Can you imagine having all the theological, philosophical and scientific knowledge at your fingertips? Nowadays, you may be an expert in one discipline, or most likely, in a small part of your discipline. To know everything that was known, was possible in the 13th century, or better said it was possible to one person: a Dominican monk, Albertus Magnus (1193 (?) – 1280). Many may know him as teacher and later friend of Thomas Aquinas. He started to incorporate Aristotle into philosophy and theology, thus starting the Scholastic school, an effort that was completed by Aquinas.
But there is more. He was also called the Doctor Universalis, “Universal Doctor”. After joining the Dominican Order, he studied and taught at Padua, Bologna, Cologne and other German convents in Hildesheim, Freiburg, Ratisbon, Strasbourg, and Cologne. He then came to Paris around 1241, completed his Master of Theology In 1245 and remained there as teacher. While in Paris, he started to write on the entire body of knowledge, natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics. In 1248, he returned to Cologne to direct and shape the newly instituted Studium Generale (General Studies). In 1254, he was nominated as a provincial of the Dominican Order in the German-speaking area and fulfilled the duties of the office with great care and efficiency. He visited all monasteries in the area — more than 40 – and in all of this he proceeded in accordance with the Dominican rule: he learned from nature by careful observation during these long journeys. In his book De mineralibus, he even describes that he visited stone quarries for purposes of study. In 1260, Pope Alexander IV appointed him Bishop of Regensburg (Ratisbon) in Germany. It was a difficult assignment, since the previous bishop had been so hopelessly corrupt that the pope had removed him from office. Albert restored order and governed the diocese until 1262. Then, after the acceptance of his resignation, he volunteered to resume the duties of a professor in the Studium Generale at Cologne. The announcement of the death of Thomas Aquinas at Fossa Nuova was a heavy blow to Albert, and he declared that “The Light of the Church” had been extinguished. Albert died on November 15, 1280, in the Dominican convent in Cologne.
Albert was the first to comment on virtually all of the writings of Aristotle, thus making them accessible to wider academic debate. The study of Aristotle brought him to study and comment on the teachings of Muslim scholars, notably Avicenna and Averroes, and this would bring him into the heart of academic debate.
He applied experimental methods to the Alchemy of his time. In his time, alchemists were mainly interesting in magic and in finding the “Philosopher’s Stone”, which would be able to transform other metals into gold. Albertus Magnus, in contrast, emphasized that gold can be purified and enriched from minerals, but cannot be derived from other metals, since gold has its own specific substantial form: