Albert the Great
by Sr. M. Albert Hughes, O.P.
Autumn 1987 Vol. 39 Supplement
- Introduction - Foreword by the author. 1 Foundations 2 Friar Preacher and Master in Theology 3 Provincial of Germany 4 Bishop of Regensburg 5 Busy about Many Things 6 Doctor Universalis 7 Philosopher and Theologian 8 The Mission of St. Albert and St. Thomas 9 The Character of the Man 10 The Quality of the Saint 11 Saint Albert the Great Introduction
READING Sister Mary Albert's lively portrait of her patron saint, we come to grasp the attractiveness of Albert's robust vigor, his breadth of intellect open to the world, and his depth of soul so rooted in God that even his contemporaries were led to call him "great." We can understand why Thomas Aquinas was so taken with his older confrere's desire to explore, his willingness to dialogue, and to take bold stands. Such shared values -- integrated and held in balance by a clarity of faith and consurning love of neighbor -- put them both on the cutting edge of theological development and made them "risk-takers" in their service of Church and society.
History has accorded Thomas the greater role. Indeed, when Dante (Paradiso X) approaches the garland of lights that seemed caught up in dance, it is Thomas Aquinas who steps forward to introduce the luminous band, beginning with "Albert of Cologne, my friend and teacher."
A few years ago the late Father James A. Weisheipl, O.P., explored Thomas's relationship to his friend and teacher. While Thomas derived much from his master, as his writings show, the reverse is not true. Albert, it seems, did not keep up with his student's work until after Thomas death, when he took it upon himself to defend what had been their common stand against traditionalist critics. By then well advanced in age, Albert had Thomas' works read to him, so the story goes. Thus it is only in Albert's later works, written mostly after Thomas' death, and the scripture commentaries in particular, that Thomas' influence is apparent.
These facts lend force to Sister Mary Albert's desire to allow Albert to stand outside the shadow of his student. The image that takes shape through her brush strokes is one of independence, humanness, and the optimism that permeated everything he undertook. His was a humanity so enlivened by grace that it was raised to greatness without severing its roots in this world. This, no doubt, more than anything else, inspired Thomas. And it is this that can be our inspiration, because our own times parallel Albert's in terms of discovery, expanding knowledge, new vistas, and the importance of human relations. Albert's optimism with regard to the goodness of human nature, the world, and the accessibility of God's grace encourage us to carry on in the same pioneering spirit.
Little needs up-dating in Sister Mary Albert's narrative save for a few details, and a number of these concern Thomas more than Albert. Among the works on Albert's life and work published since her little book first appeared in 1948, the following would provide a good starting point for further reading: Albertus Magnus -- Doctor Universalis 1280/1980, ed. Gerbert Meyer and Albert Zimmermann (Mainz: Matthias-Grunewald-Verlag 1980); Albertus Magnus and the Sciences: Commernorative Essays, 1980, ed. James A. Weisheipl (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1980), and Fr. Weisheipl's entry on St. Albert in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967, Vol I.) pp. 254b-258a. Critical editions of Albert's works (to number forty volumes, some in several parts) are being produced under the auspices of the Albertus Magnus Institute of Cologne (Munster: Aschendorff, 1951ff.).
Ronald John Zawilla, OP
Aquinas Institute of Theology
St. Louis, Missouri
This book was originally written for the use of the Dominican nuns of St. Dominic's Priory, Carisbrooke, with no thought of future publication, and it seemed best to retain the family atmosphere even when it is now offered to a wider circle of readers. It was not meant to be a learned, nor even a complete biography of St. Albert the Great. Rather it was an attempt to draw for his sisters, from the scanty materials available, the portrait of one who, although among the most attractive and most illustrious of the sons of St. Dominic, may by reason of his very greatness appear less lovable.
In revising it for publication every effort has been made to bring it into line with the latest research, but his has only been possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Very Rev. Daniel Callus, O.P., S.T.M., D.Phil. (Oxon), Regent of Studies of the English Dominican province, and Dr. Sherwood Taylor, M.A., Ph.D., Curator of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, both of whom read through the manuscript and offered invaluable suggestions and criticisms.
The debt to Albert the Great, by H. Wilms, O.P. (London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1933), and Sant' Alberto Magno, by A. Pucetti, O.P. (Rome, 1932), will be obvious to all who are famliar with those studies; and the timely gift of a copy of Rudolph of Nymegen's Legenda B. Alberti Magni (Cologne, 1928) from the Brethren of the St. Albertus Magnus Akademie, Waldeburg, is here gratefully acknowledged.
The chronology of the life of St. Albert is still a matter of some dispute, but it is hoped that the most probable dates have been given.
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