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Thomas Aquinas was born in Aquino, a town in southern Italy from which he takes his surname. In his masterwork, Summa Theologica, he represents the pinnacle of scholasticism, the philosophical and theological school that flourished between 1100 and 1500 and attempted to reconcile faith with reason and the works of Aristotle with the scriptures.
The family of Thomas Aquinas was a noble one, his parents, the Count of Aquino and Countess of Teano, were related to Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, as well as to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France. During his early education, Thomas exhibited great acumen in the medieval trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Because of his high birth, Thomas' entry into the Dominican order in the early 1240s was very surprising. His family employed various means to dissuade him from his vocation, including imprisoning him for two years.
After a stint as a student in Paris, Thomas made his way to Cologne to teach, receiving ordination to the priesthood in 1250. Soon after this, he was assigned to teach at Paris, where he also worked toward his degree of Doctor of Theology, which he received in 1257, with his friend St. Bonaventure, after some intramural political difficulty. The remainder of his life was spent in prayer, study, and writing his great Summa Theologica, a systematic attempt to present the findings of scholasticism. Although Thomas is sometimes perceived simply as an analytical and methodical writer, he was, especially in his later years, given to periods of mystical ecstasy. During one such experience, on December 6, 1273, he resigned from his writing project, indicating that he had perceived such wonders that his previous work seemed worthless.
The Summa Theologica was left unfinished, proceeding only as far as the ninetieth question of the third part. St. Thomas Aquinas died a few months later, on March 7, 1274. He was canonized in 1323 by John XXII. Although interest in Scholasticism in general and Thomism in particular waned during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Leo XIII's encyclicai Aeterni Patris in 1889 reestablished Thomism as the leading theological school of the Catholic church. Today, Thomist theology stands at the center of the Roman Catholic tradition.
St. Augustine AUGUSTINE, AURELIUS ST., the greatest of the Latin fathers, was born at Tagaste, a town of Numidia, on the 13th of November 354 A.D. His father, Patricius, was poor, but of good family, and filled the office of magistrate. Augustine was sent toschool at Madura, and subsequently to Carthage to complete his studies. Previous to this however, he had enjoyed the inestimable felicity of a religious education at home. His mother, Monnica, had been his best instructor. Neander truly says: "whatever treasures of virtue and worth the life of faith, even of a soul trained by scientific culture, can bestow, was set before him in the example of his pious mother." The energy and penetration of intellect exhibited by the young Augustine, excited the most flattering hopes. When he left home for Carthage, a joyous, ardent and resolute student, a bright career of worldly prosperity seemed to open before him. But strong as Augustine was, the temptations of Carthage were stronger. His nature, deep, impetuous, and passionate, thirsted for excitement. He had just reached the age when happiness was conceived to be synonymous with pleasure, and Carthage the second city of the empire, was as rank as Rome in its sensual corruptions. Augustine fell. In his confessions, he paintsthe frightful abyss into which he felt himself plunged. The thing which appears to have first stirred his deeper being into life was a passage which he suddenly came across in the Hortensius of Cicero, treating of the worth and dignity of philosophy. To use the language of Mander, the conflict now began in his soul, which lasted through eleven years of his life. As the simplicity of the sacred scriptures possessed no attractions for his taste, as moreover he found so many things in the doctrines of the church which, from want of inward experience, could not be otherwise than unintelligible to him, so under these circumstances, the delusive pretentions of the Manichaean sect, which instead of a blind belief on authority, held out the promise of clear knowledge and a satisfactory solution of all questions relating to things human and divine, presented the stronger attractions to his inexperienced youth. Augustine now became a professed Manichaean. Returning to his native town he lectured for a short time on literature. Soon afterward, he returned to Carthage, to pursue his profession under more favorable auspices. About the same time his spiritual nature became keener and more imperative in its demands. The futile speculations of the visionary sect to which he had attached himself now became apparent. He had a series of interviews and conversations with Faustus, one of the most celebrated teachers of Manichaeism; and these so utterly disappointed his expectations, that he left the society in disgust and sad bewilderment, after having wasted ten years in a fruitless search for wisdom and truth. In 383 he went to Rome, followed by the tears, the prayers, and the anxieties of his excellent mother, who was not however bereaved of hope, for both her faith and her love were strong. After a short
stay, Augustine left Rome and proceeded to Milan, where he became a teacher of rhetoric. No change could have been more fortunate. At this time the Bishop of Milan was the eloquent and devout St. Abrose. An intimacy sprang up between the two. Augustine often went to hear his friend preach. Once more he studied the Bible, although from a purely Platonic point of view, and rather wished to find in it those truths which he had already made himself acquainted with from the Platonic philosophy, but presented in a different form. He began to think that Christ and Paul by their glorious life and death, their divine morality, their great holiness, and manifold virtues, must have enjoyed much of that "high wisdom" which the philosophers thought confined to themselves. For some time he clung to his Platonic Christianity, and shaped the doctrines of the Bible according to it; but when he found that it was weak to overcome temptations, and that "he himself was continually borne down by the ungodly impulses which he thought he had already subdued," the necessity of a living, personal God and Saviour to rescue him from the condemnation of his own conscience, and impart a sanctifying vitality to the abstract truths which he worshipped, shone clear through all the stormy struggles of his heart. In the eighth and ninth books of his Confessions, he has left a noble though painful picture of his inward life during this momentous crisis. It is sufficient to say that the spirit of God triumphed. Shortly after he set out on his return home. At Ostia, on the Tiber, his beloved mother, who had followed him to Milan, died; her eyes had seen the salvation of her son, and she could depart in