Thomas Aquinas

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Thomas Aquinas (posthumous painting by Carlo Crivelli, 1476)

Thomas Aquinas (also Tommaso d'Aquino, * c. 1225 at Roccasecca Castle near Naples in Italy; † 7 March 1274 at Fossanova Abbey) was a Dominican friar and one of the most influential philosophers and theologians in history. He is one of the most important of the 35 Catholic Doctors of the Church and as such is known by various epithets such as Doctor Angelicus[1]. According to his history of influence in the philosophy of the High Middle Ages, he is one of the main representatives of scholasticism. He left behind a very extensive body of work, which formed the basis of Thomism and which continues to have an effect, for example in Neothomism, as the intellectual core of Neo-scholasticism up to the present day. He is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

Significance for spiritual science

Thomas united the scientific approach of antiquity, especially of Aristotle, with Christianity. He had to naturalise the scientific approach, the systematic questioning and answering, categorising and cataloguing, in the religious world of the medieval monasteries and the first universities. The modern spiritual-scientific tradition that came into being as a result of this must today, for Rudolf Steiner and those who follow him, be kept the other way round under the spell of a genuine interest in the deepest facts.

„He who today is a philosopher, a scientist in general, according to the pattern of popular concepts, says: Well, Aristotle is an old man who has been dismissed; Thomistics, the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, belongs to the Middle Ages. - Anthroposophy knows that something special must emerge from the conditions and impulses of the present spirit of the age; it does not want to put into the present epoch what was right for an earlier epoch. But it understands from the conditions of those epochs that which only those epochs could grant. And it does not understand it merely externally, it understands it inwardly and essentially; it understands it so essentially that it says to itself: In Thomistic philosophy, which was essentially a servant, a companion of the Christianity of that time, there is something which could only arise from the spirit of that time. If one wants to become proficient, one must find one's way into that which can only emerge from the spirit of that time, not from the spirit of our time. Anthroposophy, therefore, does not regard it as a mere historical study to engage in Thomism, but it regards what one gets through Thomism as something that one can only get through it. That is very important. For this does not bring about that fuzzy, nebulous tolerance which is so often spoken of today, but it brings about that inner, understanding tolerance which, although it stands entirely on the ground of development, does not regard that which has once developed as something dismissed, but allows it to stand in its place, allows it to stand in its developing reality. Some things in nature, some things in spiritual life, must develop in the same way as plants, which have only a one-year existence: They develop this one-year existence, then develop another one-year existence. Other plants, however, develop from one year into the next, what is there as wood; they are permanent plants. It is the same in spiritual culture. Some things must continue in spiritual culture, must be taken up in later times by those who really want to feel solidarity with the overall development of humanity.“ (Lit.:GA 72, p. 87ff)


Thomas Aquinas, also called "Aquinas" for short, or just "Thomas", was born shortly before or shortly after New Year's Day 1225 in the castle of Roccasecca, 9 km from Aquino, the seventh son of Duke Landulf of the feudal high nobility of Aquino. When Thomas was still a child, lightning struck in his immediate vicinity, killing his baby sister. Rudolf Steiner has pointed out that through this elementary event Thomas was woven in an image of the astral body of the Christ.

„Let us now take the other great representative of Christianity: Thomas Aquinas. If we compare him with Augustine, we see that he was not, like the latter, caught in error, and that from infancy he knew neither doubt nor unbelief, because judgment and conviction have their seat in the astral body, and he had interwoven into his own astral body that of the Christ. An implantation of any principle into a human body can only take place when an external fact changes the natural course of things. For when Thomas was a child, lightning struck near him and killed his little sister. This physical event, only apparently physical, made him fit to receive into his astral body that of the Christ.“ (Lit.:GA 109, p. 73)

„Sometimes external events, for example, natural catastrophes or the like, must help in this interweaving. Thus it is told by Thomas Aquino that lightning strikes the room in which he is, killing the little sister in the cradle next to him, but sparing him. For him, this striking of the lightning next to him means that the power that comes from the elements helps to let him take up the copy of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth.“ (Lit.:GA 109, p. 156)

At the age of five, Thomas was sent to the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, where his father's brother Sinibald served as abbot. Thomas' family thus followed the tradition of giving the youngest son in the family a clerical post. It was in the family's interest that Thomas succeed his uncle. In 1244, however, against the wishes of his relatives, he joined the Dominicans, who had only recently been founded as a mendicant order. The order sent him first to Rome and later, to remove him from the political influence of his parents, to Paris. On the way there, however, he was attacked by his brothers acting on behalf of his mother and taken to the castle of Monte San Giovanni Campano, where he was held prisoner in the castle tower for two years. The family tried to change his mind by all means, but not even a girl they brought him was able to do so: the prisoner took a red-hot log and waved it in front of her until she screamed and fled. As Thomas remained steadfast in his resolve to remain a member of the Dominicans, the family finally gave in. To save face, a assault was faked and Thomas was able to return to his order.

