Albert "the Great" (ALBERTUS MAGNUS), So called on account of his vast erudition, was born at Lauingen, Suabia. The date of his birth is variously given, by some 1193, by others 1205. He studied at Padua, and entered the order of St. Dominic in 1221. His abilities and learning were of the highest class, and he was deemed the best theologian, philosopher, and mathematician of the age; indeed, his knowledge of mathematics was such, that the people, unable to comprehend the intricate mechanism which he used in some of his works, regarded him as a magician. An automaton which he made was so exquisitely contrived that it seemed to be endowed with powers of spontaneous motion and speech, and deceived even St. Thomas Aquinas, his pupil, who broke it in pieces with a stick, thinking it to be an emissary of the evil one. He was a strong Aristotelian, and his authority contributed greatly to uphold the reign of Aristotle in the schools at that period, in opposition to the papal bull against him. When Jordanus, general of the Dominicans, died in 1236, Albert governed the order for two years as vicar-general. Being afterward made provincial for Germany, he established himself at Cologne, where he publicly taught theology to an infinite number of pupils who flocked to him from all parts; and from this school proceeded Thomas Aquinas, Ambrose of Siena, and Thomas of Cantimpro. In 1260 he was nominated to the bishopric of Ratisbon, and reluctantly consented to accept it; he did not, however, long retain it, and in 1263 obtained permission to leave it, and retire into his convent, where he occupied himself entirely in prayer and study until his death, which happened on the 15th of November, 1280.
Albert was certainly one of the most cultivated men of his age; but yet he was rather a learned man, and a compiler of the works of others, than an original and profound thinker. He wrote commentaries on most of the works of Aristotle, in which he makes especial use of the Arabian commentators, and blends the notion of the Neoplatonists with those of his author. Logic, metaphysics, theology, and ethics were rather externally cultivated by his labors than effectually improved. With him began those minute and tedious inquiries and disputes respecting matter and form, essence and being (Essentia or Quidditas, and Existentia, whence subsequently arose the further distinction of Esse Essentioe and Existentioe). Of the universal, he assumes that it exists partly in external things and partly in the understanding. Rational psychology and theology are indebted to him for many excellent hints. The latter science he treated in his Summa Theologioe, as well according to the plan of Lombardus as his own. In the former he described the soul as a totum potestativum. His general relation to theology is thus stated by Neander History of Dogmas (2, 552): "Albert defines Christianity as practical science; for although it is occupied with the investigation of truth, yet it refers every thing to the life of the soul, and shows how man, by the truths it reveals, must be formed to a divine life. It treats of God and his works, not in reference to abstract truth, but to God as the supreme good, to the salvation of men, to the production of piety in the inner and outer man. He also distinguishes various kinds of certainty: the theoretical, which merely relates to knowledge (informatio mentis), and the certainty of immediate consciousness (informatio conscientioe). The knowledge obtained by faith is more certain than that derived from other sources; but we must distinguish between the fides informis and the fides formata; the first is only a means to knowledge, but the second is an immediate consciousness. Man is attracted by the object of faith just as moral truth leads him to morality. All knowledge and truth come from God, but they are imparted in different ways; our reason has the capacity to perceive truth, as the eye possesses the faculty of sight. Natural light is one thing, and the light of grace is another. The latter is a higher stage, an assimilation between him who knows and the thing known, a participation of the divine life." In his theology he labored to define our rational knowledge of the nature of God, and enlarged upon the metaphysical idea of him as a necessary Being (in whom pure Esse and his determinate or qualified nature [Seyn und Wesen] are identical), endeavoring to develop in this manner his attributes. These inquiries are often mixed up with idle questions and dialectic absurdities, and involve abundant inconsistencies; as for instance, when he would account