Thomas Aquinas was one of the most influential philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages. His most important work, Summa Theologiae, combined the theories of scholasticism and Aristotle to explore the concepts of God, ethics, and Christ (Davies & Stump, 2012, p. 3). To this day, Aquinas is widely studied by the philosophy scholars all around the world as a great example of a pragmatic Christian theologian and philosopher.
Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 in the castle of Raccasecca, located near Rome, Italy (McGinn, 2014, p. 19). Since the age of five, Thomas was brought up in the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino to become the next abbot of the monastery (McGinn, 2014, p. 20). Due to the nature of life in the monastery, his young years were filled with religious service, and his interest in religion remained strong for the rest of his life. In 1239, he was sent to study at the University of Naples, which was the first state university at the time (McGinn, 2014, p. 20). In addition to his interest in theology, university studies allowed him to develop a passion for philosophy, particularly Aristotelian doctrines, which he studied under the guidance of excellent tutors (McGinn, 2014, p. 20).
It was at this time that he first encountered the Dominicans and became involved with their philosophy, later in 1245 moving to the Dominican convent in Paris to continue his studies (McGinn, 2014, p. 21). In 1266, having already completed many of his smaller works, as well as the Summa contra Gentiles, his other most notable work, he started writing Summa Theologiae (McGinn, 2014, p. 29). Years 1269-1274 marked the peak of his productivity and career: Aquinas was continually working on Summa Theologiae, as well as teaching and writing smaller works (McGinn, 2014, p. 35). In 1273, he suddenly stopped writing because of some unknown reason: “The medieval lives put the end of Thomas’s writing down to a mystical experience, a forecast vision of God in heaven” (McGinn, 2014, p. 38). Thomas died on 7th March 1274, leaving his main work unfinished.
Throughout his life and career, Thomas continued to advocate for Aristotelian theories, even though they have not been used in theology and were banned in Paris until 1915 (McGinn, 2014, p. 33). There is no doubt that the teachings of Aristotle had a substantial effect on Aquinas, which is why he incorporated them in his main theological and philosophical work, Summa Theologiae. It contains three parts; part I is concerned with the proofs of God’s existence and the description of God’s ways. The second part uses Aristotelian ethics as a framework to be applied to contemporary natural theology (Davies & Stump, 2012, pp. 4-5). The main idea of the second volume is that a man can get closer to God using virtuous actions. Finally, the third part, which remained unfinished after Aquinas’s death, was supposed to analyze the image of Christ to explain his desire to protect humanity and the idea of salvation. The aim of the entire work was “not to develop theology from scratch, but rather to show, in the spirit of Romans 1:20, the extent to which what had been supernaturally revealed could, in theory, have been naturally discovered” (Davies & Stump, 2012, p. 5).
Overall, in under 50 years of his life, Thomas Aquinas has earned the respect of his contemporaries and the persistent interest of many modern scholars of philosophy. It was Aquinas’s evolutionary approach to combining the traditionally opposing concepts of nature and religion into a single doctrine that made him one of the most prominent figures in the field of philosophy.
Davies, B., & Stump, E. (Eds.). (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
McGinn, B. (2014). Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologiae”. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.