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Petri Fiaccadori / 1863–2013
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Thomas Aquinas is most well-known as a scholastic theologian and philosopher, and his work is often considered primarily as the archetype of systematic theology: rational, system-building scholasticism. But in fact, he also wrote over twenty Scripture commentaries and other Biblical works, including five sustained treatments of Old Testament books. Among these, his commentary on Isaiah and his Commentary on the Prophet Jeremiah have never been translated.
Only recently have scholars began studying Aquinas’ commentaries in detail. Increasingly they are realizing that not only are Thomas’s scriptural works essential for understanding his theological and philosophical works, but that the image of Thomas as a rationalist system-builder must be adapted to accommodate Thomas the thoroughly scriptural theologian. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Thomism that was dominant in Catholic theology in the modern period was not the theology of Thomas himself, which retained a medieval, even monastic, foundation in Scripture.
What has become increasingly accepted is that in the Middle Ages theology was ultimately based on discursive Scriptural exegesis and was directed toward a better understanding of the meaning of Scripture—this included the theology of Thomas Aquinas, and so his exegesis and his theology cannot be divorced. In medieval exegesis there were understood to be two primary meanings of Scripture, the literal and the spiritual (the spiritual was subdivided into the moral, allegorical, and anagogical). Thomas’s exegetical works tend to focus on the literal sense rather than the mystical sense of Scripture. Thomas’s focus on the literal is a compliment to his Aristotelianism.
Thomas, of course, did not repudiate Augustinianism in his theology and likewise he did not repudiate the mystical exegesis of the monastic tradition in his exegesis, rather he built on both of them. Thomas, then, has been seen by some scholars as a bridge figure—someone capable of reconnecting the critical exegesis of the late modern period to the mystical exegesis of the early Christian centuries.
Thomas’s Scriptural works have taken on renewed importance in post-modern thought. Their study, though, remains in its infancy. The translation of his Commentary on the Prophet Jeremiah into English will be a profound contribution to this on-going project.
Looking for more never-before translated works of Aquinas? Aquinas' Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah: English and Latin (2 vols.) and Aquinas' Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard: English and Latin (8 vols.) are available!
St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 in what is now Italy. He entered the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino at the age of five to begin his studies. He was transferred to the University of Naples at the age of sixteen, where he became acquainted with the revival of Aristotle and the Order of the Dominicans. Aquinas went on to study in Cologne in 1244 and Paris in 1245. He then returned to Cologne in 1248, where he became a lecturer.
Aquinas’s career as a theologian took him all over Europe. In addition to regularly lecturing and teaching in cities throughout Europe, Aquinas participated regularly in public life and advised both kings and popes.
Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274 while traveling to the Second Council of Lyons. Fifty years after his death, Pope John XXII proclaimed Aquinas a saint. The First Vatican Council declared Aquinas the “teacher of the church.” In 1879, Pope Leo XII declared the Summa Theologica the best articulation of Catholic doctrine, and Aquinas was made the patron saint of education.
Thomas Aquinas has also profoundly influenced the history of Protestantism. He wrote prolifically on the relationship between faith and reason, as well as the theological and philosophical issues which defined the Reformation.