Albertus Magnus

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St. Albertus Magnus, O.P.
AlbertusMagnus.jpg
Saint Albertus Magnus, a fresco by Tommaso da Modena (1352), Church of San Nicolò, Treviso, Italy
Religious, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church
Born ca. 1193/1206
Lauingen, Duchy of Bavaria
Died November 15, 1280
Cologne, Holy Roman Empire
Honored in
Catholic Church
Beatified 1622, Rome, Papal States, by Pope Gregory XV
Canonized 1931, Vatican City, by Pope Pius XI
Major shrine St. Andrew's Church, Cologne, Germany
Feast November 15
Patronage Cincinnati, Ohio; medical technicians; natural sciences; philosophers; scientists; students; World Youth Day
Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great)
Born Unknown, year between 1193–1206
Lauingen, Bavaria
Died 1280
Cologne
Other names "Albert of Cologne"
Era Medieval philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Scholasticism
Influences
Influenced

Albertus Magnus, O.P. (1193/1206 – November 15, 1280), also known as Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a Catholic saint. He was a German Dominican friar and a Catholic bishop. He was known during his lifetime as doctor universalis and doctor expertus and, late in his life, the term magnus was appended to his name.[1] 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.[2] The Catholic Church honours him as a Doctor of the Church, one of only 35 so honoured.

Biography[edit]

It seems likely that Albertus was born sometime before 1200, given well-attested evidence that he was aged over 80 on his death in 1280; more than one source says that Albert was 87 on his death, which has led 1193 to be commonly given as the date of Albertus's birth.[3] Albertus was probably born in Lauingen in Bavaria, since he called himself 'Albert of Lauingen', but this might simply be a family name.[3]

Albertus 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)[4] he became a member of the Dominican Order, against the wishes of his family, 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, at 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.[5] In 1245, Albert became master of theology under Gueric of Saint-Quentin, the first German Dominican to achieve this distinction. Following this huge 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.[5][6] During this time Thomas Aquinas began to study under Albertus. While teaching him, Albertus still held true to this teachings and influences from other ancient philosophers. Although he was a friar, he understood many natural aspects of the world such as metaphysics, physics, and mathematics.[7]

Bust of Albertus Magnus by Vincenzo Onofri, c. 1493

Albertus 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 Albertus was made provincial of the Dominican Order,[8] and fulfilled the arduous 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 St. John, and answered what he perceived as errors of the Islamic philosopher Averroes.

In 1259 Albert took part in the General Chapter of the Dominican Order at Valenciennes together with Thomas Aquinas, masters Bonushomo Britto,[9] Florentius,[10] and Peter establishing a ratio studiorum or program of studies for the Dominican Order[11] 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, Angelicum[12]

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 Dominican Order, instead walking back and forth across his huge diocese. This earned him the affectionate sobriquet "boots the bishop" from his parishioners. After his time as Bishop, he spent the remainder of his life partly in retirement in the various houses of his order and often preaching throughout southern Germany. In 1270 he preached the eighth Crusade in Austria. After this, he was especially known for acting as a mediator between conflicting parties. In Cologne he is not only known 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 Albertus (the story that he travelled to Paris in person to defend the teachings of Aquinas can not be confirmed).

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

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.[13]

Albertus is frequently mentioned by Dante, who made his doctrine of free will the basis of his ethical system. In his Divine Comedy, Dante places Albertus with his pupil Thomas Aquinas among the great lovers of wisdom (Spiriti Sapienti) in the Heaven of the Sun. Albertus is also mentioned, along with Agrippa and Paracelsus, in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in which his writings influence a young Victor Frankenstein.

Albertus was beatified in 1622. He was canonized and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on December 16, 1931 by Pope Pius XI and the patron saint of natural scientists in 1941. St. Albert's feast day is November 15. According to Joan Carroll Cruz, his body is incorrupt.[14]

Writings[edit]

Albertus Magnus monument at the University of Cologne.

Albertus' writings collected in 1899 went to thirty-eight volumes. These displayed his prolific habits and literally 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 Albertus.[15]

Albertus' activity, however, was more philosophical than theological (see Scholasticism). The philosophical works, occupying the first six and the last of the twenty-one 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.

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.

Albertus's knowledge of physical science was considerable and for the age remarkably accurate. His industry in every department was great, and though we find in his system many gaps which are characteristic of scholastic philosophy, his protracted study of Aristotle gave him a great power of systematic thought and exposition. An exception to this general tendency is his Latin treatise "De falconibus" (later inserted in the larger work, De Animalibus, as book 23, chapter 40), in which he displays impressive actual knowledge of a) the differences between the birds of prey and the other kinds of birds; b) the different kinds of falcons; c) the way of preparing them for the hunt; and d) the cures for sick and wounded falcons.[16] His scholarly legacy justifies his contemporaries' bestowing upon him the honourable surname Doctor Universalis.

