The great outlines and all the important events of his life are known, but biographers differ as to some details and dates. Death prevented Henry Denifle from executing his project of writing a critical life of the saint. Denifle’s friend and pupil, Dominic Prümmer, O.P., professor of theology in the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, took up the work and published the “Fontes Vitae S. Thomae Aquinatis, notis historicis et criticis illustrati”; and the first fascicle (Toulouse, 1911) has appeared, giving the life of St. Thomas by Peter Calo (1300) now published for the first time. From Tolomeo of Lucca . . . we learn that at the time of the saint’s death there was a doubt about his exact age (Prümmer, op. cit., 45). The end of 1225 is usually assigned as the time of his birth. Father Prümmer, on the authority of Calo, thinks 1227 is the more probable date (op. cit., 28). All agree that he died in 1274.
Landulph, his father, was Count of Aquino; Theodora, his mother, Countess of Teano. His family was related to the Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, and to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France. Calo relates that a holy hermit foretold his career, saying to Theodora before his birth: “He will enter the Order of Friars Preachers, and so great will be his learning and sanctity that in his day no one will be found to equal him” (Prümmer, op. cit., 18). At the age of five, according to the custom of the times, he was sent to receive his first training from the Benedictine monks of Monte Cassino. Diligent in study, he was thus early noted as being meditative and devoted to prayer, and his preceptor was surprised at hearing the child ask frequently: “What is God?”
About the year 1236 he was sent to the University of Naples. Calo says that the change was made at the instance of the Abbot of Monte Cassino, who wrote to Thomas’s father that a boy of such talents should not be left in obscurity (Prümmcr, op. cit., 20). At Naples his preceptors were Pietro Martini and Petrus Hibernus. The chronicler says that he soon surpassed Martini at grammar, and he was then given over to Peter of Ireland, who trained him in logic and the natural sciences. The customs of the times divided the liberal arts into two courses: the Trivium, embracing grammar, logic, and rhetoric; the Quadrivium, comprising music, mathematics, geometry, and astronomy . . . . Thomas could repeat the lessons with more depth and lucidity than his masters displayed. The youth’s heart had remained pure amidst the corruption with which he was surrounded, and he resolved to embrace the religious life.
Some time between 1240 and August, 1243, he received the habit of the Order of St. Dominic, being attracted and directed by John of St. Julian, a noted preacher of the convent of Naples. The city wondered that such a noble young man should don the garb of poor friar. His mother, with mingled feelings of joy and sorrow, hastened to Naples to see her son. The Dominicans, fearing she would take him away, sent him to Rome, his ultimate destination being Paris or Cologne. At the instance of Theodora, Thomas’s brothers, who were soldiers under the Emperor Frederick, captured the novice near the town of Aquapendente and confined him in the fortress of San Giovanni at Rocca Secca. Here he was detained nearly two years, his parents, brothers, and sisters endeavouring by various means to destroy his vocation. The brothers even laid snares for his virtue, but the pure-minded novice drove the temptress from his room with a brand which he snatched from the fire. Towards the end of his life, St. Thomas confided to his faithful friend and companion, Reginald of Piperno, the secret of a remarkable favour received at this time. When the temptress had been driven from his chamber, he knelt and most earnestly implored God to grant him integrity of mind and body. He fell into a gentle sleep, and, as he slept, two angels appeared to assure him that his prayer had been heard. They then girded him about with a white girdle, saying: “We gird thee with the girdle of perpetual virginity.” And from that day forward he never experienced the slightest motions of concupiscence.
The time spent in captivity was not lost. His mother relented somewhat, after the first burst of anger and grief; the Dominicans were allowed to provide him with new habits, and through the kind offices of his sister he procured some books — the Holy Scriptures, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and the “Sentences” of Peter Lombard. After eighteen months or two years spent in prison, either because his mother saw that the hermit’s prophecy would eventually be fulfilled or because his brothers feared the threats of Innocent IV and Frederick II, he was set at liberty, being lowered in a basket into the arms of the Dominicans, who were delighted to find that during his captivity “he had made as much progress as if he had been in a studium generale” (Calo, op. cit., 24).
Thomas immediately pronounced his vows, and his superiors sent him to Rome. Innocent IV examined closely into his motives in joining the Friars Preachers, dismissed him with a blessing, and forbade any further interference with his vocation. John the Teutonic, fourth master general of the order, took the young student to Paris and, according to the majority of the saint’s biographers, to Cologne, where he arrived in 1244 or 1245, and was placed under Albertus Magnus, the most renowned professor of the order. In the schools Thomas’s humility and taciturnity were misinterpreted as signs of dullness, but when Albert had heard his brilliant defence of a difficult thesis, he exclaimed: “We call this young man a dumb ox, hut his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”
In 1245 Albert was sent to Paris, and Thomas accompanied him as a student. In 1248 both returned to Cologne. Albert had been appointed regent of the new studium generale, erected that year by the general chapter of the order, and Thomas was to teach under him as Bachelor. (On the system of graduation in the thirteenth century see ORDER OF PREACHERS — II, A, 1, d). During his stay in Cologne, probably in 1250, he was raised to the priesthood by Conrad of Hochstaden, archbishop of that city. Throughout his busy life, he frequently preached the Word of God, in Germany, France, and Italy. His sermons were forceful, redolent of piety, full of solid instruction, abounding in apt citations from the Scriptures.
In the year 1251 or 1252 the master general of the order, by the advice of Albertus Magnus and Hugo a S. Charo (Hugh of St. Cher), sent Thomas to fill the office of Bachelor (sub-regent) in the Dominican studium at Paris. This appointment may be regarded as the beginning of his public career, for his teaching soon attracted the attention both of the professors and of the students. His duties consisted principally in explaining the “Sentences” of Peter Lombard, and his commentaries on that text-book of theology furnished the materials and, in great part, the plan for his chief work, the “Summa theologica”.
In due time he was ordered to prepare himself to obtain the degree of Doctor in Theology from the University of Paris, but the conferring of the degree was postponed, owing to a dispute between the university and the friars. The conflict, originally a dispute between the university and the civic authorities, arose from the slaying of one of the students and the wounding of three others by the city guard. The university, jealous of its autonomy, demanded satisfaction, which was refused. The doctors closed their schools, solemnly swore that they would not reopen them until their demands were granted, and decreed that in future no one should be admitted to the degree of Doctor unless he would take an oath to follow the same line of conduct under similar circumstances. The Dominicans and Franciscans, who had continued to teach in their schools, refused to take the prescribed oath, and from this there arose a bitter conflict which was at its height when St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure were ready to be presented for their degrees. William of St-Amour extended the dispute beyond the original question, violently attacked the friars, of whom he was evidently jealous, and denied their right to occupy chairs in the university. Against his book, “De periculis novissimorum temporum” (The Perils of the Last Times), St. Thomas wrote a treatise “Contra impugnantes religionem”, an apology for the religious orders (Touron, op. cit., II, cc. vii sqq.). The book of William of St-Amour was condemned by Alexander IV at Anagni, 5 October, 1256, and the pope gave orders that the mendicant friars should be admitted to the doctorate.
