Thomas Aquinas c. 1222/27-1274
Italian theologian, philosopher, and composer of hymns.
Thomas Aquinas, also called the "Angelic Doctor," is one of the most revered theologians of the Catholic Church. His masterwork, the Summa Theologica [Summary of Theology, 1265-73,] is a complete exposition of Christian theology and philosophy that has been read and used for seven hundred years. Aquinas synthesized the great ideas of history, including the essence of Aristotelianism, into a systematized theology. His efforts often led him to defending himself against Church accusations of radicalism. With his roots in the common world, Aquinas championed a philosophy that searched for truth unopposed to common sense; his demonstration of the relationship between faith and reason has never been improved upon. Cardinal Bessarion has called Aquinas "the most saintly of learned men and the most learned of saints." His influence on students of the Church cannot be overestimated.
Biographical InformationAquinas was the youngest son of Count Landulf and his second wife, Countess Theodora of Theate; he was born between 1222 and 1227 at Roccasecca, a family castle near the region of Naples, in Italy. When about five years old, Aquinas was sent for training to the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. There he remained until 1239, reading in its nearly unparalleled library, studying the Latin writings of the Saints Gregory, Jerome, and Augustine; learning the art of dictating letters; and probably receiving instruction in arithmetic, geometry, dialectic, and astronomy. From 1239 until 1244 Aquinas studied at the recently founded university at Naples, where he was exposed to the works of Aristotle and the Dominicans. Aquinas was influenced in his views on Aristotle by the Muslim commentator Avicenna, who freely paraphrased the philosopher and incorporated positions contrary to him. Aquinas rejected in particular much of Aristotle's thought on being and existence. In 1245 Aquinas was accepted into the Dominican order and he looked forward to living a life of absolute poverty. Becoming a beggar and joining the Dominicans instead of the Benedictines did not meet with the approval of Aquinas's mother; acting under her orders, Aquinas's older brother, the Lord Rinaldo, abducted Thomas, who was then sent to and held at various family estates.
During this period of confinement, which has been likened to house arrest, Aquinas prayed and pursued his writing while his family tried in vain to change his mind. Eventually Aquinas's family permitted him to leave and he traveled to the Dominican novitiate at Paris. From 1248 to 1252 Aquinas studied in Cologne under Albert of Lauingen, also known as Albert the Great. Albert had great powers of assimilation, an encyclopedic mind for matters of theology, and greatly influenced his pupil in the practice of the synthesis of ideas and materials. Aquinas's studies included the texts of Dionysius the Areo-pagite, now often referred to as Pseudo-Dionysius. Albert assigned Aquinas to lecture on the Libri Qua-tuor Sententiarum (Four Books of Sentences) written by Peter Lombard. Aquinas's commentaries on the Sentences constitute some of his most important early writing. Aquinas became a master of theology in 1256 and his teaching included lecturing and posing theological problems to his students. Aquinas registered many works during his stay in Paris. From 1259 until 1268 he taughtin Italy, returned to Paris until 1272, then returned to Naples, where he foun-ded a studium generale. Aquinas died in 1274 at a monastery in Fossanova, near Sonnino. In 1319 the canonization process for Aquinas began, and in 1323 Pope John XXII declared him a saint. Pope Pius V proclaimed Aquinas "Doctor ecclesiae" in 1567.
Aquinas wrote several dozen works, sometimes employing the help of scribes who would take down his spoken words. In addition there are many works attributed to him that are probably the product of his disciples. Among his principal works are the treatises on disputed questions; these are more fully realized versions of Aquinas's lectures. His "Quodlibetal" works represent questions and arguments and also originated as lectures. His Summa de Veritate Catholicae Fidei contra Gentiles [Summary of the Truth of the Catholic Faith against the Gentiles, 1259-64] defended the Church against the Jews and Moors in Spain. In it Aquinas also demonstrates that science is not opposed to faith. Critics agree that Aquinas's greatest achievement is the Summa Theologiae. There, Aquinas seeks to do away with the multiplication of useless questions, arguments, and materials and to deal with the most important issues with all possible brevity and clarity.
