Albertus Magnus, also known as St. Albert the Great or Albert of Cologne or Albert of Lauingen, was born Albert de Groot in Bavaria sometime between 1193 and 1206. Albertus is thought of as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages, though he was a brilliant scientist and teacher as well. Catholics consider him the patron saint of scientists.
Albertus Magnus began his career in the church as a Dominican friar and later became the bishop of Regensburg. One of his early works of scholarship was a commentary on virtually all the writings of Aristotle after translating the papers from Latin; he also included the notes of Arabian commentators. His other written works, including Physica, Summa Theolagiae, and De Natura Locorum, represent the entire body of knowledge available to scholars at that point in history. Albertus taught at various places, including the University of Paris, where he became a teacher to Thomas Aquinas.
During the Middle Ages, it was common for scientists and academics to simply study information in books. But Albertus experimented with and observed a wide array of natural sciences such as geology, astronomy, mineralogy, zoology, and chemistry. Such experimentation was unusual in that day, and rumors arose that he was performing witchcraft. Stories spread about how he was able to influence the weather and harness the magic power of stones and minerals. According to one legend, Albertus discovered the philosopher’s stone and passed it on to Aquinas. After Albertus’s death in 1280, many books on alchemy were falsely attributed to him and distributed in an attempt to capitalize on his fame. His own writings in science, mathematics, logic, theology, music, and many more topics were collected in thirty-eight volumes in 1899.
Throughout his lifetime, Albertus Magnus pursued scientific learning in conjunction with theological studies. Albertus believed that there are two paths to knowledge: God’s revelation, and philosophy and science. Following the path of revelation requires faith, and following the path of philosophy and science requires observation and reason. According to Albertus, faith and reason are both leading to one truth.
The Catholic Church canonized Albertus in 1931, and at the same time he was given the title doctor of the church by Pope Pius IX. His remains, considered a holy relic, are held in St. Andreas Church in Cologne, Germany. His feast day is November 15.
Albertus Magnus’s influence is still seen in a wide array of specialized sciences, and he is rightly respected as one of the great thinkers of the Middle Ages. As a devout Catholic, Albertus Magnus taught many things that depart from biblical truth. His veneration of Mary (whom he claimed to have seen as a young man), his reliance on church tradition, and his belief in a works-based salvation should be cause for concern among New Testament believers. As for Albertus’s sainthood, the Bible does not condone the elevation of anyone to “sainthood”—the plain teaching of Scripture is that everyone in Christ is a saint (Romans 1:7). As with any man-made system, we should examine what Albertus Magnus taught and the Dominican Order he espoused in light of Scripture. Then, “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9) and follow Christ (John 21:22).