The Story Of Religious Controversy
The Truth About Galileo and Medieval Science
Theology is, for all its industry, not a science. There is no theology, but there are fifty theologies. They are so many groups of entirely contradictory speculations as to the meaning of words very doubtfully attributed to men of the past who may never have existed: and the words refer to what no one can prove to be realities. There is no science of God, because God is a name for fifty different and contradictory conceptions. Of any ten masters of the art of thinking, in science or in philosophy, at least five say that the existence of any God is unproven, and the other five flatly contradict each other about the nature of the being they claim to exist.
There is no science of the soul, for since psychology (the "science of the soul") began to acquire knowledge in the only way which leads to agreed and verifiable results -- by direct observation of realities or by strictly logical inferences from observed realities -- it has abandoned the idea of a soul. It is now the knowledge of mental acts or states or behavior. Philosophy is not a science, but a contradictory series of collections of contradictory speculations which cannot be called knowledge. History is now, and claims to be, a science. It is knowledge of past events acquired by inference from observed phenomena: written statements and ancient remains. "Exact science" is an absurdity. There is no inexact science or inexact knowledge.
So stupendous a mass of real knowledge has been acquired during the last hundred years by what was called the scientific method, and so much that was called knowledge has been by the same method discredited, that the word "scientific" is now as eagerly claimed as was once "royal" or "religious." Charlatans call their frauds Christian Science or Psychic Science. Biblical critics claim to have a science. Businessmen, and even politicians and gamblers, claim to be scientific. Literary and artistic critics say that they are scientific.
The reasons for the popularity of the word are well known. First, somehow the use of what was called the scientific method led to the attainment of an immense volume of knowledge on which all trained thinkers could agree. They had never agreed before, in theology or philosophy, except in so far as authority compelled them. Secondly, this new knowledge at once flowered in myriads of inventions which made the world immeasurably better to live in than it had ever been before. As we have amply seen, religion had given men neither the solid truth nor the moral power it pretended to give. Science at once gave men an immense mass of solid undisputed truths and a power which is rapidly transforming the face of the earth and will in time transform man himself.
So the world ignores the petty groups of mystics and anti- vivisectionists who sneer at science, and the philosophers and theologians who claim to be superior to it. Science is knowledge. The mind of man has almost suddenly become a mighty instrument for acquiring knowledge. Our much-libeled generation, which some myopic or fantastic writers represent as the ragged remains of a once fine race, shivering round the dying fires of civilization, has knowledge and power inconceivably greater than any generation ever had before. The past has bequeathed us only works of art, which we treasure, works of philosophy, which we admire at a distance, and works of theology, which we ignore.
It was inevitable that this new or real knowledge should begin with what is called material nature: stars, animals, plants, rocks, and so on. The eye, which (aided or unaided) is the chief implement of knowledge, looks outward, not inward. The mind had to gain practice and confidence in the easiest things first. It began with astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, botany, and zoology. This led people to say that science dealt with material things and left "spiritual things" to philosophy and religion. Today science is knowledge, and "spiritual things" are not embraced in a "science" only because no one can prove that they exist. Science is knowledge, and knowledge is power, and the salvation of the race from its remaining miseries and stupidities depends upon it. Science is the true Messiah, the only Redeemer, the Light and Hope of the World.
Hence the question of the relation of Christianity to the development of science is of an importance that cannot be exaggerated. The claim is still eloquently made in every pulpit, and is hastily admitted at times by people who ought to know better, that Christianity promoted civilization. If by Christianity we mean the supposed teaching of Christ, it has no good influence on civilization beyond urging men to be just and temperate and kindly -- which every creed and moralist superfluously does, for life itself teaches the lesson every day -- and it has, or would have if even Christians accepted it, a profoundly evil influence by its disdain of visible human things and the mirage of an eternal world which it puts in the heavens. If we mean the structure of doctrine weirdly built upon the words of Christ, it has no relation to civilization except to distract attention from the proper work of life and inspire fierce sectarian hatred. If we mean the Churches ... Well, here we do and must mean the Churches, and, since the Protestant Church only begins at the very end of the Middle Ages, we mean mainly the Catholic Church; but Protestantism was at first equally guilty.
