I’ve always enjoyed reading about and celebrating the feast days of saints; not because they were exceptionally holy people, but because they were mostly very flawed people, just like ourselves, which shows we can be holy too. I prefer to imitate, poorly at times, what I call the genuine saints who haven’t paid a fortune to be canonised. Saints do their best to follow Our Lord’s teaching to put others before themselves. They are among the great cloud of witnesses who worship before the Lamb.
Saint Albert the Great was a witness to that reality. He was born at the end of the 12th century in Germany and he joined the Order of Preachers. As you all know so well, the Order values intellectual study as a way of discerning how God acts in our world, and how we should act as human beings towards one another.
Saint Albert was the teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas who pretty much invented Catholic theology as we know it today. Whereas Saint Thomas formulated a humanistic theology based on Aristotelian thought – one where the human person took centre stage in the cosmic drama – Albert’s passion was science. Saint Albert’s contemporaries thought he knew everything there was to know about science. He was a botanist, a chemist, a zoologist, an early physicist, and he was supposed to have even made a kind of robot, which makes him a cyberneticist. He was even asked about the design of the new cathedral in Cologne – the one that’s still standing today. This was in addition to his knowledge of what used to be called the ‘Queen of Sciences’ – Theology. Saint Albert was very much a Renaissance man, well before the term was coined.
His colleagues called him ‘Boots’, because he walked everywhere. As a bishop, he could have ridden a horse – forbidden in his day to the friars – but he preferred to walk as a sign of humility, and to experience nature in all its glory, so that he could better understand God’s creation.
He gave up being a bishop after three years and died in his eighties in 1280. Saint Albert comes down to us through the centuries as a modern saint linking science with theology. And whether he was preaching about science, or design, or theology, Saint Albert spoke and wrote of a God who wasn’t the stern judge of our nightmares, but the God of love who accompanies us, and who encourages us to be kind towards one another, and to use words that are rooted in life, and are words of resurrection, not crucifixion.
Saint Albert the Great, pray for us.