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Albertus Magnus[7] (before 1200 – November 15, 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a German Catholic Dominican friar and bishop. Later canonised as a Catholic saint, he was known during his lifetime as Doctor universalis and Doctor expertus and, late in his life, the sobriquet Magnus was appended to his name.[8] Scholars such as James A. Weisheipl and Joachim R. Söder have referred to him as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages.[9] The Catholic Church distinguishes him as one of the 36 Doctors of the Church.

Biography

It seems likely that Albert was born sometime before 1200, given well-attested evidence that he was aged over 80 on his death in 1280. Two later sources say that Albert was about 87 on his death, which has led 1193 to be commonly given as the date of Albert's birth, but this information has not enough evidence.[10] Albert was probably born in Lauingen (now in Bavaria), since he called himself 'Albert of Lauingen', but this might simply be a family name. Most probably his family was of ministerial class; his familiar connection with (being son of the count) the Bollstädt noble family is almost certainly mere conjecture by 15th c. hagiographers.[10][failed verification]

Albert was probably educated principally at the University of Padua, where he received instruction in Aristotle's writings. A late account by Rudolph de Novamagia refers to Albertus' encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary, who convinced him to enter Holy Orders. In 1223 (or 1229)[11] he became a member of the Dominican Order, and studied theology at Bologna and elsewhere. Selected to fill the position of lecturer at Cologne, Germany, where the Dominicans had a house, he taught for several years there, as well as in Regensburg, Freiburg, Strasbourg, and Hildesheim. During his first tenure as lecturer at Cologne, Albert wrote his Summa de bono after discussion with Philip the Chancellor concerning the transcendental properties of being.[12] In 1245, Albert became master of theology under Gueric of Saint-Quentin, the first German Dominican to achieve this distinction. Following this turn of events, Albert was able to teach theology at the University of Paris as a full-time professor, holding the seat of the Chair of Theology at the College of St. James.[12][13] During this time Thomas Aquinas began to study under Albertus.[14]

Bust of Albertus Magnus by Vincenzo Onofri, c. 1493

Albert was the first to comment on virtually all of the writings of Aristotle, thus making them accessible to wider academic debate. The study of Aristotle brought him to study and comment on the teachings of Muslim academics, notably Avicenna and Averroes, and this would bring him into the heart of academic debate.

In 1254 Albert was made provincial of the Dominican Order,[14] and fulfilled the duties of the office with great care and efficiency. During his tenure he publicly defended the Dominicans against attacks by the secular and regular faculty of the University of Paris, commented on John the Evangelist, and answered what he perceived as errors of the Islamic philosopher Averroes.

In 1259 Albert took part in the General Chapter of the Dominicans at Valenciennes together with Thomas Aquinas, masters Bonushomo Britto,[15] Florentius,[16] and Peter (later Pope Innocent V) establishing a ratio studiorum or program of studies for the Dominicans[17] that featured the study of philosophy as an innovation for those not sufficiently trained to study theology. This innovation initiated the tradition of Dominican scholastic philosophy put into practice, for example, in 1265 at the Order's studium provinciale at the convent of Santa Sabina in Rome, out of which would develop the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelicum".[18]

Roman sarcophagus containing the relics of Albertus Magnus in the crypt of St. Andrew's Church, Cologne, Germany

In 1260 Pope Alexander IV made him bishop of Regensburg, an office from which he resigned after three years. During the exercise of his duties he enhanced his reputation for humility by refusing to ride a horse, in accord with the dictates of the Order, instead traversing his huge diocese on foot. This earned him the affectionate sobriquet "boots the bishop" from his parishioners. In 1263 Pope Urban IV relieved him of the duties of bishop and asked him to preach the eighth Crusade in German-speaking countries.[19] After this, he was especially known for acting as a mediator between conflicting parties. In Cologne he is known not only for being the founder of Germany's oldest university there, but also for "the big verdict" (der Große Schied) of 1258, which brought an end to the conflict between the citizens of Cologne and the archbishop. Among the last of his labors was the defense of the orthodoxy of his former pupil, Thomas Aquinas, whose death in 1274 grieved Albert (the story that he travelled to Paris in person to defend the teachings of Aquinas can not be confirmed).