Let us sift the relevant from the irrelevant facts. The day has gone by in which it was possible to despise science. That pastime is now left to very imperfectly educated Fundamentalist preachers and politicians, addressing people who are, so to say away from the irrigation channels of modern culture. Wherever there are good libraries, and people are free to consult them, the power and value of science are admitted. The apologist, who is the finest contortionist in the world, turned half about and claimed that the Church never had impeded the development of science. He has now turned full face and claims that the Church promoted science.
Catholic readers of writers like Father Zahm, etc., at least those Catholic readers who humbly bow to the Church's command that they must not read any criticism of its writers, really believe that these "professors" have proved that the Church promoted science. We shall examine these fraudulent works presently. Here I desire only to state principles.
What do we mean by the Church? The Popes? The whole hierarchy? Or the hierarchy and laity together? It will be found that these writers make great profit by juggling with these different conceptions. The Catholic Church in the third sense was practically the whole of Europe for a thousand years, and it has meant about one-half of the civilized world since then. Any person, therefore, who professes a naive pride when be is told that lots of scientific men have been Catholics, is behaving foolishly. The serious questions are: whether the teaching of Christ and the official action of the Church are responsible, and to what extent, for the suspension of the development of science in the world for a thousand years; whether the revival of science in the thirteenth century (in Roger Bacon and his contemporaries) was not a pagan intrusion in Christendom, and was not stifled by the Church; whether it is true that the Church seriously hampered the two sciences, astronomy and medicine, which tried to advance in the later Middle Ages; and whether the beginning of the modern progress of science got any help or hindrance from the Churches. Also, since there were bad Popes and good Popes, worldly priests and really religious priests, it is material to notice whether any Popes and priests who are favorably mentioned belonged to the first or second class. If they belonged to the first, the credit cannot be claimed for their religion, but must be accorded to their sinful humanity.
The outstanding and ghastly feature of that very long period is that there was not only not the least development of science, but what science had been previously acquired by the race was almost entirely lost to Christendom. The growth of science is necessarily very slow until it reaches a certain stage. It reached that stage, or was approaching it, amongst the ancient Greeks. Babylonia and Egypt had occupied what we might call the incubating period. Practical needs had driven them to make a beginning of science -- in agriculture, irrigation, mechanics, decimal system, etc. -- and speculative interest had been kindled in a fair study of astronomy and a lot of conjectures about the origin of things.
It was, however, rather a poor crop which the older civilizations handed on to the Greeks. The earliest Greeks to be civilized were those who crossed the sea from Greece to Asia Minor, where they met the Persians, and they at once began to cultivate a very real interest in science. The Greek mind was young and vigorous, and it mainly turned to speculations on the meaning of nature. Evolution at once occurred to it, and matter was declared to consist of atoms. The main thing was, however, that these Greeks insisted on the careful observation of nature itself; and they thus created the scientific spirit: or rather, enlarged it, for the Babylonian priests, studying the heavens unhampered by dogmas, were real scientists.
Greece might have inaugurated the kingdom of science on the earth but for the religion of the mass of the people and the "spirituality" of its philosophers. Scholars of the scientific type were driven from Athens by the mob. Philosophers like Socrates and Plato disdained and discouraged scientific investigation of nature. Religion always tends that way. The affairs of the "spirit" are so important.
Yet, as any modern manual of the history of science will tell you, the Greeks, nevertheless, made a famous beginning. Aristotle's "Physics" and other works contain a mass of information (amongst much nonsense) in astronomy, zoology, embryology, etc. The science of medicine was very greatly advanced by men like Galen and Hippocrates. The electric quality of amber (electron) and the magnetic quality of certain irons were perceived, and this might in time have led to a great development. The central position of the sun, and the approximate sizes and distances of sun and moon, were known. In Alexandria, where the last phase of Greek science, and the most industrious and promising of all, occurred, mathematics and mechanics, the invaluable instruments of science, were wonderfully developed. All this was known to, but not further developed by, the Romans, whose empire-work and practical work for the improvement of civilization absorbed them.
