St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

(ca. 1225-1274)

Thomas was born in 1223 or 1225 in the Kingdom of Naples in Roccasecca to Count Landulf of Aquino and Teresa Caracciolo. From the age of 5 to 14, he was educated at the Benedictine Abbey on Monte Cassino, where his uncle was the abbot. Afterwards, he carried on with his education from 1239, studying liberal arts with Peter of Ireland at the University of Naples. He was even in the ranks of the Benedictine order for five years; however, he gave it up in favor of the Dominicans. Even his family, which saw Thomas in high church positions, stood in the way of this intention. All the more, they imprisoned him for a while. Despite their actions, he was not dissuaded from his decision.

Thomas joined the Order of Preachers in 1244. He studied in Paris and Cologne, where he was a disciple of St. Albert the Great. The students gave him a nickname - "the silent ox” - because of his stoutness and frequent silence during classes (he was considered a dullard due to this), but as soon as he spoke up, Albert the Great recognized his talent: "This ox is silent now, but the time will come when it roars so loudly that it will fill the whole world." In Cologne, Thomas obtained the degree of the Bachelor of Biblical Studies and wrote his first works. From 1252, he lectured in Paris, but his teaching fame circulated throughout Europe, so that he was later sent to numerous Italian universities (Rome, Bologna, Vitterbo, Peruggia or Naples). In 1256 he received a master's degree in theology and took an active part in the dispute between mendicant monks and lay professors at the University of Paris. Between 1261 and 1265 Thomas stayed in Orvieto as a teacher at a Dominican school. And in 1265 he went to Rome to teach at the Dominican school there.

Thomas proved himself with some remarkable abilities both in the field of apologia of the Christian doctrine and as an independent, constructive thinker, as evidenced by Summa contra gentiles and Summa theologica. He wrote several of his important works during the first Paris period, providing an outline of his teachings: Commentary on Sentences (Scriptum super sententias), On Being and Essence (De ente et essentia), and On the Principles of Nature (De principiis nature). During the Roman period, he wrote a number of debated issues, commentaries and the Summa theologica, which he never finished. His second stay in Paris produced his commentaries on selected New Testament books and debated issues. 

Thomas was not only a scientist, but also a mystic. He is said to have hugged his head to the tabernacle when he was working on one of his works. His mysticism is also evidenced by the liturgical texts he created, such as "Adoro te devote" and "Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium". He also had mystical experiences. For example, on December 6, 1273, in Naples, a few months before his death, he was said to have had a vision in which Jesus said to him: "You wrote well of Me, Thomas. What would you like to ask of Me?". Thomas then replied: "Nothing but Thee alone, Lord." We do not know what St. Thomas experienced or what he saw. But after this experience he was to say: "All that I have written seems like straw" ("Mihi videtur ut palea").

Early in 1274, at the urging of Pope Gregory X, he went to the Council of Lyon. On the way, he stopped at his relative's castle, where his health deteriorated severely. His wish was that he be given to die in a monastery, so he was taken to the Cistercian monastery in Fossanova near Sonnino, since there were no Dominican monasteries nearby. He died on March 7, 1274. 

Pope John XXII declared him a saint on July 18, 1323. 45 years later, his relics were transferred from Fossanuovo to the Dominican church of San Jacques in Toulouse. At that time, they were also divided: the right arm of the Saint was given to the Dominicans in Paris, and the head relic was transferred to Salerno. The relics, desecrated by the Calvinists (1562) and by the French Revolution (1797), were moved from Toulouse to St. Sernin, and some were donated to Fossanuovo. In 1974, the relics were returned to the Jacobin Church in Toulouse (now serving as a museum), where they remain to this day. In 1567, Pope St. Pius V honored him with the title Doctor of the Church, but he was already nicknamed "Angelic Doctor." Pope Leo XIII declared him the patron saint of Catholic schools. Quite a large part of the mortal remains of St. Thomas Aquinas is located also in Priverno. In a monastery in Naples, the Saint's cell was converted into a chapel. There you can see the bell the Saint used during his lectures and, most importantly, the relic of his left arm.

His contribution to the development of the Church is illustrated by the fact that during the Council of Trent, a table was placed in the middle of the room where the Council Fathers sat, and on it lay only the Holy Scriptures, papal laws and the Summa theologica of St. Thomas.

Before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the liturgical commemoration (and in the Dominican order, the feast day) fell on March 7; it is now celebrated on January 27. 

