Today we Dominicans have the joy to celebrate one of our most famous members: Saint Albert the Great. He was the teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas and many other Dominicans in the 13th century, a long-time professor of philosophy and theology in the Dominican seminaries of Cologne and Paris, a bishop of the city of Regensburg for a time, and then, after his holy death, he was canonized, declared a Doctor of the Church, and the patron of all those who study and teach the natural sciences.
Probably Saint Albert’s greatest claim to fame was his understanding that natural knowledge and science can be used in the teaching, understanding, and practice of the supernatural sciences: the study of God’s revelation in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church. As a result of the Crusades, the western world became aware of the treasures of human knowledge available in the world of Greek thought. Saint Albert and Saint Thomas Aquinas turned to their Dominican brother, Father William of Moerbeke, a distinguished linguist of the time, to translate into Latin the works of the greatest of the Greek philosophers, Aristotle. Some of the old-fashioned professors of their time were shocked at the idea that the two friars would be teaching “paganism” in their schools, since Aristotle was neither Christian nor Jewish. They tried to prevent Albert and Thomas Aquinas from using Greek philosophy as a handmaid to Christian and Catholic theology. But Rome sided with the friars, and Albert and Thomas Aquinas were given carte blanche to use the works of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in their explanation of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church. And so it is today: the system preferred by the Church for the teaching in our seminaries is called the Aristotelio-Thomistic method, based upon Aristotle and Saint Thomas, and taking advantage of the insights of Saint Albert the Great.
We see farther than our forebears, the old saying goes, because we stand upon their shoulders. How true! How especially true in the case of sacred theology. We of today stand upon the philosophical shoulders of the Greek thinkers, upon the inspired books of the Old Testament, upon the even more important books of the New Testament, which include the four gospels, and then the explanation of all this wealth of truth and beauty by the Magisterium—the teaching function—of the Church down to the present time, to our current pope and all our bishops in union with him. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.