Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part 4

Bloomsbury Studies on Thomas Aquinas is on pre-pub for 18% off!


In his book, On Aquinas, Herbert McCabe tells the story of a propitious meeting between St. Thomas Aquinas and an Irishman named Peter (Petrus Hibernicus), who introduced St. Thomas to “some bewildering and exciting new thinking that was filtering in from Islamic sources” (1).

McCabe goes on to indicate that discovery of Aristotle’s method from these newly-translated sources was an intellectual turning point for Aquinas:

A whole  lot of texts of Aristotle were beginning to make their way through Naples into Europe, texts that nobody there had seen before.

Aristotle, a student and critical disciple of Plato, and a teacher of Alexander of Macedon, was a marine biologist who not only observed and classified his specimens but used the same methods in all sorts of other areas like physics, astronomy, the study of society, and of what makes human begins tick. He found time to invent logic in the modern sense, and moreover was intensely interested in what we would nowadays call philosophy of science—questions about what it means to pursue such studies, and questions about language itself and so on. Medieval Europe was being quite suddently hit by systematic scientific investigation and thinking. Many of Aristotles’s answers turned out to be wrong, but that didn’t matter. It was the method that mattered. This is what the young Aquinas fell in love with. One outstanding feature of it all was that it seemed completely subversive of Christianity, especially as it came through Christendom’s main enemy, Islam. This didn’t worry the Emperor too much but it must have presented an exciting challenge to Thomas. Anyway he spent much of his life painstakingly showing that if you found Aristotle right, broadly speaking, that didn’t mean you had to stop being a Christian; and indeed it sometimes helped you to express the Gospel (2).

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The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas by Benozzo Lozzoli, 1468-1484
Written by
Kathryn Hogan
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Written by Kathryn Hogan