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The Core Curriculum

Thomas Aquinas

1225 CE – 1274 CE

An altarpiece painting of Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli, 1475. (Wikimedia Commons)An altarpiece painting of Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli, 1475. (Wikimedia Commons) The youngest son of the noble d’Aquino family, Thomas was born in 1224 at the castle of Roccasecca in southern Italy and raised nearby at Monte Cassino Abbey in preparation for a traditional monastic career. After warfare in the region affected the Abbey in 1239, Thomas was sent by his parents to continue his studies at Naples. There he encountered both the distinctive intellectual culture of the schools and novel ideas translated from Greek, Jewish, and Arabic texts.   

Thomas ultimately rejected monastic life to join a religious order at the forefront of these scholarly currents, becoming a Dominican friar in 1243/4 over the initial objections of his family. After studying under the Dominican master Albert the Great in Paris and Cologne, Thomas achieved the rank of doctor in theology in 1256. He became a master at the University of Paris (1252-59, 1268-72), and was a teacher or administrator at schools in Orvieto (1260-65), Rome (1265-68), and Naples (1272-74). After falling ill while traveling, Thomas retired to the monastery of Fossanova not far from his birthplace. He died there in March 1274.

Since c. 1317, Thomas Aquinas has been known as “the common doctor (i.e., teacher)” for providing a synthesis of Christian scripture, Patristic theology, and non-Christian philosophy with which nearly all Christian theologians for centuries to come had to contend  Today, he is often considered the most influential philosopher and theologian of medieval Christian Europe.  Around eight million words of his writing survive including commentaries, lectures, polemics, sermons, and doctrinal compendia addressing thousands of particular theological issues.


Written by Jay Gundacker and Noah Rosenblum, Department of History,  Columbia University.

Works Consulted

Norman Kretzman and Eleonore Stump, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas. Cambridge UP, 1993

Jean-Pierre Torrell, St. Thomas Aquinas: The Person and His Work. Ed. Robert Royal. Catholic University of America, 1996

David Abulafia, ed. The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. V (c.1198-1300). Cambridge UP, 1999

Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe. Princeton UP, 1994

Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System AD 1250-1350. Oxford UP, 1991

R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe 950 - 1250. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2007