A fourteenth-century Scholastic theologian of the Order of Saint Augustine, Thomas was born, according to some writers, at Hagenau in Alsace, but according to others, at Strasburg (sometimes spelt Strasbourg). It was probably at Strasburg that he entered the Augustinian Order, and there also began his career as a teacher.
About the year 1341 he was sent to Paris. There he became one of a number of brilliant Augustinian teachers and scholars who taught in Paris at the studium generale (international house of study for Augustinians), which was a section of the University of Paris. Following in the academic footsteps and reputation of Giles of Rome O.S.A. who had been taught there by Thomas Aquinas, there were the Augustinians Gerard of Siena (died 1336), Prospero of Regio Emilia (d. after 1332), Michael of Massa (d. 1337), Henry of Friemar (d. 1340) and Thomas of Strasburg (d. 1357).
As a teacher and commentator, Thomas of Strasburg adhered closely to the doctrines of Giles of Rome O.S.A. (Ægidius Romanus, or de Columna), who since 1287 had been recognized as the doctor ordinis ("The Doctor of the Order") for the Augustinians. He opposed the innovations of Henry of Ghent and the abstruse distinctions of the Scotists. For example, on the question of the distinction between the nature of God and the Divine attributes, he taught that there can be no formal distinction, nor any distinction of any kind except by comparison of the external effects of those attributes. Similarly there is, he maintained, no formal distinction between God and the Divine ideas; whatever distinction exists among the ideas themselves or between the ideas and the Divine essence is the work of the Divine intellect.
In regard to the origin of the universe, he maintained that the doctrine of creation can be proved by strict demonstrations, the starting-point of the proof being the fact that the power of God, being unlimited, could not postulate a material as a necessary condition of action: just as the existence of God does not postulate any other being, so the Divine action does not postulate a material on which to act. This refers, however, to creation in general. Whether the material universe was created in time or with time, or, on the contrary, was created ab aeterno, is a question which, he believed, the human mind cannot solve without the aid of revelation.
He interested himself also in the promotion of study among the members of the Order, and was instrumental in founding at Verona in Italy during 1351 a studium generale (an Augustinian house of higher studies for selected members of the Order) for the study of logic, philosophy, and theology. His best known work is a commentary on the Books of Sentences of Peter Lombard that was published in printed form at Strasburg in 1490 (other editions: Venice, 1564 and 1588; Genoa, 1585; Geneva, 1635). He was also the author of sermons, meditations, and letters that are still unpublished.
He was elected Prior General of his Order at the General Chapter at Paris in 1345. He was probably the fourteenth Prior General since the Grand Union of the Order in 1256, and the first one who was not Italian. He must have possessed unusual administrative talents in view of the position that he had held in the Diocese of Strasburg previously, as well as the fact that he was re-elected at three successive General Chapters of the Order of St Augustine. He was carrying out his third term of office at the time of his death in 1357.
He inherited unfinished business from his predecessors in answering the direction of General Chapter of 1329 to revise the Augustinian Constitutions that had been approved at Ratisbon in 1290. This he did; not wanting to dispense with what was still generally a good body of legislation, Thomas simply wrote additiones (“additions”) at the end of most of its fifty-one sections, which were then accepted by the General Chapter at Pavia in 1348.
The last ten years of his generalate was a calamitous time for the Order of Saint Augustine and for the population of Europe generally because of the Black Death (1347 to 1351). The significant reduction of numbers required the General Chapter of 1351 to grant various kinds of dispensation, such as the lowering of entry standards and entry age requirement of the Order. Despite the efforts of Thomas and his successors, religious observance was weakened and discipline declined. He has become one of the better-known theologians in the history of the Order of Saint Augustine. Additional
The above photographs show part of the route known as the Via Francigena. For Augnet pages on the Via Francigena, click here.