Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church
Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar and a Doctor of the Church, is one of the greatest and most influential theologians in the entire history of the church.
Born near the small town of Aquino in 1225, Thomas was educated at the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino and at the University of Naples, where he first became acquainted with the writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the Muslim philosopher Averroës of Còrdoba.
He entered the Order of Preachers at age 19 over the strong opposition of his family. His brothers were sent to kidnap him and they held him in a castle for a year. Upon regaining his freedom, he traveled to the University of Paris for further studies, and then to Cologne, where he studied under Saint Albert the Great, during which time he was ordained a priest. Saint Albert the Great predicted that one day Thomas “would be heard all over the world.”
Thomas returned to Paris to teach and write and then was sent to other places including Rome where he began writing his most famous work, the Summa Theologia (Latin for “Synthesis of Theology”). His deep immersion in Sacred Scripture fostered his desire to lead a life in complete fidelity to the Gospel and to cherish the guidance of the great Fathers of the Church, especially Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory the Great.
His entire ministry as a teacher and preacher was of giving to others what he had himself contemplated, which was for him the highest of all activities when done out of charity (Summa Theologiae 2-2.188.6). It was this same generosity of mind and heart that inspired him, against the opposition of many theologians and church leaders of the time, to use extensively the works of any authors-whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or pagan who might lead him to the truth.
Notwithstanding Thomas’s great intellectual acumen, he was universally admired for his modesty and humility and for his prayer life and spiritual insights. He once wrote: “The ultimate human knowledge of God is to know that we do not know God and insofar as we know, what God is transcends all that we understand of God.”
On the feast of St. Nicholas, December 6, 1273 he experienced a beatific vision. He suddenly stopped all of his writing and is said to have made this famous statement:
“All I have written seems to me like straw compared with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”
Invited to the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 he decided to visit his relatives en route between Naples and Rome. He became acutely debilitated when he reached them, perhaps as the result of a major stroke. He asked to be taken to a nearby monastery where he died on March 7, 1274 at age 49.
Thomas was canonized in 1323, less than fifty years after his death. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1567. Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879), commended Thomas’s thought to all students of theology. The following year Thomas was named patron saint of Catholic universities. He is also patron saint of students and booksellers, among others. His feast is January 28.
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