Upon arriving back at the priory from my Ancient Philosophy class, I was greeted by the delicious aroma of bratwursts and sauerkraut being prepared for dinner. It must be November 15, the feast day of St. Albert the Great.
St. Albert was a 13th century Dominican friar and bishop from Germany (thus the bratwursts). He is renowned for his extensive philosophical and theological writings, and for instructing St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Albert also made important scientific contributions.
At the time, the leading scientific authority was Aristotle, who lived 1500 years earlier. It is hard to believe science could not advance at all in 1500 years. Instead of simply studying Aristotle as others had, Albert employed a novel method: he studied physical nature through observation rather than through a book. He actually went outside to observe nature and dissect plants and animals. Albert became renowned throughout Europe for his encyclopedic knowledge of both theology and science. He was even called “the Great” during his own lifetime.
For Albert, science is a path to God. The Lord created the universe and devised all sorts of fantastic mechanisms, and he now permits us to study and understand them. Creation is a beautiful piece of living art with God’s fingerprints all over it, molding and shaping nature. Science can never be in conflict with the faith. If it ever seems to be, it is only due to our own ignorance.
In his encyclical Providentissimus Deus on the study of scripture, Pope Leo XIII quoted St. Augustine:
“Whatever [scientists] can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without the smallest hesitation, believe it to be so.”
This is something Albert would undoubtedly affirm. Scripture is a creation from the Divine; nature, too, is a creation from the Divine, although in a different way. Neither can contradict the other, and both should be able to lead us to the Author of all.
As a physics major in college, I saw my studies as a way to meet God in his creation. A friend once asked how I reconcile my faith with science. The answer is that no reconciliation is needed, although we may occasionally need to rethink certain ideas.
It was St. Albert and his passion for science that originally drew me to the Order of Preachers. Along with St. Albert, the Catholic Church has other great scientists, such as Fr. Georges Lemaître, who proposed the Big Bang Theory; and Fr. Gregor Mendel, who founded modern genetics. I hope to continue St. Albert’s mission of uniting faith and reason, of studying God through all available avenues, and of showing other people that our faith is relevant in every domain of human life.