Cover image for Disenchanting Albert the Great: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Magician By David J. Collins, S. J.

Disenchanting Albert the Great

The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Magician

David J. Collins, S. J.

Coming in August

$54.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09744-2
Coming in August

224 pages
6.125" × 9.25"
7 b&w illustrations
2024

Magic in History

Disenchanting Albert the Great

The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Magician

David J. Collins, S. J.

“Albertus Magnus was a great churchman and theologian. He also, as David Collins shows, took a serious interest in magic, which he thought could explain natural processes. Albertus engaged with magic, as he explained, by reading texts but also by trying things out. As ideas about nature evolved, he played many roles in the thought of later periods, from magus to saint to rationalist. This lucid, learned, and thoughtful book is intellectual history at its best.”

 

  • Description
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Albert the Great (1200–1280) was a prominent Dominican friar, a leading philosopher, and the teacher of Thomas Aquinas. He also endorsed the use of magic. Controversial though that stance would have been, Albert was never punished or repudiated for what he wrote. Albert’s reception followed instead a markedly different course, leading ultimately to his canonization by the Catholic Church in 1931. But his thoughts about magic have been debated for centuries. Disenchanting Albert the Great takes Albert’s contested reputation as a case study for the long and complex history surrounding the concept of magic and magic’s relationship to science and religion.

Over the centuries, Albert was celebrated for his magic, or it was explained awaybut he was never condemned. In the fifteenth century, members of learned circles first attempted to distance Albert from magic, with the goal of exonerating him of superstition, irrationality, and immorality. Disenchanting Albert the Great discusses the philosopher’s own understanding of magic; an early, adulatory phase of his reputation as a magician; and the three primary strategies used to exonerate Albert over the centuries.

In the end, Disenchanting Albert the Great tells the story of a thirteenth-century scholar who worked to disenchant the natural world with his ideas about magic but who himself would not be disenchanted until the modern era. This accessible and insightful history will appeal to those interested in Albert the Great, Catholic Church history, the history of magic, and Western understandings of the natural and the rational over time.

“Albertus Magnus was a great churchman and theologian. He also, as David Collins shows, took a serious interest in magic, which he thought could explain natural processes. Albertus engaged with magic, as he explained, by reading texts but also by trying things out. As ideas about nature evolved, he played many roles in the thought of later periods, from magus to saint to rationalist. This lucid, learned, and thoughtful book is intellectual history at its best.”
“David J. Collins has produced a superbly researched, cleverly written, and at times controversial analysis of Albert the Great’s postmortem reputation. It is a must-read for anyone interested in Albert, medieval or early modern magic and other esoterica, or premodern intellectual history more broadly.”

David J. Collins, S.J., is Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University. He is the editor of The Sacred and the Sinister: Studies in Medieval Religion and Magic, also published by Penn State University Press.

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