Sunday, November 15, 2020

Teacher of the Universe of Knowledge

Today is the feast of St. Albert of Lauingen, Doctor of the Church, most often called Albert the Great (an epithet he was given in his own lifetime), often called the Doctor Universalis or Universal Doctor. He is the patron saint of scientists and engineers, and his great gift to the Church is, perhaps more than anything else, an unabashed enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge. He studied everything -- the entire universe of knowledge that was available to him -- everything from falcons to ant lions, from minerals to morals, not just from books (although he commented on almost all of Aristotle's works) but by experiments. The experiments were often crude and unsystematic, and sometimes inconclusive (to test the common claim that ostriches ate rocks, he tried to feed an ostrich gravel, but reported that he couldn't get it to eat any), but they were part of a genuinely empirical approach to the world. He advanced embryology, for instance, by doing simple experiments on chicken eggs. He is also usually given credit for having been the first person to isolate the element arsenic, in the sense that he is the first person on record to isolate chemically what can be clearly identified as a pure form of arsenic. 

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