Thomas Aquinas

Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church
(Redirected from St. Thomas Aquinas)

Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 12257 March 1274) was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. An immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism, he is also known within the latter as the Doctor Angelicus, the Doctor Communis, and the Doctor Universalis. The name Aquinas identifies his ancestral origins in the county of Aquino in present-day Lazio, Italy. Among other things, he was a prominent proponent of natural theology and the father of a school of thought (encompassing both theology and philosophy) known as Thomism. He argued that God is the source of both the light of natural reason and the light of faith. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy is derived from his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory.

Scripsisti bene de me, Toma. Quam mercedem accipies? Numquam, nisi Te, Domine.
All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.
See also: Summa Theologica, Five Ways (Aquinas)


Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
As the saints will rejoice in all goods, so will the damned grieve for all goods.
When what is ordered by an authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted, ... not only is there no obligation to obey the authority, but one is obliged to disobey it, as did the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the impious commands of tyrants.
The order of authority derives from God, as the Apostle says [in Romans 13:1-7]. For this reason, the duty of obedience is, for the Christian, a consequence of this derivation of authority from God, and ceases when that ceases. But, as we have already said, authority may fail to derive from God for two reasons: either because of the way in which authority has been obtained, or in consequence of the use which is made of it.
  • Pange, lingua, gloriosi
    Corporis mysterium
    Sanguinisque pretiosi,
    Quem in mundi pretium
    Fructus ventris generosi
    Rex effudit gentium.
    • Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
      Of His Flesh the mystery sing;
      Of the Blood, all price exceeding,
      Shed by our immortal King.
    • Pange, Lingua (hymn for Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi), stanza 1
  • Down in adoration falling,
    Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
    Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
    Newer rites of grace prevail;
    Faith for all defects supplying,
    Where the feeble senses fail.
    • Pange, Lingua, stanza 5 (Tantum Ergo)
  • Thus Angels' Bread is made
    The Bread of man today:
    The Living Bread from Heaven
    With figures doth away
    O wondrous gift indeed!
    The poor and lowly may
    Upon their Lord and Master feed.
    • Sacris Solemniis Juncta Sint Gaudia (Matins hymn for Corpus Christi), stanza 6 (Panis Angelicus)
  • O saving Victim, opening wide
    The gate of heaven to man below,
    Our foes press on from every side,
    Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.
    • Verbum Supernum Prodiens (hymn for Lauds on Corpus Christi), stanza 5 (O Salutaris Hostia)
  • Anything done against faith or conscience is sinful.
    • Commentary on Romans, cap 14, I 3
  • Reason in man is rather like God in the world.
    • Opuscule II, De Regno (On Kingship, c. 1267)
  • The reason, however, why the philosopher may be likened to the poet is this: both are concerned with the marvellous.
    • Commentary on the Metaphysics (c. 1270–1272), 1, 3; quoted in Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (New York, 1952), p. 88
  • If … the motion of the earth were circular, it would be violent and contrary to nature, and could not be eternal, since … nothing violent is eternal.… It follows, therefore, that the earth is not moved with a circular motion.
    • Commentaria in libros Aristotelis de caelo et mundo (Commentary on Aristotle's On the Heavens, c. 1272–1273)
  • A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.

  • Raynalde, non possum, quia omnia quae scripsi videntur mihi palae. Replying to Reginald of Piperno: Videntur mihi palae respectu eorum quae vidi et revelata sunt mihi.
    • Processus, n. 79, 376
    • All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.
      • Reply to Reginald of Piperno after being asked to resume writing "Summa Theologiae" (then left unfinished), after a mystical experience while saying mass on or about 6 December 1273, as quoted in "The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: Biographical Documents" (1959) by Kenelm Foster, O.P.
      • Variant translations:
      • All that I have written seems like straw to me.
        • As quoted in The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (1993), by Brian Davies, p. 9
      • Everything I have written seems like straw by comparison with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.
        • As quoted in Sacred Games : A History of Christian Worship (1997) by Bernhard Lang, p. 323
      • All that I have written seems to me so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.
        • As quoted in A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life from the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church (2007) by John P. McClernon
      • All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.
        • As quoted in Higher Reality Therapy: Nine Pathways to Inner Peace (2010) by Anthony Falikowski, p. 38
  • Jesus Christ: Bene scripsísti de me, Thoma; quam ergo mercédem accípies? Aquinas: Non áliam, Dómine, nisi teípsum.
    • Jesus Christ: "You wrote correctly about me, Thomas. What prize do you want to have?" Aquinas: "Nothing, my Lord, except for Yourself."

Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (c. 1254–1256)

  • The order of authority derives from God, as the Apostle says [in Romans 13:1-7]. For this reason, the duty of obedience is, for the Christian, a consequence of this derivation of authority from God, and ceases when that ceases. But, as we have already said, authority may fail to derive from God for two reasons: either because of the way in which authority has been obtained, or in consequence of the use which is made of it. There are two ways in which the first may occur. Either because of a defect in the person, if he is unworthy; or because of some defect in the way itself by which power was acquired, if, for example, through violence, or simony or some other illegal method.
    • in Aquinas: Selected Political Writings (Basil Blackwell: 1974), p. 183
  • With regard to the abuse of authority, this also may come about in two ways. First, when what is ordered by an authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted (if, for example, some sinful action is commanded or one which is contrary to virtue, when it is precisely for the protection and fostering of virtue that authority is instituted). In such a case, not only is there no obligation to obey the authority, but one is obliged to disobey it, as did the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the impious commands of tyrants. Secondly, when those who bear such authority command things which exceed the competence of such authority; as, for example, when a master demands payment from a servant which the latter is not bound to make, and other similar cases. In this instance the subject is free to obey or disobey.
    • in Aquinas: Selected Political Writings (Basil Blackwell: 1974), p. 183
  • One who liberates his country by killing a tyrant is to be praised and rewarded.
    • Trans. J.G. Dawson (Oxford, 1959), 44, 2 in O’Donovan, pp. 329-30

De veritate (c. 1256–1259)


Quaestiones disputatae de veritate (Disputed Questions on Truth)

  • The greatness of the human being consists in this: that it is capable of the universe.
    • q. 1, art. 2, ad 4
  • Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.
  • We can open our hearts to God, but only with Divine help.
    • q. 24, art. 15, ad 2

Summa contra Gentiles (1259–1265)

  • Truth is the ultimate end of the whole universe.
    • I, 1, 2
  • Muhammad seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity. He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning, Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms. Nor do divine pronouncements on the part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law. It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly.
    • I, 6, 4 (trans. Anton C. Pegis)
  • For creation is not a change, but that dependence of the created existence on the principle from which it is instituted, and thus is of the genus of relation; whence nothing prohibits it being in the created as in the subject. Creation is thus said to be a kind of change, according to the way of understanding, insofar as our intellect accepts one and the same thing as not existing before and afterwards existing.
    • II, 18, 2 (see also Summa Theologica I, q. 45, art. 3 ad 2)
  • The perfection of the effect demonstrates the perfection of the cause, for a greater power brings about a more perfect effect. But God is the most perfect agent. Therefore, things created by Him obtain perfection from Him. So, to detract from the perfection of creatures is to detract from the perfection of divine power.
    • III, 69, 15
  • Natural inclinations are present in things from God, who moves all things. So it is impossible for the natural inclinations of a species to be toward evil in itself. But there is in all perfect animals a natural inclination toward carnal union. Therefore it is impossible for carnal union to be evil in itself.
    • III, 126, 3
  • The highest perfection of human life consists in the mind of man being detached from care, for the sake of God.
    • III, 130, 3

On the Governance of the Jews (c. 1263–1265)


De regimine Judaeorum (On the Governance of the Jews), aka Epistola ad ducissam Brabantiae (Letter to the Duchess of Brabant). In this letter Aquinas answers eight questions asked by the Duchess, five of which were about the Jews.