The writings of Aquinas were immensely popular from the time they were first composed. Manuscript copies circulated widely even before the advent of printing. Although Aquinas strove to be widely understood, his concepts are not always easy to grasp. Many critics have tried to ascertain and explain his theology; one estimate cites some 6000 commentaries on his works. Pope Leo XIII has praised Aquinas for gathering together dispersed doctrines and forming them into one whole: "He disposed them in marvelous order and increased them to such an extent that he is rightly and deservedly considered the preeminent guardian and glory of the Catholic Church." Leo has also acclaimed Aquinas for harmonizing reason and faith. Pope John Paul II declared that one of Aquinas's greatest qualities was that "he had a great respect for the visible world because it is the work, and hence also the imprint and image, of God the Creator." Edward A. Synan has called the Summa Theologiae a classic for its "order; lucidity; respect for sources, whether biblical, ecclesial, philosophical, or simply the dicta of classical authors in their fields; and especially the cogency of argument."
* Principal Works
Scriptum in IV Libros Sententiarum [Writings on the Four Books of the Sentences] 1252-57
De Ente et Essentia [On Being and Essence] 1253
De Principiis Naturae [On the Principles of Nature] 1253
Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate [Disputed Questions on Truth] 1256-59
Quaestiones Quodlibetales [Quodlibetal Questions] 1256-72
In Librum Dionysii de Divinis Nominibus [Exposition of (Pseudo-) Dionysius's The Divine Names] 1258-65
Summa de Veritate Catholicae Fidei contra Gentiles [Summary of the Truth of the Catholic Faith against the Gentiles] 1259-64
Compendium Theologiae [Compendium of Theolȯgy] 1265-69
In VIII Libros Physicorum [Commentary on Aristotle's Physics in Eight Books] 1265-73
In X Libros Ethicorum [Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in Ten Books] 1265-73
In XII Libros Metaphysicorwn [Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics in Twelve Books] 1265-73
In Libros De Anima [Commentary on Aristotle's On the Soul] 1265-73
In Libros De Caelo et Mundo [Commentary on Aristotle's On the Heaven and Earth] 1265-73
In Libros De Generatione et Corruptione [Commentary on...
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Principal English Translations
The "Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas Aquinas, Literally Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Providence. 22 vols. 1911-25.
The "Summa contra Gentiles" of St. Thomas Aquinas, Literally Translated by the English Dominican Fathers from the Latest Leonine edition. 4 vols. 1924-29.
Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. 2 vols. 1945
St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa theologiae, Latin Text and English. 61 vols. 1964-80.
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SOURCE: "The Approach to Thomism" in St. Thomas Aquinas, Sheed & Ward, Inc., 1933, pp. 175-95.
[In the following excerpt, Chesterton describes Aquinas's philosophy as difficult but founded on common sense and practical, ordinary truisms.]
The fact that Thomism is the philosophy of common sense is itself a matter of common sense. Yet it wants a word of explanation, because we have so long taken such matters in a very uncommon sense. For good or evil, Europe since the Reformation, and most especially England since the Reformation, has been in a peculiar sense the home of paradox. I mean in the very peculiar sense that paradox was at home, and that men were at home with it. The most familiar example is the English boasting that they are practical because they are not logical. To an ancient Greek or a Chinaman this would seem exactly like saying that London clerks excel in adding up their ledgers, because they are not accurate in their arithmetic. But the point is not that it is a paradox; it is that paradoxy has become orthodoxy; that men repose in a paradox as placidly as in a platitude. It is not that the practical man stands on his head, which may sometimes be a stimulating if startling gymnastic; it is that he rests on his head; and even sleeps on his head. This is an important point, because the use of paradox is to awaken the mind. Take a good paradox, like that of Oliver Wendell...
