Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Universal Doctor

Today is the feast of St. Albert the Great, Doctor of the Church. He was, of course, the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas and a great many other Dominicans.

The following is from the Liber de Muliere Forti, a commentary on Proverbs 31. There is some debate over whether this is indeed St. Albert's, but the book was certainly written by a Dominican, comments on a passage that is often quoted in St. Albert's undoubtedly authentic works, and doesn't seem to say anything that would rule out his authorship. There are many works attributed to St. Albert that are disputed, and quite a few that are definitely spurious; this one is the disputed work that is far and away the most likely to be authentic if any are. The author takes the poem of the strong woman to be a depiction of the Church, and indirectly of the soul insofar as it participates in the Church, and thus takes Proverbs 31 to be a complete ecclesiology in poetic summary. (A thing that has to be noted in the following is that Albert uses 'seed' where we would use 'egg'; the ovum was not yet discovered at that point.)

In the second way, the Church and the faithful soul are thought of as a woman by the instrumental means of the organs by which man and woman differ: these are four. The first instrument is for receiving the seed; the second for conserving and forming it in the womb; the third is for the care of the embryonic child; the fourth is for the upbringing of the baby when it has been brought into the light. The first is called seed, the second womb, the third source of blood, the fourth breasts. And in the Church these, spiritually understood, are: zeal for souls, preaching, piety, and thanksgiving. By zeal for souls the Church conceives the salvation of converts. By preaching she forms, as if by the hand of doctrine, the one conceived. Piety, which is benevolence to all signed with the image of God, as Augustine says, provides the material that there might be no lack in its formation, yet she asks not about its size but only about its health. The fourth, thanksgiving, indicates that as from one part as from one breast flows milk inviting to goodness, and from another as from the other breast flows milk that fortifies in perseverance in what has been received from God; accordingly, the twofold nutrition of milk works in the baby, namely, for growth in size and perseverance in life.

Another passage, from a different work:

In investigations of nature, however, it is necessary not only to consider the changeable understood universally according to its common features, but it is necessary to get down to details so that the primary agent in each individual case may be ascertained, especially in sensible, animate things, because in investigations of nature we must discover the universal principles through singulars, since in such investigations the particulars are better known than the universals. It is through the singulars that we come to believe that it is convenient and necessary for universals and their principles to exist, since it is only those universals which are exemplified in particulars that we accept, while those which are not exemplified in particulars, we reject.

[Albert the Great, De animalibus IX tr. 2, c.4, ed. HernannStadler, in: BGPhlvfA5, Munster9 16'.T21, ll.16-21m as quoted in Leen Spruit, "Albert the Great on the Epistemology of Natural Science", p. 64.]

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