Albertus Magnus

Albertus Magnus books and biography


Albertus Magnus


Albertus Magnus (fresco, 1352, Treviso, Italy
Doctor of the Church
Born 1193áin Lauingen, Bavaria
Died November 15, 1280áin Cologne, Germany
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 1622
Canonized 1931 by Piux XI
Major shrine St. Andreas in Cologne
Feast November 15
Patronage Cincinnati Ohio; medical technicians; natural sciences; philosophers; scientists; students; World Youth Day
Saints Portal

Albertus Magnus (1193? - November 15, 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a Dominican friar who became famous for his comprehensive knowledge and advocacy for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. He is considered to be the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. He was the first medieval scholar to apply Aristotle's philosophy to Christian thought at the time. Catholicism honors him as a Doctor of the Church, one of only 33 men and women with that honor.



He was born of the noble family of Bollstadt in Lauingen, Bavaria, Germany on the Danube, sometime between 1193 and 1206. The term "magnus" is not descriptive; it is the Latin equivalent of his family name, de Groot.

Albertus was educated principally at Padua, where he received instruction in Aristotle's writings. After an alleged encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary, he entered holy orders. In 1223 (or 1221) he became a member of the Dominican Order, and studied theology under its rules at Bologna and elsewhere. Selected to fill the position of lecturer at Cologne, where the order had a house, he taught for several years there, at Regensburg, Freiburg, Strasbourg and Hildesheim. In 1245 he went to Paris, received his doctorate and taught for some time, in accordance with the regulations, with great success.

In 1254 he was made provincial of the Dominican Order, and fulfilled the arduous duties of the office with great care and efficiency. During the time he held this office he publicly defended the Dominicans against the attacks by the secular and regular faculty of the University of Paris, commented on St John, and answered the errors of the Arabian philosopher, Averroes.

In 1260 Pope Alexander IV made him bishop of Regensburg, which office he resigned after three years. The remainder of his life he spent partly in preaching throughout Bavaria and the adjoining districts, partly in retirement in the various houses of his order. In 1270 he preached the eighth Crusade in Austria. Among the last of his labours was the defence of the orthodoxy of his former pupil, Thomas Aquinas, whose death in 1274 grieved Albertus. After suffering collapse of health in 1278, he died on November 15, 1280, in Cologne, Germany. His tomb is in the crypt of the Dominican church of St. Andreas in Cologne.

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 was beatified in 1622. He was canonized and also officially named a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI. His feast day is celebrated on November 15.


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

Albertus's writings collected in 1899 went to 38 volumes, displaying his prolific habits and literally encyclopedic knowledge of topics including, but not limited to, logic, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, mineralogy, chemistry, zo÷logy, physiology, and phrenology, all of it the result of logic and observation. He was the most widely read author of his time. The whole of Aristotle's works, presented in the Latin translations and notes of the Arabian commentators, were by him digested, interpreted and systematized in accordance with church doctrine. He came to be so associated with Aristotle that he was referred to as "Aristotle's ape".

Albert's 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 depending on the questions then agitated, and occasionally 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. This last is in substance a repetition of the first in a more didactic form.

Albertus as a scientist

Albertus's knowledge of physical science was considerable and for the age accurate. His industry in every department was great, and though we find in his system many of those gaps which are characteristic of scholastic philosophy, yet the protracted study of Aristotle gave him a great power of systematic thought and exposition, and the results of that study, as left to us, by no means warrant the contemptuous title sometimes given him of the "Ape of Aristotle."[citation needed] They rather lead us to appreciate the motives which caused his contemporaries to bestow on him the honourable surnames "The Great" and Doctor Universalis. It must, however, be admitted that much of his knowledge was ill digested; it even appears that he regarded Plato and Speusippus as Stoics.

Albertus was both a student and a teacher of alchemy and chemistry. He isolated arsenic in 1250, the first element to be isolated since antiquity and the first with a known discoverer. He was alleged to be a magician, since he was repeatedly charged by some of his unfriendly contemporaries with communing with the devil, practicing the craft of magic, and with the making of a demonic automata able to speak. He was also one of the alchemists reputed to have succeeded in discovering the Philosopher's Stone.[citation needed]

Albertus Magnus monument in Cologne
Albertus Magnus monument in Cologne


In music history, Albertus is known for his enlightening commentary on the musical practice of his times. Most of his musical observations are given in his commentary on Aristotle's Poetics. Among other things, he rejects the idea of "music of the spheres" as ridiculous: movement of astronomical bodies, he supposes, is incapable of generating sound. He also 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.


  • Magnus 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.[1]
  • In The Concept of Anxiety S°ren Kierkegaard wrote that Albert Magnus, "arrogantly boasted of his speculation before the deity and suddenly became stupid." Kierkegaard cites G. O. Marbach who 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]"[2]
  • The typeface Albertus is named in his memory.


Natural science does not consist in ratifying what others have said, but in seeking the causes of phenomena.

See also

  • History of science in the Middle Ages
  • Christian mystics
  • Albertus Magnus College


  1. ^ Ephraim Chambers. Cyclopaedia (1728). Androides.
  2. ^ The Concept of Anxiety, Princeton University Press, 1980, ISBN 0-691-02011-6, p.150-151

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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