Saint Peter’s Square
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Saint Albert the Great
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of the great masters 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 teaching, which he combined with holiness of life. However, his contemporaries did not hesitate to attribute to him titles of excellence even then. One of his disciples, Ulric of Strasbourg, called him the “wonder and miracle of our epoch”.
He was born in Germany at the beginning of the 13th century. When he was still young he went to Italy, to Padua, the seat of one of the most famous medieval universities. He devoted himself to the study of the so-called “liberal arts”: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music, that is, to culture in general, demonstrating that characteristic interest in the natural sciences which was soon to become the favourite field for his specialization. During his stay in Padua he attended the Church of the Dominicans, whom he then joined with the profession of the religious vows. Hagiographic sources suggest that Albert came to this decision gradually. His intense relationship with God, the Dominican Friars’ example of holiness, hearing the sermons of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, St Dominic’s successor at the Master General of the Order of Preachers, were the decisive factors that helped him to overcome every doubt and even to surmount his family’s resistance. God often speaks to us in the years of our youth and points out to us the project of our life. As it was for Albert, so also for all of us, personal prayer, nourished by the Lord’s word, frequent reception of the Sacraments and the spiritual guidance of enlightened people are the means to discover and follow God’s voice. He received the religious habit from Bl. Jordan of Saxony.
After his ordination to the priesthood, his superiors sent him to teach at various theological study centres annexed to the convents of the Dominican Fathers. His brilliant intellectual qualities enabled him to perfect his theological studies at the most famous university in that period, the University of Paris. From that time on St Albert began his extraordinary activity as a writer that he was to pursue throughout his life.
Prestigious tasks were assigned to him. In 1248 he was charged with opening a theological studium at Cologne, one of the most important regional capitals of Germany, where he lived at different times and which became his adopted city. He brought with him from Paris an exceptional student, Thomas Aquinas. The sole merit of having been St Thomas’ teacher would suffice to elicit profound admiration for St Albert. A relationship of mutual esteem and friendship developed between these two great theologians, human attitudes that were very helpful in the development of this branch of knowlege. In 1254, Albert was elected Provincial of the Dominican Fathers’ “Provincia Teutoniae” Teutonic Province which included communities scattered 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 confreres to fidelity, to the teaching and example of St Dominic.
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