Thomas Aquinas, St. (1226–1274) A Dominican and one of the greatest theologians of the Christian church, Thomas Aquinas had a profound effect on the witchhunts of the Inquisition. His revolutionary philosophy was cited by Demonologists and inquisitors for centuries as a basis for their persecutions.
Born at his family’s castle near Roccasecca, Italy, Aquinas was educated by the Benedictines at monte Cassino. He studied liberal arts at the University of Naples and then entered the Dominican order. He was sent to Paris and Cologne for training. In Cologne he met the famous alchemist, Albertus Magnus, and became his pupil in 1244, gaining a great deal of knowledge about alchemy. He is said to have performed magical feats, but these are legends.
In 1252 Aquinas returned to Paris to the Dominican St. James Convent. In 1256 he was appointed professor of theology at the University of Paris. In 1259 he traveled to Italy, where he spent nine years teaching, writing and lecturing at the papal court. He was recalled to Paris in 1268, then back to Italy in 1272. In 1274 Pope Gregory x appointed him consultant to the Council of Lyons, but Aquinas died en route, on February 7, at the Benedictine monastery of Fossanova.
During his career, Aquinas produced voluminous works that revolutionized Christian theology, most notably Summa Contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica. His philosophy had a major impact on the church’s view of witchcraft and on the transformation of sorcery into the heresy of witchcraft: heresy, even if the product of ignorance, was a sin because ignorance is the product of criminal negligence. Aquinas also stated that the practice of Magic was not virtuous and was practiced by “men of evil life.”
He believed in the Devil as a tangible person with the senses of man. While he did not believe in formal pacts with the Devil, he did believe in implicit pacts (see Devil’s Pact). A heretic, just by virtue of being a heretic, could be assumed to have somehow given himself over to the Devil, whether or not the thought had even crossed his mind. He also believed in transvection, metamorphosis, storm raising and ligatures (see Aiguillette). He was among the clerics and Demonologists who refuted the Canon Episcopi, which attributed such phenomena to delusion.
Demons, Aquinas said, do assail man and do so with the explicit permission of God. Demons and the Devil tempt man with pseudomiracles and are responsible for all sin and sexual impotence. Witchcraft, he declared, is permanent in the world, not to be remedied by more witchcraft, but only by the cessation of sin and sometimes by exorcisms performed by the church (see Exorcism).
See also : Malleus maleficarum.
- Kors, Alan C., and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe, A Documentary History 1100–1700. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972.
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.
Aquinas, Thomas (1225–1274) Dominican saint, philosopher, and arguably the greatest theologian of the Christian church. St. Thomas Aquinas, a student of Albertus Magnus, was knowledgeable about Alchemy but avoided the subject in his writings. Thomas Aquinas is known as Doctor Angelicus and Doctor Communas for his great teachings. His revolutionary philosophy had an important impact on the witch hunts of the Inquisition and was cited by Demonologists and inquisitors for centuries as a basis for their persecutions.
Thomas Aquinas was born Tomasso Aquino into the central Italian local gentry in Roccasecca near Aquino. At the age of six, he was sent to study at the famous Benedictine monastery at Montecassino. When he was 14, he entered the University of Naples, a school known for being innovative and for being one of the first conduits of Aristotle’s complete works, which had only recently entered the Western world via Arabic translations. At 18 Aquinas joined the Dominicans, a new order of mendicant monks especially committed to study, teaching, and preaching. His family attempted to foil this decision by detaining him for almost two years, but they failed to deter him.
He rejoined his Dominican brethren and soon was sent to Paris, where he transcribed the lectures of Albertus Magnus. From 1248 to 1252, Aquinas lived at the priory of the Holy Cross in Cologne, studying with Albert especially the works of Aristotle, impressing his teachers and superiors. Tradition says he was called the dumb ox because he was physically heavy and had a silent, reserved manner. Albertus reportedly told his classmates: “We call this lad a dumb ox, but I tell you that the whole world is going to hear his bellowing!”
In 1256, Aquinas was licensed to teach Dominicans and was named professor of theology in 1257. He achieved fame for his superior intelligence and mental capacity. He taught in Paris and in cities in Italy. Aquinas favored Aristotlean philosophy and made it the foundation for his theological and philosophical writings. He produced numerous great writings, the most famous and important of which is Summa Theologica, a sweeping examination of the entire body of the church’s theology. Begun in 1266, Summa Theologica remained unfinished at his death. He intended it to be a simple manual for students; it turned into the greatest theological document ever written in the church. Organized into three parts, it contains 38 treatises, 612 questions, 3,120 articles, and about 10,000 objections.
In December 1273, Aquinas suffered some sort of breakdown—probably the result of exhaustion—and suddenly abandoned his usual routine and writing. He set out on a journey to Lyons the same month but fell ill on the way. He never recovered. After two months, he was taken to a nearby Cistercian monastery, where he died in a guest room on March 7, 1274. He was canonized in 1323 by Pope John XXII and was declared Doctor of the Church and Doctor Angelicus in 1567 by Pope Pius X.
Aquinas’s only comment on alchemy was that “it is not lawful to sell as good gold that which is made by Alchemy.” Nonetheless, several spurious works on alchemy are attributed to him: Thesaurus Alchemiae, which is addressed to “Brother Regnauld” and discusses the creation of the philosopher’s stone; Secreta Alchymiae Magnalia; De Esse et Essentia Mineralium; and Comment on the Turba. Whoever wrote these treatises coined or recorded for the first time terms still in use in chemistry today—for example, the term amalgam, a compound of mercury and other metals.
Aquinas’s philosophy had a major impact upon the church’s view of witchcraft and in the transformation of sorcery into the heresy of witchcraft. Heresy, even if the product of ignorance, was a sin because ignorance is the product of criminal negligence. Aquinas also stated that the practice of magic was not virtuous and was practiced by “men of evil life.”
He believed in the devil as a tangible person with the senses of man. While he did not believe in formal pacts with the devil, he did believe in implicit pacts. A heretic, just by virtue of being a heretic, could be assumed to give himself or herself over to the Devil, whether or not the thought had even crossed his or her mind. He also believed in the witches’ alleged powers of transvection (flying through the air), metamorphosis (see shape-shifting), storm-raising, and other castings of malevolent spells.
Demons, Aquinas said, do assail people and do so with the explicit permission of God. Demons and the devil tempt with pseudo-miracles and are responsible for all sin and sexual impotence. Witchcraft, he declared, is permanent in the world, not to be remedied by more witchcraft, but only by the cessation of sin and sometimes by exorcisms performed by the church.
According to lore, Aquinas mastered certain feats of magic himself. Such stories were commonly attributed to persons who had knowledge of the supernatural, and Aquinas’s association with Albertus Magnus probably encouraged them. Aquinas is said to have assisted Albertus in the creation of a homuncul us, an animated, humanoid brazen statue that could talk. The statue worked as a servant but chattered so much that Aquinas smashed it to pieces with a hammer.
According to another legend, Aquinas became greatly annoyed by the clatter of horses’ hooves outside his study window every day as grooms led their animals on daily exercises. He created a talisman of a small bronze statue of a horse, inscribed with kabbalistic symbol s, and buried it at midnight in the middle of the road. The next morning, the horses refused to pass over the spot where the statue was buried, rearing up on their hind legs and showing great fright. The grooms were forced to find another place for daily exercises, and Aquinas was left in peace.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Saints. New York: Facts On File, 2002.
- ———. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. 2d ed. New York: Facts On File, 1999.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. Alchemists Through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1970.