Thomas Aquinas

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All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.

Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 12257 March 1274) was an Italian Catholic philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Universalis. He is the most famous classical proponent of natural theology. He gave birth to the Thomistic school of thought (Thomism), which has long been the primary philosophical and theological approach of the Catholic Church.


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.
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • Anything done against faith or conscience is sinful.
    • Commentary on Romans , cap 14, I 3
  • 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.
    • Summa Contra Gentiles, 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.
    • Summa Contra Gentiles 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.
    • Summa Contra Gentiles, 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.
    • Summa Contra Gentiles , III,126,3
  • The highest perfection of human life consists in the mind of man being detached from care, for the sake of God.
    • Summa Contra Gentiles , III,130,3
  • 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.
    • Two Precepts of Charity (1273)
  • Reason in man is rather like God in the world.
    • Opuscule II, De Regno
  • We can open our hearts to God, but only with Divine help.
    • Quaestiones de veritate disputatae q 24, art. 15, ad 2
  • 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.
    • De Potentia (On Power) q. 3, art. 6, ad 4
  • 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
  • The greatness of the human being consists in this: that it is capable of the universe.
    • De Veritate (On Truth) q. 1, art. 2, ad 4
  • 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.
    • Sermon on the Apostles' Creed , 13-14
  • All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.
    • Remarks on being requested to resume writing, after a mystical experience while saying mass on or around 6 December 1273, as quoted in A Taste of Water : Christianity through Taoist-Buddhist Eyes (1990) by Chwen Jiuan Agnes Lee and Thomas G. Hand
    • 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

Summa Theologica (1265–1274)[edit]

