In the middle of the thirteenth century, a noble family named Aquinas from Southern Italy had a plan for their son. Thomas had been born in 1225 (in the lifetime of St. Francis of Assisi) and had received his initial education from the Benedictines at the historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, founded by St. Benedict himself. His parents knew he was religiously inclined, so his father planned to pull a few strings and get Thomas appointed Abbot of Monte Cassino, a position with power and prestige befitting the son of the Count of Aquinas. But before taking such a step, the Count sent him to the newly founded University of Naples to get some further education.
While there, Thomas was inspired by the members of a new, unconventional religious order called the Dominicans or Order of Preachers. Over the protests of his parents, Thomas, joined this new group. The young friar grew rapidly in holiness and knowledge of the things of God. It helped, of course, that he had St. Albert the Great as one of his principal teachers.
Ultimately, Thomas Aquinas was appointed professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Paris where he taught alongside a Franciscan professor named Bonaventure. Though not sufficiently appreciated until the Council of Trent three hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas, who died in 1274, ultimately came to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church and as indeed one of the greatest Catholic teachers of all time. He wrote commentaries on various books of the bible as well as the multi-volume apologetics work Summa Contra Gentiles. Yet St. Thomas was first and foremost a man of prayer, a true disciple of Jesus and Jesus’ disciple Dominic. His study flowed from his prayer and his profound holiness made it possible for him to discern the wheat from the chaff in the intellectual currents of his day, and integrate that wheat into the established fare of the Catholic Tradition.
His most notable achievement along these lines was to show how many of the ideas of the pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle, could be utilized with great benefit in Catholic theology, an idea that was quite controversial in his day. St. Thomas’ greatest theological work, the Summa Theologiae is, though unfinished, nevertheless a masterpiece of theology that covers all aspects of Catholic doctrine from the Trinity to Morality.
St. Thomas died in 1274 (the same year as his Franciscan Colleague, St. Bonaventure) while on his way to participate in the Ecumenical Council of Lyons. As early as 1277, his work was attacked by a number of Catholic theological faculties and remained under a cloud until the time of Council of Trent some 300 years later. The sixteenth century Dominican, Pope Pius V, declared St. Thomas a doctor of the church. Pope Leo XIII, in the late 19th century, recognized that the achievement of St. Thomas in the area of truly Christian philosophy and theology had to be emulated in the modern era if the Church was ever to meet the challenge posed by atheism and secularism. (bio by Dr. Italy)