Thomas Aquinas was born about 1225 in the castle of Rocca Secca, into the noble lineage of the family of Aquino. His father, Landulf, was a knight and his mother, Theodora, a countess.
At age five Thomas was sent to the Benedictines of Monte Cassino as an oblate and remained until thirteen. He was studious, meditative and devoted to prayer, and frequently asked the question, “What is God?”
Around 1236, the Abbot convinced Thomas’ father that such a talented lad should go to Naples to study, and there he shone academically. In Naples Thomas came under the influence of the Dominican Order of Preachers, and at nineteen was received into the Order.
His family was indignant because he had chosen a mendicant order. At Theodora’s orders two of his soldier-brothers imprisoned him in a castle. They even introduced a temptress into Thomas’ chamber whom he drove away with a brand snatched from the fire. Falling to his knees he begged God for the virtue of integrity of mind and body. Falling asleep, he dreamt of two angels who girded him with a white girdle saying, “receive the girdle of perpetual virginity,” and he was never tempted by the flesh again – for which he is called “The Angelic Doctor.” He spent the two years of his captivity praying, studying and writing.
Finally, his mother relented. Returning to the Dominicans they found that he had made so much progress on his own, that he was soon ordained. Sent to study in Cologne under St. Albert the Great, his great size and silence earned him the tag “the Dumb Ox” but hearing his brilliant defence of a difficult thesis, St. Albert responded, “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”
Thomas received his doctorate in Theology in Paris, and went on to teach, preach, and write extensively. Between 1259 and 1268 he was in Italy as Preacher General teaching in the school of selected scholars attached to the Papal court. About 1266 he began writing the most famous of all his works, The Summa Theologica.
In 1269 he was back in Paris, where he was a friend and counsellor of King St. Louis IX. In 1272 he was recalled to Italy. In the following year, on the Feast of St. Nicholas, he received a revelation that caused him to leave his great Summa unfinished saying, “…all that I have written seems like so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”
Becoming ill, Thomas died on 7 March 1274 at fifty years of age. He was canonized in 1323 and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. Pius V in 1567. His feast is celebrated on January 28.