  • It was necessary for our salvation that there be a knowledge revealed by God, besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because the human being is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason. "The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee" (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation.
    • Part I, Question 1, Article 1; tr. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (1920, New York: Benziger Bros.)
  • Whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.
    • I, q. 2, art. 3
  • The fire of hell is called eternal, only because it never ends. Still, there is change in the pains of the lost...Hence in hell true eternity does not exist, but rather time.
    • I, q. 10, art. 3, ad 2
  • I answer that, It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a "helper" to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation. This can be made clear if we observe the mode of generation carried out in various living things. Some living things do not possess in themselves the power of generation, but are generated by some other specific agent, such as some plants and animals by the influence of the heavenly bodies, from some fitting matter and not from seed: others possess the active and passive generative power together; as we see in plants which are generated from seed; for the noblest vital function in plants is generation. Wherefore we observe that in these the active power of generation invariably accompanies the passive power. Among perfect animals the active power of generation belongs to the male sex, and the passive power to the female. And as among animals there is a vital operation nobler than generation, to which their life is principally directed; therefore the male sex is not found in continual union with the female in perfect animals, but only at the time of coition; so that we may consider that by this means the male and female are one, as in plants they are always united; although in some cases one of them preponderates, and in some the other. But man is yet further ordered to a still nobler vital action, and that is intellectual operation. Therefore there was greater reason for the distinction of these two forces in man; so that the female should be produced separately from the male; although they are carnally united for generation. Therefore directly after the formation of woman, it was said: "And they shall be two in one flesh" (Gn. 2:24).
    • I, q. 92, art. 1 (Whether the Woman should have been made in the first production of things?)
  • As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence...On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature's intention as directed to the work of generation. Now the general intention of nature depends on God, Who is the universal Author of nature. Therefore, in producing nature, God formed not only the male but also the female.
    • I, q. 92, art. 1, ad 1
  • The image of God always abides in the soul, whether this image be obsolete and clouded over as to amount to almost nothing; or whether it be obscured or disfigured, as is the case with sinners; or whether it be clear and beautiful as is the case with the just.
    • I, q. 93, art. 8, ad 3
  • Not everyone who is enlightened by an angel knows that he is enlightened by him.
    • I, q. 111, art. 1, ad 3
  • Whether the angel guardian ever forsakes a man?...It would seem that the angel guardian sometimes forsakes the man whom he is appointed to guard... On the contrary, The demons are ever assailing us, according to 1 Peter 5:8: "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour." Much more therefore do the good angels ever guard us... the guardianship of the angels is an effect of Divine providence in regard to man. Now it is evident that neither man, nor anything at all, is entirely withdrawn from the providence of God: for in as far as a thing participates being, so far is it subject to the providence that extends over all being.
    • I, q. 113, art. 6
  • Now the object of the will, i.e., of man's appetite, is the universal good...Hence it is evident that nothing can lull the human will but the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Thus God alone can satisfy the will of a human being.
    • I–II, q. 2, art. 8
  • To scorn the dictate of reason is to scorn the commandment of God.
    • I-II, q. 19, art. 5
  • Beauty adds to goodness a relation to the cognitive faculty: so that "good" means that which simply pleases the appetite; while the "beautiful" is something pleasant to apprehend.
    • I–II, q. 27, art. 1, 3
  • It is written (1 John 4:16): "He that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him." Now charity is the love of God. Therefore, for the same reason, every love makes the beloved to be in the lover, and vice versa...the beloved is said to be in the lover, inasmuch as the beloved abides in the apprehension of the lover, according to Philippians 1:7, "For that I have you in my heart": while the lover is said to be in the beloved, according to apprehension, inasmuch as the lover is not satisfied with a superficial apprehension of the beloved, but strives to gain an intimate knowledge of everything pertaining to the beloved, so as to penetrate into his very soul.
    • I-II, q. 28, art. 2
  • it is to be observed that four proximate effects may be ascribed to love: viz. melting, enjoyment, languor, and fervor. Of these the first is "melting," which is opposed to freezing. For things that are frozen, are closely bound together, so as to be hard to pierce. But it belongs to love that the appetite is fitted to receive the good which is loved, inasmuch as the object loved is in the lover...Consequently the freezing or hardening of the heart is a disposition incompatible with love: while melting denotes a softening of the heart, whereby the heart shows itself to be ready for the entrance of the beloved.
    • I-II, q. 28, art. 5
  • The third principle [way doing good to another may give pleasure] is the motive: for instance when a man is moved by one whom he loves, to do good to someone: for whatever we do or suffer for a friend is pleasant, because love is the principal cause of pleasure.
    • I-II, q. 32, art. 6
  • Yet if heretics be altogether uprooted by death, this is not contrary to Our Lord's command [in Matthew 13:30], which is to be understood as referring to the case when the cockle [weeds] cannot be plucked up without plucking up the wheat, as we explained above (10, 8, ad 1), when treating of unbelievers in general.
    • II–II, q. 11, art. 3, ad. 3
  • We ought to cherish the body. Our body's substance is not from an evil principle, as the Manicheans imagine, but from God. And therefore, we ought to cherish the body by the friendship of love, by which we love God.
    • II–II, q. 25, art. 5
  • To love is to will the good of the other.
    • II-II, q. 26, art. 6
  • Man cannot live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joys goes over to carnal pleasures.
    • II–II, q. 35, art. 4, ad. 2
  • Just as it is better to illuminate than merely to shine, so to pass on what one has contemplated is better than merely to contemplate.
    • II–II, 188
    • Variant: Better to illuminate than merely to shine; to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.
    • Original Latin: Sicut enim maius est illuminare quam lucere solum, ita maius est contemplata aliis tradere quam solum contemplari.
  • To be united to God in unity of person was not fitting to human flesh, according to its natural endowments, since it was above his dignity; nevertheless, it was fitting that God, by reason of his infinite goodness, should unite it to himself for human salvation.
    • III, q. 1, art. 2, ad 2
  • Whatever was in the human nature of Christ was moved at the bidding of the divine will; yet it does not follow that in Christ there was no movement of the will proper to human nature, for the good wills of other saints are moved by God's will... For although the will cannot be inwardly moved by any creature, yet it can be moved inwardly by God.
    • III, q. 18, art. 1, ad 1
  • Baptism is the door of the spiritual life and the gateway to the sacraments.
    • III, q.73, 3
  • Even as in the blessed in heaven there will be most perfect charity, so in the damned there will be the most perfect hate. Wherefore as the saints will rejoice in all goods, so will the damned grieve for all goods. Consequently the sight of the happiness of the saints will give them very great pain; hence it is written (Isaiah 26:11): "Let the envious people see and be confounded, and let fire devour Thy enemies." Therefore they will wish all the good were damned.
    • Supplement, Q98, Article 4
    • Note: This Supplement to the Third Part was compiled after Aquinas's death by Regnald of Piperno, out of material from Aquinas's much earlier "Commentary on the Sentences".

Unplaced by chapter[edit]

  • If forgers and malefactors are put to death by the secular power, there is much more reason for excommunicating and even putting to death one convicted of heresy.
  • Law: an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community.
  • Concerning perfect blessedness which consists in a vision of God.
  • All admit that indulgences have some value; for it would be blasphemy to say that the Church does anything in vain.


Quotes about Aquinas[edit]

  • 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
  • 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.
  • [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, p. 458
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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