St. Thomas Aquinas


AquinasSt. Thomas Aquinas was a medieval scholastic who worked to reconcile Aristotle's philosophy and the work of Averroes with Christian doctrine. Among his works are several in which he argues against the position of the followers of Averroes who were teaching in the universities, especially those at the University of Paris, where Thomas held a position of regent master. An example of his writing against the Averroists was On the unity of intellect, against the Averroists.

Thomas's great written work is the Summa Theologia. His other works included De potentia, consisting of a record of his disputations on the power of God and Summa Contra Gentiles. His Opera Omnia has many volumes.

Thomas was a proponent of natural theology and his followers are said to be of the Thomistic school of philosophy and theology. He divided knowledge into that which is known through reason (natural revelation) and that which has its origin in the Holy Spirit (supernatural revelation).

In his ethics, Thomas identified four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. He saw virtues as revealed in nature and binding on everyone. There are, however, three other virtues, which Thomas called theological virtues. These were: faith, hope, and charity. These he regarded as supernatural.

When explaining what was meant by "word" in the Gospel of St John (In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God), St Thomas Aquinas (De Veritate iv1 (1975, 119b)) distinguished between the intellect, the internal word and the spoken word. He said that the internal word was the expression of the intellect and the vocal word, or speech, was the expression of the internal word. He says it this way:

There are in us three kinds of word: The word of the heart, the word of the voice, and the word, which holds the image of the voice. This is necessary because, since our speech is a particular kind of bodily operation, those things must concur for it which are necessary for any bodily motion.

Now a bodily motion of man, specifically which is voluntary, is necessarily preceded by deliberation and judgment in the intellective part. But because the intellect pertains to universals, while operations pertain to singulars, it is necessary … that there be some particular virtue of apprehending the intention of that singular to which the operation pertains. And thirdly it is necessary that motion in the body follow, through motive virtues impressed upon muscles and nerves; so that it almost seems to be a kind of syllogism, with the major universal held in the intellective part and the minor particular in the sensitive; finally the conclusion, the particular operation, follows under the command of the motive virtue. Indeed an operation holds the same place with respect to operables, as a conclusion with respect to speculatives (See Wollock, 1997, p.4)

Thomas Aquinas was born in Southern Italy in 1225. He entered the Dominican Order in 1243, attended the University of Paris in 1245, and while there for three years he attended the lectures of Albertus Magnus. After earning his Bachelor's Degree in 1248, he followed Albertus to Cologne. In 1253, he returned to Paris to study for his master's degree. He taught over the years in universities at Paris, and Naples and at the papal court. St. Thomas died on his way to the fourth ecumenical Council of Lyons in 1274 and was canonized in 1323.