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SOURCE: "The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas" in The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by Edward Bullough, B. Herder Book Co., 1937, pp. 1-36.
[In the following excerpt, Gilson traces the history of philosophy to the time of Aquinas; discusses the difficulties Aquinas faced in adapting the obscured essence of Aristotelianism to theology; and explains Aquinas's function as Doctor of the Church.]
The Man and His Environment
All great philosophies present themselves at first sight and externally as closed systems uncompromisingly opposed to all concessions. The history of philosophy, however, very soon discovers in pursuing its analysis beneath that rigorously systematic appearance, a hidden spirit of conciliation. Indeed, the very concessions which a philosophy is no longer able to make once it exists, were bound to be made before it came into existence. For every philosophical system represents a more or less successful attempt to organise tendencies which, in their natural state, would have remained irreconcilable. The teaching of St. Thomas is no exception to this rule. Like all the richest philosophies, it is born of a compromise, in the mind of an epoch or of a person, between spiritualtendencies which recognise fairly each other's claims and thus order themselves in an harmonious equilibrium. The "thomistic problem" as such is the original conflict of these...
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SOURCE: "The Concept of Social Hierarchy in the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas," The Historian, Vol. XII, No. 1, Autumn, 1950, pp. 28-54.
[In the following essay, Archibald examines Aquinas's theories concerning the proper structure of society and the importance of hierarchy, status, and privilege.]
St. Thomas Aquinas, who since the century of his birth has been a major influence in the world of theology, philosophy, and social theory, has acquired a new importance in recent decades. The Church, within which he labored, has long honored him as one of its few supreme philosophers. Less than fifty years after his death he was canonized. At the Council of Trent his Summa Theologica lay open on the altar beside the Scriptures, and Pope has vied with Pope in pointing to his writings as guideposts of Christian thought and action. Innocent VI (1352-1362) declared of St. Thomas:
His doctrine above all other doctrine, with the one exception of the Holy Scriptures, has such a propriety of words, such a method of explanation, such a truth of opinions that no one who holds it will ever be found to have strayed from the path of truth, whereas anyone who has attacked it has always been suspected as to the truth.1
Pius X (1903-1914) reaffirmed this judgment for the twentieth century when he wrote:...
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SOURCE: "Works of St. Thomas and Their Literary Forms" in Toward Understanding Saint Thomas, translated by A. M. Landry and D. Hughes, Henry Regnery Company, 1964, pp. 79-99.
[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in French in 1950, Chenu asserts that Aquinas's works must be studied in relation to their genre. She then proceeds to outline the history of the reading, the question, the disputation, and the article.]
I. Thought and Literary Form
After a presentation in general outline of the broad cultural contexts of the life-work of Saint Thomas, it may seem that it is taking things from too far afield to begin a study of his works from an examination of their literary forms. In the very measure that they are works of the mind and the expression of a philosophy and of a wisdom, do they not lie beyond the reaches of any craft? Are they not free in their means of expression? Are they not like something detached and standing at a lofty distance away from stylistic artifice and convention?
In point of fact, however, such thinking is illusory and fundamentally a psychological error about the way even the most pure type of thinking is bound up with the modest tool of language and its processes. Embodied in language, a system of thought may only thus be grasped, that is, within the very formulae it has adopted and within the structures with...
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SOURCE: "The Golden Wisdom" in Aquinas's Search for Wisdom, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1965, pp. 220-30.
[In the following excerpt, Bourke discusses Aquinas's reputation in the half-century following his death.]
"We earnestly exhort you, venerable brethren, to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas," wrote Pope Leo XIII in 1879.1 This is one of the best known quotations from the famous letter which touched off the modern revival of interest in Aquinas' personality and thought. Pope Leo reviewed the repeated approvals of Thomism that are found in the words of nearly all the Roman pontiffs in the years since his canonization.2 He also spoke with sorrow of the neglect into which the golden wisdom had fallen in Christian schools. The encyclical Aeterni Patris ended with a challenge to modern Catholic scholarship to adopt and carry on the spirit of St. Thomas' scholarship in the present day.
