Newsletters and Articles
Saintly Scientists: Reflection on St. Albert the Great by Br. Emmanuel Taylor, OP
St. Albert the Great blazed a path to God through the natural sciences. Now, -whether a professional scientist, a more casual bird-watcher, or one who simply enjoys watching nature shows- you too can be a saint. Conducting scientific investigation can lead you to God if you follow the example of Albert. If you follow this pedagogy you will be a saintly scientist.
The first step of a saintly scientist is to see. The Dominican historian Simon Tugwell describes Albert as “an inveterate looker at things”¹. St. Albert was a great scientist because he delighted in looking at things. To learn to see things is the first step of a saintly scientist.
St. Albert found time to explore the natural sciences even though he had other jobs. He had official positions in the Church: he was Provincial of the Order of Preachers and he was Bishop in Regensburg, Germany. However, these official duties did not stop him from looking at things. As he would travel on business he would visit mines, “going far out of his way to do so, because of his interest in mineralogy”². He incorporated into his busy life this habit of seeing things.
From seeing things, the next step is to understand. “The natural scientist seeks to understand the cause of all these things,” writes St. Albert in his book On Minerals (III 1.10). This means that it is not enough simply to see things. To be a saintly scientist you must also wonder about their cause.
St. Albert sought understanding across many areas of science. He loved not only geology, but also biology. He studied animals of many varieties in their natural habitats. He also kept some animals, including snakes and even a “puppy with one white eye and one black eye.”³
Finally, to be a saintly scientist requires not only seeing and understanding nature but also seeing and understanding God. In addition to his scientific enquiries, Albert sought to see and understand God. From Scripture he developed his vision of God. This ability to “see” God is called contemplative prayer--it can just as easily be called contemplative vision. It is because St. Albert the Great combined his natural vision with spiritual vision that he proclaims with delight: “The whole world is theology for us, because the heavens proclaim the glory of God”4. Albert shows us that the study of nature can bring us to God. Let us follow his example and, be saintly scientists who proclaim the glory of God.