Saturday, November 15th, 2008
On Thursday, November 13, over 100 people gathered at St. Vincent Ferrer to hear Professor Stephen Barr deliver the parish’s second annual St. Albert’s Day Lecture. His topic was “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.” The lecture was excellent in both content and delivery. Prof. Barr argued, among other things, that 20th-century discoveries in physics have overturned, seemingly definitively, the materialist assumptions that shaped scientific thinking throughout the bulk of the modern period. It is this materialist understanding of science, and not science itself, that is often at odds with religion. In his talk, Prof. Barr identified the figures and topics instrumental to this recent change of fortune for materialism.
Prof. Barr’s conclusions suggest that the 20th century has actually opened the door, not closed it, to a more sympathetic reading among scientists of the medieval claim made famous by St. Albert and his student St. Thomas, that there can exist no contradiction between the truth of science and the truth of revelation. To be sure, at any given time it may not be clear as to how all of the points of faith and science intersect, but both the scientist and the theologian can proceed with confidence knowing that what is genuinely true in one realm of study is equally true for the other.
Copies of Prof. Barr’s book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, may be purchased here. It’s an excellent read.
In addition to his book, Prof. Barr has written numerous articles on faith and science, many of which have been published in First Things. Click here for a listing of these articles.
Below you can listen to Prof. Barr’s address in full. The first clip contains the audio of the lecture itself, and the second includes the Q & A session held afterwards.
O God, the Lord of the sciences, we praise and bless you with all our hearts and voices, for you have raised up a great teacher from among our fathers.
Today the Dominican Order celebrates with particular solemnity one of its own, St. Albert the Great, the medieval bishop and scholar renowned for his expertise in nearly all the intellectual disciplines, including natural science, philosophy, and theology. St. Albert was the teacher of another Dominican great, St. Thomas Aquinas.
From the Dominican Ordo:
Albert of Lauingen was born in Swabia (Germany) at the beginning of the thirteenth century. While a student at the University of Pavia he was attraced to the Order by Blessed Jordan of Saxony. From 1242 until 1249 he taught at the University of Paris where Thomas Aquinas was one of his students. Albert helped to introduce Aristotelian physics as interpreted by Jewish and Arabian philosophers into Western thought. From 1248 he taught at Cologne and served as provincial of Germany (1254-1257). Together with Saint Bonaventure he defended the right of the Mendicant Orders to teach at in the universtities.
He was named bishop of Ratisbon in 1260, but after two years he resigned because he considered himself unworthy. He continued his teaching at Wurzburg, Strasbourg and Cologne. In his attempts to blend the wisdom of the saints with human knowledge he was a distinguished writer and teacher, but he was even more distinguished in his life of holiness and his pastoral charity. He had a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Virgin Mary, who according to legend led him to the Order of Preachers. Because of his writings he is called “the Great” and the “universal doctor.” He died at Cologne on November 15, 1280. In 1459 Pius II declared him a doctor of the Church; in 1931 Pius XI declared him a saint; and Pius XII named him patron of those involved in the natural sciences.
One of the stained glass windows in the nave of the church is dedicated to St. Albert. Click here for a view and an explanation of its iconography. Of particular note are the two figures that flank St. Albert—Aristotle and St. John the Evangelist—who represent the heights of knowledge attainable by the human mind through the distinct but not opposed paths of reason and revelation. Albert and his student Aquinas remain icons of the Catholic task to reconcile the seeming contradictions between faith and reason.
Besides being a famous scholar, St. Albert was also a saint. His expertise in prayer and the science of the blessed was the pearl of great price in his crown of intellectual achievement. Below is a brief instruction he once gave on the proper preparations necessary for fruitful prayer. He shares with is readers the fruit of his own experience. This passage is one of the options for the second lesson in today’s Office of Readings.
From the treatise On the Manner of Praying
attributed to Saint Albert the Great
We should prepare ourselves for prayer. This preparation is of two kinds: remote and immediate.
Similarly remote preparation is of two kinds: interior and exterior. Interior preparation consists of three things. First, there is the purification of the conscience: If our hearts do not reprove us, we have this confidence in God: that God hears us whenever we ask for anything. Secondly, there is the humbling of the mind, for the Lord hears the cry of the humble and does not spurn their petition. Thirdly, there is the forgiveness of injuries: Whenever you stand to pray, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may in turn forgive you your trespasses.