November 12, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Albert the Great

John F. FinkAlbertus Magnus, or Albert the Great, whose feast is on Nov. 15, was called “the great” while he was still living, such was his reputation for being an expert in every branch of learning. He wrote books on natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, ethics, economics, politics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, anthropology, zoology, agriculture, geography, philosophy and theology.

Despite all this, he is best known for being the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris from 1245 to 1248.

One of his treatises proved that the world was round, and he even wrote that somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean there was “another island.”

Christopher Columbus discovered that “island” more than two centuries later.

Albert had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. As a youth, he prayed to her for help with his studies. She appeared to him, and told him that no one would surpass him in knowledge.

However, she said, his wisdom and knowledge were gifts from God, and he would be deprived of them before his death.

In 1278, while delivering a lecture, Albert suddenly lost his memory. His wisdom and knowledge left him for the last two years of his life—perhaps a form of Alzheimer’s disease, unknown in the 13th century.

One of Albert’s writing was on the Eucharist. He said that we should note two things about Jesus’ command, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19).

First, we should use this sacrament, as indicated by the words “Do this.” Second, this sacrament commemorates the Lord’s going to death for our sake.

He wrote, “Certainly, he could demand nothing more profitable, nothing more pleasant, nothing more beneficial, nothing more desirable, nothing more similar to eternal life.” Then he elaborated on these qualities.

The Eucharist is profitable, he wrote, because it grants remission of sins, and it is useful because it bestows the fullness of grace on us in this life.

Christ, he said, offers himself in this sacrament to the Father for our redemption and to us for our use.

We cannot do anything more pleasant, he said, “for what is better than God manifesting his whole sweetness to us?”

God gave us “bread endowed with all delight and pleasant to every sense of taste,” he explained.

Christ could not have commanded anything more beneficial, Albert wrote, “for this sacrament is the fruit of the tree of life. Anyone who receives this sacrament with the devotion of sincere faith will never taste death.”

Nor could he have commanded anything more lovable, he said, for this sacrament produces love and union. He wrote that Jesus was telling us, “I have loved them and they have loved me so much that I desire to be within them, and they wish to receive me so that they may become my members. There is no more intimate or more natural means for them to be united to me, and I to them.”

Finally, he said, Jesus could not have commanded anything more like eternal life: “Eternal life flows from this sacrament because God with all sweetness pours himself out upon the blessed.” †

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