Authors: Thomas Aquinas

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian theologian

Identity: Catholic

Author Works


Scriptum super “Libros sententiarum,” 1252-1256 (English translation, 1923)

Summa contra gentiles, c. 1258-1264 (English translation, 1923)

Summa theologiae, c. 1265-1273 (Summa Theologica, 1911-1921)


Thomas Aquinas (TAHM-uhs uh-KWI-nuhs) is generally agreed to be the towering figure in medieval theology, and to him goes the principal credit for applying the philosophical doctrines of Aristotle to Christianity. The joining of these seemingly divergent streams of thought in the philosophical movement known as Scholasticism has had tremendous influence on subsequent theological and philosophical thinking.{$I[AN]9810000711}{$I[A]Thomas Aquinas}{$S[A]Aquinas, Thomas;Thomas Aquinas}{$I[geo]ITALY;Thomas Aquinas}{$I[geo]CATHOLIC;Thomas Aquinas}{$I[tim]1224;Thomas Aquinas}

Thomas was well prepared by his background for the work that was to engage far and away the major portion of his efforts. Born at Roccasecca, near Aquino, Italy, in 1224 or 1225, the son of Count Landolfo of Aquino, he was raised in an atmosphere of ease. Having studied at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, he went from there, in 1239, to Naples to study the liberal arts. He then entered the Order of St. Dominic (c. 1243), abandoning his life of privilege to become a “begging friar.”

Thomas was fortunate to be able to study under Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus) in Paris from 1245 to 1248. While with Albert in Cologne, after his studies in Paris, he was ordained to the priesthood. Shortly thereafter he received advanced degrees in theology. He spent the rest of his life teaching and writing his great treatises–such as his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (c. 1100-c. 1160)–in Rome, Paris, and Naples.

Of his works, the two most important are his Summa contra gentiles, which defends Christianity in the area of natural theology, and Summa Theologica, a work whose three divisions are related to God, Man, and Christ and in which Thomas attempted to summarize all human knowledge. This monumental treatise was left unfinished when he died of a sudden illness on March 7, 1274, at Fossanova, Italy, while traveling to the General Council of Lyons. St. Thomas Aquinas, canonized in 1323, remains a central thinker in Christian theology because of his synthesization of past knowledge and his application of the principles of scholastic reasoning to religion.

BibliographyBradley, Denis J. M. Aquinas on the Twofold Human Good: Reason and Human Happiness in Aquinas’s Moral Science. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997. Bradley argues that Saint Thomas Aquinas was a theologian first and philosopher second. He contends that to avoid misinterpretation, Aquinas’s writings should be approached from a theological, rather than a philosophical, approach.Chesterton, G. K. St. Thomas Aquinas. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1933. A superb introduction to the life and thought of Thomas, “the Angelic Doctor.” Aimed at non-Christian readers, or those with little experience in theology.Davies, Brian. Aquinas. New York: Continuum, 2002. A biography of Thomas Aquinas that covers his approaches to God, theories of being and existence, and his views of the problems of evil, among other topics. Bibliography and index.Davies, Brian., ed. Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives. A collection of essays on the philosphy of Thomas Aquinas. Includes essays on matter and actuality, realism, natural reason, freedom, and being and goodness. Bibliography.Finnis, John. Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. An examination of Thomas’ contributions to political and social science. Looks at the saint’ views on freedom, reason, and human goods; human rights; fulfilment and morality; the state; and humans’ origin and end. Bibliography and indexes.Gilson, Étienne. Thomism: The Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Translated by L. K. Shook and Armand Maurer. 6th ed. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2002. A classic and scholarly treatment of Thomas as philosopher and theologian. Chapters fall under the headings of God, Nature, and Morality. The book contains a comprehensive bibliography of Thomas’ works with descriptive details.Inglis, John. On Aquinas. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, 2002.Kenny, Anthony. Aquinas. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980. This volume in the Past Masters series covers Thomas’s life in fewer than one hundred pages. Thomas’s theories are explored, including his conception of Being (which Kenny believes is hopelessly flawed) and his notion of the nature of Mind (which Kenny praises for the questions Thomas asks). Latter chapters introduce the reader to medieval categories of thought, but Thomas the Christian is almost submerged.Kreeft, Peter. A Summa of the Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica.” San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990. An explanation of the philosophy of Thomas’ Summa Theologica. Index.Kretzmann, Norman, and Eleonore Stump, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Topics covered include Thomas’ philosophy, his relation to Aristotle and Jewish and Islamic thinkers, philosophy of mind, ethics, law and politics, and biblical commentary and philosophy. Bibliography and index.McInerny, Ralph. Ethica Thomastica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. 1982. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997. This work is one of the finest introductions to Thomas’s moral philosophy. Covers selected themes in Thomistic moral thinking, including moral goodness, judging good and evil moral actions, work of virtues, functions of conscience, and relation of ethics to religious belief.McInerny, Ralph. St. Thomas Aquinas. Boston: Twayne, 1977. An accessible study of Thomas’s thought in chapters dealing with Aristotle, Boethius (whose philosophy was introduced to modern times through Thomas’s writings), and Platonism. In a chapter on the tasks of theology, the author explains Thomas’s distinction between believing and knowing. The book is filled with examples and includes a useful chronology of Thomas’s life plus a short, annotated bibliography.Milbank, John. Truth in Aquinas. New York: Routledge, 2001.Nichols, Aidan. Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to His Life, Work, and Influence. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003. A biography of Thomas Aquinas that looks at his life and work as well as his legacy. Index.Oguejiofor, J. Obi. The Philosophical Significance of Immortality in Thomas Aquinas. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2001.Pasnau, Robert, and Christopher Shields. The Philosophy of Aquinas. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. A study of Thomas that concentrates on his contributions to the field of philosophy. Index.Pope, Stephen, ed. The Ethics of Aquinas. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002.Shanley, Brian J. The Thomast Tradition. Boston: Kluwer, 2002.Sigmund, Paul E., ed. St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987. An introduction to Thomas, with eighty pages devoted to pertinent excerpts of Thomas’s work, newly translated by the editor. Selections are generally quite short and range from Thomas’s writings on government to selections from his treatise on God in Summa Theologica. Excerpts from background sources are also presented, with the remainder of the volume devoted to interpretations of Thomas.Stump, Eleonore. Aquinas. New York: Routledge, 2003. A look at the philosophy of Thomas by a well-known scholar.Wippel, John F. The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000.
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