About this time St. Thomas also combated a dangerous book, “The Eternal Gospel” (Touron, op. cit., II, cxii). The university authorities did not obey immediately; the influence of St. Louis IX and eleven papal Briefs were required before peace was firmly established, and St. Thomas was admitted to the degree of Doctor in Theology. The date of his promotion, as given by many biographers, was 23 October, 1257. His theme was “The Majesty of Christ”. His text, “Thou waterest the hills from thy upper rooms: the earth shall be filled with the fruit of thy works” (Psalm 103:13), said to have been suggested by a heavenly visitor, seems to have been prophetic of his career. A tradition says that St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas received the doctorate on the same day, and that there was a contest of humility between the two friends as to which should be promoted first.
From this time St. Thomas’s life may be summed up in a few words: praying, preaching, teaching, writing, journeying. Men were more anxious to hear him than they had been to hear Albert, whom St. Thomas surpassed in accuracy, lucidity, brevity, and power of exposition, if not in universality of knowledge. Paris claimed him as her own; the popes wished to have him near them; the studia of the order were eager to enjoy the benefit of his teaching; hence we find him successively at Anagni, Rome, Bologna, Orvieto, Viterbo, Perugia, in Paris again, and finally in Naples, always teaching and writing, living on earth with one passion, an ardent zeal for the explanation and defence of Christian truth. So devoted was he to his sacred task that with tears he begged to be excused from accepting the Archbishopric of Naples, to which he was appointed by Clement IV in 1265. Had this appointment been accepted, most probably the “Summa theologica” would not have been written.
Yielding to the requests of his brethren, he on several occasions took part in the deliberations of the general chapters of the order. One of these chapters was held in London in 1263. In another held at Valenciennes (1259) he collaborated with Albertus Magnus and Peter of Tarentasia (afterwards Pope Innocent V) in formulating a system of studies which is substantially preserved to this day in the studia generalia of the Dominican Order (cf. Douais, op. cit.).
It is not surprising to read in the biographies of St. Thomas that he was frequently abstracted and in ecstasy. Towards the end of his life the ecstasies became more frequent. On one occasion, at Naples in 1273, after he had completed his treatise on the Eucharist, three of the brethren saw him lifted in ecstasy, and they heard a voice proceeding from the crucifix on the altar, saying “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” Thomas replied, “None other than Thyself, Lord” (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 38). Similar declarations are said to have been made at Orvieto and at Paris.
On 6 December, 1273, he laid aside his pen and would write no more. That day he experienced an unusually long ecstasy during Mass; what was revealed to him we can only surmise from his reply to Father Reginald, who urged him to continue his writings: “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value” (modica, Prümmer, op. cit., p. 43). The “Summa theologica” had been completed only as far as the ninetieth question of the third part (De partibus poenitentiae).
Thomas began his immediate preparation for death. Gregory X, having convoked a general council, to open at Lyons on 1 May, 1274, invited St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to take part in the deliberations, commanding the former to bring to the council his treatise “Contra errores Graecorum” (Against the Errors of the Greeks). He tried to obey, setting out on foot in January, 1274, but strength failed him; he fell to the ground near Terracina, whence he was conducted to the Castle of Maienza the home of his niece the Countess Francesca Ceccano. The Cistercian monks of Fossa Nuova pressed him to accept their hospitality, and he was conveyed to their monastery, on entering which he whispered to his companion: “This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it” (Psalm 131:14). When Father Reginald urged him to remain at the castle, the saint replied: “If the Lord wishes to take me away, it is better that I be found in a religious house than in the dwelling of a lay person.” The Cistercians were so kind and attentive that Thomas’s humility was alarmed. “Whence comes this honour”, he exclaimed, “that servants of God should carry wood for my fire!” At the urgent request of the monks he dictated a brief commentary on the Canticle of Canticles.
The end was near; extreme unction was administered. When the Sacred Viaticum was brought into the room he pronounced the following act of faith:
If in this world there be any knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament . . . I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and laboured. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.
He died on 7 March, 1274. Numerous miracles attested his sanctity, and he was canonized by John XXII, 18 July, 1323. The monks of Fossa Nuova were anxious to keep his sacred remains, but by order of Urban V the body was given to his Dominican brethren, and was solemnly translated to the Dominican church at Toulouse, 28 January, 1369. A magnificent shrine erected in 1628 was destroyed during the French Revolution, and the body was removed to the Church of St. Sernin, where it now reposes in a sarcophagus of gold and silver, which was solemnly blessed by Cardinal Desprez on 24 July, 1878. The chief bone of his left arm is preserved in the cathedral of Naples. The right arm, bestowed on the University of Paris, and originally kept in the St. Thomas’s Chapel of the Dominican church, is now preserved in the Dominican Church of S. Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, whither it was transferred during the French Revolution.
A description of the saint as he appeared in life is given by Calo (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 401), 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 4 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.
IIa. WRITINGS (GENERAL REMARKS)
Although St. Thomas lived less than fifty years, he composed more than sixty works, some of them brief, some very lengthy. This does not necessarily mean that every word in the authentic works was written by his hand; he was assisted by secretaries, and biographers assure us that he could dictate to several scribes at the same time. Other works, some of which were composed by his disciples, have been falsely attributed to him.
In the “Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum” (Paris, 1719) Fr. Echard devotes eighty-six folio pages to St. Thomas’s works, the different editions and translations (I, pp. 282-348). Touron (op. cit., pp. 69 sqq.) says that manuscript copies were found in nearly all the libraries of Europe, and that, after the invention of printing, copies were multiplied rapidly in Germany, Italy, and France, portions of the “Summa theologica” being one of the first important works printed. Peter Schöffer, a printer of Mainz, published the “Secunda Secundae” in 1467. This is the first known printed copy of any work of St. Thomas. The first complete edition of the “Summa” was printed at Basle, in 1485. Many other editions of this and of other works were published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially at Venice and at Lyons. The principal editions of all the work (Opera Omnia) were published as follows: Rome, 1570; Venice, 1594, 1612, 1745; Antwerp, 1612; Paris, 1660, 1871-80 (Vives); Parma, 1852-73; Rome, 1882 (the Leonine). The Roman edition of 1570, called “the Piana”, because edited by order of St. Pius V, was the standard for many years. Besides a carefully revised text it contained the commentaries of Cardinal Cajetan and the valuable “Tabula Aurea” of Peter of Bergamo. The Venetian edition of 1612 was highly prized because the text was accompanied by the Cajetan-Porrecta commentaries . . . . The Leonine edition, begun under the patronage of Leo XIII, now continued under the master general of the Dominicans, undoubtedly will be the most perfect of all. Critical dissertations on each work will be given, the text will be carefully revised, and all references will be verified. By direction of Leo XIII (Motu Proprio, 18 Jan., 1880) the “Summa contra gentiles” will be published with the commentaries of Sylvester Ferrariensis, whilst the commentaries of Cajetan go with the “Summa theologica”.
The latter has been published, being volumes IV-XII of the edition (last in 1906). St. Thomas’s works may be classified as philosophical, theological, scriptural, and apologetic, or controversial. The division, however, cannot always be rigidly maintained. The “Summa theologica”, e.g., contains much that is philosophical, whilst the “Summa contra gentiles” is principally, but not exclusively, philosophical and apologetic. His philosophical works are chiefly commentaries on Aristotle, and his first important theological writings were commentaries on Peter Lombard’s four books of “Sentences”; but he does not slavishly follow either the Philosopher or the Master of the Sentences (on opinions of the Lombard rejected by theologians, see Migne, 1841, edition of the “Summa” I, p. 451).
