Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. Albert the Great
"Scientific Study Is Transformed Then Into a Hymn of Praise"
H.H. Benedict XVI
March 24, 2010
Dear brothers and sisters,
One of the greatest teachers of Medieval theology is St. Albert the
Great. The title "great" (magnus) with which he has passed into history,
indicates the vastness and depth of his doctrine, which he coupled with
holiness of life. But already his contemporaries did not hesitate to
attribute excellent titles to him; one of his disciples, Ulrich of
Strasbourg, described him as "wonder and miracle of our age."
Born in Germany at the beginning of the 13th century, he was still young
when he went to Italy, to Padua, seat of one of the most famous
universities of the Middle Ages. He dedicated himself to the study of
the so-called liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic,
geometry, astronomy and music, that is, of the general culture,
manifesting that typical interest for the natural sciences, which would
soon become the favorite field of his specialization. During his stay in
Padua, he frequented the church of the Dominicans, whom he later joined
with the profession of religious vows. The hagiographic sources lead one
to understand that Albert matured this decision gradually. The intense
relationship with God, the example of holiness of the Dominican Friars,
the listening of sermons of Blessed Giordano of Saxony, successor of St.
Dominic in the leadership of the Order of Preachers, were the decisive
factors that helped him to overcome every doubt, overcoming also family
resistance. Often, in the years of youth, God speaks to us and indicates
the plan of our life. As for Albert, so for all of us, personal prayer
nourished by the Word of the Lord, the frequenting of the sacraments and
the spiritual guidance of enlightened men are the means to discover and
follow the voice of God. He received the religious habit from Blessed
Giordano of Saxony.
After his priestly ordination, the superiors sent him to teach in
several centers of theological study adjacent to monasteries of the
Dominican Fathers. His brilliant intellectual qualities enabled him to
perfect the study of theology in the most famous university of the time,
that of Paris. From then on St. Albert undertook that extraordinary
activity of writer, which he would then follow for his whole life.
He was assigned prestigious tasks. In 1248 he was charged with opening a
theological study at Cologne, one of the most important administrative
centers of Germany, where he lived in successive stages, and which
became his adopted city. From Paris he took with him an exceptional
pupil, Thomas Aquinas. The merit would suffice of having been St.
Thomas' teacher to foster profound admiration toward St. Albert.
Established between these two great theologians was a relationship of
mutual esteem and friendship, human attitudes that help much in the
development of science. In 1254, Albert was elected Provincial of the "Provincia
Teutoniae" -- Teutonic Province -- of the Dominican Fathers, which
embraced communities spread over a vast territory in Central and
Northern Europe. He distinguished himself for the zeal with which he
exercised this ministry, visiting the communities and constantly
recalling his fellow brothers to fidelity, to the teachings and examples
of St. Dominic.
His gifts did not pass unnoticed and the Pope of that time, Alexander
IV, wanted Albert next to him for a certain time in Anagni -- where the
Pope frequently went -- in Rome itself and in Viterbo, to make use of
his theological counsel. The same Supreme Pontiff appointed him bishop
of Regensburg, a great and famous diocese, which was, however, going
through a difficult time. From 1260 to 1262 Albert carried out this
ministry with tireless dedication, succeeding in taking peace and
concord to the city, reorganizing parishes and convents, and giving a
new impulse to charitable activities.
In the years 1263-1264 Albert preached in Germany and in Bohemia,
charged by Pope Urban IV, to return then to Cologne to take up again his
mission of docent, scholar and writer. Being a man of prayer, of
learning and of charity, he enjoyed great authoritativeness in his
interventions, in several affairs of the Church and of the society of
the time. He was above all a man of reconciliation and peace in Cologne,
where the archbishop had entered into harsh opposition with the city's
institutions; he spent himself during the unfolding of the Second
Council of Lyon in 1274, convoked by Pope Gregory X to foster the union
between the Latin and Greek Churches, after the separation of the Great
Schism of the East of 1054; he clarified the thought of Thomas Aquinas,
who was the object of objections and even of wholly unjustified
He died in the cell of his monastery of the Holy Cross in Cologne in
1280, and very soon was venerated by his fellow brothers. The Church
proposed him to the devotion of the faithful with his beatification in
1622 and his canonization in 1931, when Pope Pius XI proclaimed him
Doctor of the Church. It was undoubtedly an appropriate recognition of
this great man of God and illustrious scholar not only of the truths of
the faith, but of very many other sectors of learning; in fact, glancing
at the titles of his very numerous works, we realize that his culture
was something prodigious, and that his encyclopedic interest led him to
be concerned not only with philosophy and theology, as other
contemporaries, but also with every other discipline then known, from
physics to chemistry, from astronomy to mineralogy, from botany to
zoology. For this reason Pope Pius XII named him patron of cultivators
of the natural sciences and he is also called "Doctor universalis"
precisely because of the vastness of his interest and learning.
Of course, the scientific methods adopted by St. Albert the Great are
not those that were to be affirmed in subsequent centuries. His method
consisted simply in observation, description and classification of
phenomenons studied, but thus he opened the door for future works.