Albert was a scientist, philosopher, astrologer, theologian, spiritual writer, ecumenist, and diplomat. Under the auspices of Humbert of Romans, Albert molded the curriculum of studies for all Dominican students, introduced Aristotle to the classroom and probed the work of Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus. Indeed, it was the thirty years of work done by Aquinas and himself that allowed for the inclusion of Aristotelian study in the curriculum of Dominican schools.

After suffering a collapse of health in 1278, he died on November 15, 1280, in the Dominican convent in Cologne, Germany. Since November 15, 1954, his relics are in a Roman sarcophagus in the crypt of the Dominican St. Andreas Church in Cologne.[20] Although his body was discovered to be incorrupt at the first exhumation three years after his death, at the exhumation in 1483 only a skeleton remained.[21]

Albert was beatified in 1622. He was canonized and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on December 16, 1931, by Pope Pius XI[19] and the patron saint of natural scientists in 1941. St. Albert's feast day is November 15.

Writings

Albertus Magnus monument at the University of Cologne

Albert's writings collected in 1899 went to thirty-eight volumes. These displayed his prolific habits and encyclopedic knowledge of topics such as logic, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, astrology, mineralogy, alchemy, zoology, physiology, phrenology, justice, law, friendship, and love. He digested, interpreted, and systematized the whole of Aristotle's works, gleaned from the Latin translations and notes of the Arabian commentators, in accordance with Church doctrine. Most modern knowledge of Aristotle was preserved and presented by Albert.[14]

His principal theological works are a commentary in three volumes on the Books of the Sentences of Peter Lombard (Magister Sententiarum), and the Summa Theologiae in two volumes. The latter is in substance a more didactic repetition of the former.

Albert's activity, however, was more philosophical than theological (see Scholasticism). The philosophical works, occupying the first six and the last of the 21 volumes, are generally divided according to the Aristotelian scheme of the sciences, and consist of interpretations and condensations of Aristotle's relative works, with supplementary discussions upon contemporary topics, and occasional divergences from the opinions of the master. Albert believed that Aristotle's approach to natural philosophy did not pose any obstacle to the development of a Christian philosophical view of the natural order.[19]

De animalibus (1450–1500 ca., cod. fiesolano 67, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana)

Albert's knowledge of natural science was considerable and for the age remarkably accurate. His industry in every department was great: not only did he produce commentaries and paraphrases of the entire Aristotelian corpus, including his scientific works, but Albert also added to and improved upon them. His books on topics like botany, zoology, and minerals included information from ancient sources, but also results of his own empirical investigations. These investigations pushed several of the special sciences forward, beyond the reliance on classical texts. In the case of embryology, for example, it has been claimed that little of value was written between Aristotle and Albert, who managed to identify organs within eggs.[22] Furthermore, Albert also effectively invented entire special sciences, where Aristotle has not covered a topic. For example, prior to Albert, there was no systematic study of minerals.[23] For the breadth of these achievements, he was bestowed the name Doctor Universalis.

Much of Albert's empirical contributions to the natural sciences have been superseded, but his general approach to science may be surprisingly modern. For example, in De Mineralibus (Book II, Tractate ii, Ch. 1) Albert claims, "For it is [the task] of natural science not simply to accept what we are told but to inquire into the causes of natural things."[23]

Alchemy

Albertus Magnus, Chimistes Celebres, Liebig's Extract of Meat Company Trading Card, 1929

In the centuries since his death, many stories arose about Albert as an alchemist and magician. "Much of the modern confusion results from the fact that later works, particularly the alchemical work known as the Secreta Albert

Albertus Magnus[7] (before 1200 – November 15, 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a German Catholic Dominican friar and bishop. Later canonised as a Catholic saint, he was known during his lifetime as Doctor universalis and Doctor expertus and, late in his life, the sobriquet Magnus was appended to his name.[8] Scholars such as James A. Weisheipl and Joachim R. Söder have referred to him as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages.[9] The Catholic Church distinguishes him as one of the 36 Doctors of the Church.