Thomas Aquinas

Theologian / Philosopher

Born: c. 1225
Died: 7 March 1274
Birthplace: Roccasecca, Italy
Best known as: Medieval Catholic scholar who wrote Summa Theologica

Name at birth: Tommaso d'Aquino

Thomas Aquinas was a priest, professor and philosopher who influenced centuries of religious and academic thought with his methodical way of harmonizing faith and reason. Born to nobility in southern Italy, he became attracted to life as a monk and scholar while a university student in Naples. He joined the Dominican religious order, but his family locked him in their castle tower, hoping to change his mind. A year later he escaped, studied in Cologne and Paris, was ordained a priest, and taught in universities during the Scholastic era, when the ancient logic of Aristotle was being revived despite condemnations by the Roman Catholic Church. Aquinas reconciled the two by granting reason its own integrity. He used Aristotelian arguments to "prove" God's existence and the truth of Christian beliefs, but held that some doctrinal truths are revealed only by faith. He painstakingly questioned-and-answered his way through two major works: Summa Contra Gentiles ("Summary of Arguments against the Disbelievers) and his final synthesis, Summa Theologica. His thinking, later called Thomism, was rapidly adopted by the church. Known as "the angelic doctor," he was canonized in 1323. In 1879, Pope Leo XIII declared Aquinas's works "the only true philosophy."

Extra credit: "Aquinas" is a Latinized form of his family's Italian name, which reflected their domain over an area including the county of Aquino. He was born in the castle of his parents, Count Ladolfo and Countess Theodora d'Aquino, halfway between Rome and Naples... Aquinas's uncle was Frederick II, a maverick leader of the Holy Roman Empire. Thommaso was named for his grandfather, who had been the Empire's military commander...

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