Five hundred years after the Emperor Constantine made the fatal mistake of adopting Christianity, instead of Stoicism or Epicureanism (as Roman gentlemen did), nearly the whole of this knowledge had perished. Yes, I know, you have been reading the glowing words of some modern apologist about the marvelous works of Marticinus Capella, about Cassiodorus and the busy monks, about the encyclopedic lore of Isidore of Seville, and Rhabanus Maurus, and Vincent of Beauvais. It is a pity that some pious Catholic does not translate one of them. Selections from their pages would make excellent humorous readings. The most "scientific" and the latest of them, Vincent of Beauvais, justified the long ages ascribed to the patriarchs in the Old Testament on the ground that those ancient sages were familiar with "the philosopher's stone." In short, all the most puerile superstitions that were still current in rural districts a hundred years ago were the wisdom of these men. Not one in a thousand in Europe could read, and of the few who could read only a small minority cared about the weird mixture of adulterated Greek ideas and fantastic statements that were found in these works.
The reader who wishes to use me simply as a guide and to do the thinking for himself -- and I hope that means the great majority of my readers who have access to a good library -- will easily verify this first statement, that science perished in Europe from the fourth to the twelfth century (with an exception which we examine presently), by glancing at any modern history of science. It will have interesting and promising chapters on what the Greeks did, especially in medicine, astronomy, and mathematics; then a short paragraph on the scientific sterility and utter ignorance that followed the enforcement of Christianity; then a description of how the Mohammedans taught Christendom science, but the Church hampered its development.
For those who may not easily have access to a history of science I will briefly quote from a recent series in my library. Dr. Hillier in his "Medical and Surgical Science" speaks of the "somber picture" and "partial paralysis of intelligence" to the end of the fourteenth century; yet medicine was the least neglected of the sciences in that time. Professor Forbes, an orthodox Christian, finds in his "History of Astronomy" that from the time when the Christians put an end to the pagan schools of Alexandria "all interest in astronomy seemed to sink to a low ebb," and "the Arabs became the leaders of science and philosophy"; he can find no Christian to mention until the fifteenth century. Sir Edward Thorpe in his "History of Chemistry" has a complete blank between the Greeks and the Arabs, and shows that the Christian beginning in the thirteenth century was due to the Arabs. Professor Woodward in his "History of Geology" leaves the Christian period a complete blank, except for the Arabs and Persians, down to the fifteenth century. Professor Miall in his "History of Biology" disdainfully says that there was "a temporary extinction of civilization," and the only natural history read (by the one in a thousand who could read) was in manuals which told "how the crocodile weeps when it has eaten a man," and so on -- stories taken from the learned encyclopedias I have mentioned. Every history of every branch of science will tell you the same thing.
This temporary extinction of civilization we have already studied, and the discussion of the causes of it which I give in other chapters applies particularly to science. It is almost scandalous to find our historians shirking half, or more than half, the explanation, Christianity, and allowing the whole burden to fall upon "the barbarians." The barbarians did not burn the works of the pagans, as Christians did. The barbarians did not overrun Greek Christendom, yet not one single Greek Christian figures in the annals of science. The barbarians, as I have shown by several historical instances or parallels, could be civilized in a century by any real civilizing force.
Christian religion, precisely in its pure and strict form, was responsible. Christ and Paul had not the slenderest acquaintance with Greek culture, and were supremely indifferent to the issues it raised. The Fathers of the Church repeatedly expressed their indifference to those issues. The most learned and influential of them, Augustine, went out of his way to express his disdain of astronomical research. Gregory the Great sternly forbade all secular culture, and is said to have burned the libraries that still lingered in Rome. The advent of the barbarians alone would not mean more than a century or two of suspension of culture. It was the union of barbarism and the intense other-worldliness of the new religion that caused the suspension to last nearly a thousand years.
There was a Bishop Virgilius of Salzburg, in the eighth century, who, contrary to general belief, held that there were people at the antipodes; and he remained a bishop and was much honored by the Popes. Yes -- when he had recanted, as he was compelled to do. In any case, this was not science, not an ascertained fact. Virgilius contributed nothing to science.
Then there was actually a Pope, Gerbert, or Silvester II, who is named in every manual of science as one of the great pioneers in physics. What do I mean by talking of a blank from the fourth to the thirteenth century when precisely the most learned physicist of the time was a Pope? It sounds very naughty or very ignorant, if all that you know about Gerbert has been learned from religious writers. He was, for his time, a remarkably good mathematician and physicist. But, pray read a little about his life. He was educated in Spain, and he knew Greek, if not Arabic; and, while the favor of worldly princes got promotion for him, the clergy gave him, even as Pope, such a time that be speedily sought relief in heaven. In plain English, poor Gerbert tried to get his fellow-Christians to adopt a little of the learning of the Mohammedans, and they hounded him off the planet, buried his learning with his bones, and purified Rome with holy water and curses when the "magician" had gone to hell.
