Memorial of St. Albert the Great (November 15)

The precise date of Albert’s birth is not known. It is generally conceded that he was born into a knightly family sometime around the year 1200 in Germany. He was apparently in Italy in the year 1222 where he was present when a rather terrible earthquake struck in Lombardy. A year later he was still in Italy and studying at the University of Padua. The same year Jordan of Saxony received him into the Dominican order. He was sent to Cologne in order to complete his training for the order. He finished this training as well as a course of studies in theology by 1228. He then began teaching as a lector in an number of different cities. During this period he published his first major work, On the Nature of the Good.

Ten years later he is recorded as having been present at the general chapter of the Dominican Order held in Bologna. Two years later he visited Saxony where he observed the appearance of a comet. Some time between 1241 and 1242 he was sent to the University of Paris to complete his theological education. He followed the usual prescription of lecturing on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. In addition he began writing his six part Summa parisiensis dealing with the sacraments of the Church, the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, the four coevals, human nature, and the nature of the good. He took his degree as master of theology in 1245 and began to teach theology at the university under Gueric de Saint-Quentin. St. Thomas Aquinas became his student at this time and remained under Albert’s direction for the next three years. In 1248 Albert was appointed regent of studies at the studium generale that was newly created by the Dominican order in Cologne. So Albert, along with Thomas Aquinas, left Paris and went to Cologne. Thomas continued his studies under Albert in Cologne and served as magister studium in the school as well until 1252. Then Thomas returned to Paris to take up his teaching duties while Albert remained in Cologne, where he began to work on the vast project he set himself of preparing a paraphrase of each of the known works of Aristotle.

In 1254 the Dominican order again assigned Albert a difficult task. He was elected the prior provincial for the German-speaking province of the order. This position mandated that Albert spend a great deal of his time traveling throughout the province visiting Dominican convents, priories, and even a Dominican mission in Riga. This task occupied Albert until 1256. That year he returned to Cologne, but left the same year for Paris in order to attend a General Chapter of his order in which the allegations of William of St. Amour’s De periculis novissimorum temporum against mendicant orders were considered. A little later Pope Alexander IV asked Albert to go to Anagni in order to speak to a commission of Cardinals who were looking into the claims of William. While engaged in this charge Albert completed his refutation of Averroistic psychology with his De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas. Afterwards Albert departed for another tour of the province of Germany. In 1257 he returned to the papal court, which was now located in Viterbo. He was relieved of his duties as prior provincial and returned again to Cologne as regent of studies. He continued to teach until 1259 when he traveled to Valenciennes in order to attend a General Chapter of his order. At that time, along with Thomas Aquinas, Peter of Tarentasia, Bonhomme Brito, and Florent de Hesdin, he undertook on behalf of his order an extensive discussion of the curriculum of the scholastic program used by the order.

The next year of his life found Albert once again appointed to an onerous duty. In obedience to the wishes of the pope, Albert was consecrated a bishop of the Church and sent to Ratisbon (modern Regensburg) in order to undertake a reform of abuses in that diocese. Albert worked at this task until 1263 when Pope Urban IV relieved him of his duties and asked Albert to preach the Crusade in the German speaking countries. This duty occupied Albert until the year 1264. He then went to the city of Würzburg where he stayed until 1267.

Albert spent the next eight years traveling around Germany conducting various ecclesiastical tasks. Then in 1274 while he was traveling to the Council of Lyons Albert received the sad news of the untimely death of Thomas Aquinas, his friend and former student of many years. After the close of the Council Albert returned to Germany. There is evidence that he traveled to Paris in the year 1277 in order to defend Aquinas’ teaching, which was under attack at the university. In 1279, anticipating his death he drew up his own last will and testament. On November 15, 1280 he died and was buried in Cologne.

On December 15, 1931 Pope Pius XI declared Albert both a saint and a doctor of the Church. On the 16th of December 1941 Pope Pius XII declared Albert the patron saint of the natural sciences.

St. Albert, pray for us.

Source: Adapted from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by William C. Michael.

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