St. Albert the Great
Who Is Albert the Great?
On November 15th, the Church remembers Saint Albert the Great, who had become a name even in his own time due to his logic, philosophy, and advances of the sciences. St. Albert, who is also called Saint Albertus Magnus and Albert of Cologne, was a Dominican priest and a teacher, and has been declared a Doctor of the Church. He is the patron of medical technicians, philosophers, scientists, students, and students of theology.
A Brief Biography
Not much is known of Albert’s childhood and early education. He was born sometime between 1193 and 1206 at Lauingen, Swabia (now part of modern day Germany), the son of a military nobleman. At some point he went to study at the university at Padua, though exactly when is unknown. In 1223, he answered the call to the religious life, and joined the Order of St. Dominic. After completing his studies in theology, he became a teacher. One of his students was the young St. Thomas Aquinas. Albert introduced Greek and Arabic science and philosophy to Europe and became widely known for his interest in what would later be termed as the natural sciences.
In 1254 Albert was made a provincial of the Dominican Order, and in 1260 was made Bishop of Regensburg, an office from which he resigned after 3 years. He would outlive St. Thomas Aquinas, and learning of the death of his pupil, whose theological skill had surpassed his own, came as a devastating blow to Albert. Upon the death of St. Thomas, Albert cried out that the “Light of the Church has been extinguished.” After 1278, Albert’s health declined rapidly; his mind became clouded and forgetful and his body was weakened. He died at Cologne, Prussia (modern day Germany) on November 15th, 1280.
Albert and the Natural Sciences
"The aim of natural science is not simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature" – St. Albert
As mentioned above, one of Albert’s legacies, in his own time and beyond, was his knowledge and interest in the sciences. He is credited for bringing the scientific ideas of Aristotle to medieval scholars; and also for indicating the method and the spirit in which that teaching was to be received. His appreciation of Aristotle was also critical – he recognized the strengths of Aristotle, but also pointed out his errors. He was considered an expert in physics, geography, astronomy, chemistry, and other natural sciences. His studies and writings not only advanced scientific knowledge in his time, but are also considered important and influential because of his emphasis that Faith and science go hand in hand.
Philosophical and Theological Influences
Even greater than St. Albert’s influence on the study of natural sciences is his lasting influence on the study of philosophy and theology. He gave Christian theology and philosophy the form and method it largely retains today. In a way, he cleared a path for his student, St. Thomas, who would excel beyond St. Albert’s skills and accomplishments. Albert adopted principles of Aristotle in order to systematize theology, developing a process of scientific exposition and defense of Christian doctrine. The choice seemed shocking to some, but was in line with teaching laid down by St. Augustine, which explained that “truths found in the writings of pagan philosophers were to be adopted by the defenders of the true faith, while their erroneous opinions were to be abandoned, or explained in a Christian sense.” The Aristotelian methods were comprehensive and logical, and would prove useful when applied to the study and teaching of Christian theology.
A Prayer to Saint Albertus Magnus
Dear Scientist and Doctor of the Church,
Natural science always led you to the higher science of God.
Though you had an encyclopedic knowledge, it never made you proud,
for you regarded it as a gift of God.
Inspire scientists to use their gifts well in studying the wonders of creation, thus bettering the lot of the human race and rendering greater glory to God.
(Prayer is from the Patron Saints Index)