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§ 107. Albertus Magnus.


Literature: Works. Complete ed. by, Jammy, Lyons, 1651, 21 vols.; revised by Augusti Borgnet, 38 vols. Paris, 1890. Dedicated to Leo XIII., containing a Life and valuable indexes. The De vegetabilibus, ed. by Meyer and Jessen, Berl., 1867.—Com. on Job, ed. by M. Weiss, Freib., 1904.—Fullest monograph J. Sighart: Alb. Mag., sein Leben und seine Wissenschaft, Regensb., 1857, based upon the compilation of Peter de Prussia: Vita B. Alb., doctoris magni ex ordine Praedicatorum, etc., Col., 1486.—Sighart gives a list of the biogr. notices from Thomas of Chantimpré, 1261.—d’Assaily: Alb. le Grand, Paris, 1870.—G. von Hertling: Alb. Mag., Beiträge zu s. Würdigung, Col., 1880; Alb. Mag. in Gesch. und Sage, Col., 1880, and his art. in Wetzer-Welte, I. 414–419.—Ueberweg-Heinze.—Stöckl, II. 353–421.—Schwane, pp. 46 sqq. etc.—Preger: Deutsche Mystik, I. 263–268.—Harnack, Seeberg.


The most learned and widely read man of the thirteenth century was Albertus Magnus, Albert the Great. His encyclopaedic attainments were unmatched in the Middle Ages, and won for him the title, Universal Doctor—doctor universalis. He was far and away the greatest of German scholars and speculators of this era.

Albert (1193–1280) was born at Lauingen in Bavaria, studied in Padua, and, about 1223, entered the order of the Dominicans, influenced thereto by a sermon preached by its second general, Jordanus. He taught in Freiburg, Hildesheim, Strassburg, Regensburg, and other cities. At Cologne, which was his chief headquarters,14741474    He speaks in his will of spending most of his life in the convent at Cologne. He appointed a brother by birth, Henry, one of his executors. Sighart, p 247. he had among his pupils Thomas Aquinas.14751475    Leo XIII., in his letter allowing Borgnet to dedicate his edition of Albert’s works to him, said: "Especially am I glad to grant this permission because our old love for the angelic doctor is not disjoined from love for his teacher." Borgnet’s ed., I. p. vii. Labbé, the Jesuit editor of the acts of the councils, wrote a poem comparing Albert with his pupil, Thomas Aquinas, and greatly praising him for his eulogy of Mary. Borgnet, I. lxxii. sq.ict over the mendicant orders with William of St. Amour.

He was made bishop of Regensburg, an office he laid down in 1262.14761476    Sighart, pp. 148, 152, ascribes his resignation to bitter opposition, and thinks Albert had this opposition in mind when he was writing the paraphrase to Aristotle’s Politics. The slothful, Albert says, find fault with those who excel. They killed Socrates, drove out Plato from Athens, and banished Aristotle. These people have the same plan in the domain of letters and science that the liver has in the body. For everybody has gall which collects in the liver and which dispenses itself and makes the whole body bitter. Thus in the domain of letters there are some bitter men filled with gall, who would fain make all other men bitter, and will not allow them to seek after truth in sweet company.14771477    So Von Hertling. The records of the council do not mention his name. Peter of Prussia affirms Albert was present, and is followed by Sighart, p. 225. Thomas Aquinas, after that theologian’s death. He died at the age of eighty-seven, in Cologne, where he is buried in the St. Andreas Church.

Albert was small of stature and the story is told of his first appearance in the presence of the pope; that the pope, thinking he was kneeling, bade him stand on his feet. A few years before his death he became childish, and the story runs that the archbishop, Siegfried, knocking at the door of his cell, exclaimed, "Albert, are you here?" and the reply came, "Albert is not here. He used to be here. He is not here any more." In early life, Albert was called the dumb ox on account of his slowness in learning, and the change of his intellectual power was indicated by the bon mot. "Albert was turned from all ass to a philosopher and from a philosopher to an ass." In 1880, the six hundredth anniversary of his death, a statue was erected to his memory at his birthplace.

