Why did Thomas Aquinas write “Summa Theologica”?

Saint Thomas Aquinas was a priest and doctor of theology who belonged to the Order of Preachers, known as Dominicans. As a youth he studied in Paris under the great theologian Albertus Magnus and, because of his size and shyness, was mislabeled by his peers as the “Dumb Ox.”

Albertus Magnus saw much more depth in Aquinas. He told the class that Thomas would be a greater scholar than he, and indeed,. Thomas held two professorships in Paris. His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church was his writings. He wrote “Catena Aurea” to help the clergy to better understand the Word of God, the “Summa Contra Gentiles” doctrinal material for missionaries to the Muslims, and a Solemn Mass for Corpus Christi. Yet his greatest work would be the “Summa Theologica,” which he unfortunately did not finish.

At that time, there was a resurgence of interest in Greek philosophy. The great pagan philosopher Aristotle’s writings were once again studied. During this period Aquinas wrote a theological treatise on various works of Aristotle which would become part of his famous “Summa.” He used Aristotle’s philosophy of metaphysics to explain Catholic doctrine.

Scholasticism is the philosophy that became associated with this period, and Saint Thomas was its champion. Thomism was so popular and universal that it is even used to this date.

The “Summa” became a collection of Catholic thought and explanation of doctrine. Based on the “Sentences of Peter Lombard,” the Summa explained the core of Catholic teachings, from the seven sacraments to the doctrines on Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, the Church, etc. It was the first “catechism” of sorts. Using both philosophy and theology, Aquinas used reason to help explain the faith. The many volumes would also become a staple in Catholic seminaries, in order to teach and explain theology.

Three centuries later, during the Counter Reformation period, the “Summa Theologica” would become an invaluable tool for clergy to learn and therefore explain doctrine in aid of converting people back to the Catholic faith. Hence, this is one of the greatest classics in the development of Catholic thought and one that is even used today.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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