St. Albert the Great: Doctor of the Church
By Jean M. Heimann
Today, November 15, the Church celebrates St. Albert the Great, “the light of Germany”, uniquely named the “Universal Doctor” because of his vast knowledge and writings. He was the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. A Dominican priest and the Bishop of Regensburg, Germany, he was the first of the medieval academics to apply Aristotle’s philosophy to Christian thought.
Albert was born in Lauingen on the Danube, near Ulm, Germany in 1206 to a knight from a noble family. As a young man, he studied at the University of Padua and there he met Blessed Jordan of Saxony, the Dominican who made the rounds of the universities of Europe, attracting the best young men of the universities into the Dominicans.
Around 1223, Albert experienced an encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary, which influenced him to enter the Dominican Order at age 16. He was ordained a priest in 1228. He was then sent to teach in Cologne, where he was renown for his lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. After several teaching assignments in his order, he came in 1241 to the University of Paris, where he lectured in theology. In 1245, Albert became a master of theology — the first German Dominican to achieve the title. While teaching in Paris, he was assigned by his order in 1248 to set up a new house of studies for the order in Cologne.
In Paris, he had gathered around him a small band of budding theologians, which included Thomas Aquinas, who became his greatest pupil. Aquinas, exceptionally proficient in theological studies, was silent and reflective, to the point of being christened by his fellow students “the Mute Ox of Sicily.” But Albert quieted them, saying, “The bellowings of this ox will resound throughout the entire world.”
Later he was sent back to Germany to serve as Provincial of his Order. In this position, he traveled with no money, always on foot, visiting the many monasteries under his jurisdiction, throughout a vast territory which included: Austria, Bavaria, Saxony, and Holland.
He was no longer young when he had to submit to the formal order of the Pope to serve as the Bishop of Regensburg. There his zeal was rewarded only by harsh trials, while his virtue was perfected. When he asked to be relieved of his responsibilities, Pope Urban IV permitted him to return to the peace of the monastery.
Albert brought Greek, Arabic science, and philosophy to medieval Europe. He was well-known for his broad interest in the natural sciences and wrote and illustrated guides to his observations. His written works on the natural sciences, on philosophy and theology, form from twenty-one to thirty-eight volumes, depending on the edition.
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 was canonized on December 16, 1931. Proclaiming his holiness, Pope Pius XI added the title of Doctor of the Church. He is known as St. Albert the Great.
St. Albert the Great is the patron of: the archdiocese of Cincinnati Ohio; medical technicians; natural sciences; philosophers; school children; scientists; students; students of theology; and World Youth Day.
Saint Quote: “The greater and more persistent your confidence in God, the more abundantly you will receive all that you ask.” — St. Albert the Great
Prayer to St. Albert the Great
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. Amen.