Albertus Magnus was a philosopher, naturalist, and theologian; a student of God, nature, and man. He knew no Greek, but was widely read in the Latin classics as well as in the Fathers. He used the complete works of Aristotle, and was familiar with the Arabic philosophers whom at points he confuted.14781478    Averrhoes, Avicenna, Algazel, etc. The honor of first mastering all the works of Aristotle and putting them into the service of Christian philosophy belongs to Albertus, says Schwane, p. 40.ides, and Gabirol.14791479    This is brought out by J. Guttmann, in his Die Scholastik des 13ten Jahrhunderts in ihren Beziehungen zum Judenthum und zur judischen Lateratur, Breslau, 1902.14801480    He again and again says: "Aristotle erred,"e.g. Borgnet’s ed., III. 545, etc. He says: "He who believes Aristotle to have been a god, can believe he never erred. But if he was a man, then he could err like ourselves." Borgnet’s ed., III. 553

He traversed the whole area of the physical sciences. No one for centuries had been such a student of nature. He wrote on the vegetable kingdom, geography, mineralogy, zoology, astronomy, and the digestive organs. The writings on these themes are full of curious items of knowledge and explanations of natural phenomena. His treatise on meteors, De meteororibus, for example, which in Borgnet’s edition fills more than three hundred pages (IV. 477–808), takes up at length such subjects as the comets, the milky way, the cause of light in the lower strata of air, the origin of the rivers, the winds, lightning, thunder and cyclones, the rainbow, etc. In the course of his treatment of rivers, Albert speaks of great cavities in the earth and spongy regions under its flat surface. To the question, why the sun was made, if the prior light was sufficient to render it possible to speak of "morning and evening" on the first days of creation, he replied, "that as the earlier light amply illuminated the upper parts of the universe so the sun was fitted to illuminate the lower parts, or rather it was in order that the day might be made still more bright by the sun; and if it be asked what became of the prior light, the answer is that the body of the sun, corpus solis, was formed out of it, or at any rate that the prior light was in the same part of the heavens where the sun is located, not as though it were the sun but in the sense that it was so united with the sun as now no more to be specially distinguished from it."14811481    Sent., II. xiii., F. Borgnet’s ed., XXVII. 249 sq.

Albert saw into a new world. His knowledge is often at fault, but sometimes his statements are prophetic of modern discovery. For example, he said that the poles of the earth were too cold to be inhabited. He knew about the sleep of plants and many of the laws of the vegetable world. He was indefatigable in experimentation, the forerunner of the modern laboratory worker, and had much to do with arsenic, sulphur, and other chemical substances. He knew about gunpowder, but got his knowledge from others.14821482    An interesting survey of Albert’s knowledge of nature is given by Sighart, pp. 302-356; also Stöckl, II. 359 sqq.c and the dark arts, but probably without sufficient reason.

The world has had few such prolific writers as Albertus Magnus. In Borgnet’s edition of thirty-eight volumes, there are, excluding, the valuable indexes, no less than 27,014 pages of two columns each. These writings may be said to take up not only every topic of physical knowledge but to discuss every imaginable subject in religion and philosophy. His activity combined the travail of the original thinker with the toil of the compiler. Twelve volumes in Borgnet’s edition are devoted to philosophy and the natural sciences, one to sermons, one to a commentary on Dionysius the Areopagite, ten to commentaries on books of the Old and New Testaments, and fourteen to theology. He freely used some of his predecessors among the Schoolmen as Anselm, Bernard, and Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, as well as the Fathers and the Greek and Arabic philosophers.

Albert’s chief theological works are a Commentary on the Sentences of the Lombard, a Study of Created Things14831483    Summa de creaturis, vols. XXXIV., XXXV., in Borgnet’s ed.udy of Created Things, or System of Nature is an attempt, whose boldness has never been exceeded, to explain the great phenomena of the visible universe above and below, eternity and time, the stars and the motion of the heavens, angels and devils, man, his soul and body, the laws of his nutrition, sleep, reason, intellect, and other parts of his constitution, and events to which he is subject.

Albert’s commentaries cover the Psalms in three volumes, the Lamentations, Daniel, the Minor Prophets, Baruch, the Gospels, and the Apocalypse. His commentary on the Worthy Woman of Proverbs 31:10–31 is drawn out to two hundred pages of two columns each.

