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Friday, 12 August 2011

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Before Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was born, a holy Hermit prophesied to his mother: "He will enter the order of Friars Preachers and so great will be his learning and sancity that none will be found to equal him."

A 15th century altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivell

As a teenager Thomas decided to enter the Dominican order. His mother and father determined that it was an improper way for an upper class member of an Italian family to behave, and opposed him. His mother confined her son to the San Giovanni Castle at Rio Secca for a year in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him to abandon his chosen cause. Eventually Thomas was released and was lowered in a basket into the arms of the Dominicans. Other attempts to dissuade him included the temptations of a prostitute and an offer of the post of the Archbishop of Naples.

When he first attended Paris University, the ponderous Thomas made a poor impression. He was nicknamed at Paris University by fellow Students, "The Dumb Ox", due to his lofty bulk and slowness.

While he was teaching in Paris, Thomas Aquinas was given a barrel of fish a week by King Louis IX. 

Aquinas taught that interest charged on loans for business purposes were allowable as the money would be used to produce new wealth. However it would be sinful to charge interest on loans for the purchase of consumer goods.
Furthermore. he was the first person to teach that an individuals wage should be enough to enable the recipient to live in a manner subject to his social position.

An early chemist, Aquinas made several discoveries using chemical techniques. After many centuries of declining interest in scientific knowledge, Thomas helped restore confidence in experience. He argued that a good Christian should be allowed to reason and experiment

About 80 literary works are ascribed to him. At first, Aquinas wrote his works with his own hand. His writing suggests someone left-handed, writing in great haste in the Latin shorthand of the time. Thomas's hand has been dubbed the 'litera inintelligibilis,' unreadable writing. With time he was assigned secretaries to take dictation. In his later years, he was dictating to several different scribes on several different subjects at the same time.

Detail from "Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas over Averroes" by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420–97)

Aquinas' epic, unfinished work Summa Theological (1265-1273), strove to account for all phenomena logically. Basically a compendium of all human knowledge in relation to religion, written for novices, it is still accepted as the final authoritative exposition of the Catholic doctrine.

While saying mass on December 6, 1273, Thomas Aquinas experienced a heavenly vision. Urged to take up his pen again, he replied, "Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life."

Looking to find a way to reunite the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Gregory X convened the Second Council of Lyon and summoned Thomas to attend. On his way to the Council, riding on a donkey along the Appian Way, he struck his head on the branch of a fallen tree and became seriously ill. The monks at the Cistercian Fossanova Abbey nursed Thomas for several days, but he died on March 7, 1274 while giving commentary on the Song of Songs.

Thomas was canonised in 1323 and his Feast Day is 7th March. He is the Patron Saint of Students and Catholic Schools.

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