Albert the Great was one of the Church's greatest intellects. He studied at the University of Padua and later taught at Hildesheim, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Regensburg, and Strasbourg. He then taught at the University of Paris, where he received his doctorate in 1245. He was among the first and greatest of the natural scientists, gaining a reputation for expertise in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geography, metaphysics and mathematics. He was also very learned in biblical studies and theology.
St. Albert's life spans the better part of the thirteenth century (1200?-1280). Widely admired for his wisdom and learning, he was known to his contemporaries as "Albertus Magnus": Albert the Great. Subsequent generations, impressed by the breadth of his learning, called him "Doctor universalis": Teacher of all subjects. He was also the teacher of a rather singular student, St. Thomas Aquinas, his "Dumb Ox" with a bellow for the ages.
St. Albert did study and teach a wide variety of subjects, though not always for angelic pupils. Around 1250, acting in religious obedience, he began the process of commenting the known works of Aristotle. St. Albert's attempt to make the Greek philosopher "intelligible to the Latins" filled twenty years of his life and almost twice as many volumes! As a commentator, St. Albert is no slave to the letter of Aristotle's texts. He uses them as a means of addressing intellectual problems of more immediate relevance to his day. He draws on Arabic, Byzantine and Greek traditions of commentary to do so. St. Albert's commentaries include extensive "digressions" in which he at times drops altogether the conceit of interpreting Aristotle. It helps to understand the latitude St. Albert saw in his role as a commentator to recall that he wrote self-standing treatises to "fill the gaps" in the Aristotelian corpus.
St. Albert is perhaps best remembered for his life-long interest in the order and operation of the natural world. It was in recognition of the discipline and godliness of this interest that Pius XII declared Albert patron saint of "students of the natural sciences" in his Apostolic Letter Ad Deum (16 December 1941). In fostering devotion to St. Albert, the Holy See hoped to improve "the sad state of affairs of our day when the latest advances of science are employed, unhappily, not for God's praise and man's salvation, but to visit the calamities of war even upon civilian centers and cities." The feast day of St. Albert the Great is November 15.