Jacques Maritain Center : A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas / by Ralph McInerny


- Dates -- Events -
1200Charter of University of Paris.
1210Prohibition against "reading" Aristotle at Paris.
1215Founding of Order of Preachers.
Council of Lateran.
First statutes of University of Paris.
Magna Carta.
1225Birth of Saint Thomas at Roccasecca.
1230-39Thomas at Monte Cassino.
1231Lifting of ban on Aristotle at Paris.
1239-44Thomas student at University of Naples.
1240First work of Averroes become known.
1240-48Albert the Great comments on Aristotle at Paris.
Roger Bacon comments on Aristotle.
1244Thomas joins Dominicans.
1244-45Detained by family.
1245-48Thomas student at Paris.
1248Albert the Great founds Faculty of Theology at Cologne
1248-52Thomas student of Albert at Cologne.
1248-54Crusade of Saint Louis.
1248-55St. Bonaventure teaches at Paris.
1250Death of Frederick II.
1250/51Thomas ordained priest.
1252-56Bachelor of Sentences at Paris.
1256Thomas Master of Theology.
1259-68Thomas in Italy.
1263William of Moerbeke translates Aristotle for St. Thomas.
1264Thomas writes liturgy for feast of Corpus Christi.
1266-70Averroist controversy at Paris.
1268-72Second Paris Professorate.
1270First Condemnation of Averroism.
1272Regent of Theology at Naples.
1273Stops writing.
1274March 7, Thomas dies at Fossanova.
1276Roman de la Rose.
1277March 7, Condemnation at Paris of 219 Averroistic propositions,
including however, some Thomistic tenets.
1323Canonization of St. Thomas.
1325Revocation of Paris condemnation.


The vast literary production of Thomas can be sorted out in a variety of ways. Weisheipl, in his catalog of the authentic works of Thomas, discusses the matter at some length and ends by adopting the classification followed in the New Catholic Encyclopedia. This divides the works into theological syntheses, academic disputations, expositions of Scripture, expositions of Aristotle, other expositions, polemical writings, special treatises, expert opinions, letters, liturgical works and sermons, and doubtfully authentic works.

Given the threefold task of the theologian -- to dispute, comment, and preach -- we might imagine classifying the works as expositions, disputations, and sermons. This would leave out a sizeable portion of the works, however, most notably the commentaries on Aristotle and various neoplatonic writers. A feature of these works is that, while their author was a theologian, it is impossible to characterize the works as theological. The fact is that Thomas is the author of an extensive philosophical production. It is convenient, accordingly, to take the division of the writings into philosophical and theological as basic.

A. Philosophical writings

The very first work of Thomas may well be that On Modal Propositions, thought to have been written in 1244-45 as a letter to fellow student at Naples while Thomas was being detained by his family at Roccasecca. A work On Fallacies had the same addresses and was written at the same time and place. These have not been translated into English.

At Paris, before he became a Master in 1256, Thomas wrote On Being and Essence, masterfully rendered into English and commented on by Joseph Bobik. Aquinas on Being and Essence (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Note Dame Press, 1965).

On the Principles of Nature, English translation in Vernon Bourke, The Pocket Aquinas (New York: Pocket Books, 1960).

On the Rule of Princes, written in Rome about 1267, can be found in English translation by J. G. Dawson in Aquinas: Selected Political Writings, ed. A. P. D'Entreves, (Totowa, N. J.: Barnes & Noble, 1981). See now Paul Sigmund, editor, St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics, (New York: Norton, 1988).

On Kingship, translated by G. B. Phelan and I. T. Eschmann, (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949).

On Separate Substances, English translation as Treatise on Separate Substances, by F. J. Lescoe (West Hartford, Conn.: St. Joseph College, 1959).

Commentaries on Aristotle

Thomas wrote commentaries on the following works of Aristotle:

The In Aristotelis librum peri hermeneias, translated into English as Aristotle: On Interpretation Commentary by St. Thomas and Cajetan, by Jean Oesterle (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Marquette University Press, 1962).

The Posterior Analytics, English translation by F. R. Larcher, Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1970).

The Physics, translated into English by R. J. Balckwell, Richard Spaeth and W. Edmund Thirkel (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963).

The De caelo et mundo, English translation as Exposition of Aristotle's Treatise On the Heavens Books I-III, by F. R. Larcher and P. H. Conway (Columbus, Ohio: College of St. Mary of the Springs, 1964).

On Generation and Corruption no English translation.

On Meteors, an English translation in Latin Treatises on the Comets, ed. L. Thorndike (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950).

The De anima: Aristotle's De Anima with the Commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by Foster and Humphries (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1951).

On Sense and the Senses Object, and On Memory and Reminiscence, no English translations.

Metaphysics, English translation by J. P. Rowan as Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, 2 volumes (Chicago: Regnery, 1964).

Nicomachean Ethics as Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, 2 volumes, translated by C. I. Litzinger (Chicago: Regnery, 1964.)

Politics (incomplete). No English translation.

Other Philosophical Commentaries

Such commentaries on neoplatonic works as that on the Book on Causes (which Thomas correctly discerned to be excerpted from the Elements of Theology of Proclus) and that on Pseudo-Dionysius' On the Divine Names can be classified as philosophical. These are yet to be translated into English.

Thomas commented on two shorter works of Boethius.

On the De trinitate of Boethius, translated as Faith, Reason and Theology [questions 1-4], and The Division and Methods of the Sciences [questions 5-6] by Armand Maurer (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1987 & 1986).

On the De hebdomadibus, English translation by Peter O'Reilly in his doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto, 1960).

