Fr. William Hinnebusch on St. Abert the Great as “the Perfect Teacher”


Dominican Fathers William Aquinas Hinnebusch (left) and John Frederick Hinnebusch (right) in Germany (1960).

Fr. William Aquinas Hinnebusch, O.P., of the Province of St. Joseph, died on January 12, 1981. His younger brother John Frederick Hinnebusch, O.P., provides a brief account of his life and work as a Dominican historian here.

His short book on Dominican Spirituality includes the following story about the prayer of St. Albert the Great:

St. Albert, the greatest scholar of his generation, was also a saint, and formed a saint. Here is how Thomas of Cantimprè, one of Albert’s Dominican students, describes his teacher:

“As a student over a long period, I have seen and noted that almost every day for many years when Master Albert was regent of theology, he so devoted himself to prayer, day and night, that he recited the 150 psalms of David every day.”

Some modern authors, commenting on this passage, say that Cantimprè must have made a mistake; he meant the seven penitential psalms, not the psalter. But he was a learned friar; he knew much better than we do, from personal experience, what the seven penitential psalms and the psalter are. There is only one psalter and it is composed of the 150 psalms of David. But Albert was not distracted by the noises and diversions of modern life. Then Cantimprè continued: “He dedicated himself to the canonical hours, his lectures, and disputations.” In fact, he used a word that drawing-room minds might consider inelegant. Where I said “dedicated”, Cantimprè said “sweated” — Sudavit. Albert “Sweated over the canonical hours, his lectures, and disputations.” It means being supremely attentive and painstaking. Then Cantimprè concluded: “Is it any wonder that such a man, advancing in such a holy and upright way, should make more than human progress in virtue?” William of Tocco also wrote about Albert in his life of St. Thomas, telling us that, “this wonderful master offered his students simultaneously the knowledge of wisdom and the example of a holy life” — the perfect teacher.