Biography:Thomas Cajetan

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Short description: 15th/16th-century Italian philosopher and priest
The Reverend

Thomas de Vio Cajetan

Cajetan and Luther.jpg
Martin Luther in front of Cardinal Cajetan by Ferdinand Pauwels
Born(1469-02-20)20 February 1469
Died9 August 1534(1534-08-09) (aged 65)
Rome, Papal States
Alma materUniversity of Padua
Notable work
Summula Caietani. 
EraMedieval philosophy
Main interests

Thomas Cajetan, OP (/ˈkæjətən/; 20 February 1469 – 9 August 1534), also known as Gaetanus, commonly Tommaso de Vio or Thomas de Vio,[2] was an Italian philosopher, theologian, the Master of the Order of Preachers 1508 to 1518, and cardinal from 1517 until his death. He was a leading theologian of his day who is now best known as the spokesman for Catholic opposition to the teachings of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation while he was the Pope's legate in Augsburg, and among Catholics for his extensive commentary on the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas.[3]

He is not to be confused with his contemporary, Saint Cajetan, the founder of the Theatines.


He was born in Gaeta, then part of the Kingdom of Naples, as Jacopo Vio. The name Tommaso was taken as his religious as a friar, while the surname Cajetan derives from his native city. At the age of fifteen, he entered the Dominican order and devoted himself to the study of the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, becoming before the age of thirty a doctor of theology at Padua, and subsequently professor of metaphysics.[4][5] A public disputation at Ferrara (1494) with Pico della Mirandola made his reputation as a theologian.

He became general procurator in 1507 and general of the Dominicans a year later in 1508.

In 1511 a group of dissident cardinals called the Conciliabulum of Pisa (1511–1512) against Pope Julius II, who had ignored the electoral capitulations he had accepted before being elected. Cajetan displayed vigorous support for the papacy in a series of publications. These were condemned by the Sorbonne and publicly burnt by order of King Louis XII.

At the Fifth Lateran Council (1512–17) which Pope Julius II set up in opposition to that of Pisa, De Vio played the leading role. During the second session of the council, in which he gave the opening oration, he obtained the approval of a decree recognizing the superiority of papal authority to that of councils.

Cajetan composed in defence of his position the Tractatus de Comparatione auctoritatis Papæ et conciliorum ad invicem. Jacques Almain answered this work, and Cajetan replied in his Apologia. Cajetan refused to accept Almain's argument that the Church's polity had to be similar to a lay regime, complete with limits on the ruler.[6]

For his support of papal rights, Cajetan was made Bishop of Gaeta, and in 1517 would be made a cardinal and archbishop of Palermo by Pope Leo X.[4]

In 1517, Leo X made him cardinal presbyter of San Sisto in Rome for his services. In the following year, he became Archbishop of Palermo. He resigned Palermo in 1519 to become Bishop of Gaeta, as granted him by the Emperor Charles V for whose election De Vio had laboured zealously.

The meeting of Cajetan and Martin Luther

In 1518, Cajetan was sent as legate to the Diet of Augsburg and at the behest of the Frederick III, Elector of Saxony was entrusted with examining the teachings of Martin Luther. According to Hilaire Belloc, "[Luther] had not been treated roughly by his opponents, the roughness had been on his side. But things had gone against him, and he had been made to look foolish; he had been cross-examined into denying, for instance, the authority of a General Council — which authority was the trump card to play against the Papacy."[7]

In 1519, Cajetan helped in drawing up the bill of excommunication against Luther.[4]

Having proved to be an able diplomat and administrator, Cajetan was employed in several other negotiations and transactions. In conjunction with Cardinal Giulio de' Medici in the conclave of 1521–1522, he secured the election of Adrian Boeyens, then Bishop of Tortosa, as Pope Adrian VI.[4] He retained influence under Pope Clement VII, suffered a short term of imprisonment after the storming of Rome by the Constable of Bourbon and by Frundsberg (1527), retired to his diocese for a few years, and, returning to Rome in 1530, assumed his old position of influence with Pope Clement, on whose behalf he drafted the decision rejecting the petition made by Henry VIII of England for the annulment of his marriage to Catharine of Aragon.[citation needed] Appointed by Clement VII to the commission of cardinals assigned to report on the "Nuremberg Recess", De Vio, in opposition to the majority, recommended certain concessions to the Lutherans, notably the marriage of the clergy as in the Greek Church and communion in both kinds according to the decision of the Council of Basel.[4]

Cajetan, died in Rome in 1534.


