Life & Soul

Saint of the Week: St Thomas Aquinas (January 28)

A detail from St Thomas Aquinas by Diego Velázquez

One of the greatest theologians in history, Aquinas was the leading figure of the 13th-century “Renaissance”, in which Christian philosophy at the newly established universities sur-passed ancient civilisation.

He was born in his father’s castle in what is now Lazio in 1225. Aged five, he began his education at Monte Cassino. When he was 19, he decided he wanted to join the Dominicans, but his family were so opposed that they jailed him. His brothers even sent prostitutes to seduce him. But eventually they let him go.

In 1245 he went to the University of Paris where (in one of the great meetings of minds in history) he enc-ountered Albertus Magnus, then in charge of theology there. Thomas followed Albertus to Cologne, where his quietness led fellow speakers to think him slow. Albertus told them: “You call him ‘the dumb ox’, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”

He returned to Paris in 1256 as regent master of theology, until Clement IV summoned him to Rome nine years later to serve as papal theologian. That same year, the Dominicans ordered him to teach at their new Roman school, Santa Sabina, where he wrote his most famous work, the Summa Theologica.

Among the many issues he wrote on are the Just War, the nature of the Trinity and commentaries on Aristotle. Three years after his death in 1274, his work was attacked in the famous anti-Aristotle Condemnation of 1277.

But his star continued to rise and in 1567 he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.