Boots the Bishop and the Dumb Ox

Maimonides, whom I addressed last week, was a major influence on Christian thought as well as Jewish. This seems to have been largely through two famous Christian admirers of his work, Albertus Magnus and his student Thomas Aquinas. In the thirteenth century, these two scholars followed Maimonides’ lead in seeking to reconcile religious belief with Aristotelian philosophy. At the time, this was frowned upon by the Catholic Church. Later, however, the Church adopted Aristotle’s ideas so firmly that they persecuted Galileo for teaching a different (and more accurate) view of the solar system. Apparently it didn’t occur to them that Aristotle was working with the best evidence he could find almost 2000 years earlier, and I’m not sure he would have been so keen on people taking his beliefs as absolute fact. Anyway, though, let’s get back to the thirteenth century and our two Church Doctors.


Albert, later to become known as Albert the Great or Albertus Magnus, was born in Bavaria sometime between 1193 and 1206. He was educated at Padua, Bologna, and Paris; and became a member of the Dominican Order in 1223. Pope Alexander IV appointed him Bishop of Regensburg in 1260, and Wikipedia indicates that he never rode a horse while serving in this position, instead traveling throughout his diocese on foot. This earned him the nickname “Boots the Bishop.” This isn’t mentioned on other Internet sources that I consulted, but it’s a cute story, so I at least hope it’s true. {g} Anyway, he resigned from the position in 1262, after which he served as a professor at Cologne, as well as a wandering preacher. In addition to his work in theology and philosophy, he also took an interest in the natural sciences, and gained a reputation as a mystic. He claimed to have witnessed the creation of gold through transmutation, and was rumored to have created a philosopher’s stone. He believed in astrology (as did most scientific minds of his time, although I think Maimonides did not) and the mystical powers of stones and plants. His interest in alchemy might well have been exaggerated due to later authors crediting their works to Albert, but he did discover arsenic and work with silver nitrate. The general consensus is that he received the title “Magnus” because of his great fame as a scholar, but this page claims that his family name was de Groot.


Thomas was known as Aquinas due to being born in Aquino, a county located between Rome and Naples, of which his father was count. He began his education under Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino, and later transferred to the University of Naples. He also joined the Dominican Order, and studied under Albertus at Paris and Cologne. A story about him says that he was nicknamed “the Dumb Ox” due to his simple, humble manner; but Albertus believed in him. He became known for his writings on theology, philosophy, and ethics. He attempted to rationally prove the existence of God, defining the Almighty as the First Cause that was necessary to set the Universe in motion. While this argument is obviously flawed, I suppose it was good enough for the Middle Ages. Actually, the First Cause idea was taken pretty much directly from Aristotle’s concept of the Unmoved Mover. Thomas died in 1274, six years prior to his mentor.

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2 Responses to Boots the Bishop and the Dumb Ox

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Alberto Malich, or Albert, in the Discworld books may have been partially inspired by Albertus Magnus. At least I like to think so.

    I see Thomas Aquinas mentioned a lot in metaphysical books dealing with Christianity, such as encyclopedias on angels. I’m not sure how seriously he’s taken by the current Roman Catholic Church, but the church my family goes to near our vacation home is named after him. For a while, I also went to a university founded by Benedictine monks and I suppose they considered Thomas Aquinas an important figure in the quest for knowledge. (The Benedictine Order, compared to other branches of Catholic clergy, seems to emphasize finding out the Truth through academic means; St. Benedict is I believe the patron saint of scholars and libraries, so that makes sense.)

    • Nathan says:

      I think Alberto Malich was definitely named after Albertus Magnus, and there are a few similarities between them. For instance, they’re both professors with interest in the mystical. Also, since Albertus is credited with creating a philosopher’s stone, you could say they both worked to stave off death. Thomas is also referenced in the Discworld series in that Brutha in Small Gods is nicknamed “The Big Dumb Ox,” and has a personality like how Thomas’ is described. They’re humble and seemingly simple-minded, with exceptional memories.

      I think there are quite a few churches named after both Albertus and Thomas.

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