1902 Encyclopedia > Albertus Magnus

Albertus Magnus
(Albert, Count of Bollstädt)
German philosopher
(c. 1193 - 1280)




ALBERTUS MAGNUS, a celebrated scholastic philosopher, was born of the noble family Von Bollstädt at Lauingen in Suabia. The date of his birth is most probably 1193. He was educated principally at Padua, where he received particular instruction in Aristotle's writings. In 1223 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, Strasburg, and Hildesheim. In 1245 he repaired to Paris and received his doctorate, teaching for some time, in accordance with the regulations, and with great success. In 1254 he was made provincial of his order, and fulfilled the arduous duties of the office with great care and effectiveness. During the time he held this office he publicly defended the Dominicans against the university of Paris, commented on St John, and answered the errors of the Arabian philosopher, Averroes. In 1259 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; almost the last of his labours was the defence of the orthodoxy of his former pupil, Thomas Aquinas. He died in 1280, aged 87. Albert's works, published in twenty-one folios by the Dominican Peter Jammy in 1651, sufficiently attest his great activity. He was the most widely read and most learned man 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 systematised in accordance with church doctrine. Albert's activity, how-ever, is rather philosophical than theological, for while pressing philosophy in general, and Aristotle in particular, into the service of theology, he excludes from what belongs to the natural reason all that is specially biblical, as, e.g., miracles, the atonement, and the Trinity; though he does not refuse to see with Augustin exemplifications, shadowings, of the latter doctrine even in nature. 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 inter-pretations 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. In logic, he attempts to unite the three rival theories of universals, holding that universals exist in three ways—(1.) Ante res, as ideas in the mind of God, from which the class is modelled, and which therefore exist before individual things; (2.) In rebus, as the common basis in a class of individual objects; (3.) Post res, as the mental notion of the class. In the metaphysical and physical treatises he mainly repeats Aristotle, differing from him as regards the eternity of the world and the definition of the soul. 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 consider-able, and for the age accurate. His industry in every department was great, and though we find in his system many of those inner gaps from which no scholastic philosophy was ever free, 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 surname " The Great," and the no less honourable title, " Doctor Universalis." For Albert's life the best authorities are Sighart, Albertus Magnus, sein Leben und seine Wissenschaft, 1857 ; and D'Assailly, Albert le Grand, 1870. The most comprehensive surveys of his philosophy are those of Stockl, Geschichte d. Scholastischen Philosophie, and, in smaller compass, Erdmann, Grundriss d. Ges. d. Phil., vol. i. Haureau, Bitter, and Prantl may also be referred to.







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