In De Mineralibus Albert claims, "The aim of natural philosophy (science) is not to simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature." The Aristotelianism greatly influences Albert's view on nature and philosophy.[15] Another example of his reason to formally search for the causes is in his treaties on plants, he begins with the principle, experiment is the only safe guide in such investigations. His studies of Aristotle and theology show their colors in nearly all of his works and volumes.

Albert placed emphasis on experiment as well as investigation, but he respected authority and tradition so much that many of his investigations or experiments were unpublished. Albert would often keep silent about many issues such as astronomy, physics and such because he felt that his theories were too advanced for the time he was living in.[15]

Alchemy[edit]

In the centuries since his death, many stories arose about Albertus as an alchemist and magician. On the subject of alchemy and chemistry, many treatises relating to Alchemy have been attributed to him, though in his authentic writings he had little to say on the subject, and then mostly through commentary on Aristotle. For example, in his commentary, De mineralibus, he refers to the power of stones, but does not elaborate on what these powers might be.[17] A wide range of Pseudo-Albertine works dealing with alchemy exist, though, showing the belief developed in the generations following Albert's death that he had mastered alchemy, one of the fundamental sciences of the Middle Ages. These include Metals and Materials; the Secrets of Chemistry; the Origin of Metals; the Origins of Compounds, and a Concordance which is a collection of Observations on the philosopher's stone; and other alchemy-chemistry topics, collected under the name of Theatrum Chemicum.[18] He is credited with the discovery of the element arsenic[19] and experimented with photosensitive chemicals, including silver nitrate.[20][21] He did believe that stones had occult properties, as he related in his work De mineralibus. However, there is scant evidence that he personally performed alchemical experiments.

According to legend, Albertus Magnus is said to have discovered the philosopher's stone and passed it to his pupil Thomas Aquinas, shortly before his death. Albertus does not confirm he discovered the stone in his writings, but he did record that he witnessed the creation of gold by "transmutation."[22] Given that Thomas Aquinas died six years before Albertus Magnus' death, this legend as stated is unlikely.

In his Little Book of Alchemy Albertus said that alchemic gold and iron lack the properties of natural gold and iron, alchemical iron not being magnetic and alchemical gold turning to powder after several ignitions.

Astrology[edit]

Painting by Joos (Justus) van Gent, Urbino, ~ 1475

Albertus was deeply interested in astrology, as has been articulated by scholars such as Paola Zambelli.[23] Throughout the Middle Ages – and well into the early modern period – astrology was widely accepted by scientists and intellectuals who held the view that life on earth is effectively a microcosm within the macrocosm (the latter being the cosmos itself). It was believed that correspondence therefore exists between the two and thus the celestial bodies follow patterns and cycles analogous to those on earth. With this worldview, it is reasonable to assert that astrology could be used to predict the probable future of a human being. Albertus made this a central component of his philosophical system, arguing that an understanding of the celestial influences affecting us could help us to live our lives more in accord with Christian precepts. The most comprehensive statement of his astrological beliefs is to be found in a work he authored around 1260, now known as the Speculum astronomiae. However, details of these beliefs can be found in almost everything he wrote, from his early Summa de bono to his last work, the Summa theologiae.

Matter and form[edit]

Albert believed that natural things were composed of composition of matter and form, he referred to it as quod est and quo est. Albert also believed that God alone is absolute ruling entity. Albert's version of hylomorphism is very similar to the Aristotelian doctrine, but he also took a some concepts from Avicenna.[24]

Music[edit]

Albertus is known for his enlightening commentary on the musical practice of his times. Most of his written musical observations are found in his commentary on Aristotle's Poetics. He rejected the idea of "music of the spheres" as ridiculous: movement of astronomical bodies, he supposed, is incapable of generating sound. He wrote extensively on proportions in music, and on the three different subjective levels on which plainchant could work on the human soul: purging of the impure; illumination leading to contemplation; and nourishing perfection through contemplation. Of particular interest to 20th-century music theorists is the attention he paid to silence as an integral part of music.

Metaphysics of morals[edit]

Both of his early treaties, De natura boni and De bono, start with a metaphysical investigation into the concepts of the good in general and the physical good. Albert refers to the physical good as bonum naturae. Albert does this before directly dealing with the moral concepts of metaphysics. In Albert's later works, he says in order to understand human or moral goodness, the individual must first recognize what it means to be good and do good deeds. This procedure reflects Albert's preoccupations with neo-Platonic theories of good as well as the doctrines of Pseudo-Dionysius.[25] Albert's view was highly valued by the Catholic Church and his peers.

