15 Nov Saint Albert the Great, Doctor of the Church, Bishop
Today is the feast day of Saint Albert. Ora pro nobis.
Be Thou Blessed, O Humanity of my Saviour, Which was united to the Divinity in the womb of a Virgin Mother! Be Thou Blessed, O sublime and eternal Divinity, Who wast pleased to come down to us under the veil of our flesh! Be Thou for ever Blessed Who, by the power of the Holy Ghost, didst unite Thyself to virginal flesh! I salute you also, O Mary, in whom the fulness of the Divinity dwelt! I salute you in whom the fulness of the Holy Ghost dwelt! May the most pure Humanity of the Son be equally Blessed, Which, consecrated by the Father, was born of you! I salute thee, O unspotted virginity, now raised above all the choirs of Angels. Rejoice, O Queen of Heaven, who didst merit to become the temple of the spotless Humanity of Christ! Rejoice, and be glad, O Virgin of virgins, whose pure flesh united the Divinity with the Sacred Humanity! Rejoice, and be glad, O Spouse of the holy Patriarchs, who wast deemed worthy to nourish and suckle at thy breast the Sacred Humanity. I salute thee, ever blessed and fruitful virginity, which didst merit to obtain the fruit of life and the joys of eternal salvation. Amen. Prayer Composed by St. Albert the Great
Albert was the eldest son of the count of Bollstädt, a military Lord in service to Emperor Frederick II. He was born in the family castle at Lauingen, Swabia, Germany. He is called “the Great”, and “Doctor Universalis” (Universal Doctor), in recognition of his extraordinary genius and extensive knowledge, for he was proficient in every branch of learning cultivated in his day, and surpassed all his contemporaries, except perhaps Roger Bacon (1214-94), in the knowledge of nature. Ulrich Engelbert, a contemporary, calls him the wonder and the miracle of his age: “Vir in omni scientia adeo divinus, ut nostri temporis stupor et miraculum congrue vocari possit” (De summo bono, tr. III, iv).
Saint Albert the Great was born in the region of Ausgbourg, of parents rich in the goods of fortune. From the time he was a child, he manifested in his studies an unusual aptitude for the exact sciences. While he was still a boy, he had himself let down the side of a cliff to examine at close range an eagle’s nest which interested him. At the age of fifteen he was already a student of the natural sciences and the humanities at Bologna; Saint Dominic had died in that city the preceding year, 1221, and was buried in the Dominican Convent. Their house, in a suburban area of Bologna, was closely associated with the activities at the University, and students in large numbers were requesting admission to the Order.
Blessed Reginald of Orleans, Dominican, a former professor in Paris, came to preach there in the streets. The second Dominican General, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, a compatriot of Albert and a very eloquent preacher, was in Padua, and when the students of Bologna were transferred there Albert heard him at the Padua Dominican Church. He had already desired to enter the Order, but his uncle opposed to that plan a very vigorous opposition, and Albert was still very young. He dreamed one night that he had become a Dominican but left the Order soon afterwards. The same day he heard Master Jordan preach, and the Dominican General spoke of how the demon attempts to turn aside those who want to enter into religion, knowing that he will suffer great losses from their career in the Church; he persuades them in dreams that they will leave it, or else they see themselves on horseback, or clothed in purple, or as solitaries in the desert, or surrounded by cordial friends; thus he makes them fear entering because they would not be able to persevere. This was precisely Albert’s great concern, faced as he was with his uncle’s opposition. Afterwards the young student, amazed, went to Blessed Jordan, saying: “Master, who revealed my heart to you?” And he lost no time then in entering the Order at the age of sixteen, in 1223, having heard the same preacher remark to him personally that he should consider what a pity it would be if his excellent youthful qualities became the prey of eternal fires.
When he had earned the title of Doctor in theology, he was sent to Cologne, where for a long time his reputation attracted many illustrious disciples. The humble Albert, filled with the love of God, taught also in Padua and Bologna, in Saxony, at Fribourg, Ratisbonne and Strasbourg, and when Blessed Jordan of Saxony died in 1237, he occupied his place and fulfilled his functions until 1238, when the election of his successor was held. He returned then to Cologne, where he would encounter a disciple who alone among all of them would suffice for his glory — Saint Thomas Aquinas. This young religious, already steeped in the highest theological studies, was silent among the others, to the point of being called by his fellow students “the Mute Ox of Sicily.” But Albert silenced them, saying, “The bellowings of this ox will resound throughout the entire world.”
