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Thomas Aquinas, 1274-1974

J.J.N. McGurk describes the life of the tall, corpulent and silent Aquinas, the greatest of medieval philosophers, who worked and taught in Italy, France and Germany during the thirteenth century.

Detail from Valle Romita Polyptych by Gentile da Fabriano (circa 1400)
Detail from Valle Romita Polyptych by Gentile da Fabriano (circa 1400)

In the seven centuries since the death of Thomas Aquinas, general and scholarly interest in his life, times, and more particularly his thought, have continued unabated. To the Catholic Church he is the ‘Common Doctor’ or Teacher, the angel of the Schools; to his Order, the Dominican friars, Thomas is as much a revered figure as their founder St Dominic; to the world of philosophy and philosophers, he is a giant; but to the general reading public, the name of Aquinas is almost unknown.

Thomas Aquinas was happy in his age in that he came after the great burgeoning of humanism of the twelfth century and before scholasticism became set in its ways in the fourteenth century, so that from the internal evidence of his voluminous writings he could be dated accurately to the third quarter of the thirteenth century. In that period Aquinas achieved what no other thinker of his age accomplished - he left a coherently rational explanation of existence, and his great synthesis of medieval philosophy and theology has compelled the admiration and the mental assent of those who understand him down the ages.

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