St. Thomas Aquinas
Confessor, Doctor of the Church
From Lives of Saints
with Excerpts from their writings
Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc. New York,
Nihil Obstat: John M. A. Fearns, S.T.D., Censor Librorum
Imprimatur: +Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York
August 7, 1954
The Italian family of Aquino traced its ancestry back
to the Lombard kings and was linked with several of the royal houses of
Europe. Landulph, father of Thomas Aquinas, held the titles of Count of
Aquino and Lord of Loreto, Acerro, and Belcastro; he was nephew of Emperor
Frederick Barbarossa and also connected to the family of King Louis IX of
France, whose life precedes this; his wife, Theodora, Countess of Teano,
was descended from the Norman barons who had conquered Sicily some two
centuries earlier. Thomas himself, at maturity, was a man of imposing
stature, massive build, and fair complexion, and appeared more of a
Norseman than a south Italian. The place and date of his birth are not
definitely known, but it is assumed that he was born in 1226 at his
father's castle of Roccasecca, whose craggy ruins are still visible on a
mountain which rises above the plain lying between Rome and Naples. He
was the sixth son in the family. While Thomas was still a child, his
little sister, who slept in the same room with him and their nurse, was
instantly killed one night by a bolt of lightning. This shocking
experience caused Thomas to be extremely nervous during thunderstorms all
his life long, and while a storm raged he often took refuge in a church.
After his death, there arose a popular devotion to him as a protector from
thunderstorms and sudden death.
A few miles to the south of Roccasecca,
on a high plateau, stands the most famous of Italian monasteries, Monte
Casino, the abbot of which, at the time, was Thomas' uncle. When he was
about nine years old the boy was sent to Cassino, in care of a tutor, to
be educated in the Benedictine school which adjoined the cloister. In
later years, when Thomas had achieved renown, the aged monks liked to
recall the grave and studious child who had pored over their manuscripts,
and who would ask them questions that revealed his lively intelligence and
his deeply religious bent. Thomas was popular too with his companions,
though he seldom took part in their games. He spent five happy years in
the school at Cassino, returning home now and again to see his parents.
On the advice of the abbot, when Thomas
had reached the age of fourteen, he went to the University of Naples to
begin the seven years' undergraduate course prescribed in all European
universities. He lived with his tutor, who continued to supervise his
life. Under a famous teacher, Peter Martin, Thomas went through the
Trivium, the three-year preliminary training in logic, rhetoric, and
grammar, which also included the study of Latin literature and Aristotle's
logic. This was followed by four years of the Quadrivium, which comprised
advanced work in mathematics, music, geometry, and astronomy or
astrology. In addition to these subjects, there was also some study of
physics under a celebrated scholar, Peter of Ireland, and extensive
reading in philosophy. It was then the custom for pupils to recapitulate
to the class a lecture they had just heard. Thomas' fellow students
observed that, when his turn came, the summary he gave was usually clearer
and better reasoned than the original discourse had been.
All this time Thomas was becoming more
and more attracted to the youthful Dominican Order, with its stress on
intellectual training. He attended its church and became friendly with
some of the friars. To the prior of the Benedictine house in Naples
Thomas confided his desire to become a Dominican. In view, however, of
the almost certain opposition of his family, the prior advised him to
foster his vocation, and wait for three years before taking any decisive
step. The passage of time only strengthened Thomas' determination, and
early in 1244, at the age of nineteen, he was received as a novice and
clothed in the habit of the Brothers Preachers.
News of the ceremony, which took place
before a large assemblage, was soon carried to Roccasecca. The members of
his family were indignant, not that Thomas had joined a religious
community, but that he, scion of a noble family, had chosen one of the
humble, socially scorned, mendicant orders. His mother, especially, had
expected that he would become a great churchman, possibly abbot of Monte
Cassino. Appeals were sent to the Pope and to the archbishop of Naples;
the Countess Theodora herself set out for Naples to persuade her son to
return home. The friars hurried Thomas off to their convent in Rome, then
sent him on to join the Father General of the Dominicans, who was leaving
for Paris. The countess now sent word to her other sons, who were serving
with the army in Tuscany, to waylay the fugitive. Thomas was overtaken as
he was resting at the roadside, and was forcibly brought back. He was
kept in confinement in the castle of San Giovanni. His sisters were
fallowed to visit him, and although they tried to undermine his
resolution, before long they were won over to his side, and secretly got
books for him from the friars at Naples. During his captivity Thomas
studied Aristotle's Metaphysics, Peter Lombard's Sentences,
and learned by heart long passages of the Bible. His brothers tried to
break his resistance by introducing into his room a woman of loose
character. Thomas seized a burning brand from the hearth and drove her
out, then knelt and implored God to grant him the gift of perpetual
chastity. His early biographers write that he at once fell into a deep
sleep, during which he was visited by two angels, who girded him around
the waist with a cord so tight that it waked him. Thomas himself did not
reveal this vision, until, on his deathbed, he described it to his old
friend and confessor, Brother Reginald, adding that from this time on he
was never again troubled by temptations of the flesh.
