Thought for the Day – 15 November – St Albert Magnus OP (1200-1280) Doctor Universalis (“Universal Doctor”)
Albert the Great was a 13th-century German Dominican who decisively influenced the Church’s stance toward Aristotelian philosophy brought to Europe by the spread of Islam.
Students of philosophy know him as the master of Thomas Aquinas. Albert’s attempt to understand Aristotle’s writings established the climate in which Thomas Aquinas developed his synthesis of Greek wisdom and Christian theology. But Albert deserves recognition on his own merits as a curious, honest and diligent scholar.
He was the eldest son of a powerful and wealthy German lord of military rank. He was educated in the liberal arts. Despite fierce family opposition, he entered the Dominican novitiate.
His boundless interests prompted him to write a compendium of all knowledge: natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics. His explanation of learning took 20 years to complete. “Our intention,” he said, “is to make all the aforesaid parts of knowledge intelligible to the Latins.”
He achieved his goal while serving as an educator at Paris and Cologne, as Dominican provincial and even as Bishop of Regensburg for a short time. He defended the mendicant orders and preached the Crusade in Germany and Bohemia.
An information glut faces us Christians today in all branches of learning. One needs only to read current Catholic periodicals, to experience the varied reactions to the findings of the social sciences, for example, in regard to Christian institutions, Christian life-styles and Christian theology. Ultimately, in Canonising Albert, the Church seems to point to his openness to truth, wherever it may be found, as his claim to holiness. His characteristic curiosity prompted Albert to mine deeply for wisdom within a philosophy his Church warmed to with great difficulty but his influence was vast and led the great minds who followed him, to delve more deeply and create greater clarity and understanding.