Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings

By Simon Tugwell | Go to book overview

Foreword

In a previous volume, Early Dominicans (Classics of Western Spirituality, 1982), I expressed a hope that the two outstanding thirteenth-century Dominican doctors of the church, St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, would find their own place among the Classics of Western Spirituality. This present volume is the fulfilment of that hope.

Neither of the two is a "spiritual writer" in the sense to which we have become accustomed, but both are, in different ways, significant for the history and understanding of Christian piety. Both represent instances, recognized and canonized by the church, of a type that has not always enjoyed a good press in devout circles: both are unambiguously Christian intellectuals. Albert, we may say, is almost the apotheosis of curiosity, while Thomas stands for fearless lucidity. In their different ways both were men who kept their eyes open and were not afraid to look at what they saw, though in the case of Thomas the eyes of the mind were paramount.

It is obviously not possible in a single volume to do justice to the range of interests of either of the two saints. From the voluminous works of Albert I have selected only one, his commentary on the Mystical Theology of the elusive Greek writer of about A. D. 500 who hid behind the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. In my introduction I have tried to situate Albert in the Western Dionysian tradition. He is significant as a theologian who resisted both the obscurantism of twelfth-century negative theology and the devotionalist reading of Dionysius, which eventually led to The Cloud of Unknowing and St. John of the Cross. Even he was unable to recapture the full breadth of the authentic Dionysian vision, but he did manage to retrieve a fair amount of it, in spite of the obstacles posed by inadequate Latin translations and a somewhat misleading tradition of interpretation. And his appreciation of Dionysius is something that he passed on to his German Dominican disciples and followers, not the least of whom is Meister Eckhart. One of the many exciting scholarly projects currently going on is the rediscovery of the German Dominican tradition, of which Albert is un

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