Thursday, November 15, 2012

St Albert the Great, O.P., Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Wisdom 7:7-14 / Matthew 5:13-19

Albert, known to us as "Great", gained this appellation not from a mature reflection of generations, but during his own lifetime. He was also called, not merely by posterity, but by his own contemporaries, the Doctor universalis, the "universal teacher." There was, indeed, hardly a subject known to Medieval Christendom upon which Albert did not write. As we might expect from a Medieval doctor, he was learned in philosophy and theology, upon which he wrote numerous works, as well as those on the Scriptures, the mystical life, the Blessed Virgin, the liturgy and sacraments, and much else besides. However, in addition to this, Albert was fascinated by the world which God made, and his writings also include works on what we would now call chemistry, botany, climatology, physiology, and geology. He wrote a work on the training of falcons and studied the Roman ruins in his city of Cologne. He was even interested in the practical implications of his study, providing, for example, advice on the breeding of cattle and the improvement of crops.

The Scriptures tell us that those who acquire wisdom will come to have friendship with God. Such an assurance seems fine for Albert the Great, who knew something, and often a great deal, about nearly everything. His friendship with God was, we might think, all but assured. Yet, what about the rest of us? What of those of us who have trouble mastering even one subject? What is the fate of those who cannot, like Albert, fill nearly forty giant-sized volumes with powerful studies on every topic imaginable, and instead find trouble producing even a single paper?

The answer is not to be found in expecting some overnight infusion of knowledge by the grace of God. When we are told in the Book of Wisdom, I wished, and understanding was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me, it would be reckless, even vain presumption, to imagine that præternatural gifts of knowledge are the rightful hope of all of the faithful. Rather, our way of sharing in the infinite treasure of wisdom is not in mystical infusion, but in humility. It is in seeking from others what is lacking in ourselves that we can come to know more than our own native powers would ever achieve. Wisdom, the fulness of wisdom promised by God, begins in an honest assessment of ourselves, neither falsely boasting of what we do not possess, nor failing to acknowledge and make use of gifts that we have received.

Brothers and sisters, none of us has been left without some gift to give, without some store of wisdom uniquely entrusted to us, some understanding to contribute to the whole. However limited we may fear we are singly, together our storehouse is overflowing. It is, then, not the path of keenness of intellect, however welcome and praiseworthy a gift, that we can open wide the treasury of wisdom, but in love, humility, and Christian fellowship. Can we, knowing how much we have to gain and how little we have to lose, accept the grace of Christ Jesus to be humble, and so, with St Albert, learn wisdom, a wisdom which, as this great saint reminds us, he learned more by prayer and devotion, than by study?

No comments: