Continuing his weekly catecheses on the lives of the saints, on March 24th Pope Benedict discussed the life of Saint Albert the Great, showing, through the example of his life, the "friendship" that exists between faith and science.
The text of his address follows, with my emphases and comments (translation via Zenit):
The text of his address follows, with my emphases and comments (translation via Zenit):
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." (That's not a bad compliment.)
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 (How much more happy and contented our youth would be if parents reminded them of this!). 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 condemnations.
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 sanctity.
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."