|Albertus Magnus, with his mitre|
He is the Angelic Doctor, the Common Doctor, and the Angel of the Schools, but St. Thomas Aquinas is not the “Universal Doctor”. Rather this title, Doctor Universalis, has been given to the teacher and mentor of St. Thomas, St. Albert the Great – Albertus Magnus.
Personally, this has become one of my own pet-annoyances – so many people keep calling St. Thomas “Universal Doctor” rather than “Common Doctor”. Still, this error is nothing in comparison to the misquotation by which many credit the phrase “grace builds on nature” to St. Thomas (even prominent, conservative bishops say this), when he really said “grace perfects nature” – and this makes all the difference in the world to a true Thomist.
Why is St. Albert called the “Universal Doctor”? And how can we tell St. Albert from St. Thomas in Christian art?
The Universal Doctor
|St. Albert, with mitre and reading from a book|
Certainly, the root of this confusion lies in the fact that St. Thomas is the Doctor Communis (Common Doctor) and is also commonly called the “Universal Doctor of the Church” . Still it is good to note that St. Thomas is called the Common Doctor insofar as he is the teacher of all and master of every aspect of theology, while St. Albert is called the Universal Doctor insofar as he wrote on every topic both in theology and philosophy, as well as in the natural sciences.
St. Albert the Great is the Doctor Universalis, as the theologian who united faith and reason in an age when the philosophy and science of Christian Europe was in the midst of great development (on account, especially, of the advent of new texts from Arabia). While St. Albert is certainly a great theologian and doctor of the Church, he was also the pre-eminent scientist of his age – his de animalibus is well worth the read for any who are interested in medieval zoology.
It was his eminent learning in every subject which has gained St. Albert the title of Doctor Universalis – “Doctor of all things”.
St. Albert and St. Thomas in art
|St. Thomas Aquinas sometimes looks a little like St. Albert|
|St. Thomas, with sunburst over his heart|
St. Thomas, on the one hand, is often pictured holding an open book, and with a sunburst upon his breast. If you see a picture of a (large) man in a white habit (with a black cape), holding a book, you can bet that it is St. Thomas Aquinas – especially if there is the sunburst over his heart.
|St. Albert with mitre and globe|
St. Albert the Great, on the other hand, is generally shown wearing the white mitre (he was the bishop of Ratisbon) – we take the opportunity here to point out that all mitres (even in the ordinary form) must be white, for there is no provision for changing the color of the mitre to match the vestments. Generally, St. Albert will be shown reading from a book, or holding a globe (the sign of his universal learning). The Universal Doctor is often pictured with a sunburst behind his head.
Furthermore, we must be sure to distinguish both St. Thomas and St. Albert from their father, St. Dominic. Our father Dominic is shown with a sunburst behind or above his head, holding the lily, and often very young.
|Our Father Dominic, with lily and sunburst|