Saint Thomas Aquinas, The Angelic Doctor
January 28 is the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Dominican priest, philosopher, and theologian. As a Doctor of the Church, he has been given the title “Angelic Doctor” and is the patron saint of apologists, Catholic schools, chastity, learning, philosophers, publishers, students, theologians, and universities. St. Thomas ranks among the greatest writers and theologians of all time. His most important work, the Summa Theologiae, a theological summary and explanation of all the teachings of the Catholic Church, has been standard for centuries, even to our own day. St. Thomas reflected the Dominican ideal. He was a true contemplative who shared the fruits of contemplation with others.
Born of a noble family in southern Italy, Thomas was educated by the Benedictines. He was a superior student and surpassed his classmates in learning as well as in the practice of virtue.
When he became old enough to choose his state of life, Thomas renounced the things of this world and chose to enter the Dominican Order in spite of the opposition of his family, who had expected him to become a Benedictine. At the age of seventeen, he joined the Dominicans of Naples. His mother, determined to change this, rushed to Naples to consult with her son, but the Dominicans sent him to Rome, on the way to Paris or Cologne. She then instructed his brothers to capture Thomas and confine him in the fortress of San Giovanni at Rocca Secca. He remained “imprisoned” by family members for a two year period in an attempt to prevent him from assuming the Dominican habit and to force him into renouncing his decision. They even went so far as to tempt him with a prostitute. When the woman entered his room, Thomas chased her out with a piece of burning wood from the fire.
Following this event, he prayed to God, asking for purity of mind and body. Two angels appeared to him in a dream, to assure him that his prayers had been answered and that God was giving him the gift of perfect chastity. Thus, he earned the title ‘Angelic Doctor.’ All of the family’s efforts proved to be in vain, as Thomas was given the grace to remain pure and to persevere in his vocation.
Thomas studied in Paris and in Cologne under the great philosopher St Albert the Great. Here he was nicknamed the “dumb ox” because of his silent ways and huge size, but he was actually a brilliant student. At the age of twenty-two, he was appointed to teach in the same city. At the same time, he also began to publish his first works. After four years he was sent to Paris. The saint was then a priest. At the age of thirty-one, he received his doctorate.
Thomas spent the rest of his life studying, praying, teaching, writing, composing hymns, and traveling. During his lifetime, he produced 60 works within less than 50 years.
Thomas made a great synthesis of philosophy and theology. He combined the revelation of scriptures with a “framework” of Aristotle and the notion of participation of Plato. This synthesis is called Thomistic philosophy or “Scholasticism” and has remained the official theology of the Church since the 13th century.
He died on March 7, 1274 and was canonized by Pope John XXII on July 18, 1323 – less than 50 years after his death.