Here, in fact, we insert at once one of those undisputed historical facts which apologists find it prudent to suppress. Recent students of Gerbert say that his works do not show traces of Arabic, but rather of Greek, borrowing. That matters little. The Saracens of southern Italy, who had the same Arabian scientific culture as the Moors of Spain, were translated into Greek. No one questions that Gerbert learned his mathematical and physical knowledge from the Mohammedans; and to the same source every single scholar now turns for the explanation of the scientific learning of Roger Bacon, Albert the Great, and every other early scholar or writer who shows some knowledge of science.
"Catholic Science and Catholic Scientists," by Father Zahm, professor of physics at the "University of Notre Dame," is, I understand, the gem of American apologetic work in this connection.
Zahm's work makes one wonder what standard (if any) of scholarship or sincerity is applied to professors at this doubtless distinguished University. Most of the book is argument, not fact, and one is not inclined to linger over it when one reads that there are three kinds of evolution -- atheistic, agnostic, and theistic -- and that the first class embraces only three men (who were not atheists but agnostics) and the third class includes Owen (who was Huxley's worst opponent) and Sir John Herschel. The American reader will be even more astonished to learn that eccentric old Orestes A. Brownson was "the first scholar of the age" and "one of the greatest philosophers that our age or any age had produced" -- poor Plato! -- and that the French priest Moigno was "the Albertus Magnus of the nineteenth century."
Other pleasantries of the book are the statement that gunpowder was invented by a German monk, and the mariner's compass by another Christian; both inventions, of course, being due to the Arabs. We read of Galileo as the bosom friend and spoiled darling of the clergy of Rome, but not a word about his charming relations with the Inquisition. We are told that it is wrong to credit Harvey with the discovery of the circulation of the blood, and that "botany, zoology, geology, and mineralogy seem always to have exerted a peculiar fascination over the minds of the children of Holy Church"; in proof of which bewildering statement we are referred to St. Francis of Assisi, who probably could not have distinguished a cock from a hen. The first botanical garden is put at Pisa in 1543 -- several centuries after the Moors had had far finer botanical gardens; the first museums and libraries are put in Italy -- whereas the Moors had had in the Dark Ages libraries ten times as large as the finest in Italy during the Renaissance; the science of arithmetic "owes its origin in Europe to the learned Gerbert," who merely borrowed it; and, with a sublime effrontery or incomprehensible ignorance, even chemistry and alchemy are ascribed to Christian originators.
Some may wonder why I should trouble to consider a book of this kind, and they will be astonished to learn that this work of Father Zahm is regarded by American Catholics as one of their finest apologies. You wish to know what the other side says, to know why millions of Catholics seem quite undisturbed by the terrible record of their Church? The answer is found in a number of trashy works of which this is held to be the "most learned."
The radical and gravest fault of the book is that it conceals from the reader entirely the brilliant science of the Moors and Saracens, and the fact that all Christian science in the early Middle Ages was borrowed from them. To talk of the science of Gerbert and Roger Bacon, Schwarz and Albert the Great, and say not a word about their Moorish teachers -- to boast of all the science that there was in Christendom and give the reader the impression that it originated there, and that the Church actually encouraged science is as gross a deception of one's readers as can be imagined. I do not say deliberate deception. A man may innocently deceive from ignorance, and, apparently, the standard of culture of professors in the "University of Notre Dame" is not exacting. But the Catholic reader ought to know what it is that is purveyed to him under shelter of the Church's stern prohibition to read critical books like this. Zahm either knew or did not know that all the science he finds in Christendom for a thousand years after Europe became Christian was Mohammedan science, confined to a very few men, and stifled by the Church.
I have described the brilliant civilization of the Moors and devoted a section to their revival and development of Greek science. Medicine, astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics were especially cultivated; optics (or physics generally) and botany received a good deal of attention; and some of the Khalifs and scholars were zealous for botany. Distinguished men of science were the most honored in the kingdom, a vast literature circulated, libraries ran up to collections of five hundred thousand books, and there was a zeal for learning in every class of society.
