Faculty Spotlight: Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski

Faculty Spotlight: Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski

Sr. Albert Marie’s translation of St. Albert the Great’s On the Body of the Lord will be available this August for purchase (you can pre-order one, now). A part of CUA Press’ The Fathers of the Church: Mediaeval Continuation series, Sr. Albert Marie’s translation is an important step in making the work of one the doctors of the Church, St. Albert the Great, more widely available. Sr. Albert Marie recently graciously agreed to answer some questions about the importance of this work of St. Albert’s. Her replies are found below. 

1. In the description of the book in the CUA Press Catalogue, it says that the purpose of the book is to “draw us back to worship.” Can you say more about this? In particular, does Albert have insights from which a contemporary reader might benefit? For what kind of audience was Albert writing? 

De corpori Domini was the companion work to a commentary on the Mass, so from its origins it is meant to lead to a deeper appreciation of the Mass. Throughout the work, Albert makes an effort to show the beauty of the Eucharist. He uses poetic language, to convey a genuine Eucharistic awe to his readers.

 One of his most relevant insights is the way in which he in inspired by an understanding similar to Lumen Gentium’s description of the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of the Christian life. Albert sees the Eucharist as the point where God’s self-giving love touches the life of the Christian, so everything in revelation that speaks about God’s salvific plan focuses in on the Eucharist.  The Eucharist demands a virtuous way of life from the Christian, making him fit to receive the body of Christ; conversely, it is the fount of the moral life, providing the strength to live well. 

2. Often times it seems that Albert is eclipsed by his greatest student, Thomas Aquinas. In general, what sort of contributions does Albert make that make him worth studying in his own right? Furthermore, particularly in Sacramental Theology, why ought we turn to Albert? 

Part of the important of studying St. Albert is in order to better understand the thought of Aquinas and to recognize some of the ideas which Aquinas encountered. In many ways Aquinas’s Eucharistic theology rightfully eclipses Albert’s. This is particularly true in Aquinas’s ability to give a precise articulation of sacramental causality and the mode of Christ’s presence. Perhaps because Albert is weaker in these areas, he gives more prominence to the nature of the Eucharist as signifying and providing spiritual nourishment.  

3. In addition to being known as the teacher of Thomas Aquinas, Albert is known as a great naturalist (which is, granted, an anachronistic term). Does his extensive work as a naturalist greatly influence his theological reflection? 

Yes. There are places where Albert’s interest in the natural sciences influences De corpore domini. One place that stands out is where he talks about the wisdom of God in choosing to use bread and wine as the matter for the Eucharist. Along with chronicling the Old Testament history of these two foods, Albert gives a study of their nutritional value in relation to other foodstuffs. He speaks about different varieties of grain, concluding that wheat is the most noble and healthiest. He also compares wine to other drinks, even mentioning swamp-water (which of course was not drunk, but was used in agriculture). I don’t think that proving that bread and wine are the healthiest foods is absolutely necessary to showing Christ’s wisdom in having used them. The section does though, show Albert’s wide interest in the natural work and his determination to bring all of his knowledge into play in investigating this theological question.