What is the relationship and/or opposition between Aquinas' writings and Magisterium? That is, what can generally be said about using Aquinas to explain doctrine?

Or contrarily, does Aquinas stand in opposition to Magisterium such that his works cannot generally be used to explain or refine statements found in encyclicals?

This question: Are Catholics required to accept every article of Aquinas's «Summa Theologica»? does NOT answer my question. That question is about whether all parts of the Summa must be accepted (which is not quite but similar to "are all parts of the Summa magisterial?"). The answer was determined to be no and while the answers include substantial information around Aquinas', it doesn't answer what weight Aquinas has in relation to magisterial statements. i.e. In what case if any is the argument "that's substituting Aquinas for the Magisterium" reasonable or correct?

  • I don't want to mod-hammer close this question (and I didn't DV fwiw) but have you looked at christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/50210/…? I'm guessing a downvote is for lack of meat in the question
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 13:42
  • That's not the same concept I'm getting at. That one is similar to "does Catholic magisterium include all of the Summa?" and I'm more asking "Does an opposition or concord exist between Aquinas and the Magisterium?" Namely because I've been accused of using Aquinas in place of the Magisterium.
    – eques
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 13:45
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    @PeterTurner also eques: I have been meaning to ask a question similar to this, to confirm whether there is a certain hierarchy / priority. Example: is it right that when there is an explicit teaching in the Catechism / encyclical / church documents / other promulgated docs to all bishops then those take precedence? That Aquinas, being one of the Doctors, qualifies his writings to be consulted when those documents don't explicitly address an issue and when there's a conflict, the documents trump the Summa? Is that hierarchical usage the established practice of the Catholic Church? Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 15:42
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    @GratefulDisciple this answer explains the hierarchy christianity.stackexchange.com/a/54918/4 in relation to submission, but not in precedence for consultation. But, if you had to do a OG google page rank on recent encyclicals and documents it seems like they have really liked referencing Vatican II and Vatican I documents followed by other encyclicals less than 50 years old. Aquinas is referenced here WAY more than in anything I've ever read from the Vatican.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 15:57
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    @eques in some cases, the magisterium points to Aquinas for support of a doctrine. In other cases, his points contradict the magisterial conclusions, so I don't think it makes sense to speak broadly of "replacing" the magisterium with Aquinas. There are many, many cases wherein Aquinas is cited in magisterial documents, probably second in frequency only to scripture. Unless you are discussing a particular doctrine where Aquinas and the magisterium are known to disagree, relying on Aquinas for your theological information is a safe bet.
    – jaredad7
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 13:52

1 Answer 1


Generally, the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas are considered by the Catholic Church to be second only to those writings contained in the canon of Sacred Scripture. Given this, much attention ought to be paid to what he has written on every point of theology. His theological writing has guided the Church in the development of doctrine since the middle ages.

Where the Magisterium departs from Aquinas, we ought to assent to what the Magisterium says, as the Church, and not Aquinas, is guaranteed to be protected from error by the Holy Spirit, according to the words of Christ. However, we should try to understand why the Magisterium has departed from Aquinas whenever she does, as such an exercise can only assist us in growing in wisdom and understanding of the faith.

On matters for which the Magisterium has not made official pronouncements, it is safe to believe the same thing any Doctor of the Church has said, whether they are Aquinas or another Doctor. But, you are under no obligation to believe the same things as them unless the Church has said you must. Although you are under no obligation, if you will disagree with them, you ought to be able to explain why.

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