peace. It is unnecessary to relate at any length the subsequent life of Augustine, his character and principles of action had become fixed, and he now brought the whole majesty of his intellect to bear upon the side of Christianity. Having as was then customary for converts, divided his goods among the poor, he retired into private life, and wrote several treatises which secured him a high reputation. In 397, appeared his Confessions, in 13 books. It is a deep, earnest, and sacred autobiography of one of the greatest intellects the world has seen. Passages of it have no parallel except in the Psalms of David. In 413 he commenced his DeCivitate Dei (City of God), and finished it in 426. It is generally considered his most powerful work. In 428, Augustine published his Retractationes, in which he made a recension of all his previous writings. It is a work of great candor. He frankly acknowledges such errors and mistakes as he had discovered himself to have committed, explains and modifies numerous statements and modestly reviews his whole opinions. His end was now drawing nigh. In 429 the Vandals, under the barbarian Genseric, landed in Africa; next year they beseiged Hippo. Augustine, now in his 76th year, prayed that God would help his unhappy church, and grant himself a relief out of this present evil world. He died on the 28th of August, 430, in the third month of the siege. No mind has exerted a greater influence on the church than that of Augustine. He held the corruption of human nature through the fall of man, and the consequent slavery of the human will. Both on
metaphysical and religious grounds, he asserted the doctrines of predestination, from which he necessarily deduced the corollary doctrines of election and reprobation; and finally he strenuously supported, against the Pelagians, not only these opinions, but also the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Socrates SOCRATES, the celebrated Greek philosopher and moralist, was born at Athens in the year 469 B.C. His father, Sophroniskus, was a sculptor and he followed the same profession in the early part of his life. His family was respectable in descent, but humble in point of means. He had the usual education of the Athenian citizen, which included not only a knowledge of the mother tongue, and readings in the Greek poets, but also the elements of arithmetic, geometry and astronomy as then known. Excepting in connection with his philosophical career, few circumstances of his life are known. He served as a hoplite, or heavy-armed foot-soldier, at the siege of Potidaea, at the battle of Deliurn, and at Amphipolis, and his bravery and endurance were greatly extolled by his friends. Somewhere about the middle period of his life, he relinquished his profession as statuary, and gave himself up to the career that made him famous. Deservedly styled a philosopher, he neither secluded himself for study, nor opened a school for the regular instruction of pupils. He disclaimed the appellation of teacher; his practice was to talk or converse, "to prattle without end," as his enemies said. Early in the morning he frequented the public walks, the gymnasia for bodily training, and the school where youths were receiving instruction; he was to be seen at the market-place at the hour when it was most crowded, among the booths and tables where goods were exposed for sale. His whole day was usually spent in this public manner. He talked with any one, young or old, rich or poor, who sought to address him, and in the hearing of all who stood by. As it was engaging, curious, and instrutive to hear, certain persons made it their habit to attend him in public as companions and listeners. Another peculiarity of Socrates was his persuasion of a special religious mission, of which he believed that he had received oracular intimation. About the time when he began to have repute as a wise man, an admirer and friend, Chaerephon, consulted the oracle at Delphi, as to whether any man was wiser than Socrates. The priestess replied "none." The answer, he said, perplexed him very much; for he was conscious to himself that he possessed no wisdom, on any subject, great or small. At length he resolved to put the matter to the test, by taking measure of the wisdom of other persons as compared with his own. Seleting a leading politician, accounted wise by himself and others, he put a series of questions to him, and found his supposed wisdom was no wisdom at all. He next tried to
demonstrate to the politician himself how much he was deficient; but he refused to be convinced. He then saw a meaning in the oracle, to the effect that his superiority to others lay not in his wisdom, but in his being fully conscious of his ignorance. He tried the same experiment on other politicians, then on poets, and lastly on artists and artisans, and with the same result. Thereupon, he considered it as a duty imposed on him by the Delphian god, to cross-question men of all degrees, as to their knowledge, to make them conscious of their ignorance, and so put them in the way of becoming wise. According to Xenophon, he would pass from his severe cross-questioning method, and address to his hearers plain and homely precepts, inculcating self-control, temperance, piety, duty to parents, brotherly love, fidehty in friendship, diligelice, etc. Cicero said that "Socrates brought down philosophy from the the heavens to the earth." The previous philosophies consisted of vast and vague speculations on nature as a whole, blending together Cosmogony, Astronomy, Geometry, Physics, Metaphysics, etc. Socrates had studied these systems, and they had left on his mind a feeling of emptiness and unsuitability for any human purpose. It seemed to him that men's endeavors after knowledge would be better directed to human relationships, as involving men's practical concerns. Accordingly he was the first to proclaim that "the proper study of mankind is man;" human nature, human duties and human happiness make up a field of really urgent and profitable inquiry. In the year 400 B.C., an indictment was laid against Socrates, in the following terms; "Socates is guilty of crime; first, for not worshipping the gods whom the city worships, and for introducing new divinities of his own; next for corrupting the youth. The penalty due is death." The trial took place before a court composed of citizen-judges, like our juries, but far more numerous; the number present seems to have been 557. His defense is preserved by Plato, under the title Apology of Socrates. He dwelt on his mission to convit men of their ignorance for their ultimate benefit; pronounced himself a public blessing to the Athenians; declared that if his life was preserved he would continue in the same course; and regarded the prospect of death with utter indifference. By a majority of five or six he was adjudged guilty and sentenced to death by poison. The last day of his life he passed in conversation with his friends on the Immortality of the soul. He then drank the hemlock, and passed away with the dignity and calmness becoming his past career.
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