We do not propose to investigate here this story of the modern Thomistic revival. Instead, we shall look in this final chapter at what happened to the reputation and thought of Thomas Aquinas during the fifty years that followed his death. Many of his contemporaries and immediate successors felt that his wisdom was anything but golden. Still, there were always some who appreciated, at least in part, the heritage of Aquinas.
One way of judging the ability...
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SOURCE: "Perennial Philosophy of St. Thomas for the Youth of Our Times" in The Whole Truth about Man: John Paul II to University Faculties and Students, edited by James V. Schall, St. Paul Editions, 1981, pp. 209-27.
[In the following excerpt, originally delivered as a lecture in 1979, John Paul II outlines three qualities for which Aquinas gained his reputation: his complete submission to divine revelation, his great respect for the visible world, and his total acceptance of the teaching office of the Church.]
Esteemed professors and very dear students!
- It is with a feeling of deep joy that I find myself once more, after no short space of time, in this hall. It is well known to me because I entered it so many times as a student in the years of my youth when I also came from far away to the Pontifical Athenaeum "Angelicum" to deepen my knowledge of the teaching of the Common Doctor, St. Thomas of Aquin.
Since then the Athenaeum has grown significantly. It has been raised to the rank of a Pontifical University by my venerated Predecessor, Pope John XXIII; it has been enriched by two new Institutes:to the already existing Faculties of Theology, Canon Law and Philosophy there have been added those of Social Sciences and the Institute Mater Ecclesiae which has the aim of preparing future "Teachers of the Religious Sciences." I take note with pleasure of these signs...
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SOURCE: "Faith as Knowledge, Faith as Belief: Calvin vs. Aquinas" in Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought, Christian University Press, 1985, pp. 1-20.
[In the following excerpt, Vos contends that the seemingly diametrical differences between Calvin's and Aquinas's positions on the nature of faith are not substantive but the result of ambiguous terminology.]
Among Protestants today Thomas Aquinas is best known for his natural theology, specifically the famous Five Ways found in the second question of the Summa Theologiae. Indeed, for many Protestants this is the only part of Aquinas's writings known with a firsthand acquaintance. By contrast, they know little of his much more extensive discussions of faith, despite the fact that this discussion is at least as, if not more, essential to his position. Two factors have contributed to this imbalance.
On the one hand, treatments of Aquinas's writings have traditionally given his proofs for God's existence a disproportionate amount of attention. Throughout modern and contemporary philosophy—from Descartes to Plantinga—proofs for God's existence have been the focus of study as issues of more narrowly philosophical rather than theological interest. In the context of these philosophical discussions Aquinas's proofs have been excerpted and examined in great detail. It is in this fashion that his natural theology...
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SOURCE: "Action Theory in St. Thomas Aquinas" in Miscellanea Mediaevalia, Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1987, pp. 13-22.
[In the following essay, written in 1987, McInerny examines Aquinas's thoughts on the common good and ultimate end, particularly the distinction between conceiving and realizing perfection.]
In this paper I shall be discussing an issue in Thomistic moral theory that seems to have its parallel in Aristotle. Students of Aristotle have often considered the relation between the analysis of decision in Nicomachean Ethics III, where the model is an end/means one, and that in Nicomachean Ethics VI and VII, where the preferred model is the practical syllogism, to be problematical. A similar difficulty can be raised about the relation between the opening discussions of the Summa theologiae, Iallae, (and not only qq. 1-5, but also the whole sweep of discussions from q. 6 through q. 17), and the discussion of natural law later on in that same part of the ST. In both the Aristotelian and the Thomistic cases, we find one analysis that stresses the goal or purpose of a deed, and portrays decision as the search for appropriate means to that end, and another analysis where decision is portrayed as the application of principles and rules to particular situations.
