Aquinas, Thomas°

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AQUINAS, THOMAS ° (1225–1274), most important of the Christian medieval philosophers. Born near Aquino, the son of a count, Aquinas entered a Dominican order at the age of 19 against the will of his family. He studied under the Dominican scholar Albertus Magnus in Cologne and Paris, where he later taught; from 1272 he taught in Naples. His main work, the Summa theologica (st), was designed as an introduction to all problems of doctrine and morals that a friar might meet in his studies for pastoral duties. It shows an intimate knowledge of the works of Jewish philosophers, particularly of Avicebron (Ibn *Gabirol) and *Maimonides. Most of the proofs he adduced for the existence of God may be traced to Jewish sources. A similar systematic exposition, this one addressed to the non-Christian, is contained in his Summa contra gentiles (SCG, 1259–64). Aquinas often expressed his opinion about what should be the Christian attitude toward the Jews. In about 1270–71 he wrote a detailed reply, constituting the small treatise De regimine Judaeorum (cf. the different editions in E. Gilson, Christian Philosophy … [1956], 422), to a series of questions posed by a duchess of Brabant (probably Margaret, daughter of Louis ix and wife of Jean i of Brabant). These ask whether it is lawful for a Christian prince to exact money from the Jews by means of taxes and fines since this money was the result of usury. Aquinas answered: "It is true, as the Law declares, that Jews in consequence of their sin, are or were destined to perpetual slavery: so that sovereigns of states may treat their goods as their own property, with the sole proviso that they do not deprive them of all that is necessary to sustain life." He did not, however, recommend imposing an overly harsh fiscal policy on the Jews. In addition, since "the Jews in your country appear to possess nothing but what they have acquired by the evil practice of usury," Aquinas advised returning the money to its true owners, the injured Christian borrowers. If these could not be traced, it might be spent on acts of piety or works in the general interest. In Aquinas' view it was preferable "to compel the Jews to work for their living, as is done in parts of Italy, rather than that they should live in idleness and grow rich by usury." They should also be compelled to wear a distinguishing *badge that would make them clearly recognizable from Christians.

Aquinas vehemently condemned the baptism of Jewish and other non-Christian infants against their parents' wishes as violating natural justice (Summa theol. 2a, 2ae, qu. 10, c. 12). He considered that the natural order requires that parents should have charge of their children until they reach the age of reason, and only then are they entitled to choose for themselves. Aquinas points out that when children baptized against the wishes of their parents had reached this age, the parents might succeed in convincing them to abandon the faith they had unwittingly received; their apostasy would then certainly be detrimental to the church. He also opposed the argument put forward in Christian circles that as the Jews were legally the slaves of the secular sovereign (see *servi camerae), the latter was therefore entitled to treat the Jews as he wished; Aquinas emphasized that in common law the slave is protected by the moral, natural law and is thus shielded from exaggerated claims by princes. He interdicted, as a general principle, the use of force against non-Catholics to convert them to Christianity. Citing *Augustine, he declared that man is capable of doing certain things against his will, but that faith is given only to him who desires it.

[Bernhard Blumenkranz]


Maimonides has a recognized place among those whose doctrines Aquinas draws on; all attempts to camouflage Maimonides' doctrines, such as the attempts of *William of Auvergne and *Alexander of Hales, have been put aside. "Rabbi Moyses" (Maimonides) appears as a master who has brought together the voluntarism of biblical theology and the Aristotelian theories on the cosmogonic process. Aquinas seems to have been influenced by Maimonides in his account of the relation of faith and reason (scg, 1:4) and in his proofs of the existence of God (st, i, qu. 2., a. 3), and he accepts the proposition of Maimonides that the temporal creation of the world cannot be demonstrated or refuted by philosophical argument, but only on the basis of revealed text (st, i, qu. 46, a. 2). On the other hand, Aquinas opposes Rabbi Moyses' radical denial of all divine attributes, by which humans attempt to explain God's being from their experience in the created world. For Aquinas, analogy remains a means of theological approach to the secrets of divinity (st, i, qu. 13, 2). Parts of Aquinas' works were translated into Hebrew and some of his views influenced late medieval Jewish philosophers, such as *Hillel of Verona. Aquinas shares the usual ecclesiastical view that the Old Testament is a preparatory stage of revelation. The Mosaic legislation, however, aroused his special interest; it was a source of a type of concrete solution not offered by the New Testament (st, i–ii, qu. 108, a. 2, ad 3). He understood the Sinaitic order of society as a constitution perfectly designed for the preservation of the Hebrew people under given circumstances. For this rationalization he used concepts from Aristotle's Politics, which had just been translated from the Greek. Aquinas was also very much stimulated in this task by Maimonides' reflection on the meaning of mishpatim (general moral laws); the Latin translation of this term, praescripta iudicialia, defined for him all biblical rules that he considered politically or socially relevant. Thus, Aquinas found in the Sinaitic legislation on agrarian property a realization of the Aristotelian theory that private ownership must be justified by responsibility for social cohesion (st, i–ii, qu. 105, a. 2 ad 3). For Aquinas this model constitution was created by divine providence; its appreciation as a product of the Hebrew mind was, of course, quite outside his consideration. Treaties and extracts from the works of Aquinas were translated into Hebrew, notably by Judah *Romano, Eli Habillo, Abraham Nehemiah b. Joseph, and others. Isaac *Abrabanel, who apparently intended to translate one of Aquinas' works, was well acquainted with his writings. The influence of Aquinas is noticeable in medieval and later Jewish works.

[Hans Liebeschutz]


J. Guttmann, Das Verhaeltniss des Thomas von Aquino zum Judentum und zur juedischen Literatur (1891); P. Mandonnet and J. Destrez, Bibliographie Thomiste (1960), 80; E.S. Koplowitz, Abhaengigkeit Thomas… von R. Mose b. Maimon (1935); K. Foster (ed.), Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1959); Baron, Social, 5 (19572), 77–78, 348; Liebeschuetz, in: jjs, 13 (1962), 57–81; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 483–7; E. Gilson, Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (1956), incl. bibl.