Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church Feast Day: January 28 Patron Saint: Universities and Students Symbol:Chalice, Monstrance, Dove, or Ox
by Catherine Fournier
Saint Thomas Aquinas is one of the most famous saints of the Catholic Church. He is called a 'Doctor of the Church.' He was a theologian, and philosopher.
A theologian is someone who spends their life thinking about Jesus' life. They figure out things about God and the Catholic faith through prayer and study. Theologians help everyone learn about God.
Saint Thomas' love of God and learning wasn't always respected. His parents sent him to a monastery when he was five years old to study and learn. His teachers were surprised by how quickly he learned and his great faith. But when Thomas announced that he wanted to become a Dominican, his family tried to stop him. His brothers captured him and locked him up in a castle. His mother, sister and brothers kept him there for two years!
Finally, they changed their minds, and at last Thomas was allowed to join the Dominicans. Even there though, he still had some trouble. Thomas was a very big man with a kind and humble manner. Because he didn't talk very much, everyone thought he was stupid. They called him 'the ox.'
But when they heard him preach everyone realized how wise and pious he really was. After he became a priest, Thomas studied in Paris and then taught at universities in many cities of Europe. He wrote more than 40 books and several beautiful hymns. All of his work praises God and has helped many people understand their faith better.
At the end of his life, Saint Thomas stopped writing. He had a vision of Heaven and decided that compared to the great glory of God, his writing was 'like straw.' Three months later, on his way to see the Pope, he died. He is now in Heaven, and after a lifetime of studying and writing about God, he is in the presence of God.
Called the 'Angelic Doctor' because of a vision, Saint Thomas Aquinas was one of the greatest theologians and philosophers of all time.
He was born in Italy in 1225, the son of a count. When he was five years old, his parents send him to study with the Benedictines of Monte Casino. There, and later at the university of Naples, he was taught the 'liberal arts' - the Trivium; grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the Quadrium; music, mathematics, geometry and astronomy. This was a complete education in those times. His teachers were surprised by his intelligence. He especially excelled in learning as well as practicing the virtues.
When he was 19 years old, and old enough to decide how to spend his life, he announced that he wanted to become a Dominican friar. His family, who by some accounts wanted him to become a Benedictine, protested violently. His mother instructed his brothers to capture Thomas and lock him up in a castle.
They kept him there for nearly two years, trying one thing after another to change his mind. They even send a woman of bad reputation into his room, but Thomas chased her out with a piece of burning wood from the fire. After this event, he prayed to God, asking for purity of mind and body. Two angels appeared to him in a dream, to assure him that his prayers had been answered and that God was giving him the gift of perfect chastity. From this, he earned the title 'Angelic Doctor.'
He spent his imprisonment reading and in prayer, so when his family finally relented and Thomas joined his Dominican brothers, his superior exclaimed that 'He had made as much progress as if he had been in a studium generale' ( a school.)
After he made his vows, and was closely questioned by the Pope about his motives for joining the Dominicans, he was sent to study under a renowned professor of the Dominican order. In the school, Thomas' size, humility and reluctance to speak were misinterpreted as dullness. He was given the nickname 'The Ox.' But when his teachers and fellow students heard him speak on a difficult topic, they realized what a mistake they had made.
Soon, Saint Thomas was teaching where before he had studied. He was in great demand as a teacher and speaker, frequently called to confer with the king of France and the Pope. The rest of his life was spent praying, preaching, teaching, writing, and journeying.
Saint Thomas wrote many theological and philosophical books, as well as composing several beautiful hymns. His most famous work, the Summa Theologica, was never finished. During a Mass on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, the saint had a mystical experience, one that convinced him that 'All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.'
He died three months later, on his way to the Council of Lyons, in answer to a summons from Pope Gregory X. He was canonized in 1323 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1567.
Saint Thomas Aquinas was the son of the count of Aquino, who was allied to the kings of Sicily and Arragon. When his son was five, according to the custom of the times, Count Landulph took him to the Abbey of Monte Cassino to be instructed.
He was only ten when the abbot told his father that a boy of such intelligence should not be 'left in obscurity' and he was sent to the University in Naples. There he studied a classic 'liberal arts' curriculum of the day; the Trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the Quadrivium of music, mathematics, geometry and astronomy. He soon surpassed his instructors there and could repeat all that he learned with more depth and lucidity than his masters.
At the age of nineteen, it was time for Thomas to chose the course of the rest of his life. To the surprise of all and the dismay of some, he chose the garb of a poor friar, a Dominican. His mother hurried to Naples to consult with her son, and the Dominicans sent him to Rome, on the way to Paris or Cologne. His mother, determined to turn Thomas away from the Dominicans, instructed his brothers (who were both soldiers) to capture Thomas and confine him in the fortress of San Giovanni at Rocca Secca.
There he remained for nearly two years, praying and studying while his family tried any means they could think of to lead him to abandon his vocation. His brothers even tried to damage his virtue, but Thomas drove the temptress out of his room with a burning branch he snatched from the fire. It was at this time that he received the gift of perfect chastity from God, a gift which was told to him by two angels in a dream, in answer to his prayers for purity of mind and body.
Finally, his mother relented, and Thomas was lowered over the walls in a basket and allowed to rejoin his Dominican brothers. After making his profession at Naples, and meeting with the Pope at the insistence of his family, Thomas was sent to Cologne where he studied under the celebrated Saint Albert the Great. Here he was nicknamed the 'dumb ox' because of his silent ways and large size. His preaching soon showed him to be, in fact, a brilliant student and thinker. By the age of twenty two, he was teaching at the University and writing his first books. After four year, by which time he was a priest, he was sent to Paris, where he continued to teach and received a doctorate.
This became Saint Thomas' life; praying, preaching, teaching, writing, and journeying. He was in great demand, many were anxious to hear him. He was friends with the King of France, Saint Louis, and the Popes, who frequently called on him to combat dangerous and heretical ideas, books and teachings. In the course of his life, he wrote some 40 books as well as some of the finest Latin hymns ever written. He declined appointment to bishoprics so that he could continue to study and write. His greatest work, the Summa Theologica is considered to be essential to any study of the teaching of the Catholic church.
Towards the end of his life, though, Saint Thomas ceased his writing. He experienced mystic ecstasies throughout his life, which became more frequent as he grew older. During the Mass on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, Saint Thomas had a profoundly mystical experience, one that left him dissatisfied with all his writing. 'I can do no more' he is reported to have said. 'Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value.'
Thomas began to prepare for death. But when he was summoned to the Council of Lyons by Pope Gregory X, he set out. He collapsed on the way and was taken to the Cistercian monastery of Fossa Nuova, where he lay in his final illness for a month.
When the end was near and extreme unction administered, Saint Thomas pronounced this act of faith:
If in this world there be any knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this sacrament...I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied and labored. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.
He died on 7 March, 1274, and numerous miracles proved his sanctity. He was canonized in 1323. After some discussion between the monks of the house where he died and those of his Order, his remains were transferred to the Dominican church in Toulouse. The shrine built over the spot was destroyed during the French revolution and his body was then moved to the Church of Saint Semin where it is today. A bone of his left arm is preserved in the cathedral of Naples and a bone of his right arm in Rome.
Prayer: Father of wisdom, You inspired Saint Thomas Aquinas with an ardent desire for holiness and study of sacred doctrine. Help us, we pray, to understand what he taught and to imitate what he lived. Amen.
For a comprehensive history of the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas and other saints.
Return to Saints Page.