Natural law[edit]

Albert devoted the last tractatus of De Bono to a theory of justice and natural law. Albert places God as the pinnacle of justice and natural law. God legislates and divine authority is supreme. Up until his time, it was the only work specifically devoted to natural law written by a theologian or philosopher.[26]

Friendship[edit]

Albertus mentions friendship in his work, De bono, as well as presenting his ideals and morals of friendship in the very beginning of Tractatus II. Later in his life he publishes Super Ethica.[27] With his development of friendship throughout his work this is evident that friendship ideals and morals took relevance as his life went on. Albert comments on Aristotle's view of friendship with a quote from Cicero, who writes, "friendship is nothing other than the harmony between things divine and human, with goodwill and love. Albert agrees with this commentary but he also adds in harmony or agreement.[28] Albert calls this harmony, consensiom is itself a certain kind of movement within the human spirit. Albert fully agrees with Aristotle in the sense that friendship is a virtue. Albert relates the inherent metaphysical contentedness between friendship and moral goodness. Albert describes several levels of goodness; the useful (utile), the pleasurable (delectabile) and the authentic or unqualified good (honestum). Then in turn there are three levels of friendship based on each of those levels. Friendship based on usefulness (amicitia utilis), friendship based on pleasure (amicitia delectabilis), and friendship rooted in unqualified goodness (amicitia honesti; amicitia quae fundatur super honestum).[29]

Cultural references[edit]

The tympanum and archivolts of Strasbourg Cathedral, with iconography inspired by Albertus Magnus

The iconography of the tympanum and archivolts of the late 13th-century portal of Strasbourg Cathedral was inspired by the writings of Albertus Magnus.[30] Albertus is recorded as having made a mechanical automaton in the form of a brass head that would answer questions put to it. Such a feat was also attributed to Roger Bacon.[31]

In The Concept of Anxiety, Søren Kierkegaard wrote that Albert Magnus, "arrogantly boasted of his speculation before the deity and suddenly became stupid." Kierkegaard cites Gotthard Oswald Marbach whom he quotes as saying "Albertus repente ex asino factus philosophus et ex philosopho asinus" [Albert was suddenly transformed from an ass into a philosopher and from a philosopher into an ass].[32]

In Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz there is an order of monks devoted to saving knowledge named the Albertian Order of Leibowitz in reference to Albert Magnus.

Influence and tribute[edit]

A number of schools have been named after Albert, including Albertus Magnus High School in Bardonia, New York,[33] Albertus Magnus Lyceum in River Forest, Illinois, and Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut.[34] The main science building at Providence College is named in honor of Albertus Magnus. The main science building at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is also named after Albertus Magnus.

The central square at the campus of the University of Cologne features a statue of Albertus Magnus and is named after him.

The Academy for Science and Design in New Hampshire honored Albertus by naming one of its four houses Magnus House.

As a tribute to the scholar's contributions to the law, the University of Houston Law Center displays a statute of Albertus Magnus. It is located on the campus of the University of Houston.

The Albertus-Magnus-Gymnasium is found in Regensburg, Germany.

In Managua, Nicaragua, the Albertus Magnus International Institute, a business and economic development research center, was founded in 2004.

In The Philippines, the Albertus Magnus Building at the University of Santo Tomas that houses the Conservatory of Music, College of Tourism and Hospitality Management, College of Education, and UST Education High School is named in his honor. The Saint Albert the Great Science Academy in San Carlos City, Pangasinan, which offers preschool, elementary and high school education, takes pride in having St. Albert as their patron saint. Its main building was named Albertus Magnus Hall in 2008.

Due to his contributions to natural philosophy, the plant species Alberta magna and the asteroid 20006 Albertus Magnus were named after him.

Numerous Catholic elementary and secondary schools are named for him, including schools in Toronto, Cologne, and Dayton, Ohio.

