Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225–1274)
One of the most profound scholars and subtlest logicians of
his day. Aquinas was born around 1225 in Roccasecca, Italy. He
was educated under the Benedictine Monks of Monte Cassino
and in the University of Naples, and entered the Society of
Preaching Friars, or Dominicans, at 17 years of age. His mother,
indignant that he should take the vow of poverty and thus
remove himself from the world for life, employed every means
in her power to induce him to change his mind. In order to remove
Aquinas from her influence, the friars relocated him
from Naples to Terracina, from Terracina to Anagnia, and
from Anagnia to Rome.
His mother followed him in all these changes of residence
but was not permitted to see him. At length she induced his two
elder brothers to seize him by force. They kidnapped him while
he was traveling to Paris, where he had been sent to complete
his course of instruction, and they carried him off to the castle
of Aquino, where he had been born. Here Aquinas was confined
for two years, but he found a way to correspond with the
superiors of his order, and he finally escaped from a window
in the castle.
Aquinas exceeded most men in the severity and strictness of
his metaphysical disquisitions and thus acquired the name of
‘‘Seraphic Doctor.’’ He was canonized by Pope John XXII in
Because of his association with Albertus Magnus, he shared
many legends of magical powers. For example, it was said that
because his study was placed in a great thoroughfare where the
grooms exercised their horses, Aquinas found it necessary to
apply a magical remedy to this nuisance. He made by the laws
of magic a small brass horse, which he buried two or three feet
underground in the middle of this highway so that horses
would no longer pass along the road. The grooms were compelled
to choose another place for their daily exercises.
Another legend claimed that Aquinas was offended by the
perpetual chattering of an artificial man made of brass, constructed
by his tutor Albertus Magnus, and he dashed the automaton
to pieces. Aquinas was also supposed to have written
some tracts on alchemy.
However, his credulity regarding demonology and witchcraft
had an unfortunate influence on witchhunters, and he was
later cited as an authority by such writers as Heinrich Kramer
and Jakob Sprenger, authors of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum.
Although Aquinas did not accept the concept of a pact
with the Devil, he endorsed the belief of diabolical association,
and the incubus and succubus. He echoed Albertus Magnus
in claiming that when Satan tempted Christ on the mountaintop,
he carried Christ on his shoulders, and this belief was used
by later witchhunters to endorse the theory of transvection, or
magical transport of witches through the air. Aquinas also believed
in the power of the evil eye used by old women who had
an association with the Devil. His argument that heretics
should be burned was later used to justify the burning of witches.
It should be stressed that Aquinas’s credulity was characteristic
of his time, and his theses concerning the Devil reflected
the conclusions of theological dogmas of his day. Nevertheless,
his discussions were used by later and lesser individuals to justify
the witchcraft delusion.
The major works of Aquinas include the Summa Theologica
and the Summa contra Gentiles. His great intellectual and theological
achievements have somewhat overshadowed the mystical
side of his character, and it should be remembered that he
ended his life as a contemplative mystic.
He died March 7, 1274, in Fossanova, Italy.
St. Thomas Aquinas and His Legacy. Washington, D.C. Catholic
University of America, 1994.
Stockhammer, Thomas. Thomas Aquinas Dictionary. New
York Philosophical Library, 1965.