St. Albert the Great
By: Fr. Al Judy, O.P.
Albert of Lauingen, was born around 1200 in that Bavarian town on the upper Danube. From a knightly family, he came to study “arts” – philosophy – at the university of Padua. Immensely talented and intellectually curious, he was also a devout believer and he soon came under the spell of the infant Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. Their dedication to holiness and learned preaching, grounded on a lifestyle of study, suited him perfectly. The young priest-friar was put to the task of teaching his brothers, and he grew in knowledge and reputation.
At age 40 he was sent on to become a Master in Theology at Paris. There, lecturing on scripture he was introduced to the even more brilliant young friar from Naples, Thomas d’Aquino, and took him under his wing. Both master and student devoted their careers to integrating the philosophies of the classic Greek and Arabic philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna and Averroes) into the Christian world-view, saving what was of value and identifying real conflicts. While their fellow friars were refuting 13th century heretics from the pulpits of Europe, these intellectuals on behalf of the Church were wrestling in the arena of truth with the giants of human thought.
He served as Prior Provincial of his German Dominican Province and participated in the organization of the curriculum of studies required of the friars. Called by the pope to become the bishop of Regensburg, within two years Albert succeeded in accomplishing the tasks of spiritual renewal, fiscal reform and reconciliation that had been set before him. He then resigned and returned to his Dominican life of teaching and writing.
Albert lived to be 80 years old, and wrote over forty large volumes on theology, scripture, philosophy and natural science. He isolated the element arsenic, the first element to be isolated since antiquity and the first with a known discoverer.
Another of his Dominican disciples, Ulrich of Strassburg (+1277), testified, “My teacher, Albert, at one time the bishop of Regensburg, was in every science an almost divine person, so much so that he can be described as the astonishing wonder of our time.” Even during his lifetime he was called, “Albert the Great.”
Canonized a saint by Pius XI in 1931, he was named patron of the natural sciences by Pius XII in 1941.