This Moorish civilization was only the western wing of a great Mohammedan, or Arab-Persian, civilization. A smaller, but hardly less brilliant, group of "Saracens" flourished in southern Italy. In the motherland (Arabia, Persia, and Egypt) there was just the same zeal for science as for letters, and most valuable discoveries were made. Within two centuries a splendid civilization had been evolved by the grafting of semi-barbaric tribes on an old and decaying culture -- while you are asked to believe that "the great civilizing force" of Christianity could not do this in less than a thousand years in Europe -- and its most splendid hour was just the darkest hour of Christendom, the ninth and tenth centuries. Mohammed came six hundred years after Christ, yet the Mohammedan world was, in every sense of the word (art, letters, science, philosophy, general education, humanity, philanthropy, prosperity, health, and efficiency), more highly civilized by the tenth century than Europe would be at the beginning of the nineteenth. I do not think that a single historian will question that comparison.
This culture of the Moors (or Arabs generally) was conveyed over Europe by Jewish merchants and scholars and by Christians who went to study in Spain. There was a corresponding stream of culture from the Saracen kingdom, as long as it lasted, in southern Italy. The only question about Gerbert's lore is whether be acquired more from his early years in Spain or his later years in Italy. Dante is much more interesting as a witness to a scholarly and skeptical group in Florence than to Christian faith. I have before me my well-fingered copy of Carlyle's "Dante," in English and Italian, and the notes show what the poet owes to pagan and Mohammedan sources. The Emperor Frederick II encouraged with all his power the importation of Saracen science into Italy.
The Jews were the chief intermediaries, and the earliest medical schools, which Zahm claims for Christianity, were due to them. But the tolerant Moors of Spain raised no barriers against Christian visitors, and these learned Arabic and translated hundreds of Moorish works into Latin.
This phase of the evolution of European culture has, fortunately, received the attention of an able American scholar in the last few years. In his "Studies in the History of Medieval Science" (1924) Professor C.H. Haskins, of Harvard, has very thoroughly elaborated a theme on which I lectured at Columbia University ten years ago. With remarkable industry of research he has traced the movements and translations from the Arabic of a number of Christian scholars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. He shows us how, whereas Europe had hitherto had only the wretched compilations of ancient lore and Christian fantasy to which I have already referred, large numbers of scientific and philosophical treatises were now introduced into it by these pupils of the Moors.
No one but a scholar knows these men today. Their names and labors are found in no encyclopedia. Hence writers of fragmentary knowledge like Zahm see only the figures of Roger Bacon and Albert the Great rising on the horizon of the thirteenth century and seem to be strangely ignorant of the meaning of their rise. They have never even heard of Adelard of Bath, or the early part of the thirteenth century, who absorbed and disseminated in England the whole scientific lore of the Arabs; was, in fact, a Roger Bacon just before Bacon. They have never heard of Robert of Chester, Roger of Hereford, Daniel of Morley, and other Englishmen who brought to England, France, Germany what the Catholic admires as a miracle in Roger Bacon and Albert the Great.
They ignore, or are ignorant of all these things, and they convey to their innocent readers impressive pictures of a monk in his pious monastery and a bishop in his episcopal mansion, both under the fostering care of Mother Church, suddenly, by Christian genius, developing a, for the time, surprising command of physical science: and they conveniently forget to tell the readers, or to stimulate them to inquire, why Bacon and Albert had no successors, and why their wonderful knowledge seemed to perish as miraculously as it had appeared.
But the historical facts are now so well known to properly informed people that the writer of the article on Roger Bacon in the "Catholic Encyclopedia" takes up a new attitude. "It would," he says, "be difficult to find any other scholar who shows such a profound knowledge of the Arabic philosophers as Bacon does." When you know that these "Arabic philosophers" were masters of precisely those branches of science on which Bacon writes -- chemistry, optics, mechanics, and mathematics, as well as astronomy and medicine -- the miracle disappears very abruptly. Bacon's chief aim, this writer says, was "to make Christian philosophers acquainted with the Arabic philosophers"; and the works, I may add, were already translated from the Arabic for him. You rub your eyes at this Catholic belittlement of the genius of Roger, until it dawns upon you that the writer is going to have to confess that the Church extinguished him and his science. Bacon was, he says, "not always very correct in doctrine." What could you expect from a man who turned from the lore of the Christians to the lore of the Mohammedans? Well, the Church had to ...
