The Roman Catholic Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) is considered by many to be the greatest theologian in Western religion. He was born in Roccasecca near the Italian town of Aquino, the son of the Count Aquino. While at the University of Naples, much to the horror of his noble parents, he decided to join the Dominicans, a mendicant (begging) order, considered by many to be a hotbed of religious fanatics. His parents had him kidnapped and carried off to a family castle at Monte San Giovanni. His family both appealed to his family loyalty and threatened him with punishment in hope of persuading him to quit the habit of a monk. One night his brothers sent a prostitute to his cell to offer herself for his pleasure. Thomas leaped up, grabbed a brand from the fire and chased her from his room. From that time onward he avoided the sight and company of women, except where it was necessary. Neither his mother's tears, his brothers' threats, nor the lure of a prostitute were sufficient to strip him of his determination to live a celibate, mendicant life, dedicated to the Church. He was kept under house arrest for more than a year before he was allowed to rejoin his fellow monks. He went to the Dominican school at Cologne where from 1248 to 1252 he studied under the renowned scholar and theologian Albert the Great. It was there he studied Aristotle's work, which had recently become available in Latin translation. A large man, slow in movement, stubborn, deliberate, methodical, imperturbable, his fellow students thought him stupid and unkindly gave him the nickname, “Dumb Ox.” His teacher, Albert the Great, however, saw great promise in the youth, and declared, “You call him a Dumb Ox; I tell you the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud his bellowing will fill the world.”
In 1252 Albert declared that Thomas was ready for advanced studies in philosophy and theology and sent him to the University of Paris where he received his Mastership in 1256. During this time Thomas began teaching at the University of Paris and began developing an Aristotelian version of Catholic theology. His own writings are voluminous (over 8 million words of closely reasoned prose) and encyclopedic, dealing with questions of the problem of evil, truth, the nature of the soul, the existence and attributes of God, morality, and politics. He wrote two summations of theology: On the Truth of the Catholic Faith Against the Gentiles (Summa Contra Gentiles), which was a handbook for missionaries seeking to convert Muslims and others to the Christian faith, and Summa Theologica (Summation of Theology). On December 6, 1273, he had a deeply religious experience, after which he ceased to write. He reported, “All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.” He died four months later.
The five arguments given in our first selection from the Summa Theologica are a posteriori arguments, that is, based on premises that can be known only by means of experience of the world (for example, that there is a world, events have causes, and so forth). Put simply, their strategies are as follows: The first argument begins with the fact that there is