Profession: Friar, Theologian, Philosopher
St. Thomas was prolific to say the least. His most important work is the very famous Summa Theologica which attempts to sum up all of Christian theology concisely. I mean, it’s only five thick volumes. That’s not too bad, right?
The reason I enjoy Thomas is that he is a very systematic and honest thinker. He makes no bones about impressing people. He simply writes and argues through every bit of truth. He forces himself to honestly answer the toughest challenges to his own arguments. I wouldn’t say that most of his work is terribly enjoyable to read, but it certainly is profound. He goes over all sorts of questions and topics, but he approaches everything from within his whole system of thought. He doesn’t leave anything hanging.
I have read a decent amount of Thomas, but no one can read enough and few, if any, have ever read everything. His theology has become the gold standard of Catholic theology for the ages. While there are parts of his system that many contemporary thinkers have taken issue with, Pope Leo XIII encouraged Catholics to look to Thomas’ philosophy and theology in Aeterni Patris (1879).
There are some fun stories about Thomas Aquinas. I will relate a couple to you.
1.) One time a brother friar of his came into the place where Thomas was praying and found him levitating and looking intently at a crucifix. The corpus on the cross came to life and asked Thomas if there was anything he wanted in all the world in return for his theological work. And the saint replied simply, “Just more of you.” (I have not source-checked this story. So if anyone has any sources for it, please comment below.)
2.) It is said that St. Thomas was so fat that a half-circle had to be cut out of the table where he normally ate. (Also, not checked)
3.) Thomas was of a noble family and his family members were none too happy when he announced he wanted to be a Dominican friar, so they locked him in a tower and sent in a prostitute to steal away his purity. (This is the stuff of legend.) Supposedly, Thomas chased her out of his room with a hot poker from the fireplace and was later lowered from the tower in a basket.
A few little factoids about St. Thomas: He studied in Sicily where he met people from across the Mediterranean, including Muslims. He was good friends with St. Bonaventure and received his doctorate at the same ceremony as Bonaventure. He died in transit to the Fifth Lateran Council in 1274–the same year Bonaventure died. He was tall and large and quiet so he got the nickname “Dumb Ox.” He taught at the University of Paris. He wrote the “Panis Angelicus,” sung as a sequence for the feast of Corpus Christi.
Books about St. Thomas Aquinas that I have read:
St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton
-This book is a short introduction to Thomas’ life and thought. I found it fun to get into the spirit of his thought, but it does not give a lot of the biographical details you expect from a biography. It’s not really a biography, but a portrait. I also find Chesterton’s prose to be rather laborious sometimes.
Knowing the Love of Christ by Matthew Levering and Michael Dauphinais.
-This short book is a helpful introduction to the Summa Theologica. It presents Thomas’ thought as a unity and tries to outline the content to orient the new reader before he dives in and gets lost in the labyrinth of the Summa.
Websites about St. Thomas Aquinas:
The Wikipedia Article
A Bibliography of Aquinas’ works in English
Complete Works of St. Thomas Aquinas in Latin
Works by Aquinas on CCEL
Aquinas Bible Commentaries
Texts by and about Aquinas at archive.org
Many books have been written about his thought–too many. In fact there are whole schools of thought and journals just about “Thomistic” thought. So be careful. Don’t get lost in the shuffle. Thomas is good to read, but you have to take it slow and use easy introductory material to prevent you from getting lost!