Archive for the ‘St. Albertus Magnus’ Tag

Feast of James Woodrow (January 17)   Leave a comment

Above:  James Woodrow

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


JAMES WOODROW (MAY 30, 1828-JANUARY 17, 1907)

Southern Presbyterian Minister, Naturalist, and Alleged Heretic


Let the Church show herself the patroness of learning in everything…and let her never be subjected by mistaken friends, to the charge that she fears the light.

–James Woodrow, November 22, 1861; quoted in Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Vol. 1, 1607-1861 (1963), 508


Above:  Logo of the Presbyterian Church in the United States

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


James Woodrow, brother-in-law of Joseph Ruggles Wilson (1822-1903) and uncle of President (first of Princeton University then of the United States of America) Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via two authors.  For this post I draw from Clayton H. Ramsey’s article about Bethany Presbyterian Church, Greene County, Georgia, in the Autumn 2018 issue of Georgia Backroads magazine.  I also derive information from the first two volumes of Ernest Trice Thompson‘s magisterial three-volume work, Presbyterians in the South (1963-1973).  I also derive information from Journals of Southern Presbyterian General Assemblies.

James Woodrow, a native of England, spent most of his life in the United States.  He, born in Carlisle on May 30, 1828, emigrated with his family as a youth.  He graduated from Jefferson College, Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1849.  Then he studied under naturalist Louis Agassiz at the Lawrence Scientific School, Harvard.  After teaching in Alabama, Woodrow was a professor at Oglethorpe University, Midway, Georgia, from 1853 to 1861.  He taught geology, botany, chemistry, and natural philosophy.  Our saint also took a few years off to earn graduate degrees at the University of Heidelberg.  When he graduated in 1856, he could have become the Chair of Natural Sciences at Heidelberg, had he accepted the offer.  Woodrow studied theology after returning to Oglethorpe University.  He became a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (Old School) on October 15, 1859; the ordination occurred at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Greene County, Georgia.

Columbia Theological Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina, created an endowed professorship, Woodrow’s next job, in 1861.  Judge John Perkins, of Mississippi, provided the funding for the position, with the intention that the Perkins Professor of Natural Science refute Evolution and prepare seminarians to do the same.  Woodrow, who started the job in late 1861, insisted on academic freedom, though.  He also carried into the professorship his conviction that God could not contradict himself in the Bible and in science, and that any seeming contradiction between the Bible and science must result from the misinterpretation of scripture.  This position left Woodrow, who refused to dismiss rock layers and fossil records, open to accepting Evolution, which he did by 1884.

The Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA) formed at First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, on December 4, 1861.   Wilson became a charter member of the new denomination.

The Civil War disrupted elements of church life in the South.  Columbia Theological Seminary closed for most of the conflict.  Furthermore, The Southern Presbyterian did not always go to the presses.  Woodrow remained busy, though.

  1. He edited The Southern Presbyterian.
  2. He became the Treasurer of the PCCSA’s Foreign Mission Committee in 1861.
  3. He became the Treasurer of the PCCSA’s Home Mission Committee in 1863.
  4. He taught chemistry at the College of South Carolina.
  5. He managed the Medical and Chemical Confederate Laboratory, which made silver nitrate for wound care.

In December 1865, after Confederate defeat, the PCCSA renamed itself the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS).

When Columbia Theological Seminary reopened and The Southern Presbyterian resumed publication, Woodrow’s roles at them resumed, also.  He was one of the more progressive members of his denomination; he favored friendly relations with the “Northern” (actually national) Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  As Woodrow became more accepting of Evolution, he moved in a direction opposite of that of the PCUS.  By 1884 his alleged heresy had become so controversial that the seminary closed for two years, reopening in 1886.  The seminary board requested in 1884 that Woodrow resign; he refused.  The heresy trial, held at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Greene County, Georgia, in 1886, ended in an acquittal.  Nevertheless, the seminary board fired our saint on December 8, 1886.

The PCUS General Assemblies of 1886, 1888, 1889, and 1924 passed resolutions taking the position opposite of Professor Woodrow.

Life went on for James Woodrow, who remained prominent in the PCUS.  He, the editor of The Southern Presbyterian consistently since 1866, continued in that role until 1893.  On the side, he continued to teach at the University of South Carolina, where he had been on faculty since 1869.  The seminary board forbade Columbia students to attend his lectures, though.  Woodrow went on to serve as the President of the University of South Carolina from 1891 to 1897.  Furthermore, he was, for a time, the President of the Central National Bank, Columbia.  In 1896, when the Presbytery of Charleston sought to prevent African-American men from becoming ordained ministers, Woodrow sided against the presbytery and with the Synod of South Carolina.  The General Assembly supported the position of the synod.

Woodrow retained the ability to create controversy at the end of his life.  The General Assembly of 1901 elected him the Moderator for a year.  The following year, at the General Assembly, our saint offended many in his sermon; he recognized the Roman Catholic Church as a Christian organization.  The General Assembly of 1902 passed a resolution NOT to print his sermon.

