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  • Resurrection and Sacraments in the Systematic Theology of Albert the Great
  • Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski O.P. (bio)


Current theological thought across various fields emphasizes the synthetic and holistic nature of Christ’s saving work. For example, consider the use of the term “Paschal Mystery” by the second Vatican Council1 and the language of “the Christ event” in Biblical studies.2 Even Heideggarian theologians who use the language of “symbolic recognition” see the sacraments as moments when Christians recognize and affirm their connectedness to the whole mystery of Christ.3 Conversely, ulta-traditionalist authors combat the idea of Paschal mystery, charging that the connection of the resurrection to the sacraments undercuts Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice.4 While Albert the Great does not, of course, speak directly to current sacramental concerns, he does provide a theology which both links and distinguishes the passion and resurrection as causes of the sacraments.

Two main concerns inform the way in which Albert understands the relationship of the resurrection to the sacraments. First, he wants to safeguard the unique value of the cross as redemptive. Second, he wants to do justice to the places where St. Paul speaks about the resurrection as the model of our justification (as in Romans 6:4) and places where the liturgy references the resurrection. As he works within these parameters, Albert [End Page 57] articulates a theology in which the resurrection as an event expresses the truth of Christ’s divinity and models the divinization bestowed upon humanity. It persists as an enduring reality in the person of the Christ sharing in his causality as a channel of grace to the mystical body.

Relevant Texts

For this discussion, the most important text is Albert’s Commentary on the Sentences. I also draw on his early works: De sacramentis, De incarnatione, and De resurrectione, and his late De mysterio missae and De corpore domini. Albert’s De sacramentis, De incarnatione and De resurrectione were written in the early 1240s during his time in Paris while serving as Master of Theology at the University of Paris.5 Although stand-alone works, they form a loose series along with De coaequaevis and De homine.6 These three relevant works follow the structure of Lombard’s Sentences and likely are transcriptions of part of an early seminar on Lombard’s Sentences.7 Generally much simpler in content, their theology diverges in places from the decisions made later by Albert in writing his Sentences Commentary.8

Albert began work on his Commentary on the Sentences in the early 1240s while he was in Paris. He completed it in the latter part of the same decade while at the Dominican house in Cologne, Germany.9 Albert wrote the sections of his commentary in this order: 1, 3, 2, 4, so there was a gap between his writing of on book 3, which contains Christology, [End Page 58] and book 4, which contains his sacramental doctrine.10 The Sentences Commentary is Albert’s most careful and detailed and therefore his most important work with regard to sacramental theology.

Albert’s De corpore domini was written near the end of his life in the 1270s. There has been debate about authorship of this work, but even those who question direct Albertine authorship recognize that it is based on his theology.11 De corpore domini is a devotional and pastoral work, arranged around six names given to the Eucharist: grace, gift, food, communion, sacrifice, and sacrament. De corpore domini intersperses meditative sections more characteristic of earlier monastic theology with more scholastic sections which echo the structure and content of articles found in Albert’s Sentences Commentary.12 It is a companion work to De mysterio missae, a commentary on the prayers and actions of the Mass.13 While Albert has also written commentaries on the Gospels, this study will confine itself to his systematic works.

Redemption and Justification

Let us turn to Albert’s first concern, that Christ’s passion and death be given their due as the cause of salvation. Albert’s theology of redemption focuses strongly on Christ as satisfying for sin and meriting grace for humanity. Because of these emphases, much of his...


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