Jacques Maritain Center : St. Thomas Aquinas / by Ralph McInerny

CHAPTER 1: Works and Days

Tommaso d'Aquino was born in the family castle at Rocca Secca in Southern Italy in 1225, the youngest son of a large family. The first records of the family date from the 9th century; one of Tommaso's ancestors was abbot of Monte Cassino, which, like Rocca Secca, lies midway between Rome and Naples. Today the traveler moves swiftly between these two cities on a magnificent autostrada, and when his eye is caught by the white eminence of the great Benedictine monastery, rebuilt since World War II when it was bombed by the Allies, he may be tempted, as the blue and white highway signs announce Aquino, to turn off and seek out such physical reminders as remain of the origins of the man we know as St. Thomas Aquinas. As is often the case with great men, nothing the traveler finds will suggest any inevitability in the rise to world importance of Thomas.

I. Youth and First Studies

The area of Italy in which Thomas was born was at the time part of the Kingdom of Sicily, during Thomas's youth the ruler of the kingdom was the Emperor Frederick II. Landolfo, the father of Thomas, together with his older sons, soldiered for the emperor and thus they were caught up in the disputes between Frederick and the Papal States, which lay just to the north. That the family of the future Common Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church should have been arrayed against the Pope as temporal ruler has possibilities of irony. As we shall see, Thomas himself was to spend years in the courts of various popes. This youngest son of a feudal noble family in decline was not destined to participate in the family military exploits. He did, however, follow one family tradition. At the age of five he became a Benedictine oblate at Monte Cassino.

As the term suggests, an oblate was one offered by his parents and the offering involved the promise that Thomas would live the life of a monk according to the Rule of St. Benedict. This does not mean, of course, that Thomas became a monk at the age of five. The idea was that he would be educated at the monastery and, when he had reached the age of discretion, make a choice for or against the religious life. Only much later could solemn vows be taken. There are grounds for thinking that his family had high hopes for the small boy they brought to the neighborhood monastery, that they saw in him a future abbot of Monte Cassino, with everything that such a position involved. Indeed, it is not unlikely that the then abbot, Landolfo Sinnibaldo, was a distant relative.{1}

When we read of Thomas brought at so tender an age to a monastery, we may form the impression of a tranquil if odd childhood spent acquiring the rudiments of learning and of course devoted to the work and prayer that are the Benedictine ideal. But Monte Cassino did not have to wait until our century to be caught in the pincers of war. The squabble between Pope and Emperor intensified -- Frederick II was excommunicated in 1239; his adversary had otherworldly weapons as well as troops -- and Monte Cassino was threatened. Indeed it was occupied by Sicilian troops and, though they celebrated no vespers of the ominous kind, many monks were sent into exile. The monastery became a rather dangerous place to be and, in 1239, Thomas was taken away by his parents and sent to the University of Naples to continue his studies.

Thus, one possible career was shelved and, while still young, Thomas was put upon a different path, one that was doubtless suggested by the first signs of brilliance exhibited at Monte Cassino. As to what precisely Thomas learned at the monastery we are left to conjecture. Certainly it was there that he learned Latin, since this would have been required for participation in the liturgical activities of the monastery. Thomas's mother tongue was a Neapolitan dialect. Scripture, the Latin Fathers, and Benedictine authors would doubtless have made up his reading fare -- the training, in short, of a future monk.

The University of Naples was founded by Frederick II in 1224, and the emperor was still alive when Thomas arrived in Naples in 1239. Thomas became a student of the liberal arts at a university whose founder was a patron of Mohammedan and Jewish as well as of Christian scholars. Frederick's patronage brought it about that Naples was to play a considerable role in the introduction into the Latin West of ancient and Islamic learning, a major feature of the intellectual milieu in which Thomas would spend his life.

