Albertus Magnus, also known as Saint Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a Dominican friar who became famous for his universal knowledge and his 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 born of the noble family of Bollstadt in Lauingen, Bavaria, Germany between 1193 and 1206. He died on November 15, 1280, in Cologne, Germany.
He was educated principally at Padua, where he received instruction in Aristotle's writings. 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, Strassburg 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 the pope 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.
Almost the last of his labours was the defence of the orthodoxy of his former pupil, Thomas Aquinas.
He was beatified in 1622, and he is commemorated on the 16th of November.
He was the most widely read 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.
Albert's activity, however, was rather 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.
Albert'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--the "Ape of Aristotle." 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 is frequently mentioned by Dante, who made his doctrine of free-will the basis of his ethical system. Dante places him with his pupil Aquinas among the great lovers of wisdom (Spiriti Sapienti) in the Heaven of the Sun.