IIb. WRITINGS (HIS PRINCIPAL WORKS)
Amongst the works wherein St. Thomas’s own mind and method are shown, the following deserve special mention:
(1) “Quaestiones disputatae” (Disputed Questions) — These were more complete treatises on subjects that had not been fully elucidated in the lecture halls, or concerning which the professor’s opinion had been sought. They are very valuable, because in them the author, free from limitations as to time or space, freely expresses his mind and gives all arguments for or against the opinions adopted. These treatises, containing the questions “De potentia”, “De malo”, “De spirit. creaturis”, “De anima”, “De unione Verbi Incarnati”, “De virt. in communi”, “De caritate”, “De corr. fraterna”, “De spe”, “De virt. cardinal.”, “De veritate”, were often reprinted, e.g. recently by the Association of St. Paul (2 vols., Paris and Fribourg, Switzerland, 1883).
(2) “Quodlibeta” (may be rendered “Various Subjects”, or “Free Discussions”) — They present questions or arguments proposed and answers given in or outside the lecture halls, chiefly in the more formal Scholastic exercises, termed circuli, conclusiones, or determinationes, which were held once or twice a year.
(3) “De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas” — This opusculum refuted a very dangerous and widespread error, viz., that there was but one soul for all men, a theory which did away wth individual liberty and responsibility.
(4) “Commentaria in Libros Sententiarum” (mentioned above) — This with the following work are the immediate forerunners of the “Summa theologica”.
(5) “Summa de veritate catholicae fidei contra gentiles” (Treatise on the Truth of the Catholic Faith, against Unbelievers) — This work, written at Rome, 1261-64, was composed at the request of St. Raymond of Pennafort, who desired to have a philosophical exposition and defence of the Christian Faith, to be used against the Jews and Moors in Spain. It is a perfect model of patient and sound apologetics, showing that no demonstrated truth (science) is opposed to revealed truth (faith). The best recent editions are those of Rome, 1878 (by Uccelli), of Paris and Fribourg, Switzerland, 1882, and of Rome, 1894. It has been translated into many languages. It is divided into four books: I. Of God as He is in Himself; II. Of God the Origin of Creatures; III. Of God the End of Creatures; IV. Of God in His Revelation. It is worthy of remark that the Fathers of the Vatican Council, treating the necessity of revelation (Coast. “Dei Filius”, c. 2), employed almost the very words used by St. Thomas in treating that subject in this work (I, cc. iv, V), and in the “Summa theologica” (I:1:1).
(6) Three works written by order of Urban IV —
|The “Opusculum contra errores Graecorum” refuted the errors of the Greeks on doctrines in dispute between them and the Roman Church, viz., the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, the primacy of the Roman pontiff, the Holy Eucharist, and purgatory. It was used against the Greeks with telling effect in the Council of Lyons (1274) and in the Council of Florence (1493). In the range of human reasonings on deep subjects there can be found nothing to surpass the sublimity and depth of the argument adduced by St. Thomas to prove that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son (cf. Summa I:36:2); but it must be borne in mind that our Faith is not based on that argument alone.|
|“Officium de festo Corporis Christi”. Mandonnet (Ecrits, p. 127) declares that it is now established beyond doubt that St. Thomas is the author of the beautiful Office of Corpus Christi, in which solid doctrine, tender piety, and enlightening Scriptural citations are combined, and expressed in language remarkably accurate, beautiful, chaste, and poetic. Here we find the well-known hymns, “Sacris Solemniis”, “Pange Lingua” (concluding in the “Tantum Ergo”), “Verbum Supernum” (concluding with the “O Salutaris Hostia”) and, in the Mass, the beautiful sequence “Lauda Sion”. In the responses of the office, St. Thomas places side by side words of the New Testament affirming the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and texts from the Old Testament referring to the types and figures of the Eucharist. Santeuil, a poet of the seventeenth century, said he would give all the verses he had written for the one stanza of the “Verbum Supernum”: “Se nascens dedit socium, convescens in edulium: Se moriens in pretium, Se regnans dat in praemium” — “In birth, man’s fellow-man was He, His meat, while sitting at the Board: He died his Ransomer to be, He reigns to be his Great Reward” (tr. by Marquis of Bute). Perhaps the gem of the whole office is the antiphon “O Sacrum Convivium” (cf. Conway, “St. Thomas Aquinas”, London and New York, 1911, p. 61).|
|The “Catena Aurea’ though not as original as his other writings, furnishes a striking proof of St. Thomas’s prodigious memory and manifests an intimate acquaintance with the Fathers of the Church. The work contains a series of passages selected from the writings of the various Fathers, arranged in such order that the texts cited form a running commentary on the Gospels. The commentary on St. Matthew was dedicated to Urban IV. An English translation of the “Catena Aurea was edited by John Henry Newman (4 vols., Oxford 1841-1845; see Vaughan, op. cit., vol. II,) pp. 529 sqq..|
(7) The “Summa theologica” — This work 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 (see SUMMÆ). In the brief prologue St. Thomas first calls attention to the difficulties experienced by students of sacred doctrine in his day, the causes assigned being: the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments; the lack of scientific order; frequent repetitions, “which beget disgust and confusion in the minds of learners”. Then he adds: “Wishing to avoid these and similar drawbacks, we shall endeavour, confiding in the Divine assistance, to treat of these things that pertain to sacred doctrine with brevity and clearness, in so far as the subject to he treated will permit.” In the introductory question, “On Sacred Doctrine”, he proves that, besides the knowledge which reason affords, Revelation also is necessary for salvation first, because without it men could not know the supenatural end to which they must tend by their voluntary acts; secondly, because, without Revelation, even the truths concerning God which could be proved by reason would be known “only by a few, after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors”. When revealed truths have been accepted, the mind of man proceeds to explain them and to draw conclusions from them. Hence results theology, which is a science, because it proceeds from principles that are certain (Answer 2). The object, or subject, of this science is God; other things are treated in it only in so far as they relate to God (Answer 7). Reason is used in theology not to prove the truths of faith, which are accepted on the authority of God, but to defend, explain, and develop the doctrines revealed (Answer 8). He thus announces the division of the “Summa”: “Since the chief aim of this sacred science is to give the knowledge of God, not only as He is in Himself, but also as He is the Beginning of all things, and the End of all, especially of rational creatures, we shall treat first of God; secondly, of the rational creature’s advance towards God (de motu creaturae rationalis in Deum); thirdly, of Christ, Who, as Man, is the way by which we tend to God.” God in Himself, and as He is the Creator; God as the End of all things, especially of man; God as the Redeemer — these are the leading ideas, the great headings, under which all that pertains to theology is contained.
