Albert the Great, the Albert Legend, and the Legitimation of the Dominicans
2. The Development of the Albert Legend
Albert the Great produced a useful tract, in which he distinguished books of true astronomy and of the art of magic by their principles and boundaries, so that he might distinguish true astronomy and empty magic from one another.14
3. Albert as Magus?
I could give you infinite examples of how knowledge is revered and honored; but to save words, I will briefly give but one notable example. We find that Albert the Great, of the Order of Preachers, came to such a perfection of mind, that by his great knowledge he made a metal statue for himself by the orbit of the planets, and understood that which it [the statue] said. And it was neither by diabolic arts nor by necromancy: though the great intellects do not delight in them, because it is something to lose the soul and body; and such an art is forbidden by the Christian faith. Hence the statue responded to a friar calling brother Albert, who was not in his cell. This person, believing the statue to be an idol of evil intellect, destroyed it. On the return of Brother Albert, he told him off, and said that he had worked on it for thirty years, and, “I did not learn this science in the Order of Friars.” The friar said, “I have acted badly; pardon me. Do you mean that you cannot make another?” Brother Albert responded, “It will not be possible to make another one for thirty-thousand years; until when that planet has made its orbit; and it will not return until that time.”22
4. Apocalypticism, Albert, and the Speculum astronomiae and Legitimation
I agree, then, with Albert, who was the great professor of Saint Thomas, in that [view of astrology], especially in his own tract, which is called the Speculum, where he deals with this material fully and usefully.25
Albertus Magnus wrote a very useful tract, in which he distinguished the books of true astrology and of the magical art by their beginnings and ends, so that he might separate true astrology and useless magic one from another.26
Albert the Great composed a little work upon this matter (astrology) that is called the Speculum of Albert, explaining the manner in which in his own times some wished to destroy those books of Albumasar and certain others. It seems, however, that, while preserving the honor of such a learned man, in expounding upon the books of philosophy, especially of the Peripatatics, he applied too much care, greater than benefitted a doctor of the Christians, [although] with nothing about the piety of the faith having been added; thus also in approbation of certain of the books of astrology, especially about images, nativities, sculptures of stones, characters, interrogations, he leaned too much toward the part of superstitions lacking in reason.29
5. Legitimation Gone Wrong
A sacred work of his [Albert] on Mathew is held in the monastery of the Preachers of Cologne, written by his own hands. Another volume from his own hands, De naturis animalium, is also held [by the monastery] and similarly [a copy of] the Speculum mathematicae from his own hand.31
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H. Darrell Rutkin coined this term to describe the way in which astrology acted as the link between disciplines such as astronomy, geography, and geometrical optics in their integration into the university curriculum and intellectual mindset of the middle ages. See H. Darrell Rutkin (2002), ‘‘Astrology, Natural Philosophy and the History of Science, c. 1250–1700: Studies toward an Interpretation of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem.’’ Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, p. 62.
M. Michèle Mulchahey (1998), “First the Bow Is Bent in Study—“: Dominican Education before 1350 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies), pp. 56–57. As Mulchahey notes, the “wording of the prohibition approximates that of the first citation of Gratian in answer” to the question of whether or not ordained clergy should be learned in secular letters. Gratian attributes this prohibition to the Fourth Council of Carthage in 419. By associating the newly written Dominican Constitution with an ordinance of the Patristic period, Dominic was asserting that his organization was part of an ancient tradition.
Albert’s substantial six-part Summa parisiensi, in which he applied Aristotelian philosophy to an analysis of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ, the four coevals (of primal matter, time, the heavens, and the angelic intelligences), human nature, and the nature of the good, is a product of this period, as is his comprehensive commentary on the Sententia. See J. Aertsen (1996), “Albertus Magnus und die mittelalterliche Philosophie,” in Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie 21: 111–28.
Medieval people did not use the term astrology in the way it is used today. Instead, astrologia and astronomia were used interchangeably. Albert most commonly used the term “the science of the judgement of the stars” to refer to what is most commonly meant by the term astrology today. A full discussion of the various understandings of how one might study the heavens to gain knowledge about terrestrial things, the various terms associated with such study, and other considerations can be found in Scott E. Hendrix (2010), How Albert the Great’s Speculum Astronomiae Was Interpreted and Used by Four Centuries of Readers: A Study in Late Medieval Medicine, Astronomy and Astrology (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen), chp. 3.
