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St. Albert the Great
Patron Saint of the Sciences
(November 15 - St. Albert the Great)
Who is Albertus Magnus?
One of the greatest saints in the History of the intellectual tradition of the Church is St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor, however, did not arise from a vacuum. Even the greatest teachers once had great teachers. The most famous teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas is St. Albert the Great (known in Latin as “Albertus Magnus”).
St. Albert the Great was a Thirteenth Century Dominican bishop, philosopher, and teacher at the universities of Paris and Cologne who was one of the first in the Church to explore and spread the Greek philosophy of Aristotle. This is one of the defining factors of his student, St. Thomas, as well.
St. Albert was interested in many topics. He studied theology, astronomy, biology, logic, philosophy, and math. He also like cartography and hiked in his area to learn about geography. He was brilliant and his philosophical treatises still influence the Church today. In fact, he was canonized a saint and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI. He is also known as the patron saint of natural sciences.
Lest we think that St. Albert was boastful, the moniker of “the Great” was given to him by his contemporaries: clergyman, professors, students, and kings.
How Does the Church View the Relationship of Religion and Science?
The Church is not opposed to science. In fact, science is the study of the natural order created by God. So, there is a real desire to investigate everything seen and unseen around us to learn more about ourselves and our Creator.
Scientific inquiry exists as a tool for exploration. There are many different types of science, too. Science is the study of nature and the behavior of natural things and the knowledge that we obtain about them. Just like philosophy and theology, science relies on the tools of logic, analysis of concepts, and argumentation.
If we open the toolbox of inquiry, we will see philosophy, scientific experimentation, observation, faith, Sacred Scripture, the life of the Church, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and the like. Faith and science are no more opposed than a hammer is opposed to slip joint pliers or a speed square. Religion answers certain questions, and science answers different questions.
How did St. Albert Approach Religion and Science?
Kevin Vost in a 2011 biography of the great saint wrote: “St. Albert has been described as a scientist by temperament, a philosopher by choice, and a theologian by mood.” St. Albert did not see any conflict between faith and reason. The created order speaks to the majesty and wonder of God. Faith and reason both serve as ways to God.
Unlike the modern practice of science in most circles, St. Albert the Great understood that philosophy is necessary for good science. The philosophy of science is underrated in most academic circles today but was assumed as necessary in the 13th Century. So, on the one hand, revelation and faith were a way to knowledge, and, on the other hand, philosophy and science were a way to knowledge.
We would do well to ask for the intercession of Albertus Magnus and recapture our sense of wonder at the created order. God created all things, visible and invisible. He gave us our mind and allowed us to contemplate all things. To ignore whole realms of knowledge because of a contemporary blindness is a mistake. Let us recollect our preconceptions and broaden our vision. Then, we will be able to love God with our whole mind.
Originally posted here on Catholic-Link in 2021