The First Part is divided into three tracts:
|On those things which pertain to the Essence of God;|
|On the distinction of Persons in God (the mystery of the Trinity);|
|On the production of creatures by God and on the creatures produced.|
The Second Part, On God as He is in the End of man, is sometimes called the Moral Theology of St. Thomas, i.e., his treatise on the end of man and on human acts. It is subdivided into two parts, known as the First Section of the Second (I-II, or 1a 2ae) and the Second of the Second (II-II, or 2a 2ae).
|The First of the Second. The first five questions are devoted to proving that man’s last end, his beatitude, consists in the possession of God. Man attains to that end or deviates from it by human acts, i.e. by free, deliberate acts. Of human acts he treats, first, in general (in all but the first five questions of the I-II), secondly, in particular (in the whole of the II-II). The treatise on human acts in general is divided into two parts: the first, on human acts in themselves; the other, on the principles or causes, extrinsic or intrinsic, of those acts. In these tracts and in the Second of the Second, St. Thomas, following Aristotle, gives a perfect description and a wonderfully keen analysis of the movements of man’s mind and heart.|
|The Second of the Second considers human acts, i.e., the virtues and vices, in particular. In it St. Thomas treats, first, of those things that pertain to all men, no matter what may be their station in life, and, secondly, of those things that pertain to some men only. Things that pertain to all men are reduced to seven headings: Faith, Hope, and Charity; Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Under each title, in order to avoid repetitions, St. Thomas treats not only of the virtue itself, but also of the vices opposed to it, of the commandment to practise it, and of the gift of the Holy Ghost which corresponds to it. Things pertaining to some men only are reduced to three headings: the graces freely given (ratia gratis datae) to certain individuals for the good of the Church, such as the gifts of tongues, of prophecy, of miracles; the active and the contemplative life; the particular states of life, and duties of those who are in different states, especially bishops and religious.
The Third Part treats of Christ and of the benefits which He has conferred upon man, hence three tracts: On the Incarnation, and on what the Saviour did and suffered; On the Sacraments, which were instituted by Christ, and have their efficacy from His merits and sufferings; On Eternal Life, i.e., on the end of the world, the resurrection of bodies, judgment, the punishment of the wicked, the happiness of the just who, through Christ, attain to eternal life in heaven.
Eight years were given to the composition of this work, which was begun at Rome, where the First Part and the First of the Second were written (1265-69). The Second of the Second, begun in Rome, was completed in Paris (1271). In 1272 St. Thomas went to Naples, where the Third Part was written, down to the ninetieth question of the tract On Penance (see Leonine edition, I, p. xlii). The work has been completed by the addition of a supplement, drawn from other writings of St. Thomas, attributed by some to Peter of Auvergne, by others to Henry of Gorkum. These attributions are rejected by the editors of the Leonine edition (XI, pp. viii, xiv, xviii). Mandonnet (op. cit., 153) inclines to the very probable opinion that it was compiled by Father Reginald de Piperno, the saint’s faithful companion and secretary. The entire “Summa” contains 38 Treatises, 612 Questions, subdivided into 3120 articles, in which about 10,000 objections are proposed and answered. So admirably is the promised order preserved that, by reference to the beginning of the Tracts and Questions, one can see at a glance what place it occupies in the general plan, which embraces all that can be known through theology of God, of man, and of their mutual relations . . . “The whole Summa is arranged on a uniform plan. Every subject is introduced as a question, and divided into articles. . . . Each article has also a uniform disposition of parts. The topic is introduced as an inquiry for discussion, under the term Utrum, whether — e.g. Utrum Deus sit? The objections against the proposed thesis are then stated. These are generally three or four in number, but sometimes extend to seven or more. The conclusion adopted is then introduced by the words, Respondeo dicendum. At the end of the thesis expounded the objections are answered, under the forms, ad primum, ad secundum, etc.” . . . . The “Summa” is Christian doctrine in scientific form; it is human reason rendering its highest service in defence and explanation of the truths of the Christian religion. It is the answer of the matured and saintly doctor to the question of his youth: What is God? Revelation, made known in the Scriptures and by tradition; reason and its best results; soundness and fulness of doctrine, order, conciseness and clearness of expression, effacement of self, the love of truth alone, hence a remarkable fairness towards adversaries and calmness in combating their errors; soberness and soundness of judgment, together with a charmingly tender and enlightened piety — these are all found in this “Summa” more than in his other writings, more than in the writings of his contemporaries, for “among the Scholastic doctors, the chief and master of all, towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes (In 2am 2ae, Q. 148, a. 4) ‘because he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all'” (Encyclical, “Aeterni Patris”, of Leo XIII).
(b) Editions and Translations
It is impossible to mention the various editions of the “Summa”, which has been in constant use for more than seven hundred years. Very few books have been so often republished. The first complete edition, printed at Basle in 1485, was soon followed by others, e.g., at Venice in 1505, 1509, 1588, 1594; at Lyons in 1520, 1541, 1547, 1548, 1581, 1588, 1624,1655; at Antwerp in 1575. These are enumerated by Touron (op. cit., p. 692), who says that about the same time other editions were published at Rome, Antwerp, Rouen, Paris, Douai, Cologne, Amsterdam, Bologna, etc. The editors of the Leonine edition deem worthy of mention those published at Paris in 1617, 1638, and 1648, at Lyons in 1663, 1677, and 1686, and a Roman edition of 1773 (IV, pp. xi, xii). Of all old editions they consider the most accurate two published at Padua, one in 1698, the other in 1712, and the Venice edition of 1755. Of recent editions the best are the following: the Leonine; the Migne editions (Paris, 1841, 1877); the first volume of the 1841 edition containing the “Libri quatuor sententiarum” of Peter Lombard; the very practical Faucher edition (5 vols. small quarto, Paris, 1887), dedicated to Cardinal Pecci, enriched with valuable notes; a Roman edition of 1894. The “Summa” has been translated into many modern languages as well.
IIc. WRITINGS (METHOD AND STYLE)
It is not possible to characterize the method of St. Thomas by one word, unless it can be called eclectic. It is Aristotelean, Platonic, and Socratic; it is inductive and deductive; it is analytic and synthetic. He chose the best that could he found in those who preceded him, carefully sifting the chaff from the wheat, approving what was true, rejecting the false. His powers of synthesis were extraordinary. No writer surpassed him in the faculty of expressing in a few well-chosen words the truth gathered from a multitude of varying and conflicting opinions; and in almost every instance the student sees the truth and is perfectly satisfied with St. Thomas’s summary and statement. Not that he would have students swear by the words of a master. In philosophy, he says, arguments from authority are of secondary importance; philosophy does not consist in knowing what men have said, but in knowing the truth (In I lib. de Coelo, lect. xxii; II Sent., D. xiv, a. 2, ad 1um). He assigns its proper place to reason used in theology (see below: Influence of St. Thomas), but he keeps it within its own sphere. Against the Traditionalists the Holy See has declared that the method used by St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure does not lead to Rationalism (Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 1652). Not so bold or original in investigating nature as were Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon, he was, nevertheless, abreast of his time in science, and many of his opinions are of scientific value in the twentieth century. Take, for instance, the following: “In the same plant there is the two-fold virtue, active and passive, though sometimes the active is found in one and the passive in another, so that one plant is said to be masculine and the other feminine” (3 Sent., D. III, Q. ii, a 1).
