Albert was made the Prior of a Dominican Province in Germany, was a personal theologian and canonist to the pope, preached a Crusade in Germany and was appointed the Bishop of Regensburg for fewer than two years before resigning.
Neither ruthless nor politically minded, the complex web of elites who had interests in his diocese required a bishop to display a sensitivity to power relationships which was not among Albert’s skills.
After his short time as a diocesan bishop, Albert spent the rest of his life teaching in Cologne, punctuated by travels to the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 and to Paris in 1277 to defend Aquinas from his theological enemies.
Albert’s complete works total 38 volumes on virtually every field of knowledge known to his age: scripture, philosophy, astronomy, physics, mathematics, theology, spirituality, mineralogy, chemistry, zoology, biology, justice and law. Albert’s assiduous study of animals, plants, and nature was groundbreaking, and he debunked reigning myths about various natural phenomena through close personal observation.
He devoured all the works of Aristotle and organized and distilled their content for his students, reintroducing the great Greek philosopher to the Western world forever and always. This life-long project of philosophical commentary was instrumental in grounding subsequent Catholic theological research on a wide and sturdy platform of critical thinking, which has been a hallmark of Catholic intellectual life ever since.
Albert’s comprehensive approach to all knowledge contributed to the flourishing of the nascent 12-century institutions of learning known as universities. The “uni” in university implied that all knowledge was centered around one core knowledge — that of God and His truth. The modern understanding is that a “multiversity” is merely an administrative forum in which numerous branches of knowledge spread out in pursuit of their separate truths unhinged from any central focus or purpose.
St. Albert’s prodigious mind never ceased to be curious. Every bit of knowledge which he culled led him to gather even more. His encyclopedic knowledge embraced reality itself as one sustained instance of God loving the world. No bifurcation, no subcategories, no “my truth” and no “your truth.” God was real and God was knowable. Reality and Truth were one for Albert and his era, and autonomous reason could be trusted to lead the honest, rational seeker to those eternal verities. Albert was beatified in 1622 and was canonized and named a Doctor of the Church in 1931.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini