Today is the Feast Day of St. Albert the Great
St. Albert, Pray for Us
St. Albert the Great, The Universal Doctor of the Church
Today, November 15th, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Albert the Great, a 13th century Dominican friar who was renowned for his immense learning and scholarship. He contributed seminal works in diverse fields like philosophy, theology, botany and geology, earning him the title of Doctor Universalis. However, perhaps St. Albert's greatest legacy was his role as a teacher and mentor to one of the Church's greatest theologians - his own student St. Thomas Aquinas.
"He was the first man in 1500 years to study the physiology of plants. He described bees, ants, spiders, eels, salmon–and their habits. He knew as much as or more that the doctors and dentists of his day about medicine, surgery and dentistry. He had a great fund of knowledge about herbal remedies. . . an expert on horses and their diseases. St. Albert knew that gunpowder could be made from sulphur, saltpeter and charcoal. He conducted chemical experiments and held the possibility. . . that synthetic metals…could be made."
—Fr Christopher Rengers
St. Albert exemplified the ideal of a spiritual guide, leading others like Thomas Aquinas to deeper knowledge and wisdom. Just as Albert helped cultivate the Angelic Doctor's intellect, so too did Ambrose of Milan nurture the faith of Augustine of Hippo. In celebrating the feast of St. Albert, we recognize the tremendous spiritual impact that mentors can have in shaping future saints and doctors of the Church.
St. Albert was born in Lauingen, Germany around 1200. From an early age, he displayed a brilliant mind and studied the trivium and quadrivium extensively. He joined the Dominican Order and taught theology in Cologne, where he later met the young Thomas Aquinas.
As Aquinas' teacher, Albert immediately recognized his intellectual gifts. Though opposite in temperament - Albert was gregarious while Thomas shy and quiet - Albert related to his student with patience and humility. He gently guided Aquinas' studies, instilling in him a passion for truth. Though Albert was an eminent scholar, he respected Thomas's opinions and created an environment where Aquinas could question, engage in debate, and develop his own theological perspectives.
The Old Testament praises those who pursue and share wisdom, stating "Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding" (Proverbs 3:13). As the Church's greatest theologians, Albert and Thomas certainly lived out this call.
In his letters, St. Paul highlights the need for spiritual mentors and teachers to build up the Church (1 Cor 12:28). Like Paul with Timothy, Albert helped Aquinas grasp the profundity of the Gospel message and prepared him for his own apostolate as a theologian.
Drawing from their life and works, we see how faith and reason can cooperate in the search for Truth. For Albert and Thomas, theology was fides quaerens intellectum - faith seeking understanding. They embodied the harmony between the two highlighted in the wonderful encyclical Fides Et Ratio by St. John Paul II.
As demonstrated by St. Albert, an effective spiritual guide walks with humility, wisdom and patience. By his life of scholarship and virtue, Albert provided a model for Aquinas to emulate. Guides lead others to truth by creating a space for openness, dialogue and questioning.
For Aquinas, Albert's mentoring bore rich fruits, nurturing his intellect and deepening his wisdom. Through Albert's guidance, Aquinas was able to bless the Church tremendously through his theological works. Every mentor must strive to foster growth and discipleship, whether spiritual or intellectual.
Though separated by centuries, St. Albert provides relevant insight into discipleship for Christians today. Within our families, workplaces and communities, there are many opportunities to nurture others on their faith journey as spiritual companions. We should make time to listen attentively to their questions and struggles, offering guidance to help them through challenges. We must be driven by humble compassion rather than pride, always seeking their growth in understanding and virtue. In this way, we participate in Christ's work of building up the Church, His Body. By selflessly developing the gifts of those entrusted to us. And maybe, just maybe, we can nurture future saints and leaders for the Church. Like St. Albert, we can play an important and pivotal role in awakening faith and wisdom in those around us.
May St. Albert intercede for us as we seek to guide and help others to a deeper relationship and encounter with Jesus Christ and His Church.
“The surest and quickest way to attain perfection, is to strive, for purity of heart. Once the obstacles have been removed, God finds a clear path and does wonders, both in and through the soul.”
—St. Albert the Great
Today’s Mass Collect
O God, who made the Bishop Saint Albert great by his joining of human wisdom to divine faith, grant, we pray, that we may so adhere to the truths he taught, that through progress in learning we may come to a deeper knowledge and love of you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.