The style of St. Thomas is a medium between the rough expressiveness of some Scholastics and the fastidious elegance of John of Salisbury; it is remarkable for accuracy, brevity, and completeness. Pope Innocent VI (quoted in the Encyclical, “Aeterni Patris”, of Leo XIII) declared that, with the exception of the canonical writings, the works of St. Thomas surpass all others in “accuracy of expression and truth of statement” (habet proprietatem verborum, modum dicendorum, veritatem sententiarum). Great orators, such as Bossuet, Lacordaire, Monsabré, have studied his style, and have been influenced by it, but they could not reproduce it. The same is true of theological writers. Cajetan knew St. Thomas’s style better than any of his disciples, but Cajetan is beneath his great master in clearness and accuracy of expression, in soberness and solidity of judgment. St. Thomas did not attain to this perfection without an effort. He was a singularly blessed genius, but he was also an indefatigable worker, and by continued application he reached that stage of perfection in the art of writing where the art disappears. “The author’s manuscript of the Summa Contra Gentiles is still in great part extant. It is now in the Vatican Library. The manuscript consists of strips of parchment, of various shades of colour, contained in an old parchment cover to which they were originally stitched. The writing is in double column, and difficult to decipher, abounding in abbreviations, often passing into a kind of shorthand. Throughout many passages a line is drawn in sign of erasure” (Rickaby, Op. cit., preface: see Ucelli ed., “Sum. cont. gent.”, Rome, 1878).
III. INFLUENCES EXERTED ON ST. THOMAS
How was this great genius formed? The causes that exerted an influence on St. Thomas were of two kinds, natural and supernatural.
A. Natural Causes
(1) As a foundation, he “was a witty child, and had received a good soul” (Wisdom 8:19). From the beginning he manifested precocious and extraordinary talent and thoughtfulness beyond his years.
(2) His education was such that great things might have been expected of him. His training at Monte Cassino, at Naples, Paris, and Cologne was the best that the thirteenth century could give, and that century was the golden age of education. That it afforded excellent opportunities for forming great philosophers and theologians is evident from the character of St. Thomas’s contemporaries. Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, St. Bonaventure, St. Raymond of Pennafort, Roger Bacon, Hugo a S. Charo, Vincent of Beauvais, not to mention scores of others, prove beyond all doubt that those were days of really great scholars. (See Walsh, “The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries”, New York, 1907.) The men who trained St. Thomas were his teachers at Monte Cassino and Naples, but above all Albertus Magnus, under whom he studied at Paris and Cologne.
(3) The books that exercised the greatest influence on his mind were the Bible, the Decrees of the councils and of the popes, the works of the Fathers, Greek and Latin, especially of St. Augustine, the “Sentences” of Peter Lombard, the writings of the philosophers, especially of Plato, Aristotle, and Boethius. If from these authors any were to be selected for special mention, undoubtedly they would be Aristotle, St. Augustine, and Peter Lombard. In another sense the writings of St. Thomas were influenced by Averroes, the chief opponent whom he had to combat in order to defend and make known the true Aristotle.
(4) It must be borne in mind that St. Thomas was blessed with a retentive memory and great powers of penetration. Father Daniel d’Agusta once pressed him to say what he considered the greatest grace he had ever received, sanctifying grace of course excepted. “I think that of having understood whatever I have read”, was the reply. St. Antoninus declared that “he remembered everything be had read, so that his mind was like a huge library” (cf. Drane, op. cit., p. 427; Vaughan, op. cit., II, p. 567). The bare enumeration of the texts of Scripture cited in the “Summa theologica” fills eighty small-print columns in the Migne edition, and by many it is not unreasonably supposed that he learned the Sacred Books by heart while he was imprisoned in the Castle of San Giovanni. Like St. Dominic he had a special love for the Epistles of St. Paul, on which he wrote commentaries (recent edition in 2 vols., Turin, 1891).
(5) Deep reverence for the Faith, as made known by tradition, characterizes all his writings. The consuetudo ecclesiae — the practice of the Church — should prevail over the authority of any doctor (Summa II-II:10:12). In the “Summa” he quotes from 19 councils, 41 popes, and 52 Fathers of the Church. A slight acquaintance with his writings will show that among the Fathers his favourite was St. Augustine (on the Greek Fathers see Vaughan, op. cit., II, cc. iii sqq.).
(6) With St. Augustine (II De doctr. Christ., c. xl), St. Thomas held that whatever there was of truth in the writings of pagan philosophers should be taken from them, as from “unjust possessors”, and adapted to the teaching of the true religion (Summa I:84:5). In the “Summa” alone he quotes from the writings of 46 philosophers and poets, his favourite authors being Aristotle, Plato, and, among Christian writers, Boethius. From Aristotle he learned that love of order and accuracy of expression which are characteristic of his own works. From Boethius he learned that Aristotle’s works could be used without detriment to Christianity. He did not follow Boethius in his vain attempt to reconcile Plato and Aristotle. In general the Stagirite was his master, but the elevation and grandeur of St. Thomas’s conceptions and the majestic dignity of his methods of treatment speak strongly of the sublime Plato.
B. Supernatural Causes
Even if we do not accept as literally true the declaration of John XXII, that St. Thomas wrought as many miracles as there are articles in the “Summa”, we must, nevertheless, go beyond causes merely natural in attempting to explain his extraordinary career and wonderful writings.
(1) Purity of mind and body contributes in no small degree to clearness of vision (see St. Thomas, “Commentaries on I Cor., c. vii”, Lesson v). By the gift of purity, miraculously granted at the time of the mystic girdling, God made Thomas’s life angelic; the perspicacity and depth of his intellect, Divine grace aiding, made him the “Angelic Doctor”.
(2) The spirit of prayer, his great piety and devotion, drew down blessings on his studies. Explaining why he read, every day, portions of the “Conferences” of Cassian, he said: “In such reading I find devotion, whence I readily ascend to contemplation” (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 32). In the lessons of the Breviary read on his feast day it is explicitly stated that he never began to study without first invoking the assistance of God in prayer; and when he wrestled with obscure passages of the Scriptures, to prayer he added fasting.
(3) Facts narrated by persons who either knew St. Thomas in life or wrote at about the time of his canonization prove that he received assistance from heaven. To Father Reginald he declared that he had learned more in prayer and contemplation than he had acquired from men or books (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 36). These same authors tell of mysterious visitors who came to encourage and enlighten him. The Blessed Virgin appeared, to assure him that his life and his writings were acceptable to God, and that he would persevere in his holy vocation. Sts. Peter and Paul came to aid him in interpreting an obscure passage in Isaias. When humility caused him to consider himself unworthy of the doctorate, a venerable religious of his order (supposed to be St. Dominic) appeared to encourage him and suggested the text for his opening discourse (Prümmer, op. cit., 29, 37; Tocco in “Acta SS.”, VII Mar.; Vaughan, op. cit., II, 91). His ecstasies have been mentioned. His abstractions in presence of King Louis IX (St. Louis) and of distinguished visitors are related by all biographers. Hence, even if allowance be made for great enthusiasm on the part of his admirers, we must conclude that his extraordinary learning cannot be attributed to merely natural causes. Of him it may truly be said that he laboured as if all depended on his own efforts and prayed as if all depended on God.