Although Albert almost always identified the author of the Liber de causis as “the philosopher,” meaning Aristotle, or simply “the author,” in his commentary On the Causes he refers to “a certain David the Jew,” and in his Liber de caelo et mundo he refers “to the teaching of Avendaud in the Book of Causes.” The translations are from Krisztina Szilágyi who demonstrates that Albert saw David the Jew and Avendaud as the same person. See Krisztina Szilágyi (2016), “A Fragment of a Book of Physics from the David Kaufmann Genizah Collection (Budapest) and the Identity of Ibn Daud with Avendauth,” Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism 16.1: 10–31, 25–26.
In his commentary, De anima, Albert wrote, “nos ipsis sumus experti in magicis,” in a discussion about Hermeticism. Given the context, Albert was likely referring to having tested Hermeticism or experienced its effects, rather than having had personal knowledge of magic, as nowhere else does he make such a claim. Albert the Great (1890), De anima, Adolphe Borgnet, ed (Paris: Vives), Lib. I, tract. 2, cap. 6, p. 153a.
Ferdinand Van Steenberghen (1947), “Le ‘De quindecim problematibus” d’Albert le Grand” in Études d’histoire littéraire et doctrinale de la Scolastique médiévale offertes à Monseigneur Auguste Pelzer. Louvain: Bibliothèque de l’Université/Editions de l’Institut Supérieur de Philosophie, pp. 415–39; Albert the Great (1975). “De quindecim problematibus,” in Opera omnia, Bernhard Geyer, ed. Monasterii Westfalorum: Aschendorff, pp. 31–34. The points in question are: “III: Quod voluntas hominis ex necessitate vult et eligit. IV: Quod omnia quae in inferioribus aguntur, subsunt necessitati corporum caelestium. IX: Quod liberum arbitrium est potentia passiva, non activa quod de necessitate movetur ab appetibili. XII: Quod humani actus non reguntur providentia dei.” Albert replied with considerable comprehensiveness, concluding with: “Si enim VI liber Primae Philosophiae legitur, facile patet, qualiter ea quae in inferioribus aguntur, superiorum subsunt regimini.” For those who do not understand that which is “easily understood” from a reading of “book VI of the first philosophy [Aristotle’s metaphysics]”? “omnino pateat eorum ignorantia.” Albert, “De quindecim problematibus,” p. 36.
Lemay (1992), pp. 91–94. I write “incline” because the author of the work, following Albert, argues that the heavens incline people toward certain fates, but do not compel them. Thus, a person could always choose to act against the celestial influence, but since most people never do, predictive astrology is accurate most of the time. Thus, De secretis is not as fatalistic as Lemay seems to believe, if one understands fate to function as Albert does. For a discussion of the way Albert understood “fate,” see Scott E. Hendrix (2008), “Choosing to be Human: Albert the Great on Self Awareness and Celestial Influence” Culture and Cosmos 12.2: 23–41.
The interest in learned magic began to take form as early as the twelfth century, but during the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries this interest began to grow explosively. For a classic study of this phenomenon, see Frances Yates (1964), Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). For the most up-to-date treatments, see Michael D. Bailey (2003), Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press) and Paola Zambelli (2007), White Magic, Black Magic in the European Renaissance (Leiden: Brill).
Richard Kieckhefer (2000), 5th printing. Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 153–57. The numbers of chantry priests grew considerably in the fourteenth century, and as Kieckhefer points out, such educated men were only “semi-employed,” and thus, with a “great deal of time on his hands, he might readily get into trouble. Necromancy was merely one of the forms this might take: not the most common form, perhaps, but not the least interesting.” Originally a term that meant the practitioner was discoursing with the dead, necromancy came to include any contact with spirits—including incorporeal demons. See Charles Burnett (1996), “Talismans: magic as science? Necromancy among the Seven Liberal Arts,” Magic and Divination in the Middle Ages (Aldershot: Variorum): pp. 1–15, 3–4.
Authors such as Agostino Paravicini-Bagliani have engaged in lengthy discussions of what to call this work, but in the 42 manuscript copies I’ve examined, Speculum astronomiae or some close variant is the most common title, so I will use it from here on out. See Paravicini-Bagliani’s (2001), Le Speculum Astronomiae, une énigme? Enquête sur le manuscripts (Sismel: Edizioni del Galluzo), 88–92, and Hendrix (2010), Albert the Great’s Speculum Astronomiae, appendix, for a complete discussion of the title.