The seven liberal arts were divided into two groups: the trivium, consisting of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic; and the quadrivium, consisting of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.{2} Who were the teachers of Thomas Aquinas in Naples? The matter has never been satisfactorily settled, although William of Tocco, an early biographer, says that Thomas studied grammar and logic with a Master Martin and natural philosophy under Master Peter of Ireland.{3} It seems probable that Thomas was put into acquaintance with the works of Aristotle and of commentaries on them by Avicenna, a fact that would indicate that the new learning made adherence to the traditional curriculum of the liberal arts tenuous at best. What is of the greatest importance is the likelihood that Thomas began at Naples the reading of Aristotle and the Arabic commentaries on him, for it was Thomas, more than any other 13th-century figure, who would weave Aristotle and the other more traditional strands of intellectual influence into a new and coherent synthesis.

Another fact of extreme importance in these Naples years is that Thomas made the acquaintance of members of the new Order of St. Dominic.{4} Given papal approval in 1216, this new religious group, the Order of Preachers, was like the Franciscans in its emphasis on poverty and obedience, but was distinguished by its emphasis on the intellectual life. The master general of the Dominicans visited Naples, as he did other university towns, and men of the stature of Albert the Great, under whom Thomas would later study at Cologne, entered the order. Thomas too decided to join.

This decision did not please his brothers. The father of the house had died, but Thomas's mother, Teodora, unhappy that her youngest son had joined the Dominicans, communicated her unhappiness to Thomas's older brothers, who were then campaigning with the army of Frederick II. As if sensing trouble, the Dominicans had sent Thomas away, bound for the north. He was snatched from the band of travelling friars and incarcerated in a family castle, perhaps for as long as a year. It may be that it was during this period that Thomas wrote two works, a treatise on fallacies and another on modal propositions, works that exhibit both the youth of their author and the flavor of the logical instruction he had received at Naples. When his family became convinced that Thomas could not be dissuaded from his decision, they released him to return to his brothers in religion.{5}

It was in 1243 or 1244 that Thomas became a Dominican novice in Naples. After his release by his family, he was sent to the house of the Order in Paris. Thomas's whereabouts from 1245 to 1248 have been a matter of dispute, but the safest opinion would seem to be that he spent those years studying in Paris, attending lectures in theology. It is beyond dispute that he spent the years from 1248 to 1252 in Cologne, where he studied in the new Studium Generale of his Order under Albert the Great.{6} That Thomas was Albert's assistant seems attested to by the fact that Albert's lectures on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics were taken down in Thomas's hand. Albert was a man of prodigious learning and breadth of interest. There can be little doubt that he had a tremendous impact on his gifted student, though it is equally true that the mature thought of Thomas differs from that of his teacher.

II. Paris: 1252-1259

The University of Paris, where Thomas Aquinas was to spend a significant portion of his life, was granted its charter in 1200 and is thought to have grown out of such 12th century institutions as the Cathedral school of Notre Dame and the theological schools of the monasteries of St. Victor and Mont Ste. Geneviève. Its Faculty of Arts was not unlike the one Thomas had attended at the University of Naples. A student was admitted at the age of fifteen and after six years of study became a Bachelor of Arts; then, after explicating classical texts under the surveillance of a master, the right to teach (licentia docendi) was granted and he became Magister Artium, a Master of Arts.{7}

The Faculty of Arts was a preparatory school for three others, the Faculty of Law, the Faculty of Medicine, and the Faculty of Theology. At Paris, it was the last which was the best and the most important. When a Master of Arts became a student in theology, eight years lay between him and the baccalaureate. At that point, he was a biblical bachelor who for at least a year was required to lecture on Scripture under the direction of the master to whom he was assigned; for two years after that his task was to comment on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which was an accepted compilation of theological doctrine. After further academic work he was granted a licentia docendi and was received as a Master of Theology into the university corporation.

As this suggests, the university was patterned on the guilds, and the master/apprentice relationship was geared toward admission to full standing in the profession. Originally, the masters were secular or diocesan priests, by and large, a fact that was to have its importance later when the presence of the Dominican and Franciscan masters was objected to.