IVa. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (ON SANCTITY)
The great Scholastics were holy as well as learned men. Alexander of Hales, St. Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas, and St. Bonaventure prove that learning does not necessarily dry up devotion. The angelic Thomas and the seraphic Bonaventure represent the highest types of Christian scholarship, combining eminent learning with heroic sanctity. Cardinal Bessarion called St. Thomas “the most saintly of learned men and the most learned of saints”. His works breathe the spirit of God, a tender and enlightened piety, built on a solid foundation, viz. the knowledge of God, of Christ, of man. The “Summa theologica” may he made a manual of piety as well as a text-book for the study of theology (Cf. Drane, op. cit., p. 446). St. Francis de Sales, St. Philip Neri, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Pius V, St. Antoninus constantly studied St. Thomas. Nothing could be more inspiring than his treatises on Christ, in His sacred Person, in His life and sufferings. His treatise on the sacraments, especially on penance and the Eucharist, would melt even hardened hearts. He takes pains to explain the various ceremonies of the Mass (“De ritu Eucharistiae” in Summa III:83), and no writer has explained more clearly than St. Thomas the effects produced in the souls of men by this heavenly Bread (Summa III:79). The principles recently urged, in regard to frequent Communion, by Pius X (“Sacra Trid. Synodus”, 1905) are found in St. Thomas (Summa III:79:8, III:80:10), although he is not so explicit on this point as he is on the Communion of children. In the Decree “Quam Singulari” (1910) the pope cites St. Thomas, who teaches that, when children begin to have some use of reason, so that they
IVb. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (ON INTELLECTUAL LIFE)
Since the days of Aristotle, probably no one man has exercised such a powerful influence on the thinking world as did St. Thomas. His authority was very great during his lifetime. The popes, the universities, the studia of his order were anxious to profit by his learning and prudence. Several of his important works were written at the request of others, and his opinion was sought by all classes. On several occasions the doctors of Paris referred their disputes to him and gratefully abided by his decision (Vaughan, op. cit., II, 1 p. 544). His principles, made known by his writings, have continued to influence men even to this day. This subject cannot be considered in all its aspects, nor is that necessary. His influence on matters purely philosophical is fully explained in histories of philosophy. (Theologians who followed St. Thomas will be mentioned in THOMISM. See also ORDER OF PREACHERS — II, A, 2, d) His paramount importance and influence may be explained by considering him as the Christian Aristotle, combining in his person the best that the world has known in philosophy and theology. It is in this light that he is proposed as a model by Leo XIII in the famous Encyclical “Aeterni Patris”. The work of his life may be summed up in two propositions: he established the true relations between faith and reason; he systematized theology.
(1) Faith and Reason
The principles of St. Thomas on the relations between faith and reason were solemnly proclaimed in the Vatican Council. The second, third, and fourth chapters of the Constitution “Dei Filius” read like pages taken from the works of the Angelic Doctor. First, reason alone is not sufficient to guide men: they need Revelation; we must carefully distinguish the truths known by reason from higher truths (mysteries) known by Revelation. Secondly, reason and Revelation, though distinct, are not opposed to each other. Thirdly, faith preserves reason from error; reason should do service in the cause of faith. Fourthly, this service is rendered in three ways:
This is a development of St. Augustine’s famous saying (De Trin., XIV, c. i), that the right use of reason is “that by which the most wholesome faith is begotten . . . is nourished, defended, and made strong.” These principles are proposed by St. Thomas in many places, especially in the following: “In Boethium, da Trin. Proem.”, Q. ii, a. 1; “Sum. cont. gent.”, I, cc. iii-ix; Summa I:1:1, I:1:5, I:1:8, I:32:1, I:84:5. St. Thomas’s services to the Faith are thus summed up by Leo XIII in the Encyclical “Aeterni Patris”: “He won this title of distinction for himself: that singlehanded he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put to rout those which might in after times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason and faith, he both preserved and had regard for the rights of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.” St. Thomas did not combat imaginary foes; he attacked living adversaries. The works of Aristotle had been introduced into France in faulty translations and with the misleading commentaries of Jewish and Moorish philosophers. This gave rise to a flood of errors which so alarmed the authorities that the reading of Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics was forbidden by Robert de Courçon in 1210, the decree being moderated by Gregory IX in 1231. There crept into the University of Paris an insidious spirit of irreverence and Rationalism, represented especially by Abelard and Raymond Lullus, which claimed that reason could know and prove all things, even the mysteries of Faith. Under the authority of Averroes dangerous doctrines were propagated, especially two very pernicious errors: first, that philosophy and religion being in different regions, what is true in religion might be false in philosophy; secondly, that all men have but one soul. Averroes was commonly styled “The Commentator”, but St. Thomas says he was “not so much a Peripatetic as a corruptor of Peripatetic philosophy” (Opuse. de unit. intell.). Applying a principle of St. Augustine (see I:84:5), following in the footsteps of Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas resolved to take what was true from the “unjust possessors”, in order to press it into the service of revealed religion. Objections to Aristotle would cease if the true Aristotle were made known; hence his first care was to obtain a new translation of the works of the great philosopher. Aristotle was to be purified; false commentators were to be refuted; the most influential of these was Averroes, hence St. Thomas is continually rejecting his false interpretations.
(2) Theology Systematized
The next step was to press reason into the service of the Faith, by putting Christian doctrine into scientific form. Scholasticism does not consist, as some persons imagine, in useless discussions and subtleties, but in this, that it expresses sound doctrine in language which is accurate, clear, and concise. In the Encyclical “Aeterni Patris” Leo XIII, citing the words of Sixtus V (Bull “Triumphantis”, 1588), declares that to the right use of philosophy we are indebted for “those noble endowments which make Scholastic theology so formidable to the enemies of truth”, because “that ready coherence of cause and effect, that order and array of a disciplined army in battle, those clear definitions and distinctions, that strength of argument and those keen discussions by which light is distinguished from darkness, the true from the false, expose and lay bare, as it were, the falsehoods of heretics wrapped around by a cloud of subterfuges and fallacies”. When the great Scholastics had written, there was light where there had been darkness, there was order where confusion had prevailed. The work of St. Anselm and of Peter Lombard was perfected by the Scholastic theologians. Since their days no substantial improvements have been made in the plan and system of theology, although the field of apologetics has been widened, and positive theology has become more important.
IVc. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (HIS DOCTRINE FOLLOWED)
Within a short time after his death the writings of St. Thomas were universally esteemed. The Dominicans naturally took the lead in following St. Thomas. The general chapter held in Paris in 1279 pronounced severe penalties against all who dared to speak irreverently of him or of his writings. The chapters held in Paris in 1286, at Bordeaux in 1287, and at Lucca in 1288 expressly required the brethren to follow the doctrine of Thomas, who at that time had not been canonized (Const. Ord. Praed., n. 1130). The University of Paris, on the occasion of Thomas’s death, sent an official letter of condolence to the general chapter of the Dominicans, declaring that, equally with his brethren, the university experienced sorrow at the loss of one who was their own by many titles (see text of letter in Vaughan, op. cit., II, p. 82). In the Encyclical “Aeterni Patris” Leo XIII mentions the Universities of Paris, Salamanca, Alcalá, Douai, Toulouse, Louvain, Padua, Bologna, Naples, Coimbra as “the homes of human wisdom where Thomas reigned supreme, and the minds of all, of teachers as well as of taught, rested in wonderful harmony under the shield and authority of the Angelic Doctor”. To the list may be added Lima and Manila, Fribourg and Washington. Seminaries and colleges followed the lead of the universities. The “Summa” gradually supplanted the “Sentences” as the textbook of theology. Minds were formed in accordance with the principles of St. Thomas; he became the great master, exercising a world-wide influence on the opinions of men and on their writings; for even those who did not adopt all of his conclusions were obliged to give due consideration to his opinions. It has been estimated that 6000 commentaries on St. Thomas’s works have been written. Manuals of theology and of philosophy, composed with the intention of imparting his teaching, translations, and studies, or digests (études), of portions of his works have been published in profusion during the last six hundred years and to-day his name is in honour all over the world (see THOMISM). In every one of the general councils held since his death St. Thomas has been singularly honoured. At the Council of Lyons his book “Contra errores Graecorum” was used with telling effect against the Greeks. In later disputes, before and during the Council of Florence, John of Montenegro, the champion of Latin orthodoxy, found St. Thomas’s works a source of irrefragable arguments. The “Decretum pro Armenis” (Instruction for the Armenians), issued by the authority of that council, is taken almost verbatim from his treatise, “De fidei articulis et septem sacramentis” (see Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 695). “In the Councils of Lyons, Vienne, Florence, and the Vatican”, writes Leo XIII (Encyclical “Aeterni Patris”), “one might almost say that Thomas took part in and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics, and Rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results.” But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of the conclave to lay upon the altar, together with the code of Sacred Scripture and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration. Greater influence than this no man could have. Before this section is closed mention should be made of two books widely known and highly esteemed, which were inspired by and drawn from the writings of St. Thomas. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, composed by disciples of the Angelic Doctor, is in reality a compendium of his theology, in convenient form for the use of parish priests. Dante’s “Divina Commedia” has been called “the Summa of St. Thomas in verse”, and commentators trace the great Florentine poet’s divisions and descriptions of the virtues and vices to the “Secunda Secundae”.