File:De Vio - Opuscula omnia, 1596 - 4592647 BEIC3 V00110 F0009.tif As a philosopher and logician, Cajetan defended the idea of analogy.[8]

Though as a theologian Cajetan was a scholastic of the older Thomist type, his general position was that of the moderate reformers of the school to which Reginald Pole, later archbishop of Canterbury, also belonged; i.e.,  he desired to retain the best elements of the humanist revival in harmony with Catholic orthodoxy illumined by a revived appreciation of the Augustinian doctrine of justification.[4] In the field of Thomistic philosophy, he showed striking independence of judgment, expressing liberal views on marriage and divorce, denying the existence of a material Hell and advocating the celebration of public prayers in the vernacular.[citation needed]

Some Dominicans regarded his views as too independent of those of Saint Thomas. The Sorbonne in Paris found some of these views heterodox, and in the 1570 edition of his celebrated commentary on Aquinas' Summa, the objectionable passages were expunged.[citation needed] In this spirit, he wrote commentaries upon portions of Aristotle and upon the Summa of Aquinas, and towards the end of his life made a careful translation of the Old and New Testaments, excepting Solomon's Song, the Prophets and the Revelation of St John.[4] Cajetan also wrote opinions on subjects of practical importance, such as the disposition of plundered goods whose ownership could not be determined.[9]

Of the Reformation he remained a steadfast opponent, composing several works directed against Martin Luther,[10] and taking an important part in shaping the policy of the papal delegates in Germany. Learned though he was in the scholastics, he recognized that to fight the reformers he would need a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures than he possessed. To this study he devoted himself with characteristic zeal, wrote commentaries on the greater part of the Old and the New Testament, and in the exposition of his text, which he treated critically, allowed himself considerable latitude in departing from literal and traditional interpretations.

Cajetan was a man of austere piety and fervent zeal. And from the standpoint of the Dominican idea of the supreme necessity of maintaining ecclesiastical discipline, he defended the rights of the papacy and proclaimed that the pope should be "the mirror of God on earth."[4]

Views on papal authority

Against the Council of Pisa's advocacy of conciliarism, which placed the authority of a general council above the pope's authority, Cajetan responded that a general council could only judge a pope if the pope had become a heretic. In the case of a wicked but non-heretical pope, Cajetan insisted that resistance is sufficient to reduce abuses, while deposition is inadmissible as a council convened without a pope would be "headless" (using the scriptural analogy of the relationship between sheep and their shepherd). In the case of heresy, however, Cajetan wrote that an exceptional general council could be convened to grant the reigning pope a fair hearing, and if he was judged to be in heresy, the council could act to sever the bond between the man holding the papacy and the office itself.[11][12] However, he denied that this action constituted the council acting over the pope, which he regarded as theologically impossible. Rather, he considered that such an action merely indicated that the council could undo the election of that particular man to the office of the pope (since the election was also performed by human beings).[11][12] Cajetan, building on similar discussions from John of Paris and Augustinus Triumphus regarding the removal of heretical popes, interpreted Titus 3:10 as saying that a heretical pope should be deposed after two admonitions.[13]

Modern assessment

On Aquinas

In the mid-twentieth century, Cajetan's thought came to be assessed negatively by certain Catholic commentators who, in reacting against neo-Thomist thought, portrayed Cajetan as the first person to make mistaken interpretations of the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

Fergus Kerr wrote a 2002 book, After Aquinas, attacking Cajetan on this. Among others, he cited Étienne Gilson, who was responding to arguments that 'philosophy' and 'Christianity' were incompatible disciplines, there existed in Hellenistic Judaism, patristic thought and the medieval period a way of thinking, animated by the ancient Greek quest for the cause of being, which could rightly be called 'Christian philosophy'. In Gilson's account, it was in Cajetan's thought that this link was first broken, since Cajetan, influenced by Scotism, reduced Thomas Aquinas's metaphysics of the existential act of being to an ontology of substance. Cajetan and his successors therefore, in Gilson's account, represented Thomas as focused on the forms and essences of beings only, and not on the existence of all things as participation in the pure actuality which is God. Accordingly, for Gilson, 'philosophy' and 'Christianity' are only incompatible if Christian thought is understood in its tradition post-Cajetan—a tradition which is worse than the older, more distinguished tradition of Christian thought.[14] Henri de Lubac wrote in Surnaturel (1946), an account of Aquinas’ views on the natural and the supernatural, that Cajetan's interpretation of Aquinas, while influential, was incorrect. De Lubac argued that Cajetan treated Aquinas as an Aristotelian, working with a definition of nature from Aristotle's Physics, which effectively turned human nature into a reality essentially closed in on itself, with its own intrinsic powers, desires and goals. De Lubac did not think Aquinas was an Aristolean, and that subsequent Catholic thought produced mistaken readings of Thomas Aquinas's account of the relationship between nature and grace.[15]