He still has much to teach us. Above all, St. Albert shows that between
faith and science there is no opposition, notwithstanding some episodes
of misunderstanding recorded in history. A man of faith and prayer, as
St. Albert the Great was, can cultivate serenely the study of the
natural sciences and progress in the knowledge of the micro and macro
cosmos, discovering the laws proper of matter, because all this concurs
to feed the thirst for and love of God. The Bible speaks to us of
creation as the first language through which God -- who is supreme
intelligence, who is Logos -- reveals to us something of himself. The
Book of Wisdom, for example, states that the phenomena of nature, gifted
with grandeur and beauty, are as the works of an artist, through which,
by analogy, we can know the Author of creation (cf. Wisdom 13:5). With a
classic similarity in the Medieval Age and the Renaissance one can
compare the natural world with a book written by God, which we read on
the basis of several approaches of the sciences (cf. Address to the
participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of
Sciences, Oct. 31, 2008). How many scientists, in fact, in the wake of
St. Albert the Great, have carried forward their research inspired by
wonder and gratitude before a world that, in the eyes of scholars and
believers, seemed and seems the good work of a wise and loving Creator!
Scientific study is transformed then into a hymn of praise. It was well
understood by a great astrophysicist of our times, whose cause of
beatification has been introduced, Enrico Medi, who wrote: "Oh, you
mysterious galaxies ... I see you, I calculate you, I understand you, I
study you and discover you, I penetrate you and I am immersed in you.
From you I take the light and I do science, I take the motion and do
science, I take the sparkling of colors and make poetry; I take you
stars in my hands, and trembling in the unity of my being I raise you
beyond yourselves, and in prayer I hand you to the Creator, that only
through me you stars can adore" (The Works. Hymn to Creation).
St. Albert the Great reminds us that between science and faith there is
friendship, and that the men of science can undertake, through their
vocation to the study of nature, a genuine and fascinating journey of
His extraordinary openness of mind is revealed also in a cultural
operation that he undertook with success, that is, in the acceptance and
evaluation of the thought of Aristotle. Spreading at the time of St.
Albert, in fact, was knowledge of numerous works of this great Greek
philosopher who lived in the fourth century before Christ, above all in
the realm of ethics and metaphysics. They demonstrated the force of
reason, explained with lucidity and clarity the meaning and structure of
reality, of its intelligibility, the value and end of human actions. St.
Albert the Great opened the door for the complete reception of the
philosophy of Aristotle in Medieval philosophy and theology, a reception
elaborated later in a definitive way by St. Thomas. This reception of a
philosophy, let us say, pagan and pre-Christian was an authentic
cultural revolution for that time. And yet, many Christian thinkers
feared Aristotle's philosophy, non-Christian philosophy, above all
because, presented by its Arab commentators, it was interpreted in a way
of appearing, at least in some points, as altogether irreconcilable with
the Christian faith. Thus a dilemma was posed: are faith and reason in
opposition to one another or not?
Here is one of the great merits of St. Albert: with scientific rigor he
studied the works of Aristotle, convinced that everything that is
rational is compatible with the faith revealed in sacred Scriptures. In
other words, St. Albert the Great, thus contributed to the formation of
an autonomous philosophy, different from theology and united to it only
by the unity of the truth. Thus was born in the 13th century a clear
distinction between these two learnings, philosophy and theology, which,
in dialogue between them, cooperate harmoniously in the discovery of the
authentic vocation of man, thirsty for truth and blessedness: and it is
above all theology, defined by St. Albert as "affective science," which
indicates to man his call to eternal joy, a joy that gushes from full
adherence to the truth.
St. Albert the Great was able to communicate these concepts in a simple
and comprehensible way. Authentic son of St. Dominic, he preached
willingly to the people of God, which were conquered by his word and the
example of his life.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray to the Lord so that there will
never be lacking in the Holy Church learned, pious and wise theologians
like St. Albert the Great and may he help each one of us to make our own
the "formula of sanctity" that he followed in his life: "To want
everything that I want for the glory of God, to wish and do everything
only and always for his glory."
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In
English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now
turn to Saint Albert, better known as Albertus Magnus, Albert the Great.
A universal genius whose interests ranged from the natural sciences to
philosophy and theology, Albert entered the Dominicans and, after
studies in Paris, taught in Cologne. Elected provincial of the Teutonic
province, he served as bishop of Regensburg for four years and then
returned to teaching and writing. He played an important part in the
Council of Lyons, and he worked to clarify and defend the teaching of
Saint Thomas Aquinas, his most brilliant student. Albert was canonized
and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI, and Pope Pius XII
named him the patron of the natural sciences. Saint Albert shows us that
faith is not opposed to reason, and that the created world can be seen
as a "book" written by God and capable of being "read" in its own way by
the various sciences. His study of Aristotle also brought out the
difference between the sciences of philosophy and theology, while
insisting that both cooperate in enabling us to discover our vocation to
truth and happiness, a vocation which finds its fulfillment in eternal
I welcome all the English-speaking visitors, especially a group of
priests, Religious and seminarians visiting from the Philippines. Upon
all the English-speaking pilgrims and your families, I invoke God's
ęCopyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[He concluded in Italian:]
Finally, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. May the Solemnity
of the Annunciation, which we celebrate tomorrow, be for all an
invitation to follow the example of Mary Most Holy: for you, dear young
people, may it translate into prompt availability to the call of the
Father, so that you can be evangelical leaven in our society; for you,
dear sick, may it be a stimulus to renew the serene and confident
acceptance of the divine will and transform your suffering into a means
of redemption for the whole of humanity; may Mary's yes inspire in you,
dear newlyweds, an ever more generous commitment in building a family
founded on mutual love and eternal Christian values.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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