  • Since the Jews may not licitly keep those things which they have extorted from others through usury, the consequence is also that if you [rulers] receive these things from them, neither may you licitly keep them.[…] You should restore them to those to whom the Jews themselves are morally bound to make restitution.
    • art. 1
  • It would be better if they [rulers] compelled the Jews to work for their living, as they do in parts of Italy, than that, living without occupation, they can grow rich only by usury (solis usuris ditentur).
    • art. 2
  • Now what has been said about the Jews is also to be understood about Cahorsins, and anyone else depending upon the depravity of usury.
    • art. 4

De potentia (c. 1265–1266)


Quaestiones disputatae de potentia (Disputed Questions on Power)

  • It is on account neither of God's weakness nor ignorance that evil comes into the world, but rather it is due to the order of his wisdom and the greatness of his goodness that diverse grades of goodness occur in things, many of which would be lacking if no evil were permitted. Indeed, the good of patience would not exist without the evil of persecution; nor the good of preservation of life in a lion if not for the evil of the destruction of the animals on which it lives.
    • q. 3, art. 6, ad 4
  • Man reaches the highest point of his knowledge about God when he knows that he knows him not, inasmuch as he knows that that which is God transcends whatsoever he conceives of him.
    • q. 7, art. 5, ad 14
  • There is no order between created being and non-being, but there is between created and uncreated being.
    • q. 7, art. 9, ad 8
  • Vita enim in hoc maxime manifestatur quod aliquid movet se ipsum; quod autem non potest moveri nisi ab alio, quasi mortuum esse videtur.
    • The highest manifestation of life consists in this: that a being governs its own actions. A being that is always subject to the direction of another is somewhat of a dead thing.
    • Variant translation: Now slavery has a certain likeness to death, hence it is also called civil death. For life is most evident in a thing's moving itself, while what can only be moved by another, seems to be as if dead. But it is manifest that a slave is not moved by himself, but only at his master's command.

On the Ten Commandments (c. 1273)


Sermons on the Ten Commandments (Collationes in decem praeceptes)

  • Tria sunt homini necessaria ad salutem: scilicit scientia credendorum, scientia desiderandorum, et scientia operandorum.
    • Three things are necessary for man to be saved: knowledge of what is to be believed, knowledge of what is to be desired, and knowledge of what is to be done.
    • Prologue (opening sentence)
    • Variant translation: Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.
  • Lex naturae […] nihil aliud est nisi lumen intellectis insitum nobis a Deo, per quod cognoscimus quid agendum et quid vitandum. Hoc lumen et hanc legem dedit Deus homini in creatione.
    • The law of nature […] is nothing other than the light of the intellect planted in us by God, by which we know what should be done and what should be avoided. God gave us this light or law in creation.
    • Art. 1
  • Nullum malum bona intentione factum excusatur.
    • No evil can be excused because it is done with a good intention.
    • Art. 1
    • Variant translation: An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.

On the Apostles' Creed (c. 1273)

  • If man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly.
    • Prologue (trans. Joseph B. Collins)
  • Suppose a person entering a house were to feel heat on the porch, and going further, were to feel the heat increasing, the more they penetrated within. Doubtless, such a person would believe there was a fire in the house, even though they did not see the fire that must be causing all this heat. A similar thing will happen to anyone who considers this world in detail: one will observe that all things are arranged according to their degrees of beauty and excellence, and that the nearer they are to God, the more beautiful and better they are.
    • Art. 1
  • Now, as the Word of God is the Son of God, so the love of God is the Holy Spirit.
    • Art. 8




  • Prostitution in towns is like the sewer in a palace; take away the sewers and the palace becomes an impure and stinking place.
    • This quote, frequently attributed to Aquinas, is actually a paraphrase of a passage (itself an elaborate paraphrase of Augustine) by Ptolemy of Lucca in his continuation of an unfinished work by Aquinas. The passage from Ptolemy reads: "Thus, Augustine says that a whore acts in the world as the bilge in a ship or the sewer in a palace: 'Remove the sewer, and you will fill the palace with a stench.' Similarly, concerning the bilge, he says: 'Take away whores from the world, and you will fill it with sodomy.'" (Ptolemy of Lucca and Thomas Aquinas, On the Government of Rulers, trans. James M. Blythe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997, 4. 14. 6). What Augustine actually wrote (in De ordine, 2. 4. 12) was simply: "Remove prostitutes from human affairs and you will unsettle everything on account of lusts." Only Book 1 and the first four chapters of Book 2 of On the Government of Rulers (De Regimine Principum) are by Aquinas. The rest of the work was written by Ptolemy. (It even mentions the coronation of Albert I of Hapsburg, an event that occurred in 1298, twenty-four years after Aquinas's death.) The quote comes from Book 4, which was definitely not written by Aquinas.

