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St. Thomas Aquinas

(1225 - 1274)


St. Thoms Aquinas

Arguably the most important figure in mediaeval philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas was also one of the most significant individuals in the development of all of western thought. His great achievement was to show that reason and logic were not incompatible with Christian belief and that the two did not have to be at loggerheads. He played a large part in making the works of Aristotle acceptable to the Christian establishment. He wrote at great length on Christian doctrine and also on the works of Aristotle and the Arab doctors.

Fully accepted by the Catholic church in present times, much of his work was condemned in what were known as the Paris Condemnations of 1277 along with the work of other prominent thinkers including Roger Bacon. The condemnations were, however, revoked two years later.

Although the date of his death is known (1274) there is some confusion about his exact date of birth and therefore his age. Depending which author you read his date of birth is variously set between 1225 and 1227. His father was Landulph, Count of Aquino; his mother was Theodora, Countess of Teano. His family was related to the Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, and to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France.

Before his birth, a holy hermit told Theodora that "he will enter the Order of Friars Preachers, and so great will be his learning and sanctity that in his day no one will be found to equal him".

At the age of five, according to the custom of the times, he was sent to receive his first training from the Benedictine monks of Monte Cassino, the same Monte Cassino which in much later times attained notoriety as the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the second world war. He was an exemplarary pupil and his preceptor was surprised to hear him often ask: “what is god?”

A contemporary of Roger Bacon and the star pupil of Albertus Magnus, Aquinas studied alchemy extensively and is held by some to be the author behind the alchemical reading of the Song of Songs, Aurora Consurgens. After four years of working on what was to be his masterpiece Summa Theologica, lecturing, and writing the commentaries on Aristotle, he underwent a mystical experience during mass on December 6, 1273. He is quoted as saying that "All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared with what has been revealed to me". He stopped work on the Summa and never wrote anything again.

Visiting a church council in Lyons in 1274, he was taken ill on the way. Tradition has it that he collided with an overhanging branch of a tree and was knocked from his donkey. Despite being unwell, the monks cajoled him into delivering a lecture on the Song of Songs. This he did but he died before he managed to complete the lecture. If this is true it would explain why the Aurora breaks off before reaching the end of the Song of Songs.

The Aurora contains an account of a mystical experience which may well be Aquinas' own revelation in 1273. It is also possible that it is a trnscription of his final lecture written down by members of his audience.


Acknowledgements and further reading:

Sean MartinAlchemy, the Philosopher's StoneWildwood House
Gilchrist, CherryAlchemy, The Great WorkThorsons
Innes, BrianThe Search For The Philosopher's Stone Orbis
Klossowski de Rola, StanislasAlchemy, The Secret ArtThames and Hudson
Redgrove, StanleyAlchemy Ancient and ModernAres

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© Ken James 2008