Aquinas was quite motivated by hot debates, and had many of them with the medieval philosophers and theologians of his day. Aquinas was outspoken and would not back down. This won him both admiration and enemies.
At the end of his life Aquinas was summoned by the Pope to attend the Council of Lyons. It is unclear whether this was to get a good telling off or to be commended for putting down some heretics and enemies of the church. Thomas did not want to go, but started out. The journey to Lyon was to prove his final voyage, as Thomas Aquinas managed to die en route.
In 1273 Thomas had a vision of Christ (it was witnessed by a brother as he prayed in the chapel). After the vision Aquinas wrote no more and did not finish his great work Summa. By the time he died a year later, Aquinas’ spirit was already residing elsewhere, and his body fairly quickly followed.
Thomas Aquinas was made a saint, a Doctor of the Church and a Father of the Catholic Church. Aquinas’ writing on the Doctrine of Creation was adopted by the Catholic Church as it’s own teaching. His writings on theology were taught to men training to be priests until Vatican II in the 1960s.
Thomas Aquinas applied himself to Natural Theology which is to seek knowledge of God and of things through reason. It was Aquinas who defined in detail what could be taken as true and what should be regarded as false in the many areas of theology. In the numerous volumes of The Summa Theologica Aquinas lays out his arguments for the correct understanding of God, the Trinity, angels, human souls, the human condition and creation.
Aquinas is most quoted on his five ways to prove the existence of God, although this is a very small section of Summa. Aquinas’ tour de force was the recognition that God created things from nothing: in Latin creatio ex nihilo. This became the Doctrine of Creation of the Catholic church.
Aquinas debated with Siger of Brabant who was a Latin Averroist disagreeing with him on many points. Brabant proposed that church theology is true and philosophy is true even though they contradict each other – you just keep them separate. Aquinas proclaimed one truth although this one truth could be approached by the two paths. Aquinas stood firm and would not be moved and would not accept contradiction or the double truth.
Aquinas tirelessly fought against heretics. There is an anecdote of Aquinas having been invited to a dinner with King Louis IX of France and his courtiers. He reluctantly went, however, he found the flirtatious courtiers boring so he remained in his own thoughts, not listening to the trivial chit chat. Suddenly he banged his fist on the table and exclaimed “And that will settle the Manichees.” The king quickly summoned a scribe to write down on a tablet the inspiration that Aquinas had just had to prove a point before he forgot it.
In 1267 Thomas Aquinas met William Moerbeke who was busy translating Aristotle directly from the Greek. Up to this point Latin scholars had only known Aristotle from translations of Arabic into Latin. The translations from Arabic presented Aristotle’s thoughts coloured by Islamic philosophy to Latin scholars.
From this point on, Thomas Aquinas based all of his own writings on the translations of Moerbeke of the original Greek texts. In this way he was able to lead Latin theology in a totally new direction: one that would become the basis to Western thought and Western Civilization.
The crucial point here is that whereas the teaching from the Islamic world was that men participated in one collective soul that they either followed or refused to follow, Thomas Aquinas taught that each man was an individual who had his own soul and free-will. As a consequence, each man has his own mind and is able to decide on his own actions whichever social class that man belonged to. Aquinas argued that it is because of this that slavery is wrong as it deprives a man of choice in his actions. (In Western Europe in the 13th century there was the system of feudal landlords and serfs, while in other parts of the world there were systems based on slavery).
Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 in Aquino, Italy and died aged 49 in France in 1274.
Thomas Aquinas’ father was Count Landulf of Aquino, near Naples. He and his brother Ronald seized the castle of Roccasecca and became the landlords of the area. Thomas’ mother was Theodora; she may have been sister to the Holy Roman Emperor.
Aged five Thomas was taken to the abbey of Monte Cassino to be educated by monks. Thomas’ family wanted to place him in the best position to obtain power and wealth. However, aged 18 Thomas refused the path that would lead to him becoming abbot of the abbey, and instead joined the poor Order of Preachers founded by St Dominic.
Thomas’ outraged family abducted him and incarcerated him in Roccasecca castle. This was to prevent Thomas from joining the Dominicans because they were too evanglical. Dominicans were going around preaching the gospel to the poor. Other saints of the new evangelical movement in the church in the 13th century were St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua.
Thomas escaped and as a Dominican friar went to study at Naples University under the new Aristotlian teachers of the 1240s. The Dominican brothers removed Thomas from there because of the problems he had with his nearby family. They took him to the University of Paris to study under Albert the Great in 1245. The other scholars in Paris mocked Thomas for being a bit slow and stupid, but Albert saw that Aquinas was destined for great things.
Thomas was made a priest in Cologne where he had a post teaching Bible studies to Dominican brothers. He taught Biblical studies and theology at various papal universities receiving his qualification as a teacher in 1256.
Reflections on the nature of the human person having an individual soul; the nature of God as Trinity; the creation of the world by the Creator acting by analogy as a craftsman; the sustaining of all creatures in being by Being; and the complete summary of human knowledge up to 1270 was the tour de force of Thomas Aquinas.
The theology of Thomas Aquinas, in particular his Doctrine of Creation, became the theology of the Catholic Church up to recent times. All priests were instructed according to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas up to Vatican II.
The thought of Thomas Aquinas, for which he fought many battles with his contemporary Catholic Latin theologian scholars, became the basis to concepts behind Western Civilization. I say this because it was he who recognized human persons both male and female as individuals possessing free will and the right to make choices in life.
Thomas Aquinas worked on rational thought, defining what things actually are. His personal faith, however, was completely given to the love of God, to the Person of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. The object of his writing was to glorify God as well as to promote the common good of society.
I am posting this article and series of blog posts on The Principles of Creation website because it explains, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, how God as Trinity created life. God who is principle made things according to their various principles.