Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Universal Doctor (not St. Thomas, but his teacher)

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
It is a very common mistake, even in Catholic academia, to give the title of Doctor Universalis to St. Thomas Aquinas – I have seen this not only among the laity but also among the clergy and religious, even in quasi-professional settings.
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
While the title of Doctor Universalis is often misattributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, we can easily tell the two saintly theologians apart in Christian artwork, if only we know what to look for.
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


A Sinner said...

Well, mitres simplex.

There is the mitre pretiosa, which may be ornamented in a variety of ways, and ornamentation probably can consist in "covering" the mitre to such a degree that it basically becomes a colored mitre...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
Yes! You are certainly correct.
I should have been more clear -- the base color is always white, but it is wonderful when (for special occasions) a more precious mitre is used with ornamentation. Sometimes, as you say, the white base is no longer visible behind all the additions -- many of Pope Benedict's mitres are like this!

Peace to you! +

Joe @ Defend Us In Battle said...


I liked that article a lot. Even though it was basically a review for me, I still like reading well sketched understandings of things, because it sharpens my faith.

What I did learn was the correct quotation regarding nature and grace :)


Dismas said...

Fr. E -

Doesn't the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem, para 11 also proclaim St. Thomas Aquinas a Universal Doctor of Church?


"We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own, as innumerable documents of every kind attest. It would be an endless task to explain here all the reasons which moved Our Predecessors in this respect, and it will be sufficient perhaps to point out that Thomas wrote under the inspiration of the supernatural spirit which animated his life and that his writings, which contain the principles of, and the laws governing, all sacred studies, must be said to possess a universal character."

Stomachosus said...

I am not sure what the rules are in the OF. But in Albert's day and in the EF it wasn't that the "base color" was white. The Simple Mitre was not to be used at Solemn Pontifical Mass except for Good Friday, requiems and when in the presence of the pope. The Simple Mitre was also worn during councils or when present at solemn pontifical acts of the pope

At a regular Pontifical Mass the bishop wore two mitres. We word the "gold Mitre" usually made of simple gold cloth (mitre auriphrygiata), and the Precious mitre, often with jewels in it. There were distinct rules of usage here. During Advent and Lent only the mitre auriphrygiata was used, but normally both were used, the bishop switching them at various points.

Only the simple mitre was white (linen for bishops, silk dalmask for Cardinals) and had red laplets. But as stated, it was not normally used liturgically.

Sorry, a bit of a liturgical geek here.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the additional info!
I would think also that "gold" is not necessarily distinct from "white" (liturgically).

What has to be stopped is this goofy practice of bishops wearing the "red" mitre with the red vestments, and "green" mitre with the green vestments, etc.!

Peace! +

Anonymous said...

I am still inclined to think 'perfecting' nature necessitates building on nature. What is it that is being perfected ? It is nature. To be perfected can not mean to be made into a new thing. To perfect something is to provide it with what it needs. This new part would then necessarily have to be in relation to what is already there.
But, perhaps you are correct, in that it does not add anything 'substantial' (I am not using that term in a philisophical sense), but changes the relations of what is already there. Nothing new is being 'built' (added-on to), the change being one only of relations of things already present.
Comments ?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I would agree that there is most certainly a theoretical and hypotheical state of "pure nature" ... and that this is necessary to maintain any coherent theory of grace.

Still, I believe that it is much better to say that grace perfects nature than to say that grace builds on nature -- the latter can be misunderstood, and seems to indicate that grace covers over the defects of nature ... whereas, in truth, grace elevates and purifies nature.

Thank you for the comment ... I believe that you are very much on the right track! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The Latin of the phrase you reference (according to the Vatican website, which is certainly not official), states:
"sed etiam Communem seu universalem Ecclesiae Doctorem appellandum putemus Thomam"

Notice that "Common" is in capitals and "universal" is in lower-case.

In any case, as I mentioned in the article, St. Thomas is the "universal doctor of the Church", but St. Albert is called the "Universal Doctor".

Thank you for directing our attention once again to Studiorum Ducem, which sets St. Thomas as the guide to all men in priestly formation.

Peace to you! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Sorry for the delay in responding!
Yes, it is true (as I mentioned also in the article), St. Thomas is occasionally called the "Universal Doctor of the Church" -- but Albert is the "Universal Doctor" proper.
Indeed, for whatever it is worth, the official Latin text of that encyclical (at least as reproduced on line) has "Communis" capitalized and "universalis" in lower-case.

In any case, thank you for the excellent citation which gives such high praise to the Angel of the Schools! +

Anonymous said...

In iconography regarding St. Albert the Great, can he wear his white habit, surplice (, stole) and cope, and hold his crozier when wearing the mitre?


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