Nature is a book written by
On Wednesday, 24 March , at the
General Audience in St Peter's Square, continuing his Catecheses on the
Christian culture of the Middle Ages, the Holy Father commented on St
Albert the Great, better known as "Albertus Magnus". The following is a
translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
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
During his stay in Padua he attended the
Church of the Dominicans, whom he then joined with the profession of the
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 resistence.
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 knowledge.
In 1254, Albert was elected Provincial
of the Dominican Fathers' "Provincia Teutoniae"
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
His gifts did not escape the attention
of the Pope of that time, Alexander IV, who wanted Albert with him for a
certain time at Anagni
where the Popes went frequently
in Rome itself and at Viterbo, in order to avail himself of Albert's
The same Supreme Pontiff appointed
Albert Bishop of Regensburg, a large and celebrated diocese, but which
was going through a difficult period. From 1260 to 1262, Albert
exercised this ministry with unflagging dedication, succeeding in
restoring peace and harmony to the city, in reorganizing parishes and
convents and in giving a new impetus to charitable activities.
In the year 1263-1264, Albert preached
in Germany and in Bohemia, at the request of Pope Urban IV. He later
returned to Cologne and took up his role as lecturer, scholar and
writer. As a man of prayer, science and charity, his authoritative
intervention in various events of the Church and of the society of the
time were acclaimed: above all, he was a man of reconciliation and peace
in Cologne, where the Archbishop had run seriously foul of the city's
institutions; he did his utmost during the Second Council of Lyons, in
1274, summoned by Pope Gregory X, to encourage union between the Latin
and Greek Churches after the separation of the great schism with the
East in 1054. He also explained the thought of Thomas Aquinas which had
been the subject of objections and even quite unjustified condemnations.
He died in his cell at the convent of
the Holy Cross, Cologne, in 1280, and was very soon venerated by his
confreres. The Church proposed him for the worship of the faithful with
his beatification in 1622 and with his canonization in 1931, when Pope
Pius XI proclaimed him Doctor of the Church.
This was certainly an appropriate
recognition of this great man of God and outstanding scholar, not only
of the truths of the faith but of a great many other branches of
knowledge; indeed, with a glance at the titles of his very numerous
works, we realize that there was something miraculous about his culture
and that his encyclopedic interests led him not only to concern himself
with philosophy and theology, like other contemporaries of his, but also
with every other discipline then known, from physics to chemistry, from
astronomy to minerology, from botany to zoology.
For this reason Pope Pius XII named him
Patron of enthusiasts of the natural sciences and also called him
"Doctor universalis" precisely because of the vastness of his interests
Of course, the scientific methods
that St Albert the Great used were not those that came to be established
in the following centuries. His method consisted simply in the
observation, description and classification of the phenomena he had
studied, but it was in this way that he opened the door for future
He still has a lot to teach us. Above all, St Albert shows that there
is no opposition between faith and science, despite certain episodes of
misunderstanding that have been recorded in history. A man of faith and
prayer, as was St Albert the Great, can serenely foster the study of the
natural sciences and progress in knowledge of the micro- and macrocosm,
discovering the laws proper to the subject,
since all this contributes to fostering thirst for and love of God.
The Bible speaks to us of creation as of
the first language through which God
who is supreme intelligence, who is the Logos
reveals to us something of himself. The Book of Wisdom, for example,
says that the phenomena of nature, endowed with greatness and beauty, is
like the works of an artist through which, by analogy, we may know the
Author of creation (cf. Wis 13:5). With a classical similitude in the
Middle Ages and in the Renaissance one can compare the natural world to
a book written by God that we read according to the different approaches
of the sciences (cf. Address to the participants in the Plenary
Meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 31 October 2008;
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 November 2008, p. 6).
How many scientists, in fact, in the
wake of St Albert the Great, have carried on their research inspired by
wonder at and gratitude for a world which, to their eyes as scholars and
believers, appeared and appears as the good work of a wise and loving
Scientific study is then transformed
into a hymn of praise. Enrico Medi, a great astrophysicist of our time,
whose cause of beatification has been introduced, wrote: "O you
mysterious galaxies... I see you, I calculate you, I understand you, I
study you and I discover you, I penetrate you and I gather you. From you
I take light and make it knowledge, I take movement and make it wisdom,
I take sparkling colours and make them poetry; I take you stars in my
hands and, trembling in the oneness of my being, I raise you above
yourselves and offer you in prayer to the Creator, that through me alone
you stars can worship" (Le Opere. Inno alla creazione).
St Albert the Great reminds us that
there is friendship between science and faith and that through their
vocation to the study of nature, scientists can take an authentic and
fascinating path of holiness.
His extraordinary open-mindedness is
also revealed in a cultural feat which he carried out successfully, that
is, the acceptance and appreciation of Aristotle's thought.
In St Albert's time, in fact, knowledge
was spreading of numerous works by this great Greek philosopher, who
lived a quarter of a century before Christ, especially in the sphere of
ethics and metaphysics. They showed the power of reason, explained
lucidly and clearly the meaning and structure of reality, its
intelligibility and the value and purpose of human actions.
St Albert the Great opened the door to
the complete acceptance in medieval philosophy and theology of
Aristotle's philosophy, which was subsequently given a definitive form
by St Thomas.
This reception of a pagan pre-Christian
philosophy, let us say, was an authentic cultural revolution in that
epoch. Yet many Christian thinkers feared Aristotle's philosophy, a
non-Christian philosophy, especially because, presented by his Arab
commentators, it had been interpreted in such a way, at least in certain
points, as to appear completely irreconcilable with the Christian faith.
Hence a dilemma arose: are faith and reason in conflict with each other
This is one of the great merits of St
Albert: with scientific rigour he studied Aristotle's works, convinced
that all that is truly rational is compatible with the faith revealed in
the Sacred Scriptures. In other words, St Albert the Great thus
contributed to the formation of an autonomous philosophy, distinct from
theology and united with it only by the unity of the truth.
So it was that in the 13th century a
clear distinction came into being between these two branches of
knowledge, philosophy and theology, which, in conversing with each
other, cooperate harmoniously in the discovery of the authentic vocation
of man, thirsting for truth and happiness: and it is above all theology,
that St Albert defined as "emotional knowledge", which points out to
human beings their vocation to eternal joy, a joy that flows from full
adherence to the truth.
St Albert the Great was capable of
communicating these concepts in a simple and understandable way. An
authentic son of St Dominic, he willingly preached to the People of God,
who were won over by his words and by the example of his life.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray the Lord that learned
theologians will never be lacking in holy Church, wise and devout like
St Albert the Great, and that he may help each one of us to make our own
the "formula of holiness" that he followed in his life: "to desire all
that I desire for the glory of God, as God desires for his glory all
that he desires", in other words always to be conformed to God's will,
in order to desire and to do everything only and always for his glory.