Feast of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas (January 28)   8 comments

Royal 19.A.ix,  f. 4. detail

Royal 19.A.ix, f. 4. detail

Above:  Master and Scholars, by Gautier de Metz

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT (CIRCA 1200-NOVEMBER 15, 1280)

Roman Catholic Theologian and Bishop of Ratisbon

His feast transferred from November 15

teacher of

SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS (1225-MARCH 7, 1274)

Roman Catholic Theologian

His feast = January 28

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These two saints, both Doctors of the Church, influenced the course of Roman Catholic theology.

St. Albert the Great, a.k.a. St. Albertus Magnus, born in Lauingen, Bavaria, circa 1200, came from German nobility.  He studied at Bologna and Padua before entering the Dominican Order in 1222.  The the saint studied then lectured in theology in Dominican houses in Germany.  In 1241 St. Albert relocated to Paris, where he began his study of the works of Aristotle.  There, from 1245 to 1248, he was a chair of theology.  In Paris the saint also met and taught St. Thomas Aquinas, allegedly a “dumb ox.”  St. Albert knew better, though.

Aquinas, born at Roccasecca, Italy, in 1225, came from Italian nobility.  When he was five years old his parents sent him to study at the monastery of Monte Cassino; they intended for him to become the abbot there.  At the age of 15 years Aquinas began to study at Naples, where he became interested in joining the Dominican Order.  His family, alarmed by this possibility, kept him under house arrest for 15 months.  Eventually, though, the saint became a Dominican in 1244.  He studied under St. Albert the Great at Paris from 1245 to 1248.  St. Albert introduced Aquinas to the works of Aristotle.

St. Albert’s project, which Aquinas took up also, was the question of the relationship between faith and reason, especially in the context of Aristotelian philosophy.  Both saints considered Christianity and Aristotelian philosophy to be compatible.  Islamic scholars had preserved the works of “the Philosopher,” as Aquinas referred to him, and translated them into Arabic.  The Latin translations of Aristotelian works were not direct translations from Greek; they were translations from Arabic.  Aristotelian philosophy contradicted Platonist philosophy, favored by luminaries such as St. Clement of Alexandria and Origen, who lived about a millennium earlier.  Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas found Aristotelian philosophy helpful regarding Christian doctrine, especially Transubstantiation.  This approach proved controversial during the lifetimes of both saints.

Teacher and pupil moved from Paris to Cologne, where St. Albert founded a new Dominican gymnasium generale, in 1248.  At Cologne the two saints parted company; Aquinas returned to Paris as a lecturer in 1252, and St. Albert began a three-year-long stint as the Provincial of the German province of the Dominican Order the following year.

Aquinas taught and wrote for the rest of his life.  He became a Doctor of Theology in 1256.  Three years later he left to teach in Italy, specifically at Anagni and Orvieto (1259-1265), Rome (1265-1267), and Viterbo (1267-1269).  He spent three years (1269-1272) again, before returning to Naples (1272-1274).  He halted work on the Summa Theologica in December 1273.  Aquinas concluded:

I cannot go on….All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what has been revealed to me.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 50

Aquinas died on March 7, 1274, en route to the Council of Lyons, which St. Albert attended.  The main achievement of that council was the brief union (1274-1289) of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

St. Albert was also busy between 1256 and 1274.  For a time he served as a judge in disputes between ecclesiastical and secular parties.  Then, for two or three years, he was the Bishop of Ratisbon; he restored order to the administration of that diocese.  St. Albert resigned that post.  In 1263 and 1264 he preached the Eighth Crusade in Germany.  (I make no excuses for the Crusades, for the concept of warfare as prayer is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)  Finally, St. Albert lived in a series of Dominican houses, the last one being at Cologne, starting in 1269.

The catalog of St. Albert’s writings included treatises and biblical commentaries.  He composed commentaries on the Gospels, Job, and some of the Hebrew prophets.

St. Albert died at Cologne on November 15, 1280.  The Roman Catholic Church dubbed him “the Great” in the 1300s, beatified him in 1622, and canonized him in 1931.

As great as St. Albert was, Aquinas was greater, at least in the estimation of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Dominican Order imposed his teachings on its members in 1278, just four years after he died.  His canonization in 1323 vindicated Aquinas fully.

I am aware of a variety of well-informed positions within Christianity regarding Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas.  I know, for example, that Holy Mother Church embraced Thomistic theology thoroughly for centuries and that Thomism remains a prominent strain within Roman Catholicism.  I also know of the appeal of Thomism, with its respect of the intellect and human reason, for me.  Furthermore, I know that the great Reformed missionary and theologian Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), no intellectual slouch, objected to what he considered a false dichotomy.  According to Newbigin and those who embrace his position, certainty cannot exist apart from faith, so reason cannot exist apart from faith all knowledge depends upon the assumption (via faith) that x, y, and z are accurate.  (I know that this statement applies to Euclidian geometry.)  Perhaps that proposition is correct.  Regardless of the truth of that matter, one should honor Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas for bringing their intellects to matters of faith and for not being afraid of new (to them) knowledge, as their Platonist forebears Sts. Clement of Alexandria and Origen did.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

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Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with singular learning and holiness of your servants

Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas:

Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars,

and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14

Psalm 119:97-104

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 195

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