Today is the feast day of the famous Dominican Friar, Teacher, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church – Saint Albert the Great. Born in the year 1206 to the family of Bollstadt at the castle of Lauingen. Not much is known of his youth, but he did attend the University of Padua for some time before entering the Dominican order in 1222. His father did not care for the Dominicans for they were mendicants. Mendicant orders take a vow of poverty. They completely give up all ownership of possessions and rely heavily on the charity of the faithful, hence, they are known as begging friars. Saint Albert’s father tried keeping him from the Dominican Church, but was unable to lure his son away.
He began his teaching at Cologne in 1228. He also oversaw studies at other German universities including Regensburg (where he would someday be Bishop) and Strasburg. For some time he also studied under and taught at the University of Paris, where he earned his master’s degree. After his time in Paris and with the Dominicans opening up four new studia generalia, Saint Albert was sent to be regent in Cologne in 1248. He was there till 1252. During his time as regent, he came to know and teach a young gifted friar – Thomas Aquinas.
As a scholar and teacher, Saint Albert’s writings fill 38 quarto volumes in print. He was a master in physics, chemistry, biology, geography, astronomy, and geology. He also wrote on the subjects of botany and human and animal physiology. As great as he was in these subjects, his claim to fame came with his studies in philosophy. After many years hidden, the works of Aristotle were recovered. Saint Albert realized that he could take the Aristotelian methods and principles and apply them to Christian ethics and theology. He completely rewrote (and Baptized) the works of Aristotle. Along with the Englishman, Alexander of Hales (a Franciscan), Saint Albert developed what would become known as the scholastic system. His student, Thomas Aquinas, would perfect this system of study in the years to come.
In the year 1254, Saint Albert was elevated to prior providential (the guy in charge) of the Dominican Order in Germany. As prior, he forbid that Dominican friars be called ‘master’ or ‘doctor’ at universities. He wanted them to be called by their proper name – friar. He also spent time in Rome where he was an avid defender of the Dominican Order against attacks brought upon them because they were a mendicant order (vow of poverty).
While in Rome, Saint Albert was given the title – office of master of the sacred place. He was the Pope’s personal theologian and canonist. In 1260, the Holy See sent him to the diocese of Regensburg, where he would be Bishop for two years. After his time as Ordinary, he returned to Cologne where he taught and wrote. He attended the fourteenth general council at Lyons in 1274.
In 1277, he traveled to Paris where he defended the writings of his now dead student, Thomas Aquinas (Thomas taught at the University of Paris). The writings of Thomas Aquinas were very much the writings of Saint Albert. He asked the university to examine the writings but the criticism had already been assessed.
While giving a lecture in 1278, the memory of Saint Albert suddenly failed. The loss of memory increased over time and on November 15, 1280 he died surrounded by his Dominican brothers in Cologne. It was a peaceful death.
Other Dominicans (Friars, Religious Sisters, and Lay) after Saint Albert the Great – St. Thomas Aquinas, Blessed Henry Suso, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Pius V – Pope, Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Louis de Montfort, St. Martin of Porres, Blessed John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico), Blessed Hyacinth Marie Cormier, Blessed Margaret of Costello, and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. For more information on the Dominicans, see the blog – Order of Preacher Vocations
Pictures below: Chapel of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Walsh, Micheal. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.