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John of St. Thomas


Thomistic theologian and philosopher; b. Portugal?, July 9, 1589; d. Saragossa, Spain, July 17, 1644.

John was the son of Peter Poinsot, nobleman secretary to Archduke Albert of Austria, cardinal and viceroy to Portugal, and later governor of the Netherlands under Philip II of Spain. With his brother Luis, who became a Trinitarian and taught theology at Coimbra from 1637 to 1655, John received his baccalaureate in arts at Coimbra in 1605. At the same Jesuit school, he began his theological course under two Trinitarians. After one year of study he moved to the Netherlands and attended Louvain where he studied under Thomas de Torres, a Spanish Dominican. He entered the Order of Preachers after he received his Baccalaureus Biblicus.

John of St. Thomas began his theological teaching in 1620, after spending several years as an artium lector. Having taught at Piacenza and Madrid, he was made associate professor at the University of Alcalá, where he lectured to classes larger than any then assembled in Spain. After about a decade he succeeded to the principal theological chair at Alcalá. During all this time he exercised with justice and charity the office of qualificator of the Supreme Council of the Spanish Inquisition. Despite accusations to the contrary, he seems not to have assisted the Jansenist heretics. However, he did refuse to allow the professors at Louvain to be condemned on insufficient evidence before Philip IV, who held civil jurisdiction over that university. For Philip, he performed the difficult function of confessor and adviser. He was at his king's side in battle, yet at the same time he corrected the text of his theological treatise on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

John of St. Thomas died either from fever, or from poison administered by courtiers envious of his influence for good over the king. His influence had been widespread through his efforts with the king and through letters and minor writings such as his Compendium of Catholic doctrine; this last was published first in Madrid in 1640, and after seven Spanish editions, translated into Italian, Latin, Gaelic, and Polish. John also wrote a directory for a good confession for Philip IV, and, just before he died, a treatise on preparation for a happy death.

His first major work, the Cursus Philosophicus, which was reprinted (at least in part) 16 times between 1631 and 1930, is in two sections, the first of which is available in English. That first section, including both formal and material logic, has been the basic source of much recent traditional and contemporary Catholic teaching on the art of logic. The second section, Philosophia Naturalis, accurately represents Thomistic philosophical teaching on corporeal being and psychology.

His Cursus Theologicus, published five times before the current Solesmes edition, follows the order of the questions, but not the articles, of the Summa Theologiae. After prefatory treatises on the nature of theology, its certitude against opponents, and its order, John of St. Thomas discussed basic theological problems in the light of the thinking of the post-Reformation period, although not that of the Counter Reformation. For the most part he was in doctrinal agreement with Capreolus and Cajetan (Tomaso de Vio), but he did advance some unique opinions, e.g., that the quintessential characteristic of the Deity is in knowing rather than in being. Some of his treatises, such as the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (New York 1951), rise above both classroom technique and commentary, and become autonomous presentations, classical in both content and style.

The style of John of St. Thomas is simple and clear. He preferred austere lucidity, and he made his own the words of St. Jerome: "I have written for the strong not the squeamish."

Bibliography: j. quÉtif and j. Échard, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum. (Paris 171923) 2.2:538539. h. hurter, Nomenclator literarius theologiae catholicae (Innsbruck 1926) 3:915916. j. m. ramirez, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) 8.1:803808. d. ramirez, "Vita Johannis a Sancto Thoma," in john of st. thomas, Cursus Theologicus, ed. benedictines of solesmes (Paris 193053) 1:xxxvxliii. e. j. furton, A Medieval Semiotic: Reference and Representation in John of St. Thomas' Theory of Signs (New York 1995). John Poinsot issue, The Thomist 58 (1994): 543615.

[d. hughes]

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