Albertus Magnus (Albert of Cologne) (ca.
Scholar, philosopher, and scientist traditionally believed to
have been an alchemist. No fewer than 21 folio volumes are attributed
to him, though it is highly improbable that all of them
are really his. In several cases the ascription rests on slender evidence,
but those that are incontestably written by him are numerous
enough to label him a prolific writer. Tradition holds
that he was the inventor of the pistol and the cannon, though
the truth of this claim cannot be proven. This does indicate,
however, that his scientific skill was recognized by a few of the
men of his own time.
Born in Swabia, Germany, he entered the Dominican order
in 1223, taught in Paris and Cologne, and became the teacher
of Thomas Aquinas. The term Magnus, which is usually applied
to him, is not the result of his reputation but is the Latin equivalent
of his family name, de Groot. As with many other men destined
to become famous, he was distinctly stupid as a boy, but
from the outset he showed a predilection for religion. One
night the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, which caused his intellect
to metamorphose, acquiring extraordinary vitality. Albertus
therefore decided that he must show his gratitude to the
Madonna by entering the priesthood, and eventually he won
eminence in the clerical profession. In 1260 he became bishop
of Ratisbon. His books include Summa de Creaturis and Summa
Albertus was repeatedly charged by some of his contemporaries
with holding communications with the devil and practicing
the craft of magic. He was said to have invited some friends
to his house at Cologne, among them William, count of Holland,
and when the guests arrived they were amazed to find
that, although the season was midwinter and the ground was
covered with snow, they were expected to have a meal outside
in the garden. Their host urged them to be seated, assuring
them that all would be well. Though doubtful, they took their
places, and had only begun to eat and drink when their annoyance
vanished, for the snow around them melted away and the
sun shone brightly.
The alchemist Michael Maier (author of Museum Chimicum),
declared that Albertus had succeeded in evolving the philosophers
stone and passed it to his pupil Thomas Aquinas, who
subsequently destroyed it, believing it to be diabolical. The alleged
discoverer himself says nothing on this subject, but, in his
De Rebus Metallicis et Mineralibus, he tells how he had personally
tested some gold that had been manufactured by an alchemist,
and it resisted many searching fusions. Whether this story is
true or not, Albertus was certainly an able scientist, and it is
clear that his learning ultimately gained wide recognition, for
a collected edition of his vast writings was issued at Leyden as
late as 1653.
Albertus died in 1280, was beatified in 1622, and canonized
by Pius XI in 1932. There is no firm evidence that Albertus was
author of the ever popular occult work ascribed to him under
the title Albertus Magnus . . . Egyptian Secrets; or, White and Black
Art for Man and Beast.
Albertus Magnus. The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus: Also,
A Book of the Marvels of the World. Edited by M. R. Best and F.
H. Brightman. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.
Federmann, Reinhard. The Royal Art of Alchemy. New York:
Kovech, F. J., and R. W. Shahan, eds. Albert the Great: Commemorative
Essays. Norman Okla.: University of Oklahoma
Sighart, J. Albert the Great. London: Washbourne, 1876.