IVd. INFLUENCE OF ST. THOMAS (APPRECIATION)
(1) In the Church
The esteem in which he was held during his life has not been diminished, but rather increased, in the course of the six centuries that have elapsed since his death. The position which he occupies in the Church is well explained by that great scholar Leo XIII, in the Encyclical “Aeterni Patris”, recommending the study of Scholastic philosophy: “It is known that nearly all the founders and framers of laws of religious orders commanded their societies to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas. . . To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others, all testify that they are bound by this law.” Amongst the “many others” the Servites, the Passionists, the Barnabites, and the Sulpicians have been devoted in an especial manner to the study of St. Thomas. The principal ancient universities where St. Thomas ruled as the great master have been enumerated above. The Paris doctors called him the morning star, the luminous sun, the light of the whole Church. Stephen, Bishop of Paris, repressing those who dared to attack the doctrine of “that most excellent Doctor, the blessed Thomas”, calls him “the great luminary of the Catholic Church, the precious stone of the priesthood, the flower of doctors, and the bright mirror of the University of Paris” (Drane, op. cit., p. 431). In the old Louvain University the doctors were required to uncover and bow their heads when they pronounced the name of Thomas (Goudin, op. cit., p. 21).
“The ecumenical councils, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honour” (Leo XIII in “Aeterni Patris”). This subject has been sufficiently treated above. The “Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum”, published in 1729-39, gives thirty-eight Bulls in which eighteen sovereign pontiffs praised and recommended the doctrine of St. Thomas (see also Vaughan, op. cit., II, c. ii; Berthier, op. cit., pp. 7 sqq.). These approbations are recalled and renewed by Leo XIII, who lays special stress on “the crowning testimony of Innocent VI: `His teaching above that of others, the canons alone excepted, enjoys such an elegance of phraseology, a method of statement, a truth of proposition, that those who hold it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error (ibid.).'” Leo XIII surpassed his predecessors in admiration of St. Thomas, in whose works he declared a remedy can be found for many evils that afflict society (see Berthier, op. cit., introd.). The notable Encyclical Letters with which the name of that illustrious pontiff will always be associated show how he had studied the works of the Angelic Doctor. This is very noticeable in the letters on Christian marriage, the Christian constitution of states, the condition of the working classes, and the study of Holy Scripture. Pope Pius X, in several letters, e.g. in the “Pascendi Dominici Gregis” (September, 1907), has insisted on the observance of the recommendations of Leo XIII concerning the study of St. Thomas. An attempt to give names of Catholic writers who have expressed their appreciation of St. Thomas and of his influence would be an impossible undertaking; for the list would include nearly all who have written on philosophy or theology since the thirteenth century, as well as hundreds of writers on other subjects. Commendations and eulogies are found in the introductory chapters of all good commentaries. An incomplete list of authors who have collected these testimonies is given by Father Berthier (op. cit., p. 22). . . .
(2) Outside the Church
(a) Anti-Scholastics — Some persons have been and are still opposed to everything that comes under the name of Scholasticism, which they hold to be synonymous with subtleties and useless discussions. From the prologue to the “Summa” it is clear that St. Thomas was opposed to all that was superfluous and confusing in Scholastic studies. When people understand what true Scholasticism means, their objections will cease.
(b) Heretics and Schismatics — “A last triumph was reserved for this incomparable man — namely, to compel the homage, praise, and admiration of even the very enemies of the Catholic name” (Leo XIII, ibid.). St. Thomas’s orthodoxy drew upon him the hatred of all Greeks who were opposed to union with Rome. The united Greeks, however, admire St. Thomas and study his works (see above Translations of the “Summa”). The leaders of the sixteenth-century revolt honoured St. Thomas by attacking him, Luther being particularly violent in his coarse invectives against the great doctor. Citing Bucer’s wild boast, “Take away Thomas and I will destroy the Church”, Leo XIII (ibid.) remarks, “The hope was vain, but the testimony has its value”. Calo, Tocco, and other biographers relate that St. Thomas, travelling from Rome to Naples, converted two celebrated Jewish rabbis, whom he met at the country house of Cardinal Richard (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 33; Vaughan, op. cit., I, p. 795). Rabbi Paul of Burgos, in the fifteenth century, was converted by reading the works of St. Thomas. Theobald Thamer, a disciple of Melancthon, abjured his heresy after he had read the “Summa”, which he intended to refute. The Calvinist Duperron was converted in the same way, subsequently becoming Archbishop of Sens and a cardinal (see Conway, O.P., op. cit., p. 96). After the bitterness of the first period of Protestantism had passed away, Protestants saw the necessity of retaining many parts of Catholic philosophy and theology, and those who came to know St. Thomas were compelled to admire him. Überweg says “He brought the Scholastic philosophy to its highest stage of development, by effecting the most perfect accommodation that was possible of the Aristotelian philosophy to ecclesiastical orthodoxy” (op. cit., p. 440). R. Seeberg in the “New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia” (New York, 1911) devotes ten columns to St. Thomas, and says that “at all points he succeeded in upholding the church doctrine as credible and reasonable” (XI, p. 427). For many years, especially since the days of Pusey and Newman, St. Thomas has been in high repute at Oxford. Recently the “Summa contra gentiles” was placed on the list of subjects which a candidate may offer in the final honour schools of Litterae Humaniores at that university (cf. Walsh, op. cit., c. xvii). For several years Father De Groot, O.P., has been the professor of Scholastic philosophy in the University of Amsterdam, and courses in Scholastic philosophy have been established in some of the leading non-Catholic universities of the United States. Anglicans have a deep admiration for St. Thomas. Alfred Mortimer, in the chapter “The Study of Theology” of his work entitled “Catholic Faith and Practice” (2 vols., New York, 1909), regretting that “the English priest has ordinarily no scientific acquaintance with the Queen of Sciences”, and proposing a remedy, says, “The simplest and most perfect sketch of universal theology is to be found in the Summa of St. Thomas” (vol. II, pp. 454, 465).
