« Albertini, Johann Baptist von Albertus, Magnus Albigenses. »

Albertus, Magnus

ALBERTUS MAGNUS (“Albert the Great”): Founder of the most flourishing period of scholasticism; b. at Lauingen (26 m. n.w. of Augsburg), Bavaria, 1193; d. at Cologne Nov. 15, 1280. He studied at Padua, entered the order of St. Dominic there in 1223, and served as lector in the various convent schools of the order in Germany, especially in Cologne. In 1245 he went to Paris to become master of theology. In 1248 he returned to Cologne as primarius lector and regens of the school in that city. In 1254 a general chapter of the Dominican order at Worms chose him general for Germany, in which capacity he traversed the country on foot from end to end, visiting the monasteries and enforcing discipline. In 1260 Alexander IV. made him bishop of Regensburg; but this office was so little in harmony with his character and habits as a teacher and writer that, after the lapse of two years, he was allowed to resign. He retired to his monastery in Cologne, where he spent the rest of his life, making many brief visits, however, to other places; as when he went to Paris after he had reached the age of 80 to vindicate the orthodoxy of his late pupil, Thomas Aquinas.

As an author Albert evinced a many-sidedness which procured for him the title of doctor universalia, while his knowledge of natural science and its practical applications made him a sorcerer in popular estimation. His works fill twenty-one folio volumes as published by P. Jammy (Lyons, 1651; reedited by A. Borgnet, 38 vols., Paris, 1890-1900). They embrace logic, physics, metaphysics and psychology, ethics, and theology. By the use of translations from the Arabic and Greco-Latin versions, he expounded the complete philosophical system of Aristotle, excepting the “Politics,” modifying his interpretation in the interests of the Church. Thus the influence of Aristotle came to supersede Platonism and Neoplatonism in the later scholasticism. At a time when dialectic was in sore need of a new method, the introduction of the Aristotelian logic provided a subtle and searching instrument for investigation and discussion. For Albertus, logic was not properly a science, but an organon for reaching the unknown by means of the known. Following Avicenna whom he regards as the leading commentator of Aristotle, he affirms that universals exist in three modes: (1) Before the individuals, as ideas or types in the divine mind (Plato). (2) In the individuals, as that which is common to them (Aristotle). (3) After the individuals, as an abstraction of thought (conceptualists and nominalists). Thus he seeks to harmonize the rival teachings concerning universals. In expounding the physical theories of Aristotle, he showed that he partook of the rising scientific spirit of the age, especially in his criticism of alchemy and in De vegetabilibus et plantis, which abounds in brilliant observations.

The chief theological works of Albertus were a commentary (3 vols.) on the “Sentences” of Peter Lombard, and a Summum theologiæ in a more didactic strain. Already the “doctrine of the twofold truth” had been accepted by his contemporaries—what is truth in philosophy may not be truth in theology, and vice versa. Christian thinkers were, however, profoundly perplexed by the sharp opposition between ideas drawn from Greek scientific and philosophical sources and those derived from religious tradition. Albertus sought to soften this antinomy by establishing the distinction between natural and revealed religion, which became henceforth a postulate of medieval and later theology. Since the soul can know only that which is grounded in its own nature, it rises to the mystery of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and other specifically Christian doctrines through 110 supernatural illumination alone. Hence the well-known dictum: “Revelation is above but not contrary to reason.” On the one hand, the attempt to “rationalize” the contents of revelation must be abandoned; on the other hand, philosophy must be modified in the interests of faith. The merit which belongs to faith consists in its accepting truth which comes only through revelation. In his entire discussion concerning the being and attributes of God, concerning the world as created in time in opposition to the eternity of matter as maintained by Aristotle, concerning angels, miracles, the soul, sin and free-will, grace, and finally, original and actual sin, the Aristotelian logic is applied in the most rigid manner, and when this fails Albertus retires behind the distinction thrown up between philosophy and theology. With all his learning and subtlety of argument, he made it evident that with his presuppositions and by his method a final adjudication of the claims of reason and faith, that is, a unity of intelligence, is impossible. Apart from his vast erudition, his significance lay first, in his profound influence upon scholastic and the subsequent Protestant theology through his substitution of the Aristotelian logic and metaphysics for Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas, and secondly, in the fact, that to a degree never before attempted, he set in clear light and organized in the thought of the Church the ancient opposition between Jewish supernaturalism and Greek rationalism. By the false antithesis thus raised between reason and revelation, he prepared the way for the long conflict of theology and science, of reason and dogma, of naturalism and supernaturalism, of individual judgment and collective authority, which is still unsettled.

C. A. Beckwith.

Bibliography: J. Sighart, Albertus Magnus, sein Leben und seine Wissenschaft, Ratisbon, 1857, Eng. transl., London, 1876; B. Gauslinus, Albertus Magnus, Venice, 1630; F. A. Pouchet, Histoire des sciences naturelles au moyen-âge, ou Albert le Grand et son époque, Paris, 1853; M. Joel, Verhältniss Albert des Grossen zu Moses Maimonides, Breslau, 1863; O. d’Assailly, Albert le Grand, Paris, 1870; W. Preger, Geschichte der deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter, Leipsic, 1874; Albertus Magnus in Geschichte und Sage, Cologne, 1880; G. von Hertling, Albertus Magnus, ib. 1880; R. de Liechty, Albert le Grand et S. Thomas d’Aquin, Paris, 1880; J. Bach, Des Albertus Magnus Verhältniss zu der Erkenntnisslehre der Grischen, Late ner, Araber und Juden, Vienna, 1881; A. Schneider, Die Psychologie Alberts des Grossen, Münster, 1903. For his philosophy: A. Stöckl, Geschichte der scholastischen Philosophie, 3 vols., Mains, 1864-66; J. E. Erdmann, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, i., 4th ed.,1895, Eng. transl., vol. i., London, 1893.

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