The Albertus typeface is named after him.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Weisheipl, James A. (1980), "The Life and Works of St. Albert the Great", in Weisheipl, James A., Albertus Magnus and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays, Studies and texts 49, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, p. 46, ISBN 0-88844-049-9 
  2. ^ Joachim R. Söder, "Albert der Grosse – ein staunen- erregendes Wunder,” Wort und Antwort 41 (2000): 145; J.A. Weisheipl, "Albertus Magnus,” Joseph Strayer ed., Dictionary of the Middle Ages 1 (New York: Scribner, 1982) 129.
  3. ^ a b Simon Tugwell, Albert and Thomas, New York Paulist Press, 1988, p. 3, 96–7
  4. ^ Simon Tugwell, Albert and Thomas, New York Paulist Press, 1988, p. 4, 5
  5. ^ a b Kovach, Francs, and Rober Shahan. Albert the Great: Commemorative Essays . Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980, p.X
  6. ^ Hampden, The Life, p. 33.
  7. ^ Kennedy, D. (1907). St. Albertus Magnus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 19, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01264a.htm
  8. ^ "Kennedy, Daniel. "St. Albertus Magnus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 9 Jun. 2013". Newadvent.org. 1907-03-01. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  9. ^ Histoire literaire de la France: XIIIe siècle 19. p. 103. Retrieved October 27, 2012. 
  10. ^ Probably Florentius de Hidinio, a.k.a. Florentius Gallicus, Histoire literaire de la France: XIIIe siècle, Volume 19, p. 104, Accessed October 27, 2012
  11. ^ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume 10, p. 701. Accessed 9 June 2011
  12. ^ "The Place of Study In the Ideal of St. Dominic", J. A. Weisheipl, O.P. (1923–1984), 1960. Accessed 19 March 2013
  13. ^ "Zeittafel". Gemeinden.erzbistum-koeln.de. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  14. ^ Carroll Cruz, Joan (1977). The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books. ISBN 0-89555-066-0. 
  15. ^ a b c Kennedy, D. (1907). St. Albertus Magnus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 10, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01264a.htm
  16. ^ An Smets, "Le réception en langue vulgaire du "De falconibus" d'Albert le Grand," in: Medieval Forms of Argument: Disputation and Debate, ed. Georgiana Donavin, Carol Poster, and Richard Utz (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), pp. 189–99.
  17. ^ Georg Wieland, "Albert der Grosse. Der Entwurf einer eigenständigen Philosophie,” Philosophen des Mittelalters (Darmstadt: Primus, 2000) 124-39.
  18. ^ Walsh, John, The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries. 1907:46.Available online.
  19. ^ Emsley, John (2001). Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 43,513,529. ISBN 0-19-850341-5. 
  20. ^ Davidson, Michael W.; National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at The Florida State University (2003-08-01). "Molecular Expressions: Science, Optics and You — Timeline — Albertus Magnus". The Florida State University. Retrieved 2009-11-28. 
  21. ^ Szabadváry, Ferenc (1992). History of analytical chemistry. Taylor & Francis. p. 17. ISBN 2-88124-569-2. 
  22. ^ Julian Franklyn and Frederick E. Budd. A Survey of the Occult. Electric Book Company. 2001. p. 28-30. ISBN 1-84327-087-0.
  23. ^ Paola Zambelli, "The Speculum Astronomiae and its Enigma" Dordrecht.
  24. ^ Kovach, Francs, and Rober Shahan. Albert the Great: Commemorative Essays . Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980, p. 133-135
  25. ^ Cunningham, Stanley. Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008 p. 93
  26. ^ Cunningham, Stanley. Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008 p.207
  27. ^ Cunningham, Stanley. Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008 p.242
  28. ^ Cunningham, Stanley. Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008 p.243
  29. ^ Cunningham, Stanley. Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008 p.244
  30. ^ France: A Phaidon Cultural Guide, Phaidon Press, 1985, ISBN 0-7148-2353-8, p. 705
  31. ^ Chambers, Ephraim (1728). Androides "Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences". Digicoll.library.wisc.edu. 
  32. ^ The Concept of Anxiety, Princeton University Press, 1980, ISBN 0-691-02011-6, pp. 150–151
  33. ^ "Albertus Magnus High School". Albertusmagnus.net. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  34. ^ "Albertus Magnus College". Albertus.edu. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 

Sources[edit]


Translations[edit]

  • On the causes of the properties of the elements, translated by Irven M. Resnick, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2010) [translation of Liber de causis proprietatum elementorum]
  • Questions concerning Aristotle's on animals, translated by Irven M Resnick and Kenneth F Kitchell, Jr, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008) [translation of Quaestiones super De animalibus]
  • The cardinal virtues: Aquinas, Albert, and Philip the Chancellor, translated by RE Houser, (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004) [contains translations of Parisian summa, part six: On the good and Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, book 3, dist. 33 & 36]
  • The commentary of Albertus Magnus on book 1 of Euclid's Elements of geometry, edited by Anthony Lo Bello, (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003) [translation of Priumus Euclidis cum commento Alberti]
  • On animals: a medieval summa zoologica, translated by Kenneth F Kitchell, Jr. and Irven Michael Resnick, (Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999) [translation of De animalibus]
  • Paola Zambelli, The Speculum astronomiae and its enigma: astrology, theology, and science in Albertus Magnus and his contemporaries, (Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992) [includes Latin text and English translation of Speculum astronomiae]
  • Albert & Thomas: selected writings, translated by Simon Tugwell, Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, (1988) [contains translation of Super Dionysii Mysticam theologiam]
  • On union with God, translated by a Benedictine of Princethorpe Priory, (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1911) [reprinted as (Felinfach: Llanerch Enterprises, 1991) and (London: Continuum, 2000)] [translation of De adherendo Deo]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]