Woodrow, ailing in 1906, had surrendered his leadership roles in the church.  That year, as he neared death, the Board of Directors of Columbia Theological Seminary passed resolutions praising him for his piety and orthodoxy.

Woodrow, aged 78 years, died in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 17, 1907.

The General Assembly of 1969 affirmed:

Neither Scripture, nor our Confession of Faith, nor our catechisms, teach the creation of man by direct and immediate acts of God as to exclude the possibility of evolution as a scientific theory.

Woodrow would have approved.

Good science should always overrule bad theology.

The Christian Church has a mixed record regarding science, faith, and reason.  On the positive side are giants such as James Woodrow, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Galileo Galilei.  The Society of Jesus has a venerable tradition of astronomy.  One may reach back as far as St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 210/2015), the “Father of Christian Scholarship,” who affirmed the value of truth, whether or not of Christian origin.  One may also continue that line through his pupil, Origen.  When one skips a few centuries, one arrives at St. Albert the Great (d. 1280) and his student, St. Thomas Aquinas, who affirmed the compatibility of faith and reason.  On the negative side are figures such as St. Robert Bellarmine (who confronted Galileo and whom I will never add to my Ecumenical Calendar) and William Jennings Bryan (who, likewise, has less probability than  a snowball in Hell of joining the ranks at my Ecumenical Calendar).

All this is easy for me to write, for I am unapologetic product of the Northern Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the best of Roman Catholic tradition.  My intellectualism and my acceptance of science inform my Christian faith.  God is not the author of confusion.  Furthermore, God does not deceive us with manufactured fossils and rock layers meant to test our faith.  God cannot lie, but human beings are capable of misunderstanding.





God of grace and glory, you create and sustain the universe in majesty and beauty:

We thank you for James Woodrow and all in whom you have planted

the desire to know your creation and to explore your work and wisdom.

Lead us, like them, to understand better the wonder and mystery of creation;

through Jesus Christ your eternal Word, through whom all things were made.  Amen.

Genesis 2:9-20

Psalm 34:8-14

2 Corinthians 13:1-6

John 20:24-37

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 738


Feast of Blessed Roger Lefort (March 1)   Leave a comment


Above:  Icon of Sts. Anne and Mary

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bourges

The renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days resumes, this time with saints with feast days in March, as 2016 passes the torch to 2017.

Blessed Roger Lefort was an important yet relatively observe (by current standards) saint.  He, of French noble origin, was the nephew of a cardinal.  In 1321 Lefort was a sub-deacon.  Also during that year the See of Orleans became vacant.  Certain clergymen competed to become the next Bishop of Orleans.  Lefort disapproved of such political maneuvering.  Although he did not seek the position and even considered himself unworthy to hold it, he became the next Bishop of Orleans in 1321.  The Holy Spirit had spoken, some claimed.  Lefort had, prior to his selection, joked that he would be a good bishop.  What he intended as sarcasm a sufficient number of people interpreted as truth.  Lefort was a capable bishop, one who translated to Limoges in 1328 then became the Archbishop of Bourges in 1343.

Liturgically Lefort pioneered the observance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in France.  The idea of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception was not new; it derived from the writings of certain Church Fathers, including St. Justin Martyr (circa 100-circa 165) and St. Irenaeus of Lyons (circa 130-circa 200), both of whom thought of her as the “new Eve.”  St. Andrew of Crete (circa 660-740) and St. John of Damascus (circa 675-circa 749) considered Our Lady to have been sinless.  The annual observance of St. Mary’s conception dated to the 600s (in the East) and began to spread throughout the West (starting at Naples) in the 800s.  In the 1100s, when commemorations began in France, they prompted controversy.  Theologians including St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280), St. Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274), and St. Bonaventure (circa 1217-1274) rejected the idea of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.  She was not immune from original sin, they argued.  The position Lefort supported became the official position of the Roman Catholic Church in time.  The Council of Basle (1439) declared the Immaculate Conception to be theologically sound.  A decade later the Sorbonne became the first university to require its candidates to defend the doctrine.  Pope Sixtus IV established the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, with its own propers, in 1476.  Pope Clement XI made the observance a Feast of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church in 1708.  Finally, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma.

Lefort died, aged 90 years, on March 1, 1367.  He left his estate for the education of poor boys.







The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8)

Father, you prepared the Virgin Mary

to be the worthy mother of your Son.

You let her share beforehand in the salvation

Christ would bring by his death,

and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.

Help us by her prayers to live in your presence without sin.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Proverbs 8:22-35

Romans 8:29-30

Psalm 113

Luke 1:26-28

–Compiled from The Book of Catholic Worship (1966), pages 301-302, and Christian Prayer:  The Liturgy of the Hours (1976), pages 1332-1334


Feast of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas (January 28)   16 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



Roman Catholic Theologian and Bishop of Ratisbon

His feast transferred from November 15

teacher of


Roman Catholic Theologian

His feast = January 28


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.








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