In iconography, St. Thomas Aquinas is always depicted in the Dominican habit, but in a variety of situations: during lectures, in front of the crucified Christ, which alludes to his mystical vision. Characteristic in his images is that he has the sun or a star on his chest. Generally, he has many more accompanying attributes. A lily refers to an event that took place in the Saint's youth. When Thomas' family learned that he was going to join a monastery, they imprisoned him, and a paid harlot was brought in during the night. Thomas chased it away with a firebrand pulled from the fireplace, fell on his knees asked God to persevere in virtue. Afterwards, two angels appeared to him and girded him with a chastity belt (cingulum castitatis), causing him to be free of bodily temptations for the rest of his life. That is why he is often depicted with a lily. A dove is a symbol of divine inspiration; it is also a sign of humility, meekness and a spiritualized life. The star or the sun, on the other hand, refers to an ecstasy he had in December 1273. During it, two of Thomas' fellow monks saw a star fall through a window into the saint's cell and rest briefly on his forehead. The attribute depicting the star or the sun above his head or on his chest is also a sign of divine inspiration in Thomas' creative work. The writing pen and book also refer to this work. The IHS hierogram refers to the writings of St. Thomas, where he attached particular importance to the mystery of Jesus Christ hidden in the Eucharist. The miter at his feet is a symbol of the unaccepted episcopal dignity that Pope Urban IV wanted to bestow on him. The image of a chalice with the host or monstrance refers to Thomas' writings on the Eucharist. It also recalls the vision the Saint's confreres received after his death. A ruby on the chest alludes to a vision of a fellow monk who saw Thomas as a jewel and a light for the Church. Sometimes the image of Thomas is enriched by wings, thus recalling the nickname "angelicus" given to the Saint.


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  • Marchese V., Delle benemerenze di S. Tommaso d’Aquino verso le arti belle, Gênes 1874.
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  • Mandonnet P., La canonisation de saint T. d’Aquin, „Mélanges thomiste”, 1923, s. 1–48.
  • Chenu M.-D., Introduzione allo studio di S. Tommaso d’Aquino, Firenze 1953 (Polish translation: Wstęp do filozofii św. Tomasza z Akwinu, transl. H. Rosnerowa, Kęty 2001).
  • Walz A., St. Thomas d’Aquin, Louvain-Paris 1962.
  • Weisheipl J. A., Friar Thomas d’Aquino. His Life, Thought and Work, New York 1974 (Polish translation: Tomasz z Akwinu. Życie, myśl i dzieło, transl. Cz. Wesołowski, Poznań 1985; Italian translation: Tomaso d’Aquino. Vita, pensiero, opere, ed. ital. a cura di I. Biffi, C. Marabelli, Milano 1988).
  • Rodrígez V., Santo Tomás de Aquino, doctor de la Iglesia (1225-1274), [in:] Nueve personajes històricos. Domingo de Guzman, Jordan de Sajonia, Tomas de Aquino, Humberto de Romans, Catalina de Siena, Vincente Ferrer, Pío V, Martín de Porres, Rosa de Lima, Caleruega 1983 (Familia Dominicana, 1), pp. 73-93.
  • Barron R. Thomas Aquinas, Spiritual Master, Nowy Jork 1996.
  • Torrell J.-P., Saint T. d'Aquin, maître spirituel, Fribourg 1996 (Polish translation: Święty Tomasz z Akwinu. Mistrz duchowy, Poznań 2003).
  • Russo D., „Saint philosophe et théologien chrétien. L;iconographie de Thomas d’Aquin dans les meux dominicains au XIVème siècle, [in:] Portraits de philosophes. De l’idée à l’image, dir. J. Poitier, B. Curatolo, Dijon 2001, pp. 95-107.
  • Torrell J.-P., Initation à Saint Thomas d’Aquin. Sa personne et son oeuvre, Paris 20063 (Polish translation: Tomasz z Akwinu – człowiek i dzieło, transl. A. Kuryś, Kęty–Warszawa 2008 (Fundamenta. Studia z historii filozofii, 60).
  • Cambournac A., L’iconographie de saint Thomas d’Aquin après le concile de Trente (1567-1700), Paris 2009 (Mémoire Dominicaine. Histoire – Documents – Vie dominicaine, 9).
  • Marecki J., Rotter L., Jak czytać wizerunki świętych. Leksykon atrybutów i symboli hagiograficznych, Kraków 2013, pp. 784-786.