Aquinas, St. Thomas

, commonly called the Angelical Doctor, of the ancient family of the counts of Aquino, descended from the kings of Sicily and Arragon, was born in the castle of Aquino, in the Terra di Lavoro, in Italy, about the year 1224. At five years of age he was committed to the care of the monks of Mount Cassino, with whom he remained till he was sent to the university of Naples. In the year 1241 he entered into the order of the | preaching friars at Naples, without the knowledge of his parents. His mother, being informed of this, used her utmost efforts to induce him to leave this society; to prevent which, the Dominicans removed him toTerracina, and from thence to Anagna, md at last to Rome. His mother followed him thither, and when she could not obtain leave of the monks to see him, by the assistance of her two elder sons, she seized the youth in his journey to Paris, to which he was sent by the monks of his order, and caused him to be shut up in her castle; whence, after a confinement of two jears, he made his escape, and fled first to Naples, and then to Rome. In 1244 he went to Paris with John, the master of the Teutonic order, and from thence removed to Cologne, to hear the lectures of Albertus Magnus. Here he remained till he was invited again to Pans, to read lectures upon the “Book of Sentences,” which he did with great applause, before a very large audience. In the year 1255 he was created D. D. at Paris. He returned to Italy about the year 1263, and was appointed definitor of his order, for the province of Rome; and having taught school divinity in most of the universities of Italy, he re-settled at last at Naples, where he received a pension from king Charles. Here he spent his time in study, in reading of lectures, and exercises of piety; and was so far from any views of ambition or profit, that he refused the archbishopric of that city when it was offered him by Clement IV. In 1274 he was sent for to the second council of Lyons, by pope Gregory X. that he might read before them the book he had written against the Greeks, at the command of Urban IV.; but he fell sick on his journey, at the monastery of Fossanova, near Terracina, where he died on the 7th of March, aged fifty years.

The whole Western world, after his decease, began to load the memory of Thomas Aquinas with honours. The Dominican fraternity removed his body to Thoulouse; pope John XXII. canonized him; Pius V. gave him the title of the Fifth Doctor of the Church; the learned world honoured him with the appellation of The Universal and the Angelic Doctor; and Sixtus Senensis tells us, that he approached so nearly to St. Augustin in the knowledge of true divinity, and penetrated so deeply into the most abstruse meanings of that father, that, agreeably to the Pythagorean metempsychosis, it was a com non expression among all men of learning, that St. Augustin’s soul had | transmigrated into St. Thomas Aquinas. Rapin speaks also of him with high honour, and represents him as one of the great improvers of school-divinity. Lord Herbert of Cherbury, in his Life and Reign of Henry VIII. tells us, that one of the principal reasons, which induced this king to write against Martin Luther, was, that the latter had spoken contemptuously of Aquinas. The authority of Aquinas indeed has been always very great in the schools of the Roman Catholics. But notwithstanding all the extravagant praises and honours which have been heaped upon this saint, it is certain that his learning was almost wholly confined to scholastic theology, and that he was so little conversant with elegant and liberal studies, that he was not even able to read the Greek language. For all his knowledge of the Peripatetic philosophy, which he so liberally mixed with theology, he was indebted to the defective translations of Aristotle which were supplied by the Arabians, till he obtained, from some unknown hand, a more, accurate version of his philosophical writings. Adopting the general ideas of the age, that theology is best defended by the weapons of logic and metaphysics, he mixed the subtleties of Aristotle with the language of scripture and the Christian fathers; and, after the manner of the Arabians, framed abstruse questions, without end, upon various topics of speculative theology. He excelled, therefore, only in that subtile and abstruse kind of learning which was better calculated to strike the imagination, than to improve the understanding. He maintained what is commonly called the doctrine of free-will, though he largely quoted Augustin, and retailed many of his pious and devotional sentiments. His Aristotelian subtleties enabled him to give a specious colour to the absurd doctrine of transubstantiation, which in him found a vehement defender. He held many other erroneous opinions, but it must be acknowledged, there are in his writings, and particularly in the account of his discourses during his last sickness, traces of great devotion, and a strain of piety very similar to that of St. Augustin. Aquinas left a vast number of works, which were printed in seventeen volumes in folio, at Venice in 1490; at Nuremberg in 1496; Rome 1570; Venice 1594; and Cologne 1612; and many times after.

The five first volumes contain his Commentaries upon the works of Aristotle. The sixth and seventh a | Coramentary upon the four Books of Sentences. The eighth consists of Questions in Divinity. The ninth volume contains the Sum of the Catholic Faith, against the Gentiles; divided into four books. The tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, the Sum of Divinity, with the Commentaries of cardinal Cajetauus. The thirteenth consists of several Commentaries upon the Old Testament, particularly a Commentary upon the Book of Job, a literal and analogical Exposition upon the first fifty Psalms, an Exposition upon the Canticles, which he dictated upon his death-bed, to the monks of Fossanova; Commentaries upon the Prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and upon the Lamentations. The fourteenth contains the Commentaries upon the gospels of St. Matthew and St. John; the former is said to have been written by Peter Scaliger, a dominican friar and bishop of Verona. The fifteenth volume contains the Catena upon the four Gospels, extracted from the fathers, and dedicated to pope Urban IV. The sixteenth consists of the Commentary upon St. Paul’s Epistles, and the Sermons of Aquinas preached on Sundays and the festivals of saints. The seventeenth contains divers tracts in Divinity.

There have been also published separately, under his name, several other commentaries upon the scriptures, particularly upon Genesis, Lyons, 1573, in 8vo; upon the prophecy of Daniel; upon the bookof the Maccabees, Paris, 1596, 8vo; upon all the canonical Epistles, Paris, 1543, 8vo. We have likewise a commentary upon Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, published under Aquinas’s name, at Louvain in 1487, in folio.

Several difficulties have been raised in regard to his “Summa Theologia?,” which have occasioned some authors to doubt whether he was really the author of it. There is a very accurate examination of these difficulties in Casimir Oudins’ “Commentarius de scriptoribus ecclesia? antiquis eorumque scriptis;” wherein he determines, that Thomas Aquinas is the real author of the “Summa Theologiae.

Of all these, in Brucker’s opinion, the most celebrated are, his “Summa Tbeolo<me,” Heads of Theolosrv of which the second section, which treats of morals, may be read with advantage; his commentaries upon the analytics, metaphysics, and ethics of Aristotle, and upon his book “De Interpretatione.1


Gen. Dict. Cave, vol. I. Brueker. Du Pin. —Moreri. —Saxii Onomasticon. M liner’s Church Hist. vol. IV. p. 55.