Saint Albertus Magnus and Natural Philosophy

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Saint Albertus Magnus, otherwise known as Albert the Great, Albert of Cologne, and Albert de Lauingen (which he most often signed his name), was among the foremost intellectuals of his time. He is now considered one of four outstanding “high scholastic philosopher-theologians of the age, along with his student St. Thomas Aquinas, and contemporaries St. Bonaventure and Roger Bacon. Albert was a Dominican friar, bishop, physical scientist, teacher, philosopher, theologian, and a most esteemed student of Aristotle’s works. Heavily influenced by Aristotelian doctrine, Albert was a fierce proponent of the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. In the majority of his exhaustive studies he artfully, perhaps even creatively attempted to synthesize his observations of natural physics and spiritual phenomena, and spent most of his time focusing on physical sciences to prove his point. Albert de Lauingen was instrumental in providing a foundation for modern scholarship through his diligent research into the physical sciences, philosophy, theology, and natural philosophy--which the locus of this research paper revolves. Specifically, I will examine Albert’s research of natural philosophy; the components of which are divination and alchemy. I will begin by examining key components of Albert’s life, education, and scholastic efforts, and examine possible reasons for his research in these fields, along with his observations of natural philosophy. Although the exact year, month, and date are unknown, most accredited authorities claim that Albert was likely born the year 1193 or 1206 at the castle Lauingen, Bavaria. He was born into a house of sufficient means because his father was the Chevalier of the Royal Court otherwise known as the Lord of Boldstadt, although he was of lesser nobility. Like many notable historical figures of the High Middle Ages, not much is known of Albert’s childhood, except that he displayed an aptitude for scholarly ventures at a young age. Instead of yielding to the frivolous amusements of the companions of his age, he delighted to visit the churches and to chaunt the hymns and psalms with the clerks. In Dr. Sighart’s analysis Albert had a keen eye for observation from an early age, and his thirst for knowledge was matched only by his devotion to the study of scripture. In the late 12th century across mid-late medieval Europe, the institution of elementary education only existed for ecclesiastical students and youthful nobility; and elementary schools primarily only existed in cathedrals, monasteries, and convents. A Benedictine education was widely favored for those with the means to receive an education in this time period, and many scholars suppose this was the fashion in which Albert received his initial education. Starting off at an early age copying down Greek and Latin classics, reciting and memorizing mainstays like the Pandects and the Twelve Tables, and even the “profane” works of Cicero, Virgil, and Homer, Albert likely had an education not dissimilar from other ecclesiastics and monks. His immersion in the study of Greek classics likely spurred Albert’s interest in Aristotle’s works later in life, and provided a solid intellectual basis for his scientific methodology ranging from his naturalist observations to lofty metaphysical meditations. Albert attended university at Padua in his early adulthood until the age of thirty to study the liberal arts, rather than engaging in the traditional military education heavily espoused by his forebears. Grammar, dialectics, rhetoric, music, geometry, arithmetic, and astronomy were the sciences which he studied under the direction of skillful masters. Albert continued to fully immerse himself in his education, devoting much time to understanding logic, medicine, and applying his knowledge of natural science to healing the physiological and biological aspects of the human body. On numerous occasions, Albert and his colleagues traveled to nearby cities and...
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