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SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT

Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church, c.1200-1280

 THIS bug is no longer than that bug." "Some plants have thorns and others have thistles." He noticed little things, this German lad, when he hunted with his falcon on his parents' lands. At the turn of the thirteenth century, when almost everyone read books in an effort to discover the facts of the universe, he learned nature lore by reading nature itself. Painstaking observation and experiment gave him such a knowledge of natural science that in later life he was accused of being a magician. With Roger Bacon, he is recognized as a pioneer in the experimental method in science.

 His detailed observations of nature revealed to Albert not only the mystery of creatures but of the Creator. When he was a student at the University of Padua, about 1223, he joined the newly-founded Dominican Order, encouraged by Blessed Jordan of Saxony. Physics, geography, astronomy, mineralogy, chemistry, and biology seemingly came without effort to the versatile friar. To natural sciences he added philosophy and theology. He was soon teaching in various German convents of the order.

 In the writings of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, he found principles and methods that could be used to systematize Christian theology. This gained him his principal fame as one of the founders of what we know as the "scholastic system." Associates at the University of Paris called him "Universal Doctor," the man who could teach everything.

 In a class at Cologne in 1248 (or perhaps at Paris between 1245 and 1248), he noticed a hulking young student who spoke scarcely a word. Albert told his laughing pupils, "You call this young Sicilian a dumb ox, but one day his bellowing will resound throughout the world! " (The young man was actually a Lombard, but had been born in the south.) Albert appointed him master of students at Cologne when he became regent of the university there. Together they defended the rights of religious students and teachers before the pope at Rome. The young Italian friar proved himself a giant in learning as well as in physique; he surpassed Albert himself, finishing and perfecting the integration of the principles of Aristotle in a Christian system of philosophy that would be at the service of theology. Years later, Albert announced his death to the monks by saying, "The Light of the Church is extinguished!" As an old man, he made his last public appearance to defend the works of his protégé against those who wanted them condemned by the Church.

 For the rest of his life, his eyes filled with tears whenever anyone spoke of his dead pupil, co-worker, and friend, Thomas Aquinas.

 Lectures and books were not sufficient outlets for Albert's fertile genius. For a short time he served as personal theologian and canonist for Pope Alexander IV. The pope, recognizing his talent as an administrator (he had been provincial of the Dominicans in Germany), appointed him bishop of Ratisbon (now Regensburg), but the next pope, Urban IV, recognized that Albert was more valuable to the Church as a research scholar and teacher of philosophy and theology, and permitted Albert to resign. Although he preached a crusade in Germany and Bohemia at the pope's request, this mission had little success. From 1264. to 1267 he lived at Wurzburg, and from 1267 to 1270 at Strasbourg, engaged in teaching and pastoral work. For the remainder of his life he was in Cologne, teaching but also always. active in Church affairs, ordaining priests, consecrating churches and altars, and arbitrating in civil and religious disputes. He died on November 15, 1280.

 Albert was indeed a great man, and his personal authority was equaled by no other man of his time. To rich natural talents were added the perfections of grace and virtue. His penetrating intellect and remarkable application to work enabled him to produce a torrent of books. To a clear understanding of practical problems was joined forcefulness in applying solutions. Grandeur and magnanimity marked his whole career. As with his student and friend Saint Thomas, Albert's intellectual mastery went hand in hand with high spirituality. He was a man of prayer, a humble and zealous son of Saint Dominic, and all his works of culture and charity were inspired by a priestly and apostolic ideal.

 In declaring him a Doctor of the Church, Pope Pius XI called him "exactly the saint whose example should inspire the present age, which so ardently seeks peace and is so full of hope in its scientific discoveries."

 

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