At last, influenced by the remonstrances
that came from both the Pope and the Emperor, his family began to yield.
A band of Dominicans hurried in disguise to the prison, where, we are
told, with the help of his sisters, Thomas was let down by a cord into
their arms, and they took him joyfully to Naples. The following year he
made his full profession there, before the prior who had first clothed him
with the habit of St. Dominic. Somewhat later, the powerful Aquino family
obtained from Pope Innocent IV permission to have Thomas appointed abbot
of Monte Cassino without resigning his Dominican habit. When Thomas
declined this honor, the Pope expressed a willingness to promote him to
the archiepiscopal of Naples, but the young man made clear his
determination to refuse all offices.
The Dominicans now decided to send Thomas
to Paris to complete his studies under their great teacher, Albertus
Magnus, and he set out on foot with the Father General, who was again on
his way northward. Carrying only their breviaries and their satchels,
they made their way over the Alps in midwinter, and trudged first to
Paris, and then, it is thought, on to Cologne, where Albertus was
lecturing. The schools there were full of young clerics from all corners
of Europe, eager to learn and discuss. The humble, reserved newcomer was
not immediately appreciated by students or professors. In fact, his
silence at disputations and his bulky figure won him the name of "the dumb
Sicilian ox." A fellow student, out of pity for his apparent dullness,
offered to explain the daily lessons, and Thomas thankfully accepted. But
when they came to a difficult passage which baffled the would-be teacher,
he was amazed when his pupil explained it clearly. Albertus once asked
his pupils for their views on obscure passage in the mystical treatise,
The Book of Divine Names, by the ancient author known as Dionysius the
Areopagite. Albertus was struck by the brilliance of Thomas'
explanation. The next day he questioned Thomas in public and at the close
exclaimed, "We have called Thomas 'dumb ox,' but I tell you his bellowing
will yet be heard to the uttermost parts of the earth." He forthwith had
the young man moved to a cell beside his own, took him on walks, and
invited him to draw on his own stores of knowledge. It was at this period
that Thomas began his commentary on the Ethics of Aristotle.
The general chapter, which decreed that
Albertus should go to Paris to take the degree of Doctor and occupy a
chair in the university, arranged that Thomas should accompany him. They
set out, on foot, as always; they ate by the roadside the food given them
in charity, and slept wherever they found shelter, or even under the
stars. At the Dominican convent in Paris Thomas proved himself an
exemplary friar, excelling in humility as he did in learning. Albertus
drew such crowds to his lectures that he had to deliver them in a public
square. It is likely that Thomas was always present. He made one
intimate friend in Paris, a Franciscan student, later to be known to the
world as St. Bonaventura, the "Seraphic Doctor," as Thomas was to be the
"Angelic Doctor." The two seemed to complement each other perfectly.
Bonaventura was the elder by four years, but they were at the same stage
in their studies, and both received the degree of Bachelor of Theology in
That same year Albertus went back to
Cologne, accompanied by Thomas, who lectured under him, and, as a
Bachelor, supervised the students' work, corrected their essays, and read
with them. Thomas exhibited a marvelous talent for imparting knowledge.
After he had received Holy Orders from the archbishop of Cologne, his
religious fervor became more marked. One of his biographers writes, "When
consecrating at Mass, he would be overcome by such intensity of devotion
as to be dissolved in tears, utterly absorbed in its mysteries and
nourished with its fruits." It was at this period that he became
celebrated as a preacher, and his sermons in the German vernacular
attracted enormous congregations. He was also occupied writing
Aristotelian treatises and commentaries on the Sciptures. In the autumn
of 1252, Thomas returned to Paris to study for his doctorate. On the way
he preached at the court of the Duchess of Brabant, who had requested his
advice on how to treat the Jews in her dominion. He wrote for her a
dissertation urging humanity and tolerance.
