Saint Thomas Aquinas Research Paper

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Saint Thomas Aquinas represents the culmination of philosophical and theological achievement during the European Middle Ages, and his influence on subsequent generations of Western philosophers and Christian theologians has been profound.

The Italian philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) proved a powerful and influential advocate of the philosophy of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He was the author of what remains the most comprehensive effort at reconciling reason and religious faith ever attempted by a Catholic thinker.

The son of Count Landulf of Aquino, Thomas was a member of the south Italian nobility. Born at Roccasecca, between Rome and Naples, he received his preliminary education at the nearby monastery of Monte Cassino. In 1239 Thomas’s parents sent him to the University of Naples, where he first engaged in intensive study of Aristotle under the scholar Peter of Ireland. During his years at Naples, Thomas made two important decisions: to devote the rest of his life to philosophy and theology and to become a Dominican friar. The two decisions were related because Dominicans were already among the leading scholars of the day. When Thomas became a friar in 1244 he received permission to leave Naples for Paris to study under the renowned Dominican philosopher and scientist Albert the Great (c. 1195–1280).

This move was opposed by his family, who intended for him to become a bishop or the abbot of a prominent monastery. Abducted by his family as he was traveling northward through Italy, he was held captive at Roccasecca for a year before being allowed to proceed on his chosen path.

Thomas studied under Albert the Great at both Paris and Cologne, Germany, where Albert relocated in 1248 to establish a Dominican studium generale, a college for study of the liberal arts. Thomas served as one of his assistants, giving introductory lectures on biblical interpretation. In 1252, his academic apprenticeship completed, Thomas returned to Paris to take up the position of lecturer on the Bible and the Sentences of the Italian theologian Peter Lombard (c. 1095–1161), the core textbook of the theology curriculum. He also began to publish his own work and in 1256 was appointed to the position of master of theology, the highest title attainable in the academic hierarchy.

In 1259 Thomas traveled to Italy and remained through 1268, lecturing at Dominican convents and colleges in Naples, Orvieto, and Rome. He frequently attended the papal court, providing his services as preacher and liturgist. He returned to Paris at the height of his reputation but soon found himself embroiled in a major controversy over the proper relationship of philosophy and theology.

Thomas’s first major book, a commentary on Lombard’s Sentences, contains more than two thousand references to the works of Aristotle. Already in his early days as a teacher he had defined his intellectual project: to establish the proper relationship between philosophy and theology. In this pursuit he made use of not only the works of Christian theologians and ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, but also the works of Muslim and Jewish philosophers such as Ibn Sina (980–1037), Ibn Rushd (1126–1198), and Ibn Gabirol (1021–1058). Thomas argued that both philosophy and faith are necessary to a true pursuit of theology because logical argumentation leads to a more precise and complete knowledge of religious belief. Thomas further held that, even without faith in Christian revelation, the human mind can use rational analysis of observations made through the five senses to attain an incomplete but still extensive understanding of the being of God and the nature of the rational laws governing the created universe.

While Thomas was in Italy, a group of scholars in Paris called the “Averroists” (followers of Ibn Rushd) were promulgating the position that the truths of philosophy and the truths of religion are equally true, but separate and distinct, because philosophical knowledge derives from rational analysis of human experience alone, whereas theological knowledge derives exclusively from divine revelation. The bishop of Paris, Stephen Tempier, condemned the position of the Averroists in 1270. Conservative critics associated Thomas with the Averroists because of his devotion to Aristotle, and he had to expend much energy in his final years to carefully distinguish his position from theirs.

In 1272 the Dominicans sent Thomas to Naples to set up a new studium generale, but at this point his health began to weaken. He died at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova while on his way from Naples to Lyons to attend a church council summoned by the pope.

The principal writings of Thomas Aquinas include the Disputed Questions (1256–1272); the Summa contra gentiles (1259–1265), which provides a detailed defense of the philosophical validity of the Christian faith; and the Summa theologiae (begun in 1268 but unfinished at Thomas’s death), which comprehensively synthesizes Thomas’s rational investigation and logical demonstration of Catholic doctrine. When Tempier condemned the Averroists a second time in 1277, he explicitly included condemnations of several teachings from these works. However, Thomas had many posthumous supporters, including Albert the Great and the Italian poet Dante, who assigned him a privileged place in paradise. Pope John XXII had Thomas canonized in 1323. During the sixteenth century Thomas’s Summa theologiae replaced Peter Lombard’s Sentences as the standard textbook in the theology curriculum of European universities, where his work remained influential well into the 1600s. Thomism has enjoyed a revival since the late nineteenth century, thanks in part to a papal bull (decree) of 1879 encouraging study of Thomas’s work, and his brilliant and rigorous application of Aristotelian arguments retains considerable interest for twenty-first-century philosophers.


  1. Chenu, M. D. (1964). Toward understanding Saint Thomas. Chicago: H. Regnery.
  2. Dyson, R. W. (2002). Aquinas: Political writings. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Kretzmann, N., & Stump, E. (1993). The Cambridge companion to Aquinas. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  4. McInerny, R. (1998). Thomas Aquinas: Selected writings. London: Penguin Books.
  5. Persson, P. E. (1970). Sacra doctrina: Reason and revelation in Aquinas. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
  6. Rosemann, P. (1999). Understanding scholastic thought with Foucault. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  7. Tugwell, S. (1988). Albert and Thomas: Selected writings. New York: Paulist Press.

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