Some students of Aristotle, impressed by the account of practical syllogism, downgrade the treatment of...
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SOURCE: "The Permanent Significance of Thomas Aquinas" in The Recovery of Virtue: The Relevance of Aquinas for Christian Ethics, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990, pp. 172-79.
[In the following excerpt, Porter extols Aquinas for his unsurpassed handling of problems in his own time, as well as for providing a strong foundation on which to build in the future.]
The history of Aquinas' influence in the ecumenical church is filled with ironies. In 1879, Aquinas' intellectual authority was held up by Leo XIII, in his famous encyclical Aeterni Patris, as "a singular safeguard and glory of the Catholic Church," because "with his own hand he vanquished all errors of ancient times; and still he supplies an armory of weapons which brings us certain victory in the conflict with falsehoods ever springing up in the course of years."1 The effect of this encyclical was mixed, by any standards. It helped to foster the brilliant flowering of Thomistic studies earlier in this century, and yet it also fostered a kind of rigid scholasticism which discredited Aquinas in the minds of many intellectuals, both in and out of the Catholic church. But the ironies do not end there. Today, Aquinas' influence among Protestant theologians may be as great as or greater than it is among Catholic theologians, in spite of the historic resistance to Thomism within the Protestant churches. Certainly, no one at the turn of...
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SOURCE: "Aquinas on Faith and Goodness" in Being and Goodness: The Concept of the Good in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology, edited by Scott Mac-Donald, Cornell University Press, 1991, pp. 179-207.
[In the following essay, Stump explains Aquinas's theory of the will and its relationship to the intellect, faith, and goodness; frames objections to Aquinas's accounts; and responds to those objections.]
Recent work on the subject of faith has tended to focus on the epistemology of religious belief, considering such issues as whether beliefs held in faith are rational and how they may be justified. Richard Swinburne, for example, has developed an intricate explanation of the relationship between the propositions of faith and the evidence for them.1 Alvin Plantinga, on the other hand, has maintained that belief in God may be properly basic, that is, that a belief that God exists can be part of the foundation of a rational noetic structure.2 This sort of work has been useful in drawing attention to significant issues in the epistemology of religion, but these approaches to faith seem to me also to deepen some long-standing perplexities about traditional Christian views of faith.
First, if there is an omniscient and omnipotent God, why would he want human relationships with him to be based on faith? Why wouldn't he make...
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SOURCE: "Introduction: Being with Order" in Perfection of the Universe according to Aquinas: A Teleological Cosmology, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992, pp. 1-31.
[In the following excerpt, Blanchette explains Aquinas's philosophy of being, as well as what he meant by the perfection of the universe.]
The idea of the universe and its perfection is not one we think of readily. Moreover, if we do think of the universe as a whole, we are not inclined to think of it as perfect. Our idea of perfection is no less vague and vacillating than our idea of the universe. Physicists think of the universe as a whole in their cosmology, but only in terms of their abstract mathematical formulas. They do not think of it in its concrete perfection as including life and thought. Philosophers pay more attention to life and thought as part of what goes on in the real world, but they are less apt today to think of these as perfections, much less as perfection of the universe. If there is any thought given to teleology, it is not usually associated with cosmology.
Thus the thought of the perfection of the universe perplexes us. Is it an inference that the world is "the best possible" in some closed fashion, as Leibniz and perhaps Plato thought about it, or is it a suggestion that the world is in process toward some kind of completion? Is it something that physics alone can deal with, or is it...
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SOURCE: "Happiness: The One Thing Everybody Wants" in The Primacy of Love: An Introduction to the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas, Paulist Press, 1992, pp. 44-62.
[In the following excerpt, Wadell discusses Aquinas's inquiries into happiness, including the requirements for attaining true happiness, the need to purify one's desires, false notions of happiness, and why perfect happiness can be found only in God.]