V. ST. THOMAS AND MODERN THOUGHT
In the Syllabus of 1864 Pius IX condemned a proposition in which it was stated that the method and principles of the ancient Scholastic doctors were not suited to the needs of our times and the progress of science (Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 1713). In the Encyclical “Aeterni Patris” Leo XIII points out the benefits to be derived from “a practical reform of philosophy by restoring the renowned teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas”. He exhorts the bishops to “restore the golden wisdom of Thomas and to spread it far and wide for the defence and beauty of the Catholic Faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences”. In the pages of the Encyclical immediately preceding these words he explains why the teaching of St. Thomas would produce such most desirable results: St. Thomas is the great master to explain and defend the Faith, for his is “the solid doctrine of the Fathers and the Scholastics, who so clearly and forcibly demonstrate the firm foundations of the Faith, its Divine origin, its certain truth, the arguments that sustain it, the benefits it has conferred on the human race, and its perfect accord with reason, in a manner to satisfy completely minds open to persuasion, however unwilling and repugnant”. The career of St. Thomas would in itself have justified Leo XIII in assuring men of the nineteenth century that the Catholic Church was not opposed to the right use of reason. The sociological aspects of St. Thomas are also pointed out: “The teachings of Thomas on the true meaning of liberty, which at this time is running into license, on the Divine origin of all authority, on laws and their force, on the paternal and just rule of princes, on obedience to the highest powers, on mutual charity one towards another — on all of these and kindred subjects, have very great and invincible force to overturn those principles of the new order which are well known to be dangerous to the peaceful order of things and to public safety” (ibid.). The evils affecting modern society had been pointed out by the pope in the Letter “Inscrutabili” of 21 April, 1878, and in the one on Socialism, Communism, and Nihilism (“The Great Encyclicals of Leo XIII”, pp. 9 sqq.; 22 sqq.). How the principles of the Angelic Doctor will furnish a remedy for these evils is explained here in a general way, more particularly in the Letters on the Christian constitution of states, human liberty, the chief duties of Christians as citizens, and on the conditions of the working classes (ibid., pp. 107, 135, 180, 208).
It is in relation to the sciences that some persons doubt the reliability of St. Thomas’s writings; and the doubters are thinking of the physical and experimental sciences, for in metaphysics the Scholastics are admitted to be masters. Leo XIII calls attention to the following truths: (a) The Scholastics were not opposed to investigation. Holding as a principle in anthropology “that the human intelligence is only led to the knowledge of things without body and matter by things sensible, they well understood that nothing was of greater use to the philosopher than diligently to search into the mysteries of nature, and to be earnest and constant in the study of physical things” (ibid., p. 55). This principle was reduced to practice: St. Thomas, St. Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, and others “gave large attention to the knowledge of natural things” (ibid., p. 56). (b) Investigation alone is not sufficient for true science. “When facts have been established, it is necessary to rise and apply ourselves to the study of the nature of corporeal things, to inquire into the laws which govern them and the principles whence their order and varied unity and mutual attraction in diversity arise” (p. 55). Will the scientists of to-day pretend to be better reasoners than St. Thomas, or more powerful in synthesis? It is the method and the principles of St. Thomas that Leo XIII recommends: “If anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the Scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated; if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age or, in a word, is improbable in any way, it does not enter into our mind to propose that for imitation to our age” (p. 56). Just as St. Thomas, in his day, saw a movement towards Aristotle and philosophical studies which could not be checked, but could be guided in the right direction and made to serve the cause of truth, so also, Leo XIII, seeing in the world of his time a spirit of study and investigation which might be productive of evil or of good, had no desire to check it, but resolved to propose a moderator and master who could guide it in the paths of truth.
No better guide could have been chosen than the clear-minded, analytic, synthetic, and sympathetic Thomas Aquinas. His extraordinary patience and fairness in dealing with erring philosophers, his approbation of all that was true in their writings, his gentleness in condemning what was false, his clear-sightedness in pointing out the direction to true knowledge in all its branches, his aptness and accuracy in expressing the truth — these qualities mark him as a great master not only for the thirteenth century, but for all times. If any persons are inclined to consider him too subtle, it is because they do not know how clear, concise, and simple are his definitions and divisions. His two summae are masterpieces of pedagogy, and mark him as the greatest of human teachers. Moreover, he dealt with errors similar to many which go under the name of philosophy or science in our days. The Rationalism of Abelard and others called forth St. Thomas’s luminous and everlasting principles on the true relations of faith and reason. Ontologism was solidly refuted by St. Thomas nearly six centuries before the days of Malebranche, Gioberti, and Ubaghs (see Summa I:84:5). The true doctrine on first principles and on universals, given by him and by the other great Scholastics, is the best refutation of Kant’s criticism of metaphysical ideas (see, e.g., “Post. Analyt.”, I, lect. xix; “De ente et essentia”, c. iv; Summa I:17:3 corp. and ad 2um; I:79:3; I:84:5; I:84:6 corp and ad 1um; I:85:2 ad 2um; I:85:3 ad 1um, ad 4um; Cf. index to “Summa”: “Veritas”, “Principium”, “Universale”). Modern psychological Pantheism does not differ substantially from the theory of one soul for all men asserted by Averroes (see “De unit. intell.” and Summa I:76:2; I:79:5). The Modernistic error, which distinguishes the Christ of faith from the Christ of history, had as its forerunner the Averroistic principle that a thing might be true in philosophy and false in religion.
In the Encyclical “Providentissimus Deus” (18 November, 1893) Leo XIII draws from St. Thomas’s writings the principles and wise rules which should govern scientific criticism of the Sacred Books. From the same source recent writers have drawn principles which are most helpful in the solution of questions pertaining to Spiritism and Hypnotism. Are we to conclude, then, that St. Thomas’s works, as he left them, furnish sufficient instruction for scientists, philosophers, and theologians of our times? By no means. Vetera novis augere et perficere — “To strengthen and complete the old by aid of the new” — is the motto of the restoration proposed by Leo XIII. Were St. Thomas living to-day he would gladly adopt and use all the facts made known by recent scientific and historical investigations, but he would carefully weigh all evidence offered in favour of the facts. Positive theology is more necessary in our days than it was in the thirteenth century. Leo XIII calls attention to its necessity in his Encyclical, and his admonition is renewed by Pius X in his Letter on Modernism. But both pontiffs declare that positive theology must not be extolled to the detriment of Scholastic theology. In the Encyclical “Pascendi”, prescribing remedies against Modernism, Pius X, following in this his illustrious predecessor, gives the first place to “Scholastic philosophy, especially as it was taught by Thomas Aquinas”, St. Thomas is still “The Angel of the Schools”.
Born: 1225 at Roccasecca, Aquino, Naples, Italy
Died: March 7,1274 at Fossanuova near Terracina of apparent natural causes; relics at Saint-Servin, Toulouse, France
Canonized: July 18, 1323, John XXII enrolled him in the catalogue of the saints.
Patronage: Academics; against storms; against lightning; apologists; book sellers; Catholic academies; Catholic schools; Catholic universities; chastity; colleges; learning; lightning; pencil makers; philosophers; publishers; scholars; schools; storms; students; theologians; universities; University of Vigo
Representation: chalice; monstrance; ox; star; sun; teacher with pagan philosophers at his feet; teaching