The manner of teaching at Paris, in both the Arts and Theology faculties, was twofold, comprising lecture and dispute (lectio and disputatio). Lecturing, as the etymology of the term suggests, meant reading and commenting on a classical text. The disputations were less tied to texts and permitted the developed expositions of the thought of a master. The so-called Quodlibetal Disputes, disputes on what you will, were held twice a year at Christmas and Easter, and here the master was subject to any and all interventions from his audience.

So much for the mechanics of the setting in which Thomas began his teaching career. In order to understand the direction and achievement of his thought, something must be known of the remarkable changes which had been taking place in higher learning and which came to a head in the 13th century. When we look, backward from the year 1200 onto the intellectual activity of the preceding centuries, we see many peaks and valley. If on the far horizon we see Mount Augustine, a closer peak would be Boethius, a minor foothill Cassidorus. A valley, then, even a Maurus, and principally, John Scotus Erigena would stand out. In the 12th century, the landscape becomes suddenly mountainous: Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Hugh of St. Victor, the School of Chartres, Bernard of Clairvaux. The 12th century might have been our Alps if it had not been followed by the 13th. The great difference between these two centuries may be seen in the sudden introduction into the Latin West of a whole library of works from ancient Greece and from the intervening Jewish and Islamic cultures. The translation of such works, already begun in the 12th century, at Toledo and in Sicily, was to provide the 13th with a vast new set of sources for speculation and with a whole new menu of philosophical and theological problems. As we shall see, one of Thomas Aquinas's greatest claims on our attention lies in the fact that he met and mastered this new literature and synthesized it with what had gone before in the Latin world, a synthesis that was not a concordance, an eclectic assembling of disparate elements, but a whole that was a good deal more than the sum of its parts.

One unacquainted with the vagaries that attend the transmission of literary works might imagine that men of the 12th and 11th centuries, being that much closer to the ancient Greeks than we are, would have known at least as much and probably more than their literature. The fact is that Plato was known only in an incomplete translation of his Timaeus (even in the 13th century only the Phaedo and the Meno were added to the list); Aristotle was known through Boethius's translation of the Categories and On Interpretation. Of course, much Platonism and Neoplatonism was known indirectly through Augustine, the Pseudo-Dionysius, and other Fathers of the Church. It would be too much to say that for centuries philosophy was almost identified with logic, but it is certain that there was no clear conception of philosophy as having the scope that it had had for the Greeks. Consequently, there was no clear notion of the demarcation between theology and philosophy.

Greek philosophy passed to the Islamic world through Syria, into Egypt, and then along the southern shore of the Mediterranean until, where Christianity and Islam came into contact, in Spain and in the seaports of the Kingdom of Sicily, Greek works and Arabic works began to be translated into Latin. Almost simultaneously, via Constantinople, contact was made with original Greek texts. When the works of Aristotle came into the West from Islam, they were accompanied by the interpretations and commentaries of Islamic thinkers, of whom the most important were Avicenna (Ibn Sina), a Persian by birth who died in 1037, and Averroes (Ibn Roschd), a native of Cordova who died in 1198. Two influential Jewish thinkers were Salomon Ibn Gabirol (d. 1070), who lived in Saragossa and was known to the Latins as Avicebron; and Moses Maimonides, who was born in Cordova and died in Egypt in 1205.{8}

One significance of the Islamic and Jewish authors mentioned lies in the fact that they had confronted, a century of two earlier, the very problems that were to exercise the minds of Christians from the 13th century onward. When the philosophy of the pagan Greeks was seen in its full scope, it appeared to present not only a total vision of reality, and of man's place in it, but one that rivaled the vision held by men of faith. In quite different ways, Avicenna and Averroes tried to make Greek thought, which for them was a curious amalgam of Aristotle and Neoplatonism, square with the truth as revealed in the Koran. So too Moses Maimonides, in his magnificent Guide for the Perplexed, was anxious to establish the relations between philosophical speculation and the Bible. The great task in the Latin West was to find some modus vivendi between the influx of new literature and the truths of Christianity in their traditional form. This entailed, of course, assimilation, commentaries, interpretation. One of its effects was that for the first time a clear conception of what theology is developed. That is to say, the believer did not simply account for the new learning in terms of an existent theology, ready to hand; in accounting for the new learning, he devised a new theology.

