ALBERTISM—a philosophical school of thought based on the thought of Albert the Great, especially the neo-Platonic elements in his thought.
This school began between 1400 and 1410 in Paris and was continued in Cologne after 1422. From there it spread to other centers, including Kraków around 1450. This school of thought was also called the second Albertism, as distinct from the generation of Albert’s immediate disciples, the colleagues of Thomas Aquinas (Hugo Ripelin, Ulrich of Strassburg, Dietrich of Freiburg). Due to the works of G. Meersseman, Albertism became part of the field of mediaeval studies. These studies are still incomplete: a group of Polish mediaevalists, especially those from Kraków, have contributed much to these studies.
John de Nova Domo (J. de Maisonneuve, d. 1418) was the founder and the most eminent representative of Albertism in Paris. He was a professor of the arts at the University of Paris. His philosophy referred to Albert the Great and he disputed with nominalists, Scotists, and Thomists. He followed Albert in distinguishing between the “universale ante rem”, “in re”, and “post rem”. He understood the matter in the context of his conception of being, which was inspired mostly by Albert’s paraphrase of the Liber de causis, and John developed this in an original manner in his treatise De esse et essentia. According to him, essence and existence are two aspects of being, not really distinct elements of being. He compared essence to standing water, and existence to running water. He taught that existence (esse) is the influence of essence (essentia) as this influence is modified by quod est, the potential principle, called the face of nature (vultus naturae). He conceived this principle as the possibility of all things and the foundation of pluralism.
In the first half of the fifteenth century, Albertism was supported in Paris by followers of the via moderna, but a disciple of John de Nova Domo—Heimerich de Campo (Heymericus de Campo, 1395–1460)—brought it to Cologne in 1422 and there it found fertile ground. In Cologne, the Albertists were concentrated in the Laurentiana and Kuckiana residences, while the Montana and Cornelia residences were home to Thomists. In the first half of the fifteenth century these groups were involved in a long-lasting controversy. The main participants were the leaders of each party: the Albertist Heimerich de Campo, and the Thomist Gerard de Monte. Heimerich presented his views in the Compendium divinorum, which was based on Albert’s commentary on the Liber de causis and the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. He presented the points of dispute with the Thomists in a polemical writing called Problemata inter Albertum Magnum et S. Thomam (before 1428) and in a more concise form in a letter to the professors of Cologne which is known as Invectiva. Gerard de Monte’s reply, Tractatus concordiae inter Thomam et Albertum was only published years later (1456) and was an expression of a desire for agreement, even though it stated differences in particular questions. Albertism was dynamic and well represented in Cologne, although scholastic disputes did not contribute to a deeper understanding of doctrine. Over time Albertism became less significant to the benefit of the Thomists. This was evident because fewer and fewer of the followers of Albertism advanced academically or obtained baccalaureates, but Albertism continued to spread to other centers of learning until the 17th century. One such center was the Louvain, where Heimerich moved, leaving the the leadership of the Cologne Albertists to Gerhard von Hardewych. Representatives of Albertism were also active at the University of Vienna, and in Heidelberg Albertism was represented by John Wenck of Herrenberg. Albertism found especially fertile ground in Kraków.
There was only a small number of Albert’s works in the library of Kraków University in the first decades of the fifteenth century, but the number grew considerably in the second half of the century. The works of Albertists also reached Kraków, first those of the Cologne Albertists, and later the De esse et essentia of John de Nova Domo. A copy of Heimerich de Campo’s Compendium divinorum appeared in 1456, and soon thereafter his Problemata appeared. Copies of the work of John de Nova Domo appeared in 1479 and 1494. At the same time, there was increasing interest in the Liber de causis and the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. The chief representatives of Albertism in Kraków were John of Głogów and Jacob of Gostynin, and Albertist tendencies became visible in the philosophy of being and the philosophy of man (psychology). A presentation of the most important problems taken up by both these thinkers will provide insight into the situation of philosophy at the University of Kraków in the fifteenth century.
John of Głogów (about 1454–1506) wrote abundantly. His commentaries on Aristotle’s De anima and Metaphysics were particular significant for philosophy. In these works there is a tendency that was also characteristic of John Versor to join the doctrines of Albert and Thomas, e.g., in the conception of the human soul. In itself the soul is a spiritual substance similar to the intelligences, but with respect to its function in relation to the body, it is a substantial form. John of Głogów reconciles the unity of substantial form in man with Albert’s view (shared by Giles of Rome) that the body with which the soul is joined is somehow already positively organized. John of Głogów also accepted the threefold division of universals (ante rem, in re, post rem), and at the same time criticized Plato for thinking that ideas have independent existence. He followed the Liber de causis and Albert in holding that being is the first thing that was created. He reconciles Thomas’ view the object of the intellect is the essence of the material being with Albert’s view that the intellect is capable of acquiring knowledge without the help of mental images. John of Głogów also referred to other authors besides Albert and Thomas, including Giles of Rome. His approach to philosophy was considered to be eclectic. In any case, he was not exclusively an Albertist.
Jacob of Gostynin (around 1454–1506) may be considered a more consistent representative of Albertism than John of Głogów. Although Jacob recognized Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome as the greatest authorities besides Albert, he generally tended to follow Albert. In his Commentary to the Liber de causis, which referred to Albert’s paraphrase of that work and to John de Nova Domo’s De ente et essentia, Jacob developed an hierarchical vision of reality whose center was the first cause. The first cause was the good, the beautiful and light in the fullest sense as a source. Only the first cause operates by a creative act. It also acts through secondary causes which in their being and operation are completely dependent upon it. The chain of secondary causes begins with the first intelligence. Jacob of Gostynin identified the first intelligence with “esse” as the “primum creatum”. He understood the primum creatum as the first universale ante rem, the first link of a chain, and the first form reason for the generation of beings. The last stage is being as contingent existence, which is identified with individuals that are multiplied by the “face of nature” (vultus naturae). The face of nature is conceived as the possibility of the formation of existence in different ways. The influence of Albert’s conception of “esse” as the “primum creatum” is apparent here. Albert’s conception lent itself to different interpretations. The influence of John de Nova Domo is also visible, and Jacob of Gostynin was closer to John de Nova than to Heimerich. Jacob of Gostynin used neo-Platonic terminology in his development of the conception of the soul and was close to the views of Albert as found in his De anima and other later writings. Jacob wrote that the soul is like an intelligence which “illuminates” the body and enters into a bond with the body that is more a bond of dynamism than a bond of being.
The Albertism of the late Middle Ages is one manifestation of Albert the Great’s influence on the intellectual life of the Middle Ages. It has continued without interruption since the 13th century and has an incomparably wider reach than the so-called second Albertism. It emphasizes the influence of Albert on interest in philosophy, on how Aristotle was understood and commented upon, and on the development of the investigation of nature. His conception of theology as “scientia affectiva” was influential and had common points with the devotio moderna. His apophatic approach in thinking about God has also been influential. More and more is being discovered about Albert’s influence on Meister Eckhart (1260–1327) and Nicholas de Cusa (1401–1464), who was associated with the Albertist Heimerich. His “docta ignorantia” is thought to have originated in Albert’s apophatic thinking, just as his “coincidentia oppositorum” is genetically connected to Albert’s paraphrase of Pseudo-Dionysius.
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