It is the 15th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1280.
Today on our trip to the past, I would like to ask a favor of you, dear listener.
As the year was 1280, I will likely be throwing around the words "medieval" or "middle ages." I don't love them, but they are better than the horrific title of "dark ages." Now, "middle" isn't that much better as it suggests a place holder between antiquity and the Renaissance.
It was those fancy Renaissance so-and-so's that decided to call their era a "rebirth" (that's what "Renaissance" means), and thus the “dead,” or “dark” or “middle ages,” must have been those that preceded them. Medieval sounds fancy, but it is just Latin for "middle" and became popular in the 19th century. We still use the words, but when you hear "middle" or "medieval," also remember a few of the giants from that age, that were it not for them, a Renaissance or "modern" era might not be possible.
So, why all this prologue? Because today we remember one of the greatest of medieval scholars. So great that he received the rare appellation of "Magnus" or "the Great." It was on this, the 15th of November, in 1280, that Albertus Magnus died.
A question like, "who was the greatest mind during these 'middle ages'"? Should probably be answered with the name of Aquinas. We've discussed him here before. But if it were not for Albertus Magnus, you might have never heard the name, Aquinas. Albertus was born around the year 1200 in Swabia and finished his life as the Bishop of Cologne. But it was the years he taught at the University of Paris for his Dominicans that would establish him as a "great," as a doctor of the church, and eventually a saint.
It was Albertus who first reintroduced the works of Aristotle to the west. A popular anti-philosophical approach to faith and the scarcity of books led many of the greats of antiquity to be lost and forgotten. Aristotle was one whose works had been lost, mainly remaining in translation from Arabic. Seeing the massive output from Arab scholars such as Avicenna and Averroes, Albertus began to use the Greek philosophy to justify studying the natural world.
Many of the earliest universities and cathedral schools and private tutors would have thought that the Word of God alone was suitable for study. The works of Aristotle opened up to the idea of a knowable and ordered universe. Albertus's massive output is based on Aristotle's results vindicated, for many, the idea of a Christian observing nature and nature's God.
Albertus was sent to open a Dominican house of studies in Germany where one of his pupils was Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas, of course, would revolutionize theology with insights from Aristotle. But were it not for Albertus, Aquinas would never have read the insights of Averroes and Avicenna on Aristotle. If you're counting, that's 5 "A's."
It was Albertus who is said to have said of Aquinas, who was called the Dumb Ox but his classmates. "I tell you that the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud that his bellowing will fill the world." One historian wrote that "Albertus's works represent the entire body of European knowledge of his time not only in theology but also in philosophy and the natural sciences."
Being a devotee of Aristotle's metaphysics would, however, almost be Albertus's downfall. His fascination with astronomy, alchemy, and divination made him persona non grata with the witch-hunting crowd that believed these practices were of the devil. For Albertus to be sainted, posthumous books were written about him that had a chief concern, the justification of Albertus's love of what one might call the dark arts. While the "Magnus" stuck and was named "Doctor Universalis," he was not sainted until 1931.
It was anything but a dark age, and certainly not a "placeholder" of an age. This era and the study of natural sciences, of Greek philosophy and the university owes its debt to a man who died on this, the 15th of November in 1280, Albertus Magnus.
Today's reading comes from Albertus and is a good word, especially for those who study the natural world.
"I shall not conceal a science that was before me revealed by the grace of God; I shall not keep it to myself, for being afraid of attracting its curse. What worth is a concealed science; what worth is a hidden treasure? The science I have learned without fiction I transmit with no regret… Every science and knowledge proceeds from God. Saying it proceeds from the Holy Ghost is a simple way of expressing oneself…this science cannot be separated from the One who has communicated it unto me."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, whose favorite Oxen include the Dumb Ox, Babe the Blue Ox, and the Ox John Entwistle. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true… Everything is going to be ok.