Academic degrees were then conferred for
the most part only on men actually intending to teach. To become a
Bachelor a man must have studied at least six years and attained the age
of twenty-one; to be a Master or a Doctor, he must have studied eight more
years and be thirty-five years of age. But when Thomas in 1252 began
lecturing publicly in Paris, he was not yet twenty-eight.
The popularity of the lectures of the
young Dominican inflamed a situation which was already acute. The secular
or non-monastic clergy, who from the early years of the universities had
furnished the bulk of the teaching staffs, saw dangerous rivals in the
eloquent and popular young friar preachers, who were often less
conventional in their methods and approach. They appealed to Rome to
forbid the intrusion of either Franciscans or Dominicans into what they
regarded as their particular preserve, and Innocent IV in 1254 withdrew
all favor from the two orders. However, he died at about this time and
his successor, Alexander IV, was to prove friendly to the friars. The
opposition to their admission to teaching posts in the universities grew
even more bitter with the publication of a libelous tract, On the
Dangers of These Last Times, by William de Saint-Armour, in which both
the ideas and the organization of the mendicant orders were denounced.
Representatives of the two orders were now summoned to Rome, Thomas being
chosen as one of the Dominican delegates. He pleaded with such success
that the decision was given in their favor. The Pope now compelled the
university authorities to admit Thomas and Bonaventura to positions as
teachers and to the degree of Doctor of Theology. This was in October,
1257, when Thomas was thirty-two years old.
From 1259 to 1269 Thomas was in Italy
teaching in the school for select students attached to the papal court,
which accompanied the Pope through all his changes of residence. As a
consequence, he lectured and preached in many Italian towns. In 1263 he
probably visited London as representative from the Roman province at the
general chapter of the Dominican Order. In 1269 he was back again for a
year or two in Paris. By then King Louis IX held him in such esteem that
he consulted him on important matters of state.
The university referred to him a question
on which the older theologians were themselves divided, namely, whether,
in the Sacrament of the altar, the accidents remained in reality in the
consecrated Host, or only in appearance. After much fervent prayer,
Thomas wrote his answer in the form of a treatise, still preserved, and
laid it on the altar before offering it to the public. His decision was
accepted by the university and afterwards by the whole Church. On this
occasion we first hear of his receiving the Lord's approval of what he had
written. Appearing in a vision, the Savior said to him, "Thou hast
written well of the Sacrament of My body," whereupon, it is reported,
Thomas passed into an ecstasy and remained so long raised in the air that
there was time to summon many of the brothers to behold the spectacle.
Again, towards the end of his life, when at Salerno he was laboring over
the third part of his great treatise, Against the Pagans (Summa Contra
Gentiles), dealing with Christ's Passion and Resurrection, a sacristan
saw him late one night kneeling before the altar and heard a voice,
coming, it seemed, from the crucifix, which said, "Thou has written well
of Me, Thomas; what reward wouldst thou have?" To which Thomas replied,
"Nothing but Thyself, Lord."
After his second period of teaching in
Paris he was recalled to Rome, and from there was sent, in 1272, to
lecture at the University of Naples, in his home city. On the feast of
St. Nicholas the following year, as he said Mass in the convent, he
received a revelation which so overwhelmed him that he never again wrote
or dictated. He put aside his chief work, the Summary of Theology
(Summa Theologica), still incomplete. To Brother Reginald's anxious
query, he replied, "The end of my labors is come. All that I have written
seems to me so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me."
He was already ill when he was
commissioned by the Pope to attend the general council at Lyons, which had
for its business the discussion of the reunion of the Greek and Latin
Churches. He was to bring with him his treatise, Against the Errors of
the Greeks. On the way he became so much worse that he was taken to
the Cistercian abbey of Fossa Nuova near Terracina. Yielding to the
entreaties of the monks, he began to expound the "Song of Songs," but was
unable to finish the interpretation. He made his confession to Brother
Reginald, received the Viaticum from the abbot, repeated aloud his own
beautiful hymn, "With all my soul I worship Thee, Thou hidden Deity," and
in the early hours of March 7, 1274, gave up his spirit. He was only
forty-eight years of age. On that day his old master, Albertus Magnus,
then in Cologne, burst suddenly into tears in the midst of the community,
and exclaimed: "Brother Thomas Aquinas, my son in Christ, the light of the
Church, is dead! God has revealed it to me."