Quotes about Aquinas

  • This dumb ox will fill the world with his bellowing.
    • Albertus Magnus, in response to other of his students calling Thomas a "dumb ox" because of his quietude, as quoted in The Great Ages of Western Philosophy : The Age of Belief : The Medieval Philosophers (1962) by Anne Jackson Fremantle
  • O excellent Thomas would that you had not been born in the West such that you would have need to advocate the differences of that [Roman] Church! You were influenced by it with regard to both the procession of the Holy Spirit as well as by the difference with respect to the divine essence and energy. For surely, then, you would have been infallible in your theological doctrines, just as you are so too inerrant in these matters of ethics!
  • We have, among innumerable other works, the Summa theologica, surely one of the most amazing and stupendous products of the human mind. ...never before or since has the wide world been so neatly boxed and compassed, so completely and confidently understood, every detail of it fitted, with such subtle and loving precision, into a consistent and convincing whole.
    • Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-century Philosophers (1932)
  • The difficulty of dealing with St. Thomas Aquinas in this brief article is the difficulty of selecting that aspect of a many-sided mind which will best suggest its size or scale. Because of the massive body which carried his massive brain, he was called "The Ox"; but any attempt to boil down such a brain into tabloid literature passes all possible jokes about an ox in a teacup. He was one of the two or three giants; one of the two or three greatest men who ever lived; and I should never be surprised if he turned out, quite apart from sanctity, to be the greatest of all. Another way of putting the problem is to say that proportion alters according to what other men we are at the moment classing him with or pitting him against. We do not get the scale until we come to the few men in history who can be his rivals.
  • St. Thomas confronts other creeds of good and evil, without at all denying evil, with a theory of two levels of good. The supernatural order is the supreme good, as for any Eastern mystic; but the natural order is good; as solidly good as it is for any man in the street.
  • As a highly Pagan poet said to me: "The Reformation happened because people hadn't the brains to understand Aquinas." The Church is more immortally important than the State; but the State has its rights, for all that. This Christian duality had always been implicit, as in Christ's distinction between God and Caesar, or the dogmatic distinction between the natures of Christ.
    But St. Thomas has the glory of having seized this double thread as the clue to a thousand things; and thereby created the only creed in which the saints can be sane. It presents itself chiefly, perhaps, to the modern world as the only creed in which the poets can be sane. For there is nobody now to settle the Manichees; and all culture is infected with a faint unclean sense that Nature and all things behind us and below us are bad; that there is only praise to the highbrow in the height. St. Thomas exalted God without lowering Man; he exalted Man without lowering Nature. Therefore, he made a cosmos of common sense; terra viventium; a land of the living.
    His philosophy, like his theology, is that of common sense.
    He does not torture the brain with desperate attempts to explain existence by explaining it away. The first steps of his mind are the first steps of any honest mind; just as the first virtues of his creed could be those of any honest peasant.
  • The philosopher can reflect on the ordinary man's awareness of attaining truth, but he has not at his disposal some extraordinary and special means of proving that we can know truth or that 'knowledge' is knowledge. If a philosopher were to comment that in this case we can never prove that we can attain proof and that if we cannot prove it we can never know it, Aquinas might reply that the sort of proof which the philosopher is looking for is inherently useless and indeed impossible, but that it does not follow that we cannot both attain truth and also know that we can attain it. We do not need any further guarantee of our ability to attain truth than our awareness or recognition of the fact that we do in fact attain it.
    • Frederick Copleston, Aquinas: An Introduction to the Life and Work of the Great Medieval Thinker (1955)
  • Thomas Aquinas, who has likewise been brought under the imputation of magic, was one of the profoundest scholars and subtlest logicians of his day. He also furnishes a remarkable instance of the ascent which the friars at that time obtained over the minds of ingenious young men smitten with the thirst of knowledge.