Theology, Albert defined to be a science in the truest sense, and what is more, it is wisdom.14841484    Theologia verissima scientia est et, quod plus est, sapientia. Summa theol., I. 1, 1; Borgnet’s ed., XXXI. 9.14851485    Summa, I. 3, q. 17; Borgnet’s ed., XXXI. 116. The existence of God is not, properly speaking, an article of theology, but an antecedent of all articles. In his Summa he quotes Anselm’s definition. "God is greater than anything else that can be conceived." The objection was made to it that what is above what can be conceived we cannot grasp. He answers the objection by showing that God can be known by positive affirmation and by negation. The cosmological proof was most to Albert’s mind, and he argued at length the proposition that motion demands a prime mover. Matter cannot start itself into motion.14861486    Physic, VII.; Borgnet’s ed., III. 483-502.

The Trinity is matter of revelation. Philosophy did not find it out.14871487    Philosophi pro propria ductu naturalis rationis non potuerunt cognoscere trinitatem personarum. Borgnet, XXXI. 60.

Following Augustine, Anselm, and Richard of St. Victor, he argued for the procession of the Spirit from the Son as well as from the Father as a necessity,14881488    Summa, I. 7, q. 31; Borgnet, XXXI. 326 sqq.

The usual scholastic list of questions about the angels, good and bad, is treated by Albert with great exhaustiveness. A number of angels, he decides, cannot be in one and the same place at the same time, not because of the spatial inconvenience it might seem to imply, but on account of the possibility of the confusion of activity it might involve. He concludes it to be impossible for an angel to be in more than one place at the same time. He discussed at length the language and vocal organs of the angels.14891489    De locutione angelorum. Summa, II. 9, q. 35; Borgnet, XXXII. 376-387. He draws in his discussion from Augustine, St. Basil, and John of Damascus.rate is his treatment of the fall, and the activity and habitation of Lucifer and the demons. In pruriency he is scarcely behind some of the other Schoolmen. Every possible question that might occur to the mind had to be answered. Here are some of the questions. "Do the lost sin in hell?" "Do they wish any good?" "Is a smoky atmosphere a congenial element for the demons?" "What are the age and stature of those who rise from the dead?" "Does the sight of the pains of the lost diminish the glory of the beatified?" To this last question he replied that such sight will increase the joy of the angels by calling forth renewed thanks for their redemption.14901490    Sent., IV. 50; Borgnet’s ed., XXX. 699. Albert even goes so far as to discuss whether unborn infants destroyed by abortion rise from the dead.ntation several times.14911491    in quid cecidit diabolus. Summa de creaturis, IX. 67; Borgnet’s ed., XXXIV. 682 sqq. Summa theol., II. 5, q. 23 sqq.; Borgnet’s ed., XXXII. 266-286.

The chief and ultimate cause of the creation of man is that he might serve God in his acts, praise God with his mouth, and enjoy God with his whole being. A second cause is that he might fill up the gaps left by the defection of the angels.14921492    Adjunctus autem finis est qui secutus est ex isto: et ille est reparatio ruinae angelicae. Summa, II. 12 sq., 74; Borgnet’s ed., XXXIII. 57.he creation of man and angels to be the product of God’s goodness.14931493    Quare est creatus homo vel angelus? Brevi sermone, respondere potest. Propter bonitatem ejus. Sent., II. 1, E.; Borgnet’s ed., XXVII. 35.

Of all the panegyrists of the Virgin Mary before Alphonso da Liguori, none was so fulsome and elaborate as Albert. Of the contents of his famous treatise, The Praises of Mary,—de laudibus B. Mariae Virginis,14941494    Summa, II. 14; Borgnet’s ed., pp. 131 sq.d to Mary. Albert leaves her crowned at her assumption in the heavens. One of the questions this indefatigable theologian pursued with consequential precision was Eve’s conception before she sinned.

As for the ecclesiastical organization of the Middle Ages, the pope is to Albert God’s viceregent, vested with plenary power.14951495    Habet potestatis plenitudinem quia est ordinarius omnium hominum et quia est vice Dei in terris. Summa, II. q. 141, 3; Borgnet, XXXIII. 484.

Albert astounds us by the industry and extent of his theological thought and labor and the versatility of his mind. Like all the Schoolmen he sought to exhaust the topics he discusses, and looks at them in every conceivable aspect. There is often something chaotic in his presentation of a theme, but he is nevertheless wonderfully stimulating. It remained for Albert’s greater pupil, Thomas Aquinas, to bring a clearness and succinctness to the statement of theological problems, theretofore unreached. Albert treated them with the insatiable curiosity of the student, the profundity of the philosopher, and the attainments of a widely read scholar. Thomas added the skill of the dialectic artist and a pronounced practical and ethical purpose.



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