Pierre d’Ailly (1490), Vigintiloquium de concordantia astronomicae veritatis cum theologia. Venice: Erhardus Ratdolt, f. 3r: “Albertus Magnus perutilem etiam tractatum edidit, in quo verae astronomiae et artis magicae libros per eorum principia et fines distinxit, ut astronomicam veritatem et magicam vanitatem ad invicem sequestraret.”
I have personally studied 42 of the surviving 58 manuscript copies of the Speculum. Of these, three definitively date to the thirteenth century when the work was written, while eleven date to the fourteenth, seventeen date to the fifteenth, and ten date to the sixteenth century. Only one manuscript copy from my sample group dates to the seventeenth century. See Hendrix (2010), Albert the Great’s Speculum Astronomiae, appendix.
Paget Toynbee first noticed this point more than a century ago. See his Toynbee (1895) “Some Unacknowledged Obligations of Dante to Albertus Magnus,” Romania 24.95: 399–412. Since then, many scholars have explored the debts Dante owed to Albert, with Etienne Gilson being the most important. See his Gilson (1963) Dante and Philosophy, trans. David Moore (New York: Sheed and Ward).
Many thanks to Dr. Ernesto Livorni of the Department of French and Italian at the University of Wisconsin, for steering me in the right direction when I started looking for information about Matteo Corsini.
This may indicate that Matteo Corsini had some knowledge of Latin, or he may have been borrowing from someone who had fluency in this language. Another possibility is that he borrowed quotes from available florilegia. Determining Matteo’s level of Latin fluency is beyond the scope of this paper, but it seems clear that he wanted readers to perceive him as having some knowledge of and respect for Latin.
Corsini (1845), pp. 15–16. “Come la sapienzia de’ essere riverita et onorata infiniti esempli ti potrei dire (3); ma per non dare troppe parole, solo uno notevole ne dirò brevemente. Troviamo che uno Alberto Magno, el quale fu de’ Frati Predicatori, venne a tanta perfezione di senno, che per la sua grande sapienzia fe’ una statua di metallo a sì fatti corsi di pianeti, e colsela sì di ragione (4), ch’ ella favellava: e non fu per arte diabolica nè per negromanzia: però che gli grandi intelletti non si dilettano di cioe, perchè è cosa da perdere l’ anima e ‘l corpo; che è vietata tale arte dalla fede di Cristo. Onde uno frate chiamando frate Alberto alla sua cella, egli non essendogli (5) la statua rispose. Costui credendo che fosse idolo di mala ragione, la guastò. Tornando frate Alberto, gli disse molto male, e disse che trenta anni ci avea (6) durata fatica, e: Non imparai questa scienza nell’ ordine de Frati. El frate dicea: Male ho fatto; perdonami. Come! non ne potrai fare un’ altra? Rispose frate Alberto, di qui a trenta migliaia d’ anni non se ne potrebbe fare un’ altra per lui; però che quello pianeto ha fatto el suo corso; e non ritornerà mai più per infino a detto tempo.”The numbers are included in the printed text. My thanks to Dr. Elizabeth Nogan-Ranieri for the translation.
Corsini (1845), p. 159. Eventually the legend emerged that it was Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) who destroyed Albert’s talking head, but I am unsure how that legend began. The earliest reference I can find to it is the rather uncritical assertion by Thomas Warton that “Albertus Magnus, who was also a profound adept at those sciences which were taught by the Arabian schools, is said to have framed a man of brass; which not only answered questions readily and truly, but was so loquacious that Thomas Aquinas … knocked it in pieces as the disturber of his abstruse speculations.” See Warton’s (1774) History of English Poetry, vol. 1 (London: J. Dodsely), p. 401.
This does not mean that the unknown author of “Es war ein Kung in Frankreich’’ was a commoner. He may have been wealthy, as was the case of Corsini. He may also have been an academic choosing to write in the vernacular. However, the fact that this was a vernacular-language poem suggests dissemination of Albert’s reputation beyond the bounds of the Latinate elite.