Even this writer does not truthfully tell the story of the extinction of Bacon, but let us first be quite clear about his position in the history of science.
The meaning of Bacon is now well known. He found Oxford already in possession of Moorish science, and he learned it. Being an exceptionally intelligent man, he saw at once that it was far superior to the verbiage of the Scholastic philosophers and theologians, and, being a blunt, outspoken man, he started a crusade against what was really Catholic learning, the teaching of the Schoolmen. He urged men to learn Arabic and Greek as well as Latin. The Franciscan school at Oxford was at the time under the influence of men like Grossetests and Adam Marsh, who also were fond of the new learning; until Grosseteste was smothered with a bishop's maitre and Adam relegated to obscurity. For a time Bacon had considerable freedom, and be experimented, as the Moors did.
What exactly he personally achieved, and to what extent, if any, he surpassed his Moorish teachers, we cannot say. "Careful research," says the "English Dictionary of National Biography," the best authority, "has shown that very little can with accuracy be ascribed to him." He did not discover gunpowder, any more than Dr. Zahm's German monk Schwarz, for the Arabs had it long before. His best work on perspective is very plainly an echo of Alhazen. There is now no reason to suppose that he made a telescope. And so on.
Yet Roger was a man of great scientific capabilities, and, if the world had been free, he and Albert and a few others would certainly have inaugurated a scientific age. As to Thomas Aquinas, whom Catholic writers put amongst the "great scientists," the claim is simply ludicrous. Sir T.C. Allbutt, a great admirer of the Middle Ages, doubts whether Albert the Great was a genius, but he refuses to admit that Aquinas was "a man of the highest intellectual power and attainments." To mention him in connection with science is, in any case, like mentioning Francis of Assisi in connection with zoology.
Albert the Great (1193-1280) was a noble (Count of Bollstadt) who learned Arabian science in Italy and France, and some-how became a Dominican monk. He was so great an admirer of Aristotle (whom he knew through the Moors) that his critics called him "the ape of Aristotle"; and he knew so little about Greek thought generally that this "universal genius" of the age thought that Plato was a Stoic! He was certainly a man of very great ability and a master of most of the scientific lore of his time. But when you ask how Albert combined Catholic piety with this, you are warned even by so very pro-clerical a writer as the author of the articles on Albert in the "Catholic Encyclopedia" that he was "prudent." I will translate a sentence of Albert's which this writer prudently leaves in the Latin: "I have set forth the sayings of the Peripatetics [Aristotelians] as well as I could; but no one can tell from my work what I myself think about natural philosophy." So the noble Albert was never persecuted by the Church. It chose, rather, the wiser alternative of taking him from the cloister where he studied Aristotle and Averroes and giving him episcopal work which kept him out of mischief. There had been ugly rumors of "sorcery." In short, Albert's knowledge of science consisted of the teaching of the Arabs and Moors, and the enthusiasm of Zahm and other writers like him, who seem to be totally ignorant of this, is very much misplaced.
Roger Bacon and Albert, therefore, are precisely the best evidence that the Church did not encourage, but did discourage, science. Albert was snuffed out under the golden extinguisher of ecclesiastical promotion. He left no successor to carry on the work, and monks were presently forbidden to dabble in science. But Bacon was not prudent. He scorned the futile verbiage which the academic clerics of the time called learning as much as he scorned the monastic and clerical corruption.
There is no serious dispute about what happened to Roger Bacon. Zahm simply omits the facts altogether, and the "Catholic Encyclopedia" omits the least pleasant of them. In 1257 Friar Roger, then thirty-three years old and of great repute at Oxford, was ordered by the higher authorities of his Franciscan Order (in Rome) to leave England (where he had freedom to cultivate science) and go to a monastery of his body in Paris. He remained there ten years in "close confinement," as the "Dictionary of National Biography" says. I am not particular whether you call this "prison" or not; when the "Catholic Encyclopedia" says that his superiors merely applied a general rule to him and "forbade him to publish any work out of the Order without special permission," it is untruthful. Roger was deprived of all books about science, all instruments, and pen and parchment. The "Encyclopedia" itself has to admit that a distinguished cardinal could not get into communication with him for years and that, when this cardinal became Pope and ordered Roger to write a book, the monk pleaded that he was not allowed writing material, even for a Pope.
