This is a belated write-up for this site’s patron saint, Albertus Magnus, whose Feast Day of November 15th was recently celebrated by Catholics; this year’s feast being the 730th anniversary of his death — I had originally intended to be spending the week on which the Feast occurs in Taizé, but due to scheduling conflict ended up canceling that trip. Instead, I ended up going a few days later to the Episcopal Discernment Conference, which I posted about previously. Unfortunately that meant I did not have time to write this until now!
It might seem odd for scientists to have a patron saint — indeed, the concept of sainthood itself has become quite controversial these days. As an Episcopalian, my idea of what sainthood entails certainly does not involve the power to intercede with the Almighty; nor does the Episcopal Church require someone to have performed miracles to be commemorated; only that three successive General Conventions assent to it (one learns useful tidbits like this from being in a Discernment conference with three priests, one of them previously a Catholic
Ironically that is actually harder than it is to be beatified and canonized in the Roman Catholic church, since John Paul II opened the floodgate by his 1983 “reform”…
So what do we know about Albertus Magnus? He was a Dominican friar from Bavaria, who served as Bishop of Ratisbon (Regensburg); he had a reputation for humility, refusing to ride a horse, and resigned after three years. A polymath, he is renowned for his breadth of knowledge, especially his commentary on Aristotle; despite being a theologian, he argues for a study of nature free from supernatural suppositions:
“In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show
forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass”
To me, Albertus Magnus symbolizes what it means to be a Christian and a scientist: cultivating rationality, having faith that what we discover about how Nature works glorifies, rather than diminishes, our Creator. He was a man of his time — as reflected by his interest in subjects that modern-day scientists would consider bizarre, such as astrology and phrenology — but the scientific process is iterative, not a big-bang revelatory process; indeed, the same is true of theology, despite its mischaracterization by both religious fundamentalists (who insist in a perfect, eternal, revelation) and fundamentalist atheists (who insist in the irrevocably flawed nature of revelatory religions).
As scientifically-minded Christians, may our faith evolve as we discover more of the splendor of God’s creation. And may we be witness to others, through our work, to the complementary role of faith and science, and thus help heal the long-lasting, acrimonious split between the two camps.