a system of thought that was totally independent of revelation and yet was powerfully effective in describing and explaining the world. Faced with an alternative and equally compelling system of explaining and describing the world, western philosophy attempted a grand synthesis between science and faith. Thomas Aquinas was not the only Medieval engaged in this project, but he is the best example of the courageous quest for harmony that is the task of every theologian.
Thomas's interest in synthesizing knowledge from both theology and philosophy led to a highly particular conception of the relation between the two.
Sources of general revelation are: observation of the way things are (a very common sense approach) and reason (while reason after the fall is deficient, it is not alien). Sources of special revelation are scripture and tradition (patristics), which provides normative interpretation of scripture.
Natural and revealed theology and the distinction between them can be defined as follows.
In natural theology reason reigns supreme. In revealed theology, however, faith reigns supreme, but revelation must always be consistent with reason. In other words, reason working in natural theology cannot turn up anything that is inconsistent with faith.
To see this, consider two examples. First, Aquinas received from tradition the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in the form given to it by Augustine, a form that necessitates a finite age for the universe. BUT Aristotle argued for a universe of infinite age. How to reconcile the two? Aquinas showed that the eternality of the universe is not an essential part of Aristotles view and claimed that reason cannot make the case either way. Thus, we must rely on revelation to clear things up for us.
As a second example, consider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. We know God as One by reason, but we can only know God as Triune by revelation. Trinity is the paradigm for revealed truth.
1. Large-Scale Structure: Exitus-Reditus
2. Middle-Scale Structure: Questio
The three parts of the Summa are divided into questions, with each question consisting of several articles. The entire Summa contains 612 questions and a total of 3120 articles (Catholic Encyclopedia article, p. 8).
Questiowas a form of doing theology that developed in the movement from monastery (affective reading of Scripture) to University (more objective, exegetical reading of Scripture). The text read in this more objective raised questions. Theology texts then organized these questions as a way to systematize learning the material. The standard theology text prior to Aquinas was Peter Lombards Sentences a compendium of questions and answers for students of theology.
3. Small-Scale Structure: Five Steps
Thomas develops each article in five steps, as follows.
1. Central Issue (given as a title in most translations): "Whether " (Utrum) This is an open question to be discussed frankly.
2. Arguments: Objections to the implied correct position. The answer is not immediately given. Objecta meant "to throw in front of." These objections reflect contemporary positions and Thomas always tries to treat them fairly.
3. "On the other hand" (Sed contra): this is a gesture toward an alternative position, one usually recommended by an authority. It introduces Aquinas own position.
4. Body: "I answer that " (Responsio) This is Aquinas answer to the question given in detail.
5. Replies to Objections: (Ad primum, ad secundum, etc.) These replies often further the argument found in the body.
Creation itself is symbolic, for Thomas. Nature is open to God. Because all of creation is on a return to God, any part of it may become a vehicle for human rationality in its quest for the divine. "Nature is suffused with divine glory. Its sacramental character is why nature gives testimony to God. This sacramental character is the basic assumption of natural theology. All nature itself is always yearning toward God." (Wildman 10/8/96 lecture in TT704)
Thomas distinguished three ways of talking about God and the world based on three view of how God relates to creation.
Univocity expresses a pantheistic relation of God to the world. It denies the distinction between general and special revelation and between natural and revealed theology.
Equivocity expresses the view that there is no congenial relation between God and the world. God forces a strange revelation upon nature.
Thomas argues in favor of the analogical interpretation of religious language and the relation between God and the world that it defines. This is a relation in which transcendence and immanence are balanced. It is important to ask, however, What controls analogical utterances about God, so that we are able to tell what we mean? thomas's answer is being. I interpret what I say of God as something like what I say of the world in respect of being.
For example, we might say that the goodness of Prof. Wildman is to the being of Prof. Wildman as the Goodness of God is to the Being of God. We understand our own goodness in relation to our essential nature, then we consider Gods essential nature and understand Gods goodness in relation to it.
Aristotle would determine a things nature by examining a thing in terms of its four causes, with particular emphasis on the final cause. Aquinas followed Aristotle in this and, thus, defined human nature in terms of its final cause. According to Aristotle our final cause is to be rational, that is, to know things.
For Thomas, then, our purpose is to know, and specifically it is to know the reality that lies behind this realm of contingent things. Thus, the ultimate end of human being is to know God. It is very difficult to know God in the best of circumstances, however, and under the conditions of our existence it is impossible to reach that purpose for which we were made.
That presents a problem, since Aquinas asserted that God does not give beings their nature in order to frustrate them. Our capacity to know and love God must be fulfillable, and yet, we cannot fulfill that capacity in this life. How, then, did Aquinas resolve this problem? By speaking of our ultimate end in terms of the Beatific Vision: In the afterlife we will know God as God knows Godself according to our human capacity.
Thomas's five ways are collectively referred to as the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. The strategy of this argument turns on the assumption that ultimate reality is discoverable through examining the way nature is. Thus, information about the world is important. In the cosmological argument we apply reason to our observations of the world in order to prove the existence of God. This argument is the quintessential example of Thomas Aquinas courageous quest for harmony.
1. Argument from motion(to an unmoved mover):
2. Argument from efficient cause(to a first cause):
3. Argument from contingency(to a necessary being):
4. Argument from degrees of perfection(to a perfect being):
5. Argument from design(to an intelligent, comprehensive final cause):
Angela stared intently at the computer screen. She was playing Into the Real, a new RPG just out on the market, and was stuck on her first level. A strange screen had come up which displayed a field of grass crowded with flowers. Above it flashed a question: "Is the meadow smiling?" She had three choices: "Yes," "No," and "Sort of." Well, at least that was easy. Angela was good at taking a moderate position. She clicked on the "Sort of" icon and immediately a golden path opened up through the middle of the meadow and her character skipped down it. So far so good, she must have chosen correctly.
An apple tree loomed up on her right, and, instinctively, Angela stopped her character and picked an apple. The screen dissolved and they were in a wizards tower room dominated by three crystal balls lying on a table, labeled "Yes," "No," and "Sort of." Angela sensed this would be a safe place to experiment, so she clicked on the "Yes" ball. Her character sat down cross-legged in front of the wizard, who said "Univocal" in a low, mysterious voice, and then placed his fingertips together. "One meaning. If you had chosen this path, you think that there is one and only one meaning for smile and that it can be used in only this one way." And the wizard and her character both stretched their lips in a bizarre imitation of a smile. "Therefore, when you say the meadow was smiling, you must have meant just that." Here an image of a meadow with a broad grin came up on the blackboard behind the wizard.
Angela clicked on the next crystal ball, marked "No." This time, the wizard said "Equivocal," and went on to explain that this meant it made absolutely no sense to say that the meadow was smiling. "And if you think that," the wizard said, "you are just plain boring. Nor will you be able to talk about the mysteries of the universe."
Angela clicked on the last ball. "Analogical," the wizards voice boomed. "You believe that it makes sense to say that the meadow is smiling, but youre smart enough to know this doesnt mean the meadow is doing this." The wizards face appeared by itself, wearing a large grin. A "quiz" sign flashed, and a voice said, "The Nature of Things." A person walked into the room and stopped in front of her character. In the lower right hand corner of the screen two icons appeared, a smile and a flower. Angela made her character pick up the smile and applied it to the persons face. The screen flashed "Good!" surrounded by multi-colored stars. "It is the nature of a person to respond to a positive environment by smiling," the voice said. A meadow appeared in a window center screen. Angela clicked on the flower. Again, the "Good!" display. And then the voice: "It is the nature of meadows to respond to a positive environment by flowering." Angela clicked on a book lying on the floor, and a question appeared on the open pages of the book: "Is the meadow smiling?" Angela wondered if they were getting anywhere. She didnt see any other options, so she clicked a little further down the pages of the book. The page turned, and displayed the words "In its own way." Angela clicked again. "According to its nature."
A door opened at the back of the room and Angelas character moved through it without obstacle. The next screen was covered with a bizarre mix of images: the flowering meadow, a person smiling, a paper bag, an apple tree, an angel, a wolfhound, a pebble, and a goldfish. At the bottom of the screen was a series of labels. Angela studied them carefully. "Animal," "winged," "golden," "four-legged," "happy." She was puzzled. None of the labels fit all the images. Then she noticed a small box to the right of the labels. She clicked on it, and out flew a final label. "Being." That seemed to fit, so she made her character pick it up and dragged it toward an empty frame. When she pasted the label onto the frame, a sentence was highlighted above it: "Things have their own nature, but they share Being. This is the basis for analogies like the meadow is smiling." Angela saw the wizard disappear into a door below a flashing "Good" sign, and she followed with her character.
They were back in the tower room. Nothing happened. Angela made her character sit and the wizard said, "Try something harder." A moving list of terms appeared on the screen beneath a scroll that said "Being." Angela noticed that the terms were the names of the objects listed in the previous room. Suddenly, however, she saw a new term. It was the word "God," boldfaced, and so she clicked on it and the list stopped. The screen flashed "Good!" and the voice said, "God also has being. It is Gods nature to be . Try an analogy." Angela hesitated. The voice said, "Its okay. Go ahead." Unsure, Angela typed "The meadow is smiling." Immediately, the screen changed to show her character in a free fall. She landed back in the meadow by the apple tree and spent the next twenty-five minutes retracing her steps. This time, when the wizard commanded her character to speak, she typed, "God is. . ." and then she paused. It didnt seem to make much sense to say "God is smiling." None of her Sunday School teachers had ever talked about God smiling. She gave the keystroke for help and a pull-down menu appeared underneath a question mark on the wizards hat. Among the menu choices Angela saw the term "good." She decided to try that and typed, "God is good." A series of alarms sounded and a vivid image of a grimacing meadow flashed on and off at the top of the screen. Terrified that they would fall again, Angela typed, "according to Gods nature."
"Congratulations," the screen said. "You have just graduated to the next level. You are now a Junior Philosopher."
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