We will mention here three examples of the sort of problem the believer faced. The writings of Aristotle appear to contain the claims that the world is eternal that there is no personal immortality, and that God is not concerned with the world, that is, a denial of providence. All these claims are contrary to Christian belief. What then, apart from obscurantism, could the Christian reaction be to such a philosopher as Aristotle? At least three general sorts of reaction are possible and each was exemplified in the 13th century. First, one might say that Aristotle was right and Christian belief was also right, despite the fact that they contradicted each other. Second, one might say that the faith was right and therefore that Aristotle was wrong and ought to be condemned. Third, and this was the approach of Thomas Aquinas, one might say: let us read Aristotle with great care in order to see if he does indeed teach what the Arabic commentaries say he teaches. It may be that these commentaries are not always historically accurate in what they ascribe to Aristotle. Furthermore, where they are accurate, we can still ask whether Aristotle thought his claims to be certain truths or merely probable opinions.

Perhaps this will suffice to indicate the kind of charged, even revolutionary, intellectual milieu into which Thomas Aquinas was introduced. It should be added that, along with Aristotle, Neoplatonic works also became available in the West, though in disguised forms. The so-called Book of Causes (Liber de causis) is fashioned from Proclus's Elements of Theology, a discovery first made by Thomas Aquinas when the full work of Proclus came into his hands.{9} The so-called Theology of Aristotle consisted of extracts from the Enneads of Plotinus. Thus, Greek thought, principally Aristotelian, but also Neoplatonic, together with Islamic and Jewish thought, flowed suddenly into the West and created an unparalleled challenge to and opportunity for such men as Thomas Aquinas.

When we left Thomas, he was studying under Albert the Great at the Dominican house of studies in Cologne. The year is 1252. Thomas is next sent by his Order to continue his theological studies at the University of Paris, where, we have seen, he had already spent three years. Now, according to the procedure sketched above, Thomas should have begun his teaching career at Paris by commenting on Scripture and then gone on to comment on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. The first stage of his career is a matter of some doubt because none of his scriptural commentaries would seem to date from this time. The second stage is amply attested to by his exposition of the Sentences. Thomas received his licentia docendi in 1256, but prior to this he wrote the De ente et essentia (On Being and Essence) and the De principiis naturae (On the Principles of Nature). He also wrote two polemical works addressed to a situation which prevented his being accepted as a Master of Theology in the Faculty of Theology until August 15, 1257.

We have already alluded to the resentment felt by the masters of theology who were not Dominicans or Franciscans toward those who were. The leader of the opposition to the mendicant friars was William of St. Amour whose tracts against the friars demonstrate the passion with which the dispute was carried on. Appealing to that last refuge of the viewer with alarm, William professed to see in the phenomenon of the friars a clear sign of the impending end of the world. Thomas's defense of the religious life we shall consider later. Other works of Thomas dating from this time are his two commentaries on Boethius (the De trinitate and the De hebdomadibus); the Disputed Questions on Truth; the commentary on Matthew's Gospel; and some Quodlibetal Questions. Thus, when Thomas left Paris in 1259, at the age of thirty-four, he had already produced a good number of writings. There were many more to come.

III. Italy: 1259-1268

In recent years, to counter what has been thought to be too exclusive and misleading an emphasis on his philosophy, we have been reminded that Thomas Aquinas was primarily a theologian. The next period of his life serves to remind us that even more primarily he was a Dominican.

