Albert the Great

Albert the Great

(ca. 1200-1280)

Albert's year of birth is unknown, but it can be assumed that he was born between 1193 and 1205. He came from a knightly family from Lauingen on the Danube River in Germany. The first mention of him is from not earlier than 1222. He was in Italy at the time, where he lived with his uncle in Venice and Padua. The following year, he began his liberal studies and medicine at the University of Padua. At that time, he encountered the writings of Aristotle and Jordan of Saxony, the successor of St. Dominic holding a position of master general of the Dominican order. It must have been under his influence that he decided to enter the ranks of brother preachers. In 1223, he joined a monastery in Cologne, where he began his novitiate, studied theology there, took his vows and was ordained a priest. He completed his education in Cologne in 1228 and began teaching as a lector in Cologne, Hildesheim, Freiburg im Breisgau, Regensburg and Strasbourg. In this period he published his first major work De natura boni.

After the death of Jordan of Saxony in 1238, the German friars just proposed Brother Albert for the office of master general of the order, but he was not elected. He further shaped himself intellectually, continuing his studies and earning more degrees. From 1243 to 1248, he stayed in Paris, where he studied at the university and earned a master's degree in theology in 1245. He later lectured there on the philosophy of Aristotle, as well as Jewish and Arab philosophers. During this period, his disciple was St. Thomas Aquinas. In 1248, he returned to Cologne and assumed the office of regent of the general study at the Dominican monastery there. Between 1254 and 1257, he had a break from directing this school, as he served as a provincial superior of the order's German province. On January 5, 1260, Pope Alexander IV appointed him bishop of Ratisbon (today's Regensburg). He assumed the office reluctantly, especially since the religious authorities were also critical of the brothers' assumption of the dignity of the bishop's office as incompatible with the spirit of poverty they profess. Albert received the consecrated dignity of the bishop's office in July 1260. In 1262, Pope Urban IV relieved him of his post as bishop of Ratisbon and appointed him as a crusade preacher in the German-speaking regions on February 13, 1263. He resigned from his position as a crusader after Pope Urban IV died on October 2, 1264, which enabled him to resume teaching, lecturing in Würzburg, Strasbourg and Cologne. Around 1269, he permanently settled at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Cologne, continuing to be involved in political and religious life. He took part in the Council of Lyon, then in 1277 at the University of Paris he defended the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, his friend and disciple. He died in Cologne on November 15, 1280, was beatified in 1622 and canonized in 1931. He was also given the title Doctor of the Church at that time.

In iconography, St. Albert the Great is depicted in Dominican or episcopal robes; he often has a Dominican habit, and the symbol of his pastoral authority as a bright bishop is the pallium and cross-shaped pastoral. These are his primary attributes, but there are also some other like a palm or olive branch, a globe, an infula, a cross, a book or scroll, a lily, a bird feather and an image of the Immaculate. A palm or olive branch reminds us that the Saint was an advocate of concord and peace. He opposed solving problems through wars and duels. As a bishop, he reconciled the feuding and quarreling. The globe represents his broad scientific interests, and he was involved not only in philosophy and theology, but also in physics, geography, astronomy, mineralogy, zoology, biology, chemistry and botany. Hence, in 1941, Pope Pius XII declared him the patron saint of natural sciences. His scientific activities are also referred to in the Book and a bird feather (writing pen). The bird feather is also considered a symbol of divine inspiration. The infula lying most often at the Saint's feet alludes to the fact that he gave up his episcopal dignity and functions as a bishop to further devote himself to scientific and teaching activities. The cross symbolizes deep devotion and faith. The lily is a symbol of the pure soul, innocence, living a sinless life and maintaining purity of custom. The attribute of Mary refers to the legend, saying that it was she who appeared to young Albert and recommended him to join the Dominican order. Even as he joined the ranks of the preaching friars, he had doubts, fearing that he would not be able to cope with his studies. In his dream, he saw himself fleeing through a wall, but Mary stopped him. Hence, St. Albert is also considered the patron saint of students. Mary also had appeared before his death and announced that just before he died, he would lose his memory and knowledge while teaching. He is depicted in the cloister garth of the Santo Domingo Monastery in Lima wearing the Dominican habit, with a cross-shaped pallium and pastoral around his neck, indicating his possession of the dignity of the bishop's office, and a book as a symbol of his wisdom and scholarly activity.


  • Kostecki R., Św. Albert Wielki. Wyznawca, biskup i doktor Kościoła, Lwów 1934.
  • Kwiatkowski F., Św. Albert Wielki obrońca św. Tomasza, „Ateneum Kapłańskie”, 1936, p. 
  • Paszewski A., Albert z Lauingen jako botanik, Warszawa 1962.
  • Albertus Magnus and the sciences: commemorative essays 1980, ed. J. A. Weisheipl, Toronto 1980.
  • Albertus Magnus, Doctor universalis 1280–1980, hrsg. G. Meyer, A. Zimmermann, Mainz 1980 (Walberberger Studien. Philosophische Reihe, 6).
  • Frank I., Albert Wielki – naukowiec i dominikanin, tłum. I. P. Góra, Kraków 1980.
  • Kostecki R., Święty Albert Wielki, [in:] Dominicans. Szkice z dziejów zakonu, ed. M.A. Babraj, Poznań 1986, pp. 244-254.
  • Wilms G., Sant’ Alberto Magno. Scienziato, filosofo e santo, Bologna 1992.
  • Kloskowski K., Święty Albert Wielki z Lauingen jako przyrodnik i myśliciel, „Universitas Gedanensis”, 9 (1993), pp. 25-39
  • Kurdziałek M., Wielkość św. Alberta z Lauingen zwanego także Albertem Wielkim, [in:] Średniowiecze w poszukiwaniu równowagi między arystotelizmem a platonizmem, ed. M. Kurdziałek, Lublin 1996, p.
  • Albertus Magnus. Zum Gedenken nach 800 Jahren. Neue Zugänge, Aspekte und Perspektiven, hrsg. W. Senner, H. Anzulewicz, Berlin 2001 (Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens, 10).
  • Trepczyński M., Ścieżki myślenia Alberta Wielkiego i Tomasza z Akwinu, Warszawa 2013.
  • Frey P., Jedyny uczony z przydomkiem „Wielki”. Albert Wielki a relacje między wiarą i nauką, „Karto-Teka Gdańska”, 18 (2021), pp. 93-108.