Other Philosophical Works

Such polemical works as On the Unicity of Intellect Against the Averroists, English translation in The Trinity and the Unicity of the Intellect, R. E. Brenan (St. Louis, Mo.: Herder Book Co., 1946) or as On the Unity of the Intellect against the Averroists, translated by Beatrice Zedler (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Marquette University Press, 1966) and On the Eternity of the World (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Marquette University Press, 1964) should be classified among Thomas's philosophical writings since they reveal his attitude toward the text of Aristotle. Thomas wrote as well a little work On the Motion of the Heart and another On the Missing of Elements, yet another On Buying and Selling on Time. This last is translated by A. O'Rahilly as "On Buying and Selling on Credit" in Irish Ecclesiastical record 31 (1928): 164-165. His works on casting lots, on consulting astrologers, and the hidden operations of nature may be mentioned here as well as the little work How to Study (De modo studendi). This last is translated into English in Life of the Spirit. V. White (Oxford, Blackfriars, 1944, Suppl. pp. 161-180).

B. Theological writings

Thomas's work On the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the compendium in four books by the twelfth-century bishop of Paris, has its origin in Thomas's work as bachelor of theology at Paris. This remains.

Biblical Commentaries

On Job, English translation by Martin Yaffe and Anthony Damico (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1989).

On the Psalms (1-54), not yet translated into English.

On Isaiah, not yet translated into English.

On Jeremiah (incomplete) still to be translated into English.

On the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Not yet in English.

The Golden Chain (Catena Aurea). The English translation bears the Latin title, Catena Aurea, 4 volumes (Oxford, 1841-45). This is a continuous gloss on the Gospels gleaned from the Latin and Greek Fathers and undertaken at the wish of Pope Urban IV.

We have commentaries on Matthew and John, though these were taken down by another, the latter by Reginald of Piperno, a fellow Dominican. There is an English translation of the commentary on John's Gospel as Commentary on the Gospel of John by J. A. Weisheipl and F. R. Larcher (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1980).

Thomas commented on all the Epistles of St. Paul.

Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, translated by F. R. Larcher (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1966).

Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, translated by M. L. Lamb (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1966).

Commentary on St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians and the Letter to the Philippians, translated by F. R. Larcher and Michael Duffy (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1981).

Summaries of Theology

The Summa contra gentiles, four books, was written at the behest of St. Raymond Penafort, as an aid to Dominical missionaries preaching against Moslems, Jews, and Christian heretics in Spain and is dated as of 1259-64 by Weisheipl. English translation by PegÍs, Anderson, Bourke, O'Neil, originally published by Doubleday in 1955-57, now available in paperback from University of Notre Dame Press.

The great unfinished Summa theologiae was begun after Thomas returned to Italy, perhaps in 1266. Part One was completed in 1268. The Second Part spanned the years 1269-72, the second Parisian regency, the prima secundae finished about 1270 and the secunda secundae in 1272. The Third Part, never finished, was begun at Naples in 1272. English translation in five volumes as Summa theologica by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, reprint (Westminser, Md.: Christian Classics, 1981).

Thomas also began but did not complete a Compendium of Theology for his companion Reginald of Piperno; the work is placed late in his life, perhaps also written at Naples. Translated into English by C. Vollert (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1948).

The Disputed Questions and the Quodlibetal Questions are fairly direct results of Thomas's magisterial activity. Scholars disagree as to the datings of the particular disputed questions but it seems safe to say that they span Thomas's magisterial career.

Disputed Questions

The former include the massive collection in 29 questions, On Truth, English translation in 3 volumes by Mulligan, McGlynn, Schmidt (Chicago: Regnery, 1952-54).

Disputed Question On Evil. English translation by John and Jean Oesterle, to appear shortly from University of Notre Dame Press.

On the Power of God, English translation by L. Shapcote in 3 volumes, reprint (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1952).

The Cardinal Virtues, On the Virtues in General, On Spiritual Creatures, On Charity, and On Fraternal Correction, On the Union of the Incarnate Word, translated into English as On the Virtues in General, by J. P. Reid (Providence, R.I.: Providence College Press, 1951).

On Charity, translated by L. H. Kendzierski (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1960).

On Spiritual Creatures, translated by Fitzpatrick and Wellmuth (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Marquette Univerity Press, 1951).

On the Soul, translated by J. P. Rowan (St. Louis, Mo.: B. Herder Book Co., 1949); and a Questions on the Soul by James H. Robb (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Marquette University Press, 1984).

There is no English translation of the Disputed Question on the Incarnate Word.

Quodlibetal Questions

The 12 quodlibetal questions that have come down to us are also the subject of much discussion as to the place and date of their occurrence. There is no question as to the time of year, since this academic exercise was scheduled for Christmas and Easer. Weisheipl divided them into two groups, according to the two Parisian periods. There is an English translation of the first two as Quodlibetal questions 1 and 2, translated by Sandra Edwards (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1983).

Polemical Works

Some of Thomas's philosophical writings address the Latin Averroist controversy. He also wrote against the secular masters who attacked the religious vocation of the mendicants. Against Those Impugning the Cult of God and Religion is one of these, dating from perhaps 1256, translated into English as An Apology for the Religious Orders by J. Proctor, reprint (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1950). This book also contains Thomas's work Against those who would Prevent Boys from entering Religion.

On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life is available in a printed English translation as The Religious State: The Episcopate and the Priestly Office (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1950).

On the Errors of the Greeks, meaning the Eastern church. No English translation.

He wrote a work on the faith directed against Saracens, Greeks, and Armenians at the request of the Cantor of Antioch in 1264, still untranslated into English.

For a more complete listing of the writings of St. Thomas, see James Weisheipl, O.P., Friar Thomas d'Aquino: His Life, Thought and Work. 2d ed. (Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 1981.

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