Saint Albert the Great

Albertus Magnus: Tutor to the Angelic Doctor

    This holy Doctor of the Church was a man who the devil definitely did not want to become a priest, let alone a Dominican. He was a learned man whose wisdom and holiness rubbed off on another who would go on to be even greater. He was the only saint of the Church called "Great" who was not a Sovereign Pontiff. He was part and parcel of the fruits of the century of saints and took an integral part in the 14th Ecumenical Council. He defended his pupil once called "the dumb ox" against all kinds of calumny and subterfuge, and always in charity. He preached throughout Western Europe, bringing the Gospel to countless souls. This Universal Doctor continued right up to his death with teaching the Faith even though he suffered in his later years from Alzheimer's well before it was even called that. He was He was Saint Albert the Great.

    The 13th Century-born Saint Albert was a product of the Dominican dominance of that period. He was born in the family castle at Lauingen, Bavaria in 1206, in the region of Ausgburg, of parents rich in good fortune. From the time he was a child, he manifested in his studies an unusual aptitude for the exact sciences. While he was still a boy, he had himself let down the side of a cliff to examine at close range an eagle’s nest which interested him. At the age of fifteen he was already a student of the natural sciences and the humanities at Bologna. Saint Dominic had died in that city the preceding year, 1221, and was buried in the Dominican Convent. Their house, in a suburban area of Bologna, was closely associated with the activities at the University, and students in large numbers were requesting admission to the Order.

    Albert was sent to the University of Padua in Italy to study and there he had a longing to enter the Dominican seminary. Blessed Reginald of Orleans, Dominican, a former professor in Paris, came to preach there in the streets. The second Dominican General, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, a compatriot of Albert and a very eloquent preacher, was in Padua, and when the students of Bologna were transferred there Albert heard him at the Padua Dominican Church. His uncle was vigourously opposed to Albert becoming a Dominican, and Albert was still very young. Yet, one night he dreamed that he had become a Dominican but left the Order soon afterwards. The same day he heard Master Jordan preach, and the Dominican General spoke of how the demon attempts to turn aside those who want to enter into religion, knowing that he will suffer great losses from their career in the Church; he persuades them in dreams that they will leave it, or else they see themselves on horseback, or clothed in purple, or as solitaries in the desert, or surrounded by cordial friends; thus he makes them fear entering because they would not be able to persevere. This was precisely Albert’s great concern, faced as he was with his uncle’s opposition. Afterwards the young student, amazed, went to Blessed Jordan, saying: “Master, who revealed my heart to you?” And he lost no time then in entering the Order at the age of sixteen, in 1223, having heard the same preacher remark to him personally that he should consider what a pity it would be if his excellent youthful qualities became the prey of eternal fires.

    After ordination, Albert began teaching at the Order's priory in Cologne, Germany. From there it was on to teach at Freiburg-im-Breisgau, then Regensberg, followed by Strassburg, and finally the University of Paris. There he received his doctorate at the age of 39. When he had earned the title of Doctor in theology, he was sent to Cologne, where for a long time his reputation attracted many illustrious disciples. The humble Albert, filled with the love of God, taught also in Padua and Bologna, in Saxony, at Fribourg, Ratisbonne and Strasbourg, and when Blessed Jordan of Saxony died in 1237, he occupied his place and fulfilled his functions until 1238, when the election of his successor was held.

    Shortly after he was named regent at the University in Cologne. Among his students was a young Dominican who hung on his every word. Thank God he did for that young man was none other than Saint Thomas Aquinas one of the most learned holy men in the history of the Church. Albert discerned how great Thomas would be and personally tutored the young priest. This young religious, already steeped in the highest theological studies, was silent among the others, to the point of being called by his fellow students “the Dumb Ox .” But Albert silenced them, saying, “The bellowings of this ox will resound throughout the entire world.”

    From Cologne, Saint Albert was called to the University of Paris, with his dear disciple who would become the great Angelic Doctor. There Albert's genius appeared in all its brilliance, and there he composed a large number of his writings. Later, obedience took him back to Germany as Provincial of his Order. Without a murmur, he said farewell to his cell, his books, and his numerous disciples, and as Provincial thereafter journeyed with no money, always on foot, visiting the numerous monasteries under his jurisdiction, throughout an immense territory in which were included Austria, Bavaria, Saxony, and other regions even to Holland.

    Albert was the Dominican Provincial of Germany from 1254 to 1257 when he resigned to draw up, along with Thomas Aquinas, a new study curriculum for the Dominican Order in 1259. A year later, though he declined the honor, he was still appointed bishop of Regensburg. In 1262 he resigned the bishopric in order to go back to teaching at the University in Cologne - his first love.

    He took an active role in the Second Council of Lyons held in 1274. That same year his pupil St. Thomas died enroute to the Council, and for a few years after, Albert was the learned saint's greatest defender, specifically of his great work "Summa Theologica". Albert traveled to Paris in 1278 to staunchly defend Thomas' teachings. There had been a group of theologians at the University of Paris, headed by Bishop Stephen Tempier of Paris, who, followers of Saint Augustine and Plato, disagreed with the techniques used by Albert and Thomas. The two saints had pioneered the "Scholastic" method and applied the principles of Aristotle in revealing Church Doctrine. Albert wrote numerous works on Sacred Scripture as well as countless thesises on the Blessed Mother, more than anyone to that time in Church annals.

    Albert was no longer young when he had to submit to the formal order of the Pope and accept, in difficult circumstances, the episcopal see of Ratisbonne. There his indefatigable zeal was rewarded only by harsh trials, in the midst of which his virtue was perfected. When, in response to his persevering requests to be relieved of the responsibilities of a large see, Pope Urban IV restored to him the conventual peace of his Order, he was nonetheless obliged to take up his apostolic journeys again.

    Finally he could enter into a definitive retreat, to prepare for death. One is astonished that amid so many labors, journeys and works of zeal, Albert could find the time to write on the natural sciences, on philosophy and theology, works which form from twenty-one to thirty-eight volumes, depending on the edition — and one may ask in which of his titles he most excelled, that of scholar, of Saint, or of Apostle.

    Less than a year later at the age of 72, Albert contracted what many believe was Alzheimer's Disease and his acumen for teaching and writing greatly diminished until on November 15, 1280 at the age of 73, God took him home. It is truly amazing considering the debilitating crippling effect this disease has on the mind that he could continue as long as he did. His body was buried in Cologne in the Dominican church. He had to wait until December 16, 1931 for the honors of canonization and the extension of his cult to the universal Church. Proclaiming his holiness, Pope Pius XI added the glorious title, so well merited, of Doctor of the Church. From time immemorial, he has been known as Albert the Great - Albertus Magnus. At that same time Pius proclaimed Albert "Albertus Magnus" "the Universal Doctor" - now a Doctor of the Church. Ten years later Pius XI's successor Pope Pius XII proclaimed Albert as the "Patron of Students and Natural Sciences."


Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis] Some of the sources taken from: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894; Saints of the Roman Calendar, Enzo Lodi).



DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH - St. Albert the Great