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St. Albert the Great: Saintly Scientist for the Modern World

Almost, we can say, like a first Adam on the earth, in the middle of the thirteenth century Albert of Cologne began to look at the world around him with a completely fresh gaze. In his  commentary on Matthew’s Gospel he wrote: “The whole world is theology for us because the heavens proclaim the glory of God.”

— Paul Murray, O.P., The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality

Saintly Scientist

Born on earth around 1200 and in heaven in 1280, Saint Albert the Great of the Order of Preachers is a great saint for our time so badly in need of his preaching and teaching. We live in a  world where many scientists proclaim their lack of belief in God and increasing numbers of young people declare they believe in science rather than religion, assuming in the ignorance of their miseducation that the two must be opposed. As Pope Saint John Paul II declared in 1998 in his Fides et Ratio (on the relationship between faith and reason), we live in a day when scientism grows rampant and many people believe that science and technology provide all the answers to all the problems that plague humanity. On the other hand, some Christians who recognize that science can certainly tell us how to do things, but not whether we ought to do them, fall into the opposing error of fideism, “which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God.” We live in a day of increasing polarization, presented with the false dichotomy of having to choose between the scientism of the intelligent, courageous, and godless secular scientists and the fideism of ignorant, benighted, and bigoted fundamentalist Bible-thumpers.

The Catholic Church, however, has never been the Church of either-or but of both-and insofar as there are kernels of truth in each side. John Paul II in our time would describe faith and reason as the “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” And among the Catholic faithful throughout the centuries, few have embraced and proclaimed the inherent harmony of science and faith, of reason and revelation, like our hounds of the Lord, true champions of faith and reason, the sons and daughters of Saint Dominic de Guzman.

On November 15, 1980, eighteen years before he released Fides et Ratio, the same saintly pope previewed some of his profound thoughts on the fundamental complementarity of faith and reason in a speech in Cologne, Germany. The occasion was the seven hundredth anniversary of the death of none other than Saint Albert the Great. John Paul II praised Albert for his virtue of courage in championing man’s reason as a grand instrument to find truth and to shape and structure the world, and also for his virtue of humility to recognize reason’s limits and remain “open to the Word of eternal Truth, which became man in Christ.”

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