“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” As foolish as this question may sound today, it was seriously considered by Thomas Aquinas, a proponent of scholasticism, who explored the intersection of philosophical aspects of space and the qualities attributed to angels through dialectical reasoning. At a period when the need for rationality as a compliment to faith was of critical importance to a Catholic theology facing challenges from the progressive thinkers of the Renaissance, the Dominican friar Aquinas proved Christianity’s most eloquent and staunchest defender. He is considered to be the founder of “natural theology”; hence he was canonized in 1323 AD.
Born c. 1225 in Roccasecca to the count of Aquino, the five-year-old Thomas was sent to Monte Cassino to study with the Benedictine monks. By 1239 he was enrolled at the University of Naples but secretly joined the Dominican order, receiving the habit in 1244. His family was so disappointed – they had political plans – they had him imprisoned in their fortress at San Giovanni. Finally released after a year, Thomas pursued his studies with the Dominicans in Naples, Paris and Cologne, eventually earning his doctorate in theology. Having learned everything known about God (or, at least, the Christian one), he embarked on a life of traveling, writing, preaching, and lecturing; religious institutions and universities alike vied for “the Christian Apostle” to visit.
Mostly, he wrote … prolifically, penning some 60 known works spanning a wide range of subjects, from commentaries on the Bible to discussions of Aristotle’s natural philosophy. Written from 1265 to 1274, his unfinished Summa Theologica is considered one of the most influential philosophical works in civilization. Having established a theological studies program in Naples, he was summoned to the ecumenical council to meet in Lyon. He set out for it in January 1274, on foot … but died en route.