Pierre d’Ailly (1483), Apologia defensiva astronomiae ad magistrum Johannem cancellerium parisiensem (Louvain: J. de Paderborn), 143v: “Concordemus denique cum Alberto magno doctore sancti Thomae in illo praecipue tractatu suo qui Speculum dicitur, ubi hanc materiam plene utiliterque pertractat.” The translation is my own.
Jean Gerson (1962), Tricelogium astrologiae theologizatae, in his Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Mgr. P. Glorieux (Paris: Desclée), caput X, pp. 110–11. “Hanc vero artem [astrology] vel principia eius probare volumus semper extitisse extra et supra totam humanae investigationis facultatem. Ars quippe certa et regularis esse debet; voluntates autem hominum et cogitationes secundum quas deberet talis ars judicativa, capere fundamentum, penitus incertae sunt et variae; ut ergo nulla sit naturaliter ars de eis constantissime fatendum est. Numquid advertimus post Christi Nativitatem (quae utique miraculosa fuit, nec influentiis subjecta,) quanta varietas in conditionibus, moribus et operibus hominum innumerabilium secuta est; cuius attamen Nativitatis conditionem, illi qui principia artis huiusmodi fundare conati sunt, praevidere ut ista exciperent, minime potuerunt.”
Gerson (1962), Tricelogium, p. 90, prooemium: “Propterea non est negandum ab astrologia, quam esse sciantiam nobilem et admirabilem primo patriarchae Adam et sequacibus revelatam theologia non abnegat. Verumtamen hanc ancillam suam astrologiam nonnulli tot vanis observationibus, tot impiis erroribus, tot superstitionibus sacrilegis deturpantes maculaverunt, nescientes in ea sobrie sapere et modeste uti, quod apud bonos et graves redita est necdum infamis sed religioni christianorum suisque cultoribus pestilens et nociva.”
Gerson (1962), Tricelogium, propositio III, p. 107: “Composuit super hac re magnus albertus opusculum quod appelatur Speculum Alberti, narrans quomodo temporibus suis voluerunt aliqui destruere libros Albumasar et quosdam alios. Videtur autem, salvo tanti doctoris honore, quod sicut in exponendis libris philosophicis, praesertim peripateticorum, nimiam curam apposuit, maiorem quam christianum doctorem expediebat, nihil addendo de pietate fidei; ita et in approbatione quorumdam librorum astrologiae, praesertim de imaginibus, de nativitatibus, de sculpturis lapidum, de characteribus, de interrogationibus, nimis ad partem superstitionum ratione carentium declinavit.” The translation is my own.
Although Collins does not use the language of legitimation, he does discuss the great pride the Dominicans took in Albert’s fame. See David J. Collins (2010), “Albertus, Magnus or Magus? Magic, Natural Philosophy, and Religious Reform in the Late Middle Ages,” Renaissance Quarterly 63.1: 1–44. I use this source for the information in the rest of this paragraph.
Peter of Prussia (1900), Legenda Coloniensis, ed. P. van Loe, “De vita et scriptis B. Alberti Magni,” Analecta Bollandiana, 19: 257–84, 276–77: “In Monasterio Praedictorum Coloniae habetur opus eius [Alberti] solemne Super Matheum propriis manibus suis scriptum. Aliud etiam volumen De naturis animalium de manu sua et Speculum mathematicae similiter de manu sua.” The translation is my own.
See http://www.crystalinks.com/mangus.html, accessed on 31 January 2019, where he is described as “student and teacher of alchemy and chemistry, and an alleged magician” and is listed as an alchemist.
Christopher Warnock, the self-styled Renaissance astrologer, says that Albert was just one of many who “openly accepted the reality and efficacy of astrology and magic, as sciences that relied on spiritual connection and casuality [sic].” See https://www.renaissanceastrology.com/albertusmagnus.html, accessed on 31 January 2019.
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Hendrix, S.E. Albert the Great, the Albert Legend, and the Legitimation of the Dominicans. Religions 2021, 12, 992. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110992
Hendrix SE. Albert the Great, the Albert Legend, and the Legitimation of the Dominicans. Religions. 2021; 12(11):992. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110992Chicago/Turabian Style
Hendrix, Scott E. 2021. "Albert the Great, the Albert Legend, and the Legitimation of the Dominicans" Religions 12, no. 11: 992. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110992