The Angelic Doctor
Even when he is measured by the yardstick for Christian saints, St. Thomas Aquinas stands tall. What other doctor of the Church disparaged his writings as nothing more than straw? Whom else has the Roman Catholic Church canonized as a saint just fifty years after suggesting that he was a heretic? How many other saints drove off, with a burning torch, a prostitute deliberately sent to seduce them? Many of Aquinas's con-freres recognized his saintly genius in his time, and the whole of the Church acknowledges it in our time. To come to understand his particular expression of the holy life, it is essential to begin with the fact that for most of his life Aquinas dedicated himself to teaching, writing, and engaging in controversies over religious and philosophical issues. Even though many of his most memorable moments in life took place at the University of Paris, he lived much of his life in Italy, notably in Rome as a resident of the Dominican Order's magnificent Basilica of Santa Sabina. Despite his early canonization, Aquinas's thought has received an uneven reception from his death through to today. One crucial reason for his enduring importance to theologians and philosophers, however, is his solution to the problem of faith and reason. For this and other of his many remarkable insights he is called the “Angelic Doctor,” an honorific title that today is reflected in the unofficial name of one of Rome's eleven pontifical universities, the Angelicum (Pontificia Università S. Tommaso D’Aquino).
Naples, Paris, Cologne: The Young Aquinas
Aquinas was born in 1225 into a family of minor nobility in Roccasecca, a town south of Rome. At the age of five he was sent to the nearby Abbey of Monte Cassino for his primary education. Ten years later he began higher studies at the newly founded University of Naples. During his five years there from 1239 to 1244, he studied the liberal arts and natural philosophy, especially the newly translated writings of Aristotle. These studies provided the grounding he needed in later years for his thinking on ethics, natural philosophy, rational psychology, metaphysics, and theology. Moreover, at the University of Naples he became acquainted with and inspired by the friars of Dominic Guzman's (1170–1221) newly founded Order of Preachers, usually referred to as the Dominicans.