Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings

By St. Thomas Aquinas; Albert the Great et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

I. THE LIFE AND WORKS OF THOMAS AQUINAS 1

Thomas was born into a large, aristocratic family 2 in 1226, 3 ten years after the establishment of the Order of Preachers, 4 five years after the death of St. Dominic. It was the year in which the first signs appeared of the conflict between pope and emperor that was to dominate the next quarter of the century. 5 Some of Thomas' ancestors had borne the title "Count d'Aquino", 6 but this title had been lost several generations back and his father was known simply as "Lord Landulph d'Aquino" 7 and is described in the necrology of Monte Cassino as a "knight." 8 The family's main residence, where Thomas almost certainly first saw the light of day, was the castle of Roccasecca 9 in the kingdom of Naples, ruled at this time by the flamboyant and ambitious King Frederick II, who had been crowned emperor by Honorius III in 1220. Thomas' father, Landulph, was one of Frederick's barons 10 and in 1220 he had been appointed judge for the district round Naples, the Terra di Lavoro. 11 At least two and probably more of Thomas' brothers served at different times in the imperial army. 12 Politically the most important member of the family was a cousin of Landulph's, also called Thomas d'Aquino, whose staunch and adventurous support for Frederick was rewarded early in 1221, when he was named Count of Acerra. 12a

Thomas' mother, Theodora, came of noble Neapolitan stock, 13 and there was a family tradition that before Thomas was born, and indeed before she realized she was pregnant, a local hermit visited her at Roccasecca and prophesied that she would give birth to a son called Thomas, who would be unrivalled in holiness and knowledge and that, in spite of his family's intention that he should be a monk at Monte Cassino, he would join the Dominicans. This story was told by Theodora herself to her granddaughter, Catherine, who told it to Thomas' biographer, William of Tocco. 14 It is not inconceivable that something of the kind took place, but there are reasons for suspecting that Theodora may have "edited" the story to some ex

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