ALBERTUS MAGNUS (Count of Bollstadt):
By: J. Guttmann
The most eminent German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages and the real founder of the scientific tendency within the order of Dominicans; born at Lauingen, Bavaria, 1193; died at Cologne on the Rhine in 1280. During his sojourn in Paris, whither he went in 1245 to acquire the degree of master of theology, he took part in the conference ordered by Pope Innocent IV. in 1248, which decreed the burning of the Talmud, a work which Albertus Magnus utilized through the instrumentality of Jewish authors, and to which he owed many useful suggestions (Joël, "Verhältniss Albert des Grossen zu Maimonides," p. xiv.). In wide reading and versatility of knowledge he was hardly surpassed by any of his contemporaries. Albertus Magnus devoted special attention to Jewish literature so far as it was accessible to him. The famous Jewish physician and philosopher Isaac Israeli the elder, whose views, mostly taken from his works, "De Definitionibus" and "De Elementis," Albertus often quotes, and to whom he ascribes the identification adopted by the philosophers of ethereal spirits with the angels of the Bible ("Summa Theologiæ," ii. 2, quæstio 8; ed. Leyden, 1651, xviii. 76), is considered by him as a chief representative of the Jewish philosophy of Maimonides ("Metaphysica," xiii. quæstio 76; ed. Leyden, iii. 375).
Albertus Magnus devoted special study to the "Fons Vitæ" of Avicebron (Solomon ibn Gabirol). In a critical survey of the views of the elder philosophers, which is found at the beginning of his work "De Causis et Processu Universitatis," not only the doctrines of the Epicureans, of the Stoics, of Socrates, and of Plato, but also those of Avicebron, are thoroughly examined.
Although he contests very strongly most of the views of Avicebron, from the Peripatetic standpoint, he recognizes the originality of the system sketched out in the "Fons Vitæ." According to Avicebron's philosophy, the unity of the first principle which penetrates the universe was succeeded by a duality; namely, (a) the first form, identical with the intelligence, and (b) the first matter, by which the form is supported (ibid. v. 532). Form can neither exist without matter, nor matter without form (ibid. p. 562).Attitude Toward Avicebron.
Albertus Magnus not only recognizes the originality of Avicebron in his doctrine of the first matter and the first form, but also in his doctrine of human free-will; he shows this by calling Solomon ibn Gabirol the only philosopher who represents the first principle as acting through an individual will (ib. p. 549). The strange impression which the doctrine, as outlined in the "Fons Vitæ," produced upon him led him even to suspect that this book was not written by Avicebron himself, but was foisted upon him by some sophist (p. 550; compare "Summa Theologiæ," i. quæstio 20; "De Intellectu et Intelligibili," I. i. chap. 6). This did not hinder him, however, from appropriating in certain points, as for instance in the division of forms, the doctrines outlined in that work ("De Natura et Origine Animæ," i. chap. 2; compare "Fons Vitæ," ed. Bäumker, iv. 32, 255). Quite different from his attitude toward the doctrine of Gabirol is his attitude toward that of Maimonides, the Rabbi Moyses Ægyptus, as he calls him, from whose "Moreh Nebukim," which he quotes under the title "Dux Neutrorum," he not only took single passages, but entire sections, and incorporated them into his works.
Like Maimonides, standing essentially upon the ground of Arabic-Aristotelian philosophy, Albertus Magnus, in his effort to harmonize the doctrines of Biblical revelation, followed in many points the author of "Moreh Nebukim." But, nevertheless, being inferior to the Jewish thinker in the energy and solidity of his conception of the world, he was not able to establish even approximately harmonious relations between reason and revelation as Maimonides had done. The fundamental principle of his doctrine of the knowledge of God was that, as between the finite and the infinite there exists not the least analogy, therefore the same attribute, applied to the finite and to the infinite, does not signify the same thing ("De Causis," p. 551). He was undoubtedly influenced by Maimonides ("Moreh," i. 56) when he agrees expressly with his allegation that, except by divine grace, there is no other knowledge of God possible than by negative qualifications ("De Causis," p. 593; "Moreh," i. 58).Follower of Maimonides.
Albertus Magnus follows Maimonides in the theory of Creation to a greater extent than any one would suspect even from the lengthy verbatim quotations. World-beginning and eternity, Biblical and Aristotelian cosmogony, are two systems of philosophy that are irreconcilable. Albertus Magnus follows the guidance of Maimonides the more willingly on this point, since the latter had succeeded in shaking the Aristotelian proofs of the eternity of the world, without departing, however, from the principles of Aristotelianism ("Moreh," ii. 13-25; compare i. 74).
What Albertus says about this matter in his "Physics" (viii. 1, chaps. xi., xv.) is derived partly from the ideas contained in the "Moreh," partly from long textual selections taken from the same work. Following Maimonides, who refutes the proofs produced by the Peripatetics concerning the eternity of the world ("Physics," viii. 1, chap. xi.; "Summa Theologiæ," ii. 1, 4, 3; compare "Moreh," ii. 14), Albertus is of opinion that the eternity of the world must berejected principally for this reason, that, if any one accepts the views of the Peripatetics, the world would have been evolved by natural force, and would, therefore, not be the work of a Creator acting with liberty and intention ("Physics," viii. 1, chap. xiii.; compare "Moreh," ii. 19, 24).
Concerning the laws of a world already in existence, Aristotle committed the error of raising the question whether the world, and consequently these laws, be eternal or be simply evolved; a point explained more fully by a famous simile of Maimonides ("Physics," viii. 1, chap. xiv.; compare "Moreh," ii. 17). Albertus' attitude toward Maimonides' doctrine of prophecy was peculiar; he could scarcely avoid being powerfully influenced by Maimonides' ingenious exposition of this problem. Albertus' explanations concerning the difference between divination in the dream and vision, as well as his explanations of the fundamental diversities in the natural dispositions of men, by which also the varying capacity of different people for knowing the future and hidden things is accounted for ("De Divinatione," chap. iii. et seq.), are undoubtedly taken from the "Moreh Nebukim."
But since, according to his distinction between natural and supernatural knowledge, prophecy proper can not belong to the lumen naturale, he adopts the view of Maimonides for the explanation of natural prophecy only, as it occurred also in the pagan world. But, on the other hand, Maimonides' profound and penetrative method of bringing nearer to our understanding the historical phenomenon of prophecy, and of representing many visions of the prophets as merely psychical phenomena—which Maimonides supported on passages of the Bible—appears to Albertus but a frivolous attempt to trace back the opinions of the philosophers to the Bible ("Summa Theologiæ," xviii. 76; "De Causis," v. 563). Of the writings of Albertus which did not escape the attention of Italian and Spanish Jews, some were translated into Hebrew at the beginning of the fourteenth century (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." pp. 277 et passim).
- M. Joël, Verhältniss Albert des Grossen zu Moses Maimonides (Jahresbericht des Jüdisch-Theologischen Seminars), Breslau, 1863;
- I. Baeck, Des Albertus Magnus Verhältniss zur Erkenntnisslehre der Griechen, Lateiner, Araber, und Juden, Vienna, 1881;
- J. Guttman, Die Philosophie des Salomon ibn Gabirol, Göttingen, 1889.