After attending a conference of his Order at Valenciennes, Thomas was ordered back to Italy, where for nearly ten years he exercised a roving role as preacher general. It is often said that Thomas returned to Italy in order to fulfill some function in the papal court, but there does not seem to be any evidence to support this. What the evidence does support is that he taught theology in a series of Dominican houses in various parts of Italy. This teaching began at the monastery in Anagni, south of Rome; in 1261 he began to teach at the monastery in Orvieto; in 1265 he became head of the house of studies in Rome at the monastery of Santa Sabina; from 1267 he was in Viterbo.

Besides these teaching assignments, Thomas in his role of preacher general visited Naples, Orvieto, Perugia, Todi, and Lucca, as well as the cities already mentioned. There is even a not very substantiated but still intriguing suggestion that he visited London. It was during his assignments in Orvieto, Rome and Viterbo, particularly the first and last, that Thomas was in the vicinity of the papal court and, though he held no official position, he would no doubt have benefitted from its proximity. Pope Urban IV had his court in Orvieto and he was a great patron of learning. Furthermore, Albert the Great was then in Orvieto, resident at the papal court, and even more significant, William of Moerbeke, a Flemish Dominican, indefatigable translator from Greek who was to end his life as bishop of Corinth, was also at Orvieto. At Thomas's request, so it is said, William began to translate and revise earlier translations of Aristotle.{10} It was during this Italian period that Aquinas began one of the tasks which was to occupy him on and off for the rest of his life. We have already seen how potentially disruptive of orthodoxy the new wave of literature seemed. There was an urgent need to study and assess these works of Aristotle together with the Arabic commentaries on them. Apparently with papal approval and aid, Thomas undertook his share of this work and, to do it well, he wanted translations as accurate as possible. No one was better equipped to provide them than William of Moerbeke. In a purely literary sense, his translations are unexciting, even dull; the goal he set himself was to provide as exact a transliteration as possible. And so well did he succeed in this task that his Latin translations are sometimes employed in establishing critical editions of the Greek text. With such accurate translations at his disposal, Thomas began composing expositions or commentaries on Aristotle. During the period we are now considering, he commented on the Metaphysics from 1266 onward) and perhaps the First Book On the Soul as well as on the short woks On Sense and the Senses and On Memory.

As professor of theology, Thomas held disputes during the period and he result was his Disputed Questions on the Power of God (1265-1268) and On Spiritual Creatures (1268). He compiled the Catena aurea (Golden Chain) of comments on the Gospels, commented on Isaiah and Jeremiah, and wrote his commentary on The Divine Names of Pseudo-Dionysius.

The first of his great summaries of Catholic doctrine, the Summa contra gentiles, which he had begun in Paris, was completed in Italy prior to 1265. His Summa theologiae was begun during this Italian period and the first Part was written from 1266 to 1268.

It is extremely difficult to date with certainty all the commentaries on or expositions of Aristotle's works that Thomas wrote. Parts of some of them are reports (reportationes), that is, in effect, a listener's notes on Thomas's lectures. Others were dictated by Aquinas to the secretaries who had been assigned him, fellow Dominicans, this convenience explained in part by the fact that Thomas's own handwriting, of which we have samples, came justifiably to be known as the littera inintelligibilis, the unreadable script. It seems to be the case that Thomas engaged in this work of unravelling the text of Aristotle as best he could while carrying on any number of other projects. Thus it is that scholars hold that some commentaries on Aristotle begun during this Italian period were completed only later or not at all. What is certain is that this work went on almost to the end of Thomas's life and that it had a profound influence on his own thought. Besides the works already mentioned, and without concern now for dating them, Thomas commented on the following works of Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Politics (Books 1-3), On Interpretation (through 19b30), Posterior Analytics, On the Heavens, Meteorology, On Generation and Corruption, and the Physics. The nature and significance of these commentaries on Aristotle will occupy us later.

IV. Paris: 1269-1272

Perhaps at the end of 1268, Thomas was sent back to Paris to occupy once more one of the two Dominican chairs of theology at the university. Anyone tempted to think of the medieval university as peaceful and untroubled would do well to consider the University of Paris during Thomas's second tenure there as professor of theology. We have already seen the dispute between the secular and mendicant masters; there were as well somewhat ill-tempered disagreements among the theologians of his Order concerning matters in which Thomas became involved because of inquiries from the Dominican master general. There were attacks on Thomas emanating from the Faculty of Arts, whose rector, Siger of Brabant, was an adherent of what van Steenberghen has called "Heterodox Aristotelianism."{11} There were strikes, and classes were suspended. All in all, a typical university situation when such institutions are in their more creative moments.

Heterodox Aristotelianism provided an occasion for Thomas to clarify his own interpretations and assessments of Aristotle as well as of his Islamic commentators. He wrote his short works On the Eternity of the World and On the Unicity of the Intellect. In the former, he maintained that, on the level of philosophy or science, it was impossible to decide whether or not the world and time had a beginning. Nonetheless, since faith teaches that the world and time began, Thomas thus avoids the two-truth theory, that which maintains that something can be true in philosophy yet false for faith. In the latter work he contested at length a reading of Aristotle favored by Averroes and some Parisian Aristotelians, according to which there is but one mind or intellect for all men. As we shall see, this work provides a good test of the claim that, in reading Aristotle, Thomas was not so much interested in what Aristotle taught as in what he could be made to say that would be in agreement with Christian faith. Thomas is here moving on the level of exegesis and claiming that his reading of Aristotle is supported by the text, while the other is not.

If Thomas was thus trying on the one hand to rescue Aristotle from inept and dangerous interpreters, on the other he was forced to defend his own manner of doing theology, which involved deploying his extensive understanding of and agreement with Aristotle. This manner went against the grain of traditional theologizing and led Thomas to be more critical of Augustine than had hitherto seemed possible. The substance of those controversies, as they emerge in the writings of Thomas, will concern us in subsequent chapters.

A work of Thomas written during this period in response to the renewed attack on the mendicants in the university is his On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life. He was, as has been indicated earlier, continuing his commentaries on the writings of Aristotle. He commented on the Book of Causes, which, thanks to a translation of Proclus's Elements of Theology he now had, he was able to identify as selections from Proclus. He wrote the Second Part of the Summa theologiae. He may have begun the unfinished Compendium theologiae at this time. He commented on the Gospel of St. John and the Epistles of St. Paul. Among the disputed questions he engaged in at this time are those concerned with the soul, with evil, with the virtues, and with the Incarnation. Finally, the Quodlibetal Questions I-VI date from this sojourn in Paris when he occupied a Dominical chair in theology. {12}

When one considers the electric atmosphere of the university during this three-year period, when one thinks of the controversies in which Thomas was involved, his output seems almost incredibly prodigious. At one time, all or most of the commentaries on Aristotle were assigned to this period of Thomas's career, but even if we make allowance for beginnings in Italy, the fact that he may have completed a large proportion of the work on many of these during his second Paris professorate, along with other writings, confronts us with a phenomenon that is not much altered by the theory recently propounded that Thomas was provided with a staff of secretaries to whom he dictated.{13}

V. Italy: 1272-1274

Thomas's next assignment was as regent of studies in Naples, and in the summer of 1272, together with his fellow Dominican and secretary, Reginald of Piperno, Thomas began the long walk south. It should be noted, incidentally, when we consider Thomas's extensive travels, that as a Dominican he was obliged to journey on foot. The modern traveler who flies or drives between the cities that show up on the map of Thomas's life may find it difficult to imagine all that hiking about the continent. Due to delays, Thomas and Reginald did not arrive in Naples until September.

