'Aquinas on Being and Essence: A Translation and Interpretation'
By Joseph Bobik (Author), St. Thomas Aquinas (Author)
A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusions, as the Philosopher says in I De Caelo et Mundo cap. 5 (271b8-13), and thus, since being and essence are the things first conceived of by the intellect, as Avicenna says in Metaphysicae I, cap. 6, in order to avoid errors arising from ignorance about these two things, we should resolve the difficulties surrounding them by explaining what the terms being and essence each signify and by showing how each may be found in various things and how each is related to the logical intentions of genus, species, and difference. Since we ought to acquire knowledge of simple things from composite ones and come to know the prior from the posterior, in instructing beginners we should begin with what is easier, and so we shall begin with the signification of being and proceed from there to the signification of essence.
Without doubt the most famous and influential of all medieval European thinkers, St. Thomas Aquinas, entitled the Angelic Doctor, was born in Sicily. He was educated in Paris and became a member of the other great medieval order in Christianity, namely the Dominican Order. He studied with Albertus Magnus who was himself influenced deeply by Islamic philosophy and science and was a defender of Aristotelian thought in the Latin world. St. Thomas taught in Paris for many years where he defended his position on the relationship between faith and reason. He was opposed to both the Latin Averroists, that is, those interpreters of Ibn Rushd in the West who emphasized only the rationalistic aspect of the thought of the great Islamic philosopher, and those Christian thinkers who were totally opposed to rational philosophy. St. Thomas created a vast synthesis based on the Aristotelization of Christian thought, drawing heavily from the writings of Ibn Sina, al- Ghazzali and other Islamic thinkers and creating a summa of theology which has been influential to this day and which is still the most impor- tant source of Catholic theology and philosophy. His two best known works, the Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles, are the greatest summations of classical Catholic philosophy and theology and among the most important works of European thought.
After St. Thomas, his school of thought continued strong into the eighth/fourteenth century with such figures as Duns Scotus but it was also criticized by the nominalists and gradually began to wane until in the ninth/fifteenth and tenth/sixteenth centuries the new wavt+. of Renaissance thought began to replace Scholasticism in most centers of learning in Europe. Scholasticism, especially in the form of Thomism, survived strongly, however, in Italy and Spain into the tenth/sixteenth and eleventh/seventeenth centuries. Moreover, through the influence of Spain it spread into South America where it continued to produce a large number of philosophers of local significance but was not well known within the mainstream of European philosophy which gradually turned away from the synthesis of faith and reason created by the great theolo- gians of the Middle Ages such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure.
(Seyyed Hossein Nasr)