The ten years of confinement and isolation, which kept one who may have been a scientific genius away from the laboratory, are uneasily evaded by the apologists who want us to see how the Church encouraged science. But the next step suits them. Guy de Foulques, Papal Legate and cardinal and in 1264 Pope Clement IV, clearly patronized science and urged Bacon to write. It was for him, for the ruling Pope, that the friar wrote his "Opus Majus" and other works.
It sounds very well, like the "triumph of Christianity" and other matters, until you examine the details. Clement was no pietist of the type of Innocent III. We know little about him personally, but we do know that within thirty years of his death the Roman See was at the depth of one of its periodical degradations. Many a cardinal of that time was willing to learn something about the "magic" with which Bacon was credited. However, the Pope died before the books reached him, and it is a mere conjecture that it was he who got for the friar permission to return to England. Ten years of freedom and research followed, then the friar was again ordered to Paris and "imprisoned" (the "Catholic Encyclopedia" admits the word this time) for a further number of years which cannot accurately be determined. Most writers say fourteen.
Such was the Church's encouragement of science in the persons of its only great representatives in the glorious thirteenth century. Friar Bacon was harshly persecuted for about twenty years by the proper Church authorities over him, and Friar Albert the Prudent was side-tracked into a bishopric. The learning of both was Mohammedan in origin, and it exposed both of them to much obloquy and suspicion of heresy. And this undisputed account of the Church's patronage of science must be completed by a glance at the only two men who can be said to have followed in their footsteps in the attempt to popularize Arab science.
Albert died in 1280, Roger in 1294. By that time Cecco d'Ascoli, a professor at Bologna University, had taken up the mission, and was imploring men to turn from the sawdust of Scholasticism to the study of nature. On a faked charge he was handed over to the Inquisition and, in 1327, burned alive. Hardly less encyclopedic in his knowledge of and zeal for science was Peter of Abano, one of the most generous and most skillful physicians of the time. He was, just like Albert and Roger, a master of Arab science, and eager to see Christendom adopt and develop it. He also was, on a faked charge, denounced to the Inquisition and condemned; and, when the Inquisitors heard that he had meantime died and was buried, they ordered that his body should be dug up and burned. Nicholas of Cusa came a century and a half later, and will be considered presently.
Again there is no dispute about the fact; and I need not add that not a word is said about them by those Catholic writers who are informing America how the real history of medieval science has been rescued from naughty Rationalist libels. The truth about this first phase of European science will now be quite clear to the reader; and I repeat that there is no dispute about it. It is only by omitting uncontroverted facts and by throwing together the names of men who lived centuries apart that a false idea is conveyed.
The science which appears in Grosseteste, Bacon and Albert in the thirteenth century is Arabian or Moorish science. The brilliant culture of the Moors had shamed Christendom at last, and a few men had the courage to learn the lesson. But the Church effectually stifled the movement, and men of the same type who appeared in the following century were handed over to the Inquisition.
Rationalist writers make mistakes in detail like all other writers. What I am showing is that disputes about small details do not matter. The broad historical truth is deadly. The science of the thirteenth century was Arab science. Every historian of science will tell you that. It was never encouraged by the Church, and after a short time it was extinguished by the Church. In the thirteenth century its chief representatives were imprisoned or diverted. In the fourteenth century they were, dead or alive, burned.
Apart from the development of medical and surgical science, the next branch of science that interests us from our present point of view is astronomy. Bear these three points in mind when you approach this question of astronomy and the Church: First, the Alexandrian Greeks, working upon the material bequeathed by the Chaldeans and using mathematics, had made a very fair beginning of the science. Secondly, it was a very innocent branch of science until modern times (when it certainly makes for atheism), because it dealt with material things. Thirdly, it was supposed in the Middle Ages to be quite a valuable science because it was the basis of astrology, and everybody who could afford it had his astrologer.