  • It was to be expected that a man who thus immersed himself in the depths of thought should be an inexorable enemy to noise and interruption. We have seen that he dashed to pieces the artificial man of brass that Albertus Magnus, who was his tutor, had spent thirty years in bringing to perfection, being impelled to this violence by its perpetual and unceasing garrulity. It is further said, that his study being place in a great thoroughfare, where the grooms were all day long excersing their horses, he found it necessary to apply a remedy to this nuisance. He made, by the laws of magic, a small horse of brass,which he buried two or three feet under ground in the midst of the highway, and, having done so, no horse would any longer pass along the road.
  • Aristotle had not been popular in the ancient world, but his ideas were picked up by the materialistically-minded Arabs as they were developing their culture, and from there his works were introduced into Western Europe. They became the rage, stimulating a whole intellectual revival. It soon became necessary for the church to deal with this point of view, and through the genius of Thomas Aquinas all of the church ideas were rewritten within the framework of Aristotle's ideas with their mythological character reduced to a bare minimum.
    • Morton Kelsey, Myth, History & Faith: The Mysteries of Christian Myth & Imagination (1974)
  • [According to St. Thomas] the soul is not transmitted with the semen, but is created afresh with each man. There is, it is true, a difficulty: when a man is born out of wedlock, this seems to make God an accomplice in adultery. This objection, however, is only specious. (There is a grave objection, which troubled Saint Augustine, and that is as to the transmission of original sin. It is the soul that sins, and if the soul is not transmitted, but created afresh, how can it inherit the sin of Adam? This is not discussed.)
    • Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Chapter XIII: Saint Thomas Aquinas
  • There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. I cannot, therefore, feel that he deserves to be put on a level with the best philosophers either of Greece or of modern times.
    • Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Chapter XIII: Saint Thomas Aquinas
  • In speaking of Thomas Aquinas, who, it is true, had not attained at the time when Roger Bacon wrote to the commanding position of authority which was afterwards accorded to him in the schools, he couples him with Albertus Magnus, and says that they both became teachers before they had been adequately taught, and lectured on a philosophy and a theology which they had imperfectly learned.
  • The medieval theologians would not be surprised at a prerequisite of a degree in physics for a degree in theology. In their time, the highest degree in philosophy—which included the most advanced knowledge of physics of the day—was a prerequisite before a student was permitted to begin study for a degree in theology ...Kenny has shown the Aquinas' Five Ways—his five proofs of God's existence—are absolutely dependent on Aristotelian physics... Aquinas... was one of the leading scholars of Aristotelian physics... and... was primarily responsible for... [its] general acceptance throughout Europe. We could call Aquinas a great physicist as well as a great theologian, for, although Aristotelian physics was wrong, it was an essential precursor of modern physics.
    • Frank J. Tippler, The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead (1994) p. 329. Ref: Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proof of God's Existence (1969) p. 329.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas the Summa, which remains the greatest work of medieval thought, accepts the idea that certain animals, spring from the decaying bodies of plants and animals, and declares that they are produced by the creative word of God either actually or virtually. He develops this view by saying, "Nothing was made by God, after the six days of creation, absolutely new, but it was in some sense included in the work of the six days"; and that "even new species, if any appear, have existed before in certain native properties, just as animals are produced from putrefaction."
  • The life and teaching of St Thomas Aquinas could be summed up in an episode passed down by his ancient biographers. While, as was his wont, the Saint was praying before the Crucifix in the early morning in the chapel of St Nicholas in Naples, Domenico da Caserta, the church sacristan, overheard a conversation. Thomas was anxiously asking whether what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was correct. And the Crucified One answered him: "You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What is your reward to be?". And the answer Thomas gave him was what we too, friends and disciples of Jesus, always want to tell him: "Nothing but Yourself, Lord!"
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