Catholicism’s Leading Theologian Essay Sample
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St. Thomas Aquinas, or Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, scholastic philosopher, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Universalis, was of noble descent, and nearly allied to several of the royal houses of Europe. He was born in 1225 or 1227, at Roccasecca, the castle of his father Landulf, count of Aquino, in the territories of Naples. Having received his elementary education at the monastery of Monte Cassino, he studied for six years at the University of Naples, leaving it in his sixteenth year. While there he probably came under the influence of the Dominicans, who were doing their utmost to enlist within their ranks the ablest young scholars of the age, for in spite of the opposition of his family, which was overcome only by the intervention of Pope Innocent IV, he assumed the habit of St Dominic in his seventeenth year. His superiors, seeing his great aptitude for theological study, sent him to the Dominican school in Cologne, where Albertus Magnus was lecturing on philosophy and theology. In 1245 Albertus was called to Paris, and there Aquinas followed him, and remained with him for three years, at the end of which he graduated as bachelor of theology.
In 1248 he returned to Cologne with Albertus, and was appointed second lecturer and magister studentium. This year may be taken as the beginning of his literary activity and public life. Before he left Paris he had thrown himself with ardor into the controversy raging between the university and the Friar-Preachers respecting the liberty of teaching, resisting both by speeches and pamphlets the authorities of the university; and when the dispute was referred to the pope, the youthful Aquinas was chosen to defend his order, which he did with such success as to overcome the arguments of Guillaume de St. Amour, the champion of the university, and one of the most celebrated men of the day. In 1257, along with his friend Bonaventura, he was created doctor of theology, and began to give courses of lectures upon this subject in Paris, and also in Rome and other towns in Italy. From this time onwards his life was one of incessant toil; he was continually engaged in the active service of his order, was frequently travelling upon long and tedious journeys, and was constantly consulted on affairs of state by the reigning pontiff.
In 1263 we find him at the chapter of the Dominican order held in London. In 1268 he was lecturing now in Rome and now in Bologna, all the while engaged in the public business of the church. In 1271 he was again in Paris, lecturing to the students, managing the affairs of the church and consulted by the king, Louis VIII, his kinsman, on affairs of state. In 1272 the commands of the chief of his order and the request of King Charles brought him back to the professor’s chair at Naples. All this time he was preaching every day, writing homilies, disputations, lectures, and finding time to work hard at his great work the Summa Theologiae. Such rewards as the church could bestow had been offered to him. He refused the archbishopric of Naples and the abbacy of Monte Cassino. In January 1274 he was summoned by Pope Gregory X to attend the council convened at Lyons, to investigate and if possible settle the differences between the Greek and Latin churches. Though suffering from illness, he at once set out on the journey; finding his strength failing on the way, he was carried to the Cistercian monastery of Fossa Nuova, in the diocese of Terracina, where, after a lingering illness of seven weeks, he died on the 7th of March 1274. Dante (Purgatorio, XX 69) asserts that he was poisoned by order of Charles of Anjou. Villani quotes the belief, and the Anonimo Fiorentino describes the crime and its motive.
But Muratori, reproducing the account given by one of Thomas’s friends, gives no hint of foul play. Aquinas was canonized in 1323 by Pope John XXII, and in 1567 Pope Pius V ranked the festival of St. Thomas with those of the four great Latin fathers, Ambrose,Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. No theologian save Augustine has had an equal influence on the theological thought and language of the Western Church, a fact which was strongly emphasized by Pope Leo XIII in hisEncyclical of August 4, 1879, which directed the clergy to take the teachings of Aquinas as the basis of their theological position. In 1880 he was declared patron of all Roman Catholic educational establishments. In a monastery at Naples, near the cathedral of St. Januarius, is still shown a cell in which he is said to have lived. The writings of Thomas are of great importance for philosophy as well as for theology, for by nature and education he is the spirit of scholasticism incarnate. The principles on which his system rested were these. He held that there were two sources of knowledge — the mysteries of Christian faith and the truths of human reason.
The distinction between these two was made emphatic by Aquinas, who is at pains, especially in his treatise Contra Gentiles, to make it plain that each is a distinct fountain of knowledge, but that revelation is the more important of
the two. Revelation is a source of knowledge, rather than the manifestation in the world of a divine
Reason and revelation are separate sources of knowledge; and man can put himself in possession of each, because he can bring himself into relation to the church on the one hand, and the system of philosophy, or more strictly Aristotle, on the other. The conception will be made clearer when it is remembered that Aquinas, taught by the mysterious author of the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius, who so marvelously influenced medieval writers, sometimes spoke of a natural revelation, or of reason as a source of truths in themselves mysterious, and was always accustomed to say that reason as well as revelation contained two kinds of knowledge. The first kind lay quite beyond the power of man to receive it, the second was within man’s reach. In reason, as in revelation, man can only attain to the lower kind of knowledge; there is a higher kind which we may not hope to reach. But while reason and revelation are two distinct sources of truths, the truths are not contradictory; for in the last resort they rest on one absolute truth — they come from the one source of knowledge, God, the Absolute One.