Thomas then returned to the community where he had himself entered the Dominican Order. His task was to set up a house of studies that would be connected with the University of Naples. Thus his teaching career, as well as his writing, continued. The Third Part of the Summa theologiae, through Question 90, which is as far as Thomas got, was written in Naples. The work of commenting on Aristotle continued into this last period of Thomas's life. His commentary on Isiah also dates from this period as does his exposition of the Psalms, which is incomplete.

There now occurred an event of a most puzzling nature.{14} Thomas ceased to write and teach, and to the inquiries of his friend Reginald of Piperno, replied that after the things he had seen, everything he had written now seemed to him as so much chaff. This final phrase would seem to connect with one or two other events that are reported by early biographers and in the canonization process. One night, after a period during which Thomas had been fasting and praying because he could not make sense of a scriptural passage on which he had to comment, Reginald heard Thomas in conversation in his cell. After a time, Thomas summoned his secretary and began again the dictation of his commentary. Persistent questioning by Reginald drew the answer that Peter and Paul had visited Thomas to discuss the difficult passage with him. There are other stories, too, among them one where Thomas was seen praying in church, his feet hovering some distance above the floor. During one of these events, we may surmise, Thomas was granted a vision, after which his own efforts to understand and explain divine things seemed pointless and absurd. The Catholic view of life, as we shall see Thomas explain it, holds that on this earth we are in via, on the way to a destiny that is wholly out of proportion to our natural desires and deserts. Faith is the dark knowledge we now have of the luminous reality that awaits us, and in the next life, in patria, faith will give way to a kind of direct seeing of God that will constitute our eternal beatitude. In the Summa theologiae, Thomas devoted a question to the discussion of such mystical rapture as he seems to have experience himself,{15} but the discussion is, as usual, wholly impersonal, based on the Scriptures and the Fathers. With respect to Paul's remark about having been caught up into the third heaven, {16} Thomas held that Paul saw God in his essence and not merely in some likeness or similitude. If Thomas himself had a comparable experience, his negative estimate of his lifework is no doubt understandable, but it is important to remember from what vantage point if is that such a prodigious achievement as his looks like chaff.

This episode reminds us that with Thomas Aquinas we are dealing not only with a great mind and with one of the greatest and most influential Italian authors, but with a religious, a Dominican, a saint. Sprung from a noble lineage, Thomas throughout his life had contact with the great of this world, with emperors and kings and popes. There is a well-known account of Thomas at table with the king of France suddenly hitting on a refutation of the Manichean heresy, and on the table, in that order. Before leaving Naples for the last time he had a meeting with Charles II. As for churchmen, he had the acquaintance of several popes and presumably many cardinals and bishops. For all that, the picture of Thomas that emerges from the accounts of those who knew him is primarily one of a humble and obedient friar. The religious life, the Dominican life, naturally involves a commitment to make a special and life-long effort to observe the counsels of perfection as well as the commandments, to strive for sanctity. Everything else in Thomas's life was subordinate to this calling and unless we recognize this we simply do not have an accurate picture of the man.

At the beginning of 1274, Thomas set out for Lyons where a general council of the Church was to be held which he had been ordered to attend. There is reason to believe that he had been in poor health in Naples. On the way north, he visited a niece at Maenza and was stricken again. After a few days he was moved to the Cistercian monastery at Fossanova and it was there, on the morning of March 7, at the age of forty-nine, that Thomas Aquinas died.

Benedictine oblate, lay student at the University of Naples, Dominican student and then professor at the University of Paris and in various houses of study of his Order - that in its bare bones is the life of Thomas. We have seen how his writings emerged naturally out of his activities as a teacher. In many respects, there is nothing wholly distinctive about such a life at such a time. Other masters of theology produced bodies of writing as extensive, other theologians concerned themselves with the newly introduced writings of Aristotle, with the Arabic commentaries, with various Neoplatonic and Jewish authors. Nor was Thomas the first to write summary works of theology which attempted to incorporate this new knowledge. To discover what is distinctive in the work of Thomas Aquinas, we must go beyond the format of his writings, their occasion and purpose, their sheer bulk.