Yet there is no dispute about the fact that from the fourth to the thirteenth century Christendom had completely forgotten all that the race had already learned about the stars. Men gazed at the stars as sheep or cattle did. There was no curiosity. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the learning of the Moors, who were very keen astronomers, began to circulate. Abelard gave the name Astrolabe to his love-child by Heloise. The Church neither encouraged nor discouraged, except in the very important sense that it decidedly taught men that its own kind of learning was infinitely superior. However, a man here and there got one of the beautifully made instruments of the Moors and poked them at the stars at night. Fat abbots and comfortable Popes and bishops, when they did not happen to want horoscopes, merely thought them fools, until at last the astronomers fell foul of the Bible.
It is strange how apologists talk so much about Copernicus, and so little about Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64). He was a greater scholar than Albert "the Great," and he realized the error of the Ptolemaic system long before Copernicus did. He was a thinker; and his thinking, as a priest, led him to see that the Papal power was based upon the atrocious fraud of the Forged Decretals, that General Councils were higher than Popes and must reform the Church, and that the Christian philosophy of God and the Universe was puerile. You never heard of this heretic? No, he swung around and became a most zealous champion of the Papacy, a Papal Legate and a cardinal. He no longer insisted on trifles like the position of the sun; he reckoned that, while it was true that reason taught him some very awkward things, "intuition" put a man right with the Church; and he left it to a more courageous man, Giordano Bruno, to go to the stake for his philosophy of God and the universe.
So we pass on to the other Nicholas, Koppernigk or Copernicus (1473-1543). You know his story, of course, This devout son of the Church made himself immortal in science by discovering the real nature of the solar system, yet remained an ecclesiastical dignitary and actually dedicated to the Pope the book in which he set forth his discovery. How dare any man say that the Church impeded the advance of science?
Well, let us go slowly -- and we need not be long about this matter. I have mentioned a "History of Astronomy" by Professor Forbes, a Christian teacher who somehow got his book published by the Rationalist Press Association of England, and maintained in circulation after I had pointed out its anti-Rationalistic errors. I stress that the writer is an orthodox Christian, because the book makes a special study of Copernicus and purports to correct everybody else. In short, Forbes belittles Copernicus. His name, he says, ought not to be immortalized in the phrase "Copernican System." His book is a tissue of errors. In fact, according to Forbes, it is Rationalists who have manufactured the fame of Copernicus, "to put the Church in the wrong"! The paths which Copernicus gives to the planets and moons are hopelessly wrong.
I recommend that to the apologists and writers on "great Catholic scientists." Seriously, Copernicus discovered nothing. The revival of Greek astronomy by the Moors had recalled the fact that Pythagoras and others had, ages ago, held that the sun was the center of the solar system. In Martianus Capella, Copernicus further read that the Egyptians had insisted that Venus and Mercury revolved around the sun. He spined, against the received opinion, that these ideas were correct, just as Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa had done a few decades earlier. Copernicus first announced his belief, but did not insist on it as a fact, in 1500, when he was teaching in Rome. As the ruling Pope Alexander VI, the Holy Father of six children, was then under the charm of the orbs of his pretty mistress, Giulia Farnese, and most of the cardinals were wrapped up in other ladies, the Church did not persecute Copernicus.
The historic controversy is about his book, "De Orbium Coelestium Revolutionibus" ("On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs"). Rather, there is no serious controversy about anything in connection with Copernicus, but apologists wriggle in order to show that the Church did not cramp, impede, or in any way injure science. Here are the undisputed facts:
Copernicus finished the writing of his book in 1530, and he kept it in manuscript for twelve years. I have not yet encountered the apologist who ventures to attribute this to modesty. Copernicus was afraid to publish the book. One of his pupils told Pope Clement VII about his system, and the Pope did not seem to be outraged. I can believe it. Clement VII was a noble of the Medici family, of liberal views about life. Still Copernicus dare not publish his book in Rome or anywhere else. Friends got the manuscript from him, and one of them at last hit upon the idea of saying in a preface that the author did not insist that this theory was the truth. He (Osiander) wrote this preface, to which Copernicus must have consented, and gave the manuscript to the press, in Nuremberg. Forbes is quite wrong in saying that Copernicus wrote the preface, and so Catholic apologists also are quite wrong in saying that he published his view "only as a hypothesis." These things were settled long ago. The book appeared, dedicated to Pope Paul III, in 1543, and a copy was put into the hