Saint Albertus Magnus, (1193/1206 – November 15, 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a Dominican friar and bishop who achieved fame for his comprehensive knowledge of and advocacy for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. Those such as James A. Weisheipl and Joachim R. Söder have referred to him as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages, an opinion supported by contemporaries such as Roger Bacon. He was the first among medieval scholars to apply Aristotle‘s philosophy to Christian thought. The Catholic Church honors him as a Doctor of the Church, one of only 33 persons with that honor.
Albertus’s knowledge of physical science was considerable and for the age remarkably accurate. His industry in every department was great, and though we find in his system many gaps which are characteristic of scholastic philosophy, his protracted study of Aristotle gave him a great power of systematic thought and exposition. His scholarly legacy justifies his contemporaries’ bestowing upon him the honourable surname Doctor Universalis. It must, however, be admitted that much of his knowledge was ill digested; it even appears that he regarded Plato and Speusippus as Stoics.
In the centuries since his death, many stories arose about Albertus as an alchemist and magician. On the subject of alchemy and chemistry, many treatises relating to Alchemy have been attributed to him, though in his authentic writings he had little to say on the subject, and then mostly through commentary on Aristotle. For example, in his commentary, De mineralibus, he refers to the power of stones, but does not elaborate on what these powers might be. A wide range of Pseudo-Albertine works dealing with alchemy exist, though, showing the belief developed in the generations following Albert’s death that he had mastered alchemy, one of the fundamental sciences of the Middle Ages. These include Metals and Materials; the Secrets of Chemistry; the Origin of Metals; the Origins of Compounds, and a Concordance which is a collection of Observations on the philosopher’s stone; and other alchemy-chemistry topics, collected under the name of Theatrum Chemicum. He is credited with the discovery of the element arsenic and experimented with photosensitive chemicals, including silver nitrate. He did believe that stones had occult properties, as he related in his work De mineralibus. However, there is scant evidence that he personally performed alchemical experiments. Much of the modern confusion results from the fact that later works, particularly the alchemical work known as the Secreta Alberti or the Experimenta Alberti, were falsely attributed to Albertus by their authors in order to increase the prestige of the text through association.
According to legend, Albertus Magnus is said to have discovered the philosopher’s stone and passed it to his pupil Thomas Aquinas, shortly before his death. Magnus does not confirm he discovered the stone in his writings, but he did record that he witnessed the creation of gold by “transmutation.” Given that Thomas Aquinas died six years before Albertus Magnus’ death, this legend as stated is unlikely.
However, it is true that Albertus was deeply interested in astrology, as has been articulated by scholars such as Paola Zambelli.
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