Having studied at the university of Frankfurt an der Oder, he entered the ecclesiastical profession, and in 1513 became archbishop of Magdeburg and administrator of the diocese of Halberstadt.
In 1514 he obtained the electorate of Mainz, and in 1518 was made a cardinal. Meanwhile to pay for the pallium of the see of Mainz and to discharge the other expenses of his elevation, Albert had borrowed a large sum of money from the Fuggers, and had obtained permission from Pope Leo X to conduct the sale of indulgences in his diocese to obtain funds to repay this loan. For this work he procured the services of John Tetzel, and so indirectly exercised a potent influence on the course of the Reformation.
When the imperial election of 1519 drew near, the elector's vote was eagerly solicited by the partisans of Charles (afterwards the emperor Charles V) and by those of Francis I, king of France, and he appears to have received a large amount of money for the vote which he cast eventually for Charles.
Albert's large and liberal ideas, his friendship with Ulrich von Hutten, and his political ambitions, appear to have raised hopes that he would be won over to Protestantism; but after the Peasants' War of 1525 he ranged himself definitely among the supporters of Catholicism, and was among the princes who met to concert measures for its defence at Dessau in July 1525.
His hostility towards the reformers, however, was not so extreme as that of his brother Joachim I, elector of Brandenburg; and he appears to have exerted himself in the interests of peace, although he was a member of the league of Nuremberg, which was formed in 1538 as a counterpoise to the league of Schmalkalden.
The new doctrines nevertheless made considerable progress in his dominions, and he was compelled to grant religious liberty to the inhabitants of Magdeburg in return for 500,000 florins. During his latter years indeed he showed more intolerance towards the Protestants, and favoured the teaching of the Jesuits in his dominions.
Albert adorned the Stiftiskirche at Halle and the cathedral at Mainz in sumptuous fashion, and took as his motto the words Domine, dilexi decorem domus tuae. A generous patron of art and learning, he counted Erasmus among his friends.
He died at Aschaffenburg on September 24, 1545.