We have mentioned that Thomas was principally a theologian. This is a valid reminder and it will be necessary for us to see what his vision of the nature, scope, and method of theology was as well as to evaluate his substantive contributions to this discipline. But it must also be emphasized that Thomas was a philosopher. His commentaries on Aristotle are not as such theological works: they are philosophical works. Compared with his independent philosophical writings, polemical and otherwise, they enable us to comprehend his basic philosophical outlook and to see the contributions he made to philosophy. The fact that he wished to understand Aristotle in order, later, to make use of this understanding in a theological context should not blind us to the autonomous character of that preliminary stage. Furthermore, his conception of theology entailed that, in the course of theological investigation, clarification of preliminary philosophical concepts be made. The sources of our knowledge of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas are not merely his commentaries on philosophical works nor his independent philosophical writings; the theological writings of Thomas are treasure houses of philosophical clarifications.

In what follows, we shall be considering the writings of Thomas under four major headings. Since one of his major tasks was to assimilate philosophical literature, old and new, we shall consider his relation to the thought of Aristotle, to the thought of Boethius, and to Platonism and Neoplatonism. We use these abstract designations since it is not known with certainty how much of Plato Thomas had read. In any case, he could not read him in the Greek and there was precious little available in Latin translation. Finally, we shall consider Thomas as theologian.

These divisions of our labor have both advantages and disadvantages. While they do not permit us to approach Thomas chronologically as such, it does happen that his commentaries on Boethius are early and can naturally be associated with the works On the Principles of Nature and On Being and Essence. As for Aristotle, there is no chance of considering the commentaries and allied independent writings as confined to any one period of Thomas's life. As we have already seen, throughout his life Thomas was fashioning his commentaries on Aristotle. The major convenience of our approach is that it enables us to speak first, in Chapters 2 to 4, of the philosophy of Aquinas, leaving the discussion of his theology till later.

{1} See James Weisheipl, Friar Thomas D'Aquino (New York, 1974), pp. 3-12. For the reader of English alone, this work, along with Vernon Bourke's Aquinas' Search for Wisdom (Milwaukee, 1965), is essential.

{2} Thomas Aquinas accepts this traditional division of the liberal arts. For his effort to synthesize the older plan of studies and the Aristotelian order of learning philosophy, see the exposition of Boethius's De trinitate, q. 5, a. 1, ad 3m.

{3} See Weisheipl, pp. 17-18.

{4} Ibid. pp. 20-24.

{5} Weisheipl's somewhat "demythologized" account may be found on p. 35 of his book. See also Bourke, pp. 32-42.

{6} Weisheipl provides an excellent sketch of Albert on pp. 39-45.

{7} Cf. my Philosophy From Augustine to Ockham, Vol. 2 of A History of Western Philosophy (Notre Dame, 1970, pp. 215-219; Weisheipl, op. cit., p. 53. ff.

{8} For a good brief treatment of Aristotle's entry into Europe, see F. Van Steenberghen, Aristotle in the West (Louvain, 1955).

{9} A dramatic account of the detective work is to be found in H. D. Saffrey, Sancti Thomae de Aquino Super Librum de Causis Expositio (Fribourg, 1954), p. xv ff.

{10} Weisheipl, p. 151, has some cautionary remarks on the "commissioning" of William by Thomas.

{11} In La philosophie au XIIIe Siècle (Louvain, 1966), pp. 357-412.

{12} Bourke, pp. 141-158, Weisheipl, pp. 241-292.

{13} Cf. A. Dondaine, Sécretaires de saint Thomas (Rome, 1956.

{14} Josef Pieper's The Silence of St. Thomas New York, 1957 is an extended reflection on the way in which Thomas writing and teaching ended.

{15} Summa theologiae, IIaIIae, q. 175.

{16} 2 Cor. 12:2.

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