Hence arises the compatibility of philosophy and theology which was the fundamental axiom of scholasticism, and the possibility of a Summa Theologiae, which is a Summa Philosophiae as well. All the many writings of Thomas are preparatory to his great work the Summa Theologiae, and show us the progress of his mind training for this his life work. In the Summa Catholicae Fidei contra Gentiles he shows how a Christian theology is the sum and crown of all science. This work is in its design apologetic, and is meant to bring within the range of Christian thought all that is of value in Mahommedan science. He carefully establishes the necessity of revelation as a source of knowledge, not merely because it aids us in comprehending in a somewhat better way the truths already furnished by reason, as some of the Arabian philosophers and Maimonides had acknowledged, but because it is the absolute source of our knowledge of the mysteries of the Christian faith; and then he lays down the relations to be observed between reason and revelation, between philosophy and theology.
This work, Contra Gentiles, may be taken as an elaborate exposition of the method of Aquinas. That method, however, implied a careful study and comprehension of the results which accrued to man from reason and revelation, and a thorough grasp of all that had been done by man in relation to those two sources of human knowledge; and so, in his preliminary writings, Thomas proceeds to master the two provinces. The results of revelation he found in the Holy Scriptures and in the writings of the fathers and the great theologians of the church; and his method was to proceed backwards. He began with Peter Lombard (who had reduced to theological order, in his famous book on the Sentences, the various authoritative statements of the church upon doctrine) in his In Quatuor Sententiarum P. Lombardi libros. Then came his deliverances upon undecided points in theology, in his XII Quodlibeta Disputata, and his Quaestiones Disputatae. His Cutena Aurea next appeared, which, under the form of a commentary on the Gospels, was really an exhaustive summary of the theological teaching of the greatest of the church fathers.
This side of his preparation was finished by a close study of Scripture, the results of which are contained in his commentaries, In omnes Epistolas Divi Apostoli Expositio, his Super Isaiam et Jeremiam, and his In Psalmos. Turning now to the other side, we have evidence, not only from tradition but from his writings, that he was acquainted with Plato and the mystical Platonists; but he had the sagacity to perceive that Aristotle was thegreat representative of philosophy, and that his writings contained the best results and method which the natural reason had as yet attained to. Accordingly Aquinas prepared himself on this side by commentaries on Aristotle’sDe Interpretatione, on his Posterior Analytics, on the Metaphysics, the Physics, the De Anima, and on Aristotle’s other psychological and physical writings, each commentary having for its aim to lay hold of the material and grasp the method contained and employed in each treatise. Fortified by this exhaustive preparation, Aquinas began his Summa Theologiae, which he intended to be the sum of all known learning, arranged according to the best method, and subordinate to the dictates of the church.
Practically it came to be the theological dicta of the church, explained according to the philosophy of Aristotle and his Arabian commentators. The Summa is divided into three great parts, which shortly may be said to treat of God, Man and the God-Man. The first and the second parts are wholly the work of Aquinas, but of the third part only the first ninety quaestiones are his; the rest of it was finished in accordance with his designs. The first book, after a short introduction upon the nature of theology as understood by Aquinas, proceeds in 119 questions to discuss the nature, attributes and relations of God; and this is not done as in a modern work on theology, but the questions raised in the physics of Aristotle find a place alongside of the statements of Scripture, while all subjects in any way related to the central theme are brought into the discourse. The second part is divided into two, which are quoted as Prima Secundae and Secunda Secundae. This second part has often been described as ethic, but this is scarcely true.
The subject is man, treated as Aristotle does, and so Aquinas discusses all the ethical, psychological and theological questions which arise; but any theological discussion upon man must be mainly ethical, and so a great proportion of the first part, and almost the whole of the second, has to do with ethical questions. In his ethical discussions Aquinas distinguishes theological from natural virtues and vices; the theological virtues are faith, hope and charity; the natural, justice, prudence and the like. The theological virtues are founded on faith, in opposition to the natural, which are founded on reason; and as faith with Aquinas is always belief in a proposition, not trust in a personal Saviour, conformably with his idea that revelation is a new knowledge rather than a new life, the relation of unbelief to virtue is very strictly and narrowly laid down and enforced. The third part of the Summa is also divided into two parts, but by accident rather than by design. Aquinas died before he had finished his great work, and what has been added to complete the scheme is appended as a Supplementum Tertiae Partis. In this third part Aquinas discusses the person, office and work of Jesus Christ, and had begun to discuss the sacraments, when death put an end to his labors. Father: Count Landulf
Mother: Countess Theadora of Theate
University: University of Naples
University: University of Paris
Professor: University of Paris (1259-68)
Professor: University of Paris (1272-73)
Professor: University of Naples
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