Anybody who promises to make us happy has our attention. We may be skeptical, but we will listen. Everyone wants to be happy, and if we doubt this we only have to recall how much of our energy is devoted to seeking what we think will bring us joy. This is why when Thomas talks about happiness we're hooked. We cannot help but want to be happy, so when Thomas tells us that "happiness is our true good," that it "is our proper and complete good," and that the most perfect happiness "essentially remains and is forever," we not only nod our heads in agreement, we want to hear more. Not to want to be happy is inhuman. All of us may slip into destructive patterns of behavior, but that is not because we spurn happiness; we simply have not yet understood where genuine happiness is found.
And that is what Thomas wants to tell us. He has watched us in our pursuit of happiness. He has seen all we chase after, thinking it will make us whole: money, pleasure, fame, honor. He has watched what our...
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SOURCE: "'Scientia' and the Summa theologiae" in Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 78-98.
[In the following excerpt, Jenkins discusses the structure and nature of the Summa Theologiae and argues that its intended audience was advanced students in theology.]
The Summa theologiae is the chefd'oeuvre of St. Thomas Aquinas. Although all of Aquinas's works are powerful and important, and several are masterpieces, the Summa theologiae is his most comprehensive and is thought by most to be his greatest. The sheer organization of such a large amount of disparate material in the four volumes of this work is a remarkable feat. And on any given issue, the Summa generally contains the most mature, clear and definitive statement of Aquinas's position. Thus, when there is a dispute about Aquinas's views on some question, debate nearly always turns primarily on one or more passages from this work.
The centrality of the Summa theologiae is apparent also from biographical evidence. Most of Aquinas's major theological and philosophical works arose from responsibilities as a student or teacher, or from various controversies of the day, and these situations determined the form of the work in question. The Sentences commentary was required of Aquinas as a theology student; the commentaries on Scripture, and...
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SOURCE: "Patterns in the Summa theologiae" in Thomas Aquinas, Theologian, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997, pp. 41-86.
[In the following excerpt, O 'Meara discusses some of the patterns and structures Aquinas used in his consideration of Christian theology.]
All beautiful attributes showered throughout the world in separate drops flow together whole and complete, and move toward the font of goodness. When we are drawn to the graciousness, beauty, and goodness of creatures, we ought to be borne away to the One in whom all these little streams commingle and flow.
Summa contra gentiles (2, 2)
Every project, every plan or enterprise, no matter how modest or how great, presupposes some seminal idea, some unfolding pattern. Nature reveals patterns, structures which join together the bones of the body or which link ecologically creatures along a seashore. In human creations, models arrange into order numerous, disparate entities. Data, facts, bytes are interesting and valuable but thin and partial: they await some further relationship and vitalization. In the arts it is not only color and sound but the variety and repetition within forms which give pleasure. This chapter on Aquinas' theology looks for the patterns he used in thinking about and expressing God and creation, Jesus and the human...
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Miethe, Terry L. and Vernon J. Bourke. Thomistic Bibliography, 1940-1978. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. 318p.
Reference for writings concerning Aquinas, arranged by subject.
Torrell, Jean-Pierre. Saint Thomas Aquinas: Volume I: The Person and His Work. Translated by Robert Royal. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996, 407p.
Biography that includes an extensive list of Aquinas's writings and indexes of names and subjects.
Weisheipl, James A. Friar Thomas D 'Aquino: His Life, Thought, and Work. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1974, 464p.
Aquinas, St. Thomas. An Introduction to the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. Translated by James F. Anderson. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953, 137p.
Selection of writings by Aquinas dealing with the main principles and doctrines of his metaphysics.
Ashworth, E. J. "Analogy and Equivocation in Thirteenth-Century Logic: Aquinas in Context." Mediaeval Studies 54 (1992): 94-135.
Presents Aquinas's thoughts on analogy in the context of the ideas of other thirteenth century logicians.
Copleston, F. C. Aquinas. Middlesex, Eng.:...
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