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Thomas Aquinas, Saint

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The Dominican theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (c.1225?1274) exerted a profound influence on the development of medieval theology. His copious and comprehensive works (treatises, commentaries, hymns) earned him great fame as a “universal teacher” and became established foundations in the medieval university curriculum (although not without inspiring controversy as well). Educated at Monte Cassino and Naples, he joined the Dominican Order in 1244, studied with Albertus Magnus in Paris, was ordained a priest in Cologne, appointed Master of Theology at the University of Paris in 1256, taught in several Italian cities as well as in Paris, and established a Dominican school in Naples in 1272.


His studies of *Aristotle shaped much of his own systematic thinking; foremost among his many important works are his Summa theologica (begun c.1266 and unfinished at his *death; a five-volume exposition of Christian doctrine) and the Summa contra gentiles (1259–1264, a reasoned defense of the Christian faith). He wrote commentaries on *Peter Lombard, Aristotle, *Boethius, Dionysius the Aeropagite, and several books of scripture (including *Isaiah, *Jeremiah, *Job, the Psalms, and the Gospels), and composed hymns for the feast of *Corpus Christi.


Saint Thomas is represented in art as a large man in black and white Dominican robes, holding a book, or with a star on his breast (the shining star seen by his mother before his birth). He may also be shown with a dove, symbolizing the *Holy Spirit, the source of his *wisdom. Scenes from his life are found especially in fourteenth-century Italian panel painting, including illustrations of Thomas at *prayer and the episode of his unsuccessful temptation by a woman brought to him by his brothers who thought him too devoted to his studies. He is otherwise and most frequently represented as a teacher, sometimes also enthroned, with philosophers at his feet.

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