In 2006, Ralph McInerny and other scholars challenged the negative assessment of Cajetan's work made by De Lubac and Gilson. McInerny writes that the criticisms of Cajetan are not in fact supported by evidence from his works, and furthermore that it is not Cajetan but Gilson whose interpretation of Aquinas is a departure from the latter's beliefs.[16]


Bruce Metzger wrote that Cajetan's biblical commentaries were surprisingly "modern", anticipating biblical textual criticism. Notably, Cajetan revived earlier Christian doubts as to the apostolic authorship of the Epistles of James, Jude, 2 John, and 3 John, as well as opposing Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews.[17]


Summula Caietani, 1530
  • Opera omnia (5 vols., 1639)
  • Opuscula omnia (1530)
  • (in la) Summula Caietani. Paris: Claude Chevallon. 1530. 
  • Commentary on Saint Thomas' Summa theologiae (1540)
  • De divina institutione Pontificatus Romani Pontificis (1521)
  • In Porphyrii Isagogen (1934)
  • De comparatione auctoritatis papae and Apologia (1936)
  • De Anima (1938)
  • Scripta philosophica (6 vols., edited by P. Zammit, M.-H. Laurent and J. Coquelle, 1934–39)



  1. Volz, J. (1908). Tommaso de Vio Gaetani Cajetan. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 21, 2019 from New Advent:
  2. Hill, Benjamin (2011), Lagerlund, Henrik, ed. (in en), Thomas of Vio (Cajetan), Springer Netherlands, pp. 1295–1300, doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-9729-4_494, ISBN 978-1-4020-9729-4,, retrieved 2020-01-22 
  3. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Tommaso de Vio Gaetani Cajetan". 1908-11-01. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Chisholm 1911.
  5. Thomas Cajetan at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  6. Thomas M. Izbicki, "Cajetan's Attack on Parallels Between Church and State," Cristianesimo nella storia 29 (1999): 81-89.
  7. Belloc, Hilaire (1992). How the Reformation Happened. TAN. ISBN 0-89555-465-8. 
  8. Joshua P. Hochschild, The semantics of analogy: rereading Cajetan's De nominum analogia (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010).
  9. Thomas M. Izbicki, "Cajetan on the Acquisition of Stolen Goods in the Old and New Worlds," Rivista di Storia del Cristianesimo 4 (2007): 499-509.
  10. Cajetan Responds A Reader in Reformation Controversy, ed. Jared Wicks (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1978).
  11. 11.0 11.1 Michael O'Connor (2017). Cajetan's Biblical Commentaries Motive and Method. BRILL. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9789004325098. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Tommaso de Vio Cajetan; Jared Wicks (2011). Cajetan Responds A Reader in Reformation Controversy. Wipf & Stock Publishers. p. 10. ISBN 9781610975698. 
  13. Karen Bollermann, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Cary J. Nederman (2014). RELIGION, POWER, AND RESISTANCE FROM THE ELEVENTH TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURIES PLAYING THE HERESY CARD. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 163. ISBN 9781349492213. 
  14. Kerr, Fergus. After Aquinas (2002), pp. 80-83.
  15. Kerr, Fergus. After Aquinas (2002), p. 136.
  16. McInerny, Ralph, "Preambula Fidei; Thomas Aquinas and the God of the Philosophers"
  17. Metzger, Bruce (1987). The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-19-826954-4. 


  • "Aktenstücke uber das Verhalten der römischen Kurie zur Reformation, 1524‑1531," in Quellen und Forschungen (Kön. Press. Hist. Inst., Rome), vol. iii. p. 1‑20; TM Lindsay, History of the Reformation, vol. i. (Edinburgh, 1906).
  • Conciliarism and Papalism, trans. J. H. Burns and Thomas M. Izbicki, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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Preceded by
Jean Clérée
Master General of the Dominican Order
Succeeded by
García de Loaysa
Preceded by
Achille Grassi
Cardinal-Priest of San Sisto
Succeeded by
Nikolaus von Schönberg
Preceded by
Francisco de Remolins
Archbishop of Palermo
Succeeded by
Giovanni Carandolet
Preceded by
Fernando Herrera (bishop)
Bishop of Gaeta
Succeeded by
Esteban Gabriel Merino
Preceded by
Ippolito de' Medici
Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prassede
Succeeded by
Francesco Cornaro (cardinal)