Albert the Great

(c. 1200—1280)

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St Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225—1274) Italian philosopher, theologian, and Dominican friar


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Dominican friar and bishop. A Swabian by birth, Albert joined the Dominicans at Padua in 1223 against the wishes of his noble family. After teaching at Hildesheim, Ratisbon, and Cologne, where Thomas Aquinas was his student, he became a Master at Paris and organized the house of studies at Cologne in 1248. He was prior provincial of Germany for three years (1254–7) and became bishop of Ratisbon in 1260. Unsuccessful as an administrator, he resigned his see in 1262 to devote all his energies to teaching and writing. He took a prominent part in the Council of Lyons (1274) and at Paris in 1277 he staunchly defended the teaching of his disciple Aquinas.

His own pioneer scholastic writing was more diffuse and less systematic, but the two men were at one on the use to be made of Aristotle's philosophy in Christian theology. Albert was also interested in the physical sciences; his treatises, which fill thirty-eight volumes, include some on astronomy, chemistry, geography, and physiology. His main theological works were a Summa and a commentary on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard. He also wrote against the Averrhoists the treatise De unitate intellectus.

Commonly called the Universal Doctor and placed by Dante among the lovers of wisdom, he was beatified in 1622 and canonized as late as 1931, when he was named by Pope Pius XI both a Doctor of the Church and the patron of students of the natural sciences. Feast: 15 November.

P. de Loé, ‘De vita et scriptis beati Alberti Magni’, Anal. Boll., xix (1900), 257–84, xx (1901), 273–316, xxi (1902), 361–71. Works ed. A. Borgnet (1890–9); critical edition by B. Geyer and others in course of publication (Münster in Westphalia 1955– );H. Laurent and M. J. Congar, ‘Essai de bibliographie albertine’, Revue Thomiste, xxxvi (1931), 422–68; Lives by H. Wilms (1933), S. M. Albert (1949), K. J. Kovach and R. W. Shehan (1980);see also S. Tugwell, Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings (1988).

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) — Christianity.

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