St. Albert the Great is especially known as the teacher of St. Thomas, or an important figure in the 13th century, which is filled with saints, reformers and other great men and events. What is often forgotten, however, is his modernity. Although truly medieval, in as fine a sense as Dante and St. Francis, he none the less projects himself into our century and from many points of view might be considered a modern of moderns.
We live in a mechanized age, but mechanical invention and the designing of automatic devices were familiar tasks with him. In the popular imagination they even caused him to be regarded as endowed with magic.
Science too, is looked upon as peculiarly the prerogative of our times. But scientific study and experimentation were favorite preoccupations with St. Albert. He was gifted with a keen instinct for scientific investigation and research. He was a born naturalist and experimentalist. Natural phenomena engaged his attention from early youth; he probed into their secrets and arrived at startlingly accurate conclusions. Laboratory research, no less, was congenial to him and from all sides he gathered details of medical facts for practical application.
Education, once more, is a passion with men of our day. Most unreasonable claims are not seldom made in its regard. Albert was an expert teacher, a great schoolman, a guide and director in the most advanced problems of university development in that heyday of progressive university life. But more than all this, he himself undertook the herculean task of collating and interpreting the philosophic lore of the ages—Classical, Arabic, and Christian—gathering the vast masses of unrelated and scattered material, arranging and adapting it so that other hands might ultimately fit it in its proper place within the loftiest system of human thought.
But it was perhaps the greatest of Albert’s educational achievements that out of his own classroom went forth, to blaze his way across the world and through the far reaches of time, that shining luminary and brilliant genius in the realm of constructive thought, St. Thomas Aquinas? To the same fountain too—in the poet’s words—other suns repaired, lesser luminaries, yet splendors of no mean magnitude, and in their urns drew golden light. But if Augustine cannot be thought of without Ambrose, neither should Thomas be mentioned without Albert.
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