Monday, September 9, 2019

Biography of Thomas Aquinas

Biography of Thomas Aquinas

Early years 

Thomas Aquinas was born between 1224 and 1225 at Roccasecca, the castle owned by his noble family, near the town of Aquino, in Italy. Aquinas received the first elements of his education under the Benedictine monks in the well-known Abbey of Montecassino, not far from Roccasecca.

A few years later, in 1239, Aquinas moved to Naples, the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily, where King Frederick II had founded a prestigious university. Here Aquinas was introduced to Aristotle and immediately perceived the great value of Aristotle’s teachings.

It was during these years in Naples that Aquinas saw his vocation to become a Dominican friar. However, when he joined the Dominican Order, his family opposed this decision and he was obliged to leave the convent and spend some time at home.

In 1245, when he had come of age, Aquinas was able to continue on the path of the Dominicans. He was sent to Paris to study theology under the guidance of Saint Albert the Great.

From Paris to Cologne

In Paris, Aquinas developed a true and deep friendship with his professor, Albert the Great. In 1248, Albert invited Aquinas to follow him to Cologne in Germany, where Albert had been sent by the Superiors of the Dominicans to found the Theological Study House of the Order. Aquinas accepted the invitation. In Cologne, under the guidance of Albert, Aquinas once again came into contact with all of Aristotle’s writings and Aristotle’s Arab commentators.

At the school of Saint Albert, Aquinas commented on most of Aristotle’s works, taking from Aristotle what was consonant with Christian revelation.

In this regard the greatest achievement of Aquinas was to show that there exists a natural harmony between faith and reason. Both the light of faith and the light of reason come from God, he argued; therefore there can be no contradiction between them.

Back to Paris

Because of his extraordinary intellectual capacity, Aquinas was again sent to Paris towards the end of the year 1251, to be professor of theology on the Dominican chair. As a professor, Aquinas commented on Sacred Scripture, but he also continued commenting extensively on the writings of Aristotle.

In 1259 Aquinas took part in the General Chapter of the Dominicans in Valenciennes, France, where he was a member of a commission that established the Order’s program of studies.

From Paris to Orvieto and Rome

Soon after the meeting in Valenciennes, Aquinas returned to Italy. From 1261 to 1265, he was in Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV, who had high esteem for Aquinas, commissioned him to compose the liturgical texts for the Feast of Corpus Christi, the feast which, in addition to Holy Thursday, commemorates the institution of the Eucharist.

Aquinas is highly praised for having an exquisitely Eucharistic soul. He composed beautiful Eucharistic hymns that the Liturgy of the Church still sings today as, for example, Adoro Te Devote, Pange Lingua, Panis Angelicus, Lauda Sion Salvatorem, Tantum Ergo Sacramentum, Sacris Solemniis, and Verbum Supernum.

From 1265 until 1268 Thomas Aquinas lived in Rome where he directed the Study House of the Dominican Order.

Second stay in Paris and back to Naples

In 1269 Thomas Aquinas was recalled to Paris for a second cycle of lectures. He conducted lively academic discussions, but in 1272 his Superiors sent him once again to Naples to be available to King Charles I who was planning to reorganize university studies. It was in Naples, in 1273, that Aquinas received his last assignment, an invitation to participate in the Council of Lyons, which he was unable to carry out due to his death.

Aquinas’s last days

In the General Audience of 2 June 2010, Pope Benedict XVI described the last days of Saint Thomas Aquinas as follows:

“The last months of Thomas Aquinas’s earthly life remain surrounded by a particular, mysterious atmosphere. In December 1273, he summoned his friend and secretary Reginald of Piperno to inform him of his decision to discontinue all work because he had realized, during the celebration of Mass subsequent to a supernatural revelation, that everything he had written until then ‘was worthless.’
“A few months later, more and more absorbed in thoughtful meditation, Thomas Aquinas died while on his way to Lyons to take part in the Ecumenical Council convoked by Pope Gregory X. He died on 7 March 1274 in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, after receiving the Viaticum with deeply devout sentiments.
“The life and teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas could be summed up in an episode passed down by his ancient biographers.
“While, as was his wont, the Saint was praying before the Crucifix in the early morning in the chapel of Saint Nicholas in Naples, Domenico da Caserta, the church sacristan, overheard a conversation.
“Thomas Aquinas was anxiously asking whether what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was correct. And the Crucified One answered him: ‘You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What is your reward to be?’ And the answer Thomas Aquinas gave him was: ‘Nothing but Yourself, Lord!’”


The literary production of Saint Thomas Aquinas includes three major theological works, the Commentary on the Sentences, the Summa contra Gentiles, and the almost finished Summa theologiae. He also wrote commentaries on Aristotle’s works, commentaries on several books of the Bible, the Quaestiones disputatae, commentaries on Boethius’s works, commentary on the book De Causis, commentary on Pseudo-Dionysius’s De divinis nominibus, and the theological and philosophical opuscula.

In his Address at Cologne Cathedral in Germany on 18 August 2005, Pope Benedict XVI called Aquinas “the greatest theologian of the West.”