for the creation by the doctrine of emanation (causatio univoca), and nevertheless denies the emanation of souls, he insists upon the universal intervention of the Deity in the course of nature, and yet asserts the existence of natural causes defining and limiting his operations. In treating of the Trinity, he traced an analogy between the divine and the human as follows: "There is no excellence among the creatures which is not to be found in a much higher style, and as an archetype, in the Creator; among created beings it exists only in foot-marks and images. This is true also of the Trinity. No artistic spirit can accomplish his work without first forming to himself an outline of it. In the spirit, therefore, first of all, the idea of its work is conceived, which is, as it were, the offspring of the spirit, in every feature resembling the spirit, representing it in its acting. (Format ex se rationem operis et speciem, que est sicut proles ipsius intellectus, intellectuii agenti similis in quantum agens est.) Thus, therefore, the spirit reveals himself in the idea of the spirit. Now, from the acting spirit this idea passes into reality, and for this purpose the spirit must find a medium in outward action. This medium must be simple, and of the same substance with him who first acted, if indeed the latter is so simple that being, nature, and activity are one in him. From this results the idea in reference to God, of the formative spirit, of the planned image, and of the spirit by which the image is realized. (Spiritus rector formae.) The creation in time is a revelation of the eternal acting of God, the eternal generation of his Son. The revelation of God in time for the sanctification of nature, is an image of the eternal procession of the spirit from the Father and the Son. Our love is only a reflection of the divine love; the archetype of all love is the Holy Spirit, who, like all love, proceeds from God. The one love spread abroad through all holy souls proceeds from the Holy Spirit. (Una caritas diffusa per omnes animas sanctas per spiritum sanctum, ad quam sicut exempla omnis dilectio refertur et comparatione illius et assimilatione caritas dici meretur.) Love in God neither diminishes nor increases, but we diminish or increase it in ourselves according as we receive this love into our souls, or withdraw from it." With reference to original sin, he taught that mankind were materially embodied in Adam: Omne genus humanum secundum corpulentam substantiam in Adano fuit. He considered conscience to be the highest law of reason, and distinguished the moral disposition (synteresis, συντήρησις) from its habitual exercise (conscientia). All virtue which is acceptable to God is infused by him into the hearts of men. His scholars were distinguished by the name of Albertists. His life is given at length in Quetif and Echard, Script. Ord. Praedicatorum, 1, 171. His works, embracing natural and moral science, metaphysics, and theology, are collected and published under the title Opera Alberti Magni quae hactenus haberi potuerunt, ed. Pet. Jammy (21 vols. fol. Lyons, 1651). Those which relate to theology are the following:
1. Commentaries on different Books of Holy Scripture, contained in the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th vols. of the above edition: —
2. Sermons for the whole Year and Saints' Days; Prayers formed upon the Gospels of all the Sundays in the Year; thirty-two Sermons on the Eucharist, which are usually contained among the works of St.Thomas; all contained in vols. 11 and 12: —
3. Commentaries on the works attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite; also, An Abridgment of Theology, in seven books; contained in vol. 13: —
4. Commentaries on the Four Books of the Master of the Sentences, in vols. 14, 15, 16: —
5. A Summary of Theology, in vols. 17 and 18: —
6. Summaries of Creatures, in two parts, the second concerning Marl, in vol. 19: —
7. A Discourse in honor of the Virgin. A special edition of his "Paradisus animoe sive libellus de virtutibus," with an appendix, containing De sacro Christi Corporis and Languinis sacramento tractatus 22, has been published by Bishop Seiler (new edit., Ratisbon, 1864, 16mo). — Neander, Ch. Hist. 4, 421; Mosheim, Ch. Hist. cent. 13, pt. 2, ch. 2, § 44; Haureau, Philosophie Scholastique, 2, 1-104; Tennemann, Hist. Phil. § 264; Neander, Hist. of Dogmas, 2, 542-593; Herzog, Real-Encyklopadie, 1, 203; Hoefer, Biog. Generale, 1, 590
sq. (where his services to physical science are fully vindicated); Joel, Verhaltniss Albert des Grossen zu Maimonides (Breslau, 1863).