Thomas Aquinas was born in Roccasecca, Italy, in 1225. At the age of five he was sent to the Abbey of Monte Cassino where he lived for eight years, puzzling over the question “What is God?”. At thirteen, he was forced to relocate to the University of Naples due to political instability in Monte Cassino. At the university, Aquinas began to form his theological philosophy while studying the works of Aristotle, Averroes, and Maimonides. He then joined an order of Dominican monks, was kidnapped by his family in attempts to eradicate his new beliefs, then was later released and returned to the order. Later, he went on to teach theology at the University of Paris before dying in 1274.
Aquinas attempted to reconcile theology and philosophy for the medieval mind, as the medieval society struggled with answering the question “What is?” through ideals of both faith and reason as the two often contradicted one another. Religion (predominately Catholicism in the medieval ages,) taught that God is the simply the answer to everything. This idea that God is the answer to everything, God created everything that is, and the confusion regarding the nature of being is answered by “God’s will”. Catholicism indirectly suggests that we can’t wholly understand the nature of existence and reality (meta) because we don’t have the same divinity and absolute knowledge that God has, therefore we should just accept the things we don’t understand because we’re not as smart as God. Contrasting, reason suggests that the more we ponder “what is ultimately there” and “what it’s like”, the closer we will get to answering the questions of our realities and existences.
So what exactly did Aquinas do? He brought about the idea that faith and reason can work harmoniously to answer questions about being, existing, and reality, and also co-exist within society. On an unrelated note, he proposed that religion and government should not be intertwined, as faith should be practiced within oneself, while the government must rule their people with reason. This exemplifies how one can live and think with both faith (within oneself) and reason (acting within society). Aquinas, though devoutly religious, philosophized that reason and scientific inquiry is essential to exploring and understanding metaphysics. He was a forerunner of spiritual men who attempted to unify theology and philosophy, which within our 21st century mindset, is quite common. So in our modern day, Aquinas’ ideas may not be that mind-blowing or paradigm-shifting. But in the intellectually deprived medieval ages, he proposed a revolutionary idea to harmonize theology and philosophy in order to study what is.