Thomas Aquinas' Influence on the Catholic Church

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  • 0:00 Who Was Thomas Aquinas?
  • 0:53 The State of the Church
  • 2:06 Aquinas with a Solution
  • 3:17 Legacy
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

St. Thomas Aquinas was perhaps the most important figure of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. This lesson examines what he did to help protect the Church against a rebirth of critical thinking by using critical thinking to defend the Church.

Who Was Thomas Aquinas?

Have you ever had an argument with someone and ended up arguing on two completely different planes? Sure, your mom is all about you cleaning your room, but she doesn't understand what your friend just sent you on social media is having a major impact on your life.

In 13th century Italy, that's the sort of challenge faced by Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic priest who would become one of the greatest thinkers of the Middle Ages. He was a defender of the faith at a time when Catholicism was under attack by those who sought to apply strict rules of Aristotle's logic. Sure, the arguments of Aristotle didn't make a great deal of sense to everyone who was closely associated with the Church, but as we'll see in this lesson, they were a danger to the future of the Church as it was viewed by those who were at the edges of its influence.

The State of the Church

To really understand just how dangerous Aristotle was to the Church, you've got to understand how medieval education worked. So let's say that you had signed up to be a priest. Now if you showed only average intelligence, you'd be taught to read and write before spending out the rest of your days as a village rector. However, if you showed great intellectual prowess or if a powerful bishop had taken a liking to you, then the world of universities were suddenly opened to you. Here you'd be expected to not only read the great religious works of the day but also works in Greek or Latin to gain familiarity with those languages.

Admittedly, the assigned texts were often stuffy. However, some enterprising scholars started to read works by more eloquent authors, Aristotle being one of those. Eventually, his teachings became more and more influential, to the point of being used by some to directly challenge Church dogma. This was a problem for the Church, as you might imagine. It was enough to deal with heretics and infidels, but it was completely something different to have to contend with discontent in the ranks.

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