Dominican Saints 101: St. Albert the Great

November 14, 2011

“Boots.”  That was the common name for St. Albert the Great (1193/1206-1280, feast – Nov. 15).  Wherever he went, he traveled humbly by walking.  He traveled all throughout Europe…and walked on each journey.  He could have ridden a horse as a bishop (since he was no longer bound to the Dominican’s rule forbidding the riding of horses).  Yet, if he hadn’t walked, would his eyes and his mind have been as perceptive? St. Albert the Great is a one of the 3 Dominican doctors of the Church (with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena), and is known as the Universal Doctor and the Doctor of Science.  Tradition has it that he knew everything about science that was possible to know in his day.  Regardless of whether or not the skeptics desire to disbelieve such an astounding claim, it is certain that his knowledge was incredibly extensive.  His writings ranged from philosophy to Scriptural commentaries to scholastic theology to botany and zoology.  It was said that he even made a sort of robot.  He did experiments on animals, such as finding out that the myth that ostriches liked to eat iron was true and that there probably existed an animal that we now know as the polar bear.  It was simply amazing how much he wrote, especially since he was a professor, a provincial, and eventually a bishop. But in all his studies, his travels by foot showed not only a sense of obedience to the Dominican Rule, but also something much more.  They show his love for science and God’s providence.  When you walk on a road that you would normally drive, you see so much more.  Nature becomes real in a new way.  Instead of passing you by, it approaches you, offering to invite you into something deeper.  This is probably what St. Albert saw.  In his traveling thousands of miles all throughout Europe over and again, he not only saw things previously unknown to him, but he began to understand in a new way.  It is probably because of this and because of his deep contemplative prayer life that he could write works on animals, plants, and God, all with such profound depth.  And at the same time, he could teach the Church’s brightest student, whose mind worked more deeply than any human person had yet done.  That student was the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Albert is an ideal model not just for Dominicans, but for all Christians.  While he might exemplify the friar’s life of study, contemplation, and preaching, he also teaches all of us to gaze upon the world and see God’s hand in creation.  He teaches us the importance of seeing Divine providence at work. O God, you have made the blessed Albert, your bishop and doctor, great in subjecting human wisdom to divine faith; grant to us, we beg of you, so to tread in the footsteps of such a master, that we may enjoy the perfect light in heaven.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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