From Cologne, Saint Albert was called to the University of Paris, with his dear disciple. There his genius appeared in all its brilliance, and there he composed a large number of his writings. Later, obedience took him back to Germany as Provincial of his Order. Without a murmur, he said farewell to his cell, his books, and his numerous disciples, and as Provincial thereafter journeyed with no money, always on foot, visiting the numerous monasteries under his jurisdiction, throughout an immense territory in which were included Austria, Bavaria, Saxony, and other regions even to Holland.
He was no longer young when he had to submit to the formal order of the Pope and accept, in difficult circumstances, the episcopal see of Ratisbonne; there his indefatigable zeal was rewarded only by harsh trials, in the midst of which his virtue was perfected. When, in response to his persevering requests to be relieved of the responsibilities of a large see, Pope Urban IV restored to him the conventual peace of his Order, he was nonetheless obliged to take up his apostolic journeyings again. Finally he could enter into a definitive retreat, to prepare for death. One is astonished that amid so many labors, journeys and works of zeal, Albert could find the time to write on the natural sciences, on philosophy and theology, works which form from twenty-one to thirty-eight volumes, depending on the edition — and one may ask in which of his titles he most excelled, that of scholar, of Saint, or of Apostle.
He died, apparently of fatigue, at the age of seventy-three, on November 15, 1280, and his body was buried in Cologne in the Dominican church. He had to wait until December 16, 1931 for the honors of canonization and the extension of his cult to the universal Church. Proclaiming his holiness, Pope Pius XI added the glorious title, so well merited, of Doctor of the Church. From time immemorial, he has been known as Albert the Great. (1)
The influence exerted by Albert on the scholars of his own day and on those of subsequent ages was naturally great. His fame is due in part to the fact that he was the forerunner, the guide and master of St. Thomas Aquinas, but he was great in his own name, his claim to distinction being recognized by his contemporaries and by posterity. It is remarkable that this friar of the Middle Ages, in the midst of his many duties as a religious, as provincial of his order, as bishop and papal legate, as preacher of a crusade, and while making many laborious journeys from Cologne to Paris and Rome, and frequent excursions into different parts of Germany, should have been able to compose a veritable encyclopedia, containing scientific treatises on almost every subject, and displaying an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology which surprised his contemporaries and still excites the admiration of learned men in our own times. He was, in truth, a Doctor Universalis. Of him it in justly be said: Nil tetigit quod non ornavit; and there is no exaggeration in the praises of the modern critic who wrote: “Whether we consider him as a theologian or as a philosopher, Albert was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary men of his age; I might say, one of the most wonderful men of genius who appeared in past times” (Jourdain, Recherches Critiques). Philosophy, in the days of Albert, was a general science embracing everything that could be known by the natural powers of the mind; physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. In his writings we do not, it is true, find the distinction between the sciences and philosophy which recent usage makes. It will, however, be convenient to consider his skill in the experimental sciences, his influence on scholastic philosophy, his theology. (9)
In theology Albert occupies a place between Peter Lombard, the Master of the Sentences, and St. Thomas Aquinas. In systematic order, in accuracy and clearness he surpasses the former, but is inferior to his own illustrious disciple. His “Summa Theologiae” marks an advance beyond the custom of his time in the scientific order observed, in the elimination of useless questions, in the limitation of arguments and objections; there still remain, however, many of the impedimenta, hindrances, or stumbling blocks, which St. Thomas considered serious enough to call for a new manual of theology for the use of beginners — ad eruditionem incipientium, as the Angelic Doctor modestly remarks in the prologue of his immortal “Summa”. The mind of the Doctor Universalis was so filled with the knowledge of many things that he could not always adapt his expositions of the truth to the capacity of novices in the science of theology. He trained and directed a pupil who gave the world a concise, clear, and perfect scientific exposition and defence of Christian Doctrine; under God, therefore, we owe to Albertus Magnus the “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas. (9)
Marian Prayer of Saint Albert the Great:
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.”
For note, Mary,
for you have found grace,
not taken it as Lucifer tried to so.
You have found grace,
not lost it as Adam did.
You have found favor with God
because you desired and sought it.
You have found uncreated Grace,
that is, God himself became your Son,
and with the Grace
you have found and obtained every uncreated good.”
Image: Vincenzo Onofri, Sant’Alberto Magno (1493), esposto nel Museo civico medievale a Bologna.
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff
Saint Albert le Grand, textes et études, translated and with a preface by Albert Garreau (Éditions Montaigne: Paris, 1942); Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).