At the University of Paris, he studied with Albertus Magnus from 1245 to 1248, whom he then followed to Cologne. From 1248 to 1252 he was a student and assistant to Albertus there. From 1252 he was back in Paris, where from 1252 to 1256 he gave his first own lectures on the Sentences of Petrus Lombardus as a baccalareus. From 1256 to 1259 he taught in Paris as a Master of Theology. In 1259 he returned to Italy and taught first in Naples (although this is not certain) and then from 1261 to 1265 as a conventual lecturer of the Dominican convent in Orvieto.

From about 1260, Reginald of Piperno was his lifelong principal secretary and companion (socius continuus). Judging by the almost unbelievable quantity of his writings, it is obvious to believe the testimony of his principal secretary: according to this, Aquinas always dictated to three or four secretaries at the same time.

From 1265 to 1268, Thomas was a magister in Rome, where he began writing the Summa Theologiae. In November 1268 he finished at the Santa Sabina studium provinciale, the forerunner of the studium generale at the Convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which became the College of St Thomas (Latin Collegium Divi Thomæ) in the 16th century and then the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 20th century.

In Viterbo, where a total of eight popes resided almost without interruption from 1257 to 1281, the longest conclave in church history to date took place after the death of Pope Clement IV from 30 November 1268 to 1 September 1271. From here, Thomas left for Paris at the end of 1268 together with his disciple Nicholas Brunacci (1240-1322) and Reginald of Piperno, where he taught as Magister for the second time until 1272. It was during this period that he produced many of his writings, including most of the Summa Theologiae and most of his commentaries on Aristotle. He left Paris in the spring of 1272. From mid-1272 to the end of 1273, he taught as a Magister in Naples and built up a Dominican school there.

On Saint Nicholas Day 1273, according to Reginald of Piperno, Thomas had a mystical experience during Holy Mass that made everything he had written so far seem like dry straw; he is said to have written no more as a result[2].

The monastery of Fossanova, where Thomas Aquinas died on 7 March 1274.

Thomas died at the monastery of Fossanova on 7 March 1274 while travelling to the Second Council of Lyon. Dante (Purg. XX. 69) suggests that Charles I of Anjou, King of Sicily since 1266, was responsible for his death[3]. Giovanni Villani (IX 218) shares a rumour ("si dice": "they say") according to which Thomas was murdered by one of the king's physicians with poisoned confectionery. According to this account, the doctor was not acting on behalf of the king, but with the intention of doing him a favour because he feared that a member of the family of the Counts of Aquino, who had rebelled against Charles, would be elevated to the rank of cardinal. In different versions, most of which attribute responsibility to Charles, the rumour of the poison murder was also circulated in the early Latin and vernacular commentaries on Dante that were written in the period after Dante's death. Tolomeo da Lucca, a former student and confessor of Aquinas, in his Historia ecclesiastica (L. A. Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. XI, pp. 1168-69) speaks only of a serious illness on the journey on arrival in Campania, but offers no hint of an unnatural cause of death.

Pope John XXII canonised Thomas in 1323. In 1567 he was elevated to the rank of Doctor of the Church. His bones were transferred to Toulouse on 28 January 1369, where they have rested again since 1974 in the church of the Dominican monastery of Les Jacobins. (From 1792 to 1974 they were buried in the Basilica of Saint-Sernin).



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  1. In addition, e.g. doctor communis, doctor ecclesiae, angelus scholae, pater ecclesiae, lumen ecclesiae, old Augustine, (rarely) doctor universalis; cf. e.g. Friedrich Ueberweg: Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie von Thales bis auf die Gegenwart, vol. 1, Berlin 1863, p. 97.
  2. "omnia quae scripsi videntur michi palee" (Everything I have written seems like straw compared to what I have seen.). Thus the report of Bartholomew of Capua, referring to Reginald of Piperno, the secretary of Thomas, cf. M..-H. Laurent (ed.): Processus canonizationis Neapoli S. Thomae, Fontes vitae sancti Thomae Aquinatis 4, in: Revue Thomiste 38-39 (1933-34), pp. 265-497, 79, p. 377; C. Le Brun-Gouanvic: Edition critique de l'Ystoia sancti Thome de Aquino de Guillaume de Tocco, 2 vols, Montréal 1987, 47, p. 347; James A. Weisheipl: Thomas von Aquin, Sein Leben und seine Theologie, Graz 1980, 293f; Torrell 1995, 302 / Torrell 2005, 274.
  3. Dante, however, was not exactly well-disposed towards Charles I of Anjou, who had come to Florence ostensibly as a peacemaker, but had in fact sparked the civil war that led to Dante's lifelong banishment.