Thomas was canonized by Pope John XXII at
Avignon, in 1323. In 1367 the Dominicans got possession of his body and
translated it with great pomp to Toulouse, where it still lies in the
Church of St. Sernin. Pope Pius V conferred on Thomas the title of Doctor
of the Church, and Leo XIII, in 1880, declared him the patron of all
Catholic universities, academies, colleges, and schools. Among his
emblems are the following: ox, chalice, dove, and monstrance.
On his writings, which fill twenty
volumes, we cannot here speak at length. As a philosopher, the great
contribution of Aquinas was his use of the works of Aristotle to build up
a rational and ordered system of Christian doctrine, his method of
exposition and proof being scientific and lucid. He would first state the
problem or question under consideration, next, one by one, fairly and
objectively, the arguments against his own point of view, often citing the
authorities on which they rested. Then came a statement of his own
position with the arguments to support it, and, finally, one by one, the
answers to his opponents. The general tone of his arguments was
invariably judicial and serene. To him faith and reason could never be
contradictory, for they both came from the one source of all truth, God,
the Absolute One. The most important of his books were the Summa
Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles, which were written
between 1265 and 1272. Together they form the fullest and most exact
exposition of Catholic dogma yet gives to the world. Over the former he
labored for five years, and left it, as we have said, unfinished. Almost
at once it was recognized as the greatest intellectual achievement of the
period. Three centuries later, at the momentous Council of Trent, this
work was one of the three authoritative sources of Catholic faith laid
down before the assembly, the other two being the Bible and the Decretals
of the Popes. No theologians save Augustine has had so much influence on
the Western Church as the "Angelic Doctor."
His work was not confined to the fields
of dogma, apologetics, and philosophy. When Pope Urban IV decided to
institute the Feast of Corpus Christ, he asked Thomas to compose a
liturgical office and Mass for the day. These are remarkable both for
their doctrinal accuracy and their tenderness of feeling. Two of his
hymns, the "Verbum Supernum" ("Word on High") and "Pange Lingua"
("Sing my Tongue") are familiar to all Catholics, because their final
verses are regularly sung at Benediction; but there are others, notably
the "Lauda Sion" ("Praise Zion") and the "Adoro Te Devote"
("With all my Soul I Worship Thee"), hardly less popular.
About his attainments Thomas was
singularly modest. Asked if he were never tempted to pride, he replied,
"No." If any such thoughts occurred to him, he said, his common sense
immediately dispelled them by showing him their absurdity. He was always
apt to think others better than himself, and never was he known to lose
his temper in argument, or to say anything unkind. As a young friar in
Paris, he was once mistakenly corrected, by the official corrector, while
reading aloud the Latin text for the day in the refectory. He accepted
the emendation and pronounced what he knew to be a false quantity. On
being asked afterwards how he could consent to make so obvious a blunder,
he replied, "It matters little whether a syllable be long or short, but it
matters much to practice humility and obedience."
During a stay in Bologna, a lay brother
who did not know him ordered him to accompany him to the town where he had
business to transact. The prior, it seemed, had told him to take as
companion any brother he found disengaged. Thomas was lame and although
he was aware that the brother was making a mistake, he followed him at
once, and took several scoldings for walking so slowly. Later the lay
brother discovered his identity, and was overcome with self-reproach. To
his abject apologies Thomas replied simply, "Do not worry, dear brother. .
. . I am the one to blame. . . . I am only sorry I could not be more
useful." When others asked him why he had not explained who he was, he
answered: "Obedience is the perfection of the religious life; for by it a
man submits to man for the love of God, even as God made Himself obedient
to men for their salvation."
St. Thomas Aquinas beholding the
crucified Christ in a vision
The Goodness of God
First Article. Whether goodness belongs to God?
We proceed thus to the First Article:—
Objection I. It
seems that goodness does not belong to God. For goodness consists in
limit, species and order. But these do not seem to belong to God, since
God is vast and not in the order of anything. Therefore goodness does not
belong to God.
Obj. 2. Further, the
good is what all things desire. But all things do not desire God, because
all things do not know Him; and nothing is desired unless it is known.
Therefore goodness does not belong to God.
On the contrary, It
is written (Lamentations iii, 25): The Lord is good to them that hope in
Him, to the soul that seeketh Him.
I answer that,
Goodness belongs pre-eminently to God. For a thing is good according to
its desirableness. And everything seeks after its own perfection, and the
perfection and form of an effect consists in a certain likeness to its
cause, since every cause creates its like. Hence the cause itself is
desirable and has the nature of a good. The thing desirable in it is a
participation in its likeness. Therefore, since God is the first
producing cause of all things, it is plain that the aspect of good and of
desirableness belong to Him; and hence Dionysius attributes goodness to
God as to the first efficient cause, saying that "God is called good as
the One by Whom all things subsists."
Reply Obj. I. To
have limit, species, and order belongs to the essence of a caused good;
but goodness is in God as in its cause; hence it belongs to Him to impose
limit, species, and order on others; wherefore these three things are in
God as in their cause.
Reply Obj. 2. All
things, by desiring their own perfection, desire God Himself, inasmuch as
the perfections of all things are so many approaches to the divine being,
as appears from what is said above. Of those beings that desire God, some
know Him as He is in Himself, and this is true of the rational creature;
others know some participation in His goodness, and this belongs to sense
knowledge; and others have a natural desire, but without knowledge, and
are directed to their ends by a higher knower.
The Cause of Evil
Second Article: Whether the Highest Good, God, is
the Cause of Evil?
We proceed thus to the Second Article:—
Objection I. It
would seem that the highest good, God, is the cause of evil. For it is
said (Isaiah xlv, 5, 7): I am the Lord, and there is no other God,
forming the light and creating the darkness, making peace and creating
evil. It is also said (Amos iii, 6), Shall there be evil in a city which
the Lord hath not done?
Obj. 2. Further, the
effect of a secondary cause is attributable to its first cause. But good
is the cause of evil, as was said above. Therefore, since God is the
cause of every good, as was shown above, it follows that every evil also
is from God.
Obj. 3. Further, as
the Philosopher says, the cause of both the safety and the danger of a
ship is the same. But God is the cause of the safety of all things.
Therefore He is the cause of all destruction and of all evil.
On the contrary,
Augustine says that, "God is not the author of evil, because He is not the
cause of the tendency to cease from being."
I answer that, As
appears from what has been said, the evil which consists in defective
action is caused always by the defect of the agent. But in God there is
no defect but the highest perfection, as was shown above. Hence the evil
which consists in defective action, or which is caused by defect in the
agent, is not attributable to God as its cause.
But the evil which consists
in the corruption of things is attributable to God as its cause. And this
seems true as regards both things of nature and creatures with will. For
we have said that whenever an agent produces by its power a form which is
followed by corruption and decay, it causes by its power that corruption
and decay. Now clearly the form which God chiefly intends in created
things is the good of the order of the universe. But the order of the
universe requires, as was said above, that there should be some things
that can, and sometimes do, fail. Thus God, by causing in things the good
of the order of the universe, consequently, and as it were incidentally,
causes corruptions in things, in accordance with I Kings ii, 6: The Lord
killeth and maketh alive.
And when we read that God
hath not made death (Wisdom I, 13), the meaning is that God does not will
death for its own sake. Yet the order of justice too belongs to the order
of the universe; and this requires that penalty should be dealth out to
sinners. Thus God is the author of the evil which is penalty, but not of
the evil which is fault, by reason of what we have said.
Reply Obj. I. These
passages refer to the evil of penalty, and not to the evil of fault.
Reply Obj. 2. The
effect of a defective secondary cause is attributable to its first
non-defective cause as regards what it contains of being and perfection,
but not as regards what it contains of defect; just as whatever there is
of movement in the act of limping is caused by a motive energy, whereas
whatever is unbalanced in it does not come from the motive energy but from
the curvature of the leg. So whatever there is of being and action in a
bad act is attributable to God as the cause; and whatever there is of
defect is not caused by God but by the defective secondary cause.
Reply Obj. 3. The
sinking of a ship is attributed to the pilot as its cause since he does
not perform what the safety of the ship requires; but God does not fail to
do what is necessary for our safety. Hence there is no comparison.