The Life of St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas was born in Roccasecca, not far from Naples in 1225. At the age of five he was placed by his parents in the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino as an oblate (layperson dedicated to religious life). He made his first studies, remaining in the monastery from 1230 to 1239, when Emperor Frederick II expelled the monks. From there he went to the University of Naples in the autumn of the same year, being then fourteen. At the age of nineteen Aquinas joined the Order of Preachers of the newly formed Dominican order. By 1245 he was attending the University of Paris and still in the Dominican order. There he met St. Albert the Great, who was his teacher. Aquinas edited St. Albert's lectures on Aristotle's Ethics.

He eventually taught theology at the University of Paris. He left Paris for Italy in 1259 and taught theology at the stadium curiae attached to the papal court until 1268. Thomas's views on the compatibility of Aristotle and Christianity met great opposition but eventually prevailed. In 1274 Pope Gregory X summoned him to Lyons. He died on the journey to Lyon.

St. Thomas Aquinas was known as the “Dumb Ox,” not because he was stupid, but because he was a quiet and very large, rotund person. In class he would sit quietly and absorb information and not get involved in vigorous discussion. He wrote some twenty-five volumes in his short life.

His life had been devoted to study, to teaching, and the pursuit and defense of truth. In 1323, within a half century of his death, he was officially declared a saint by the church. In 1879 Pope Leo XIII recommended the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas as a model for Catholic thought. He now enjoys the status of “Church Doctor.”

Only Augustine has had an equal influence on the thought of the Western church. In his Encyclical of August 4, 1879, Pope Leo XIII stated that Aquinas's theology was a definitive exposition of Roman Catholic doctrine. Thus, he directed the clergy to take the teachings of Aquinas as the basis of their theological positions. Also, Leo XIII decreed that all Roman Catholic seminaries and universities must teach Aquinas's doctrines. If Aquinas did not speak on a topic, the teachers were “urged to teach conclusions that were reconcilable with his thinking.”

Did St. Thomas Aquinas ever have a mystical experience?

Yes, he had a mystical experience while celebrating mass on December 6, 1273, just months before he died. The importance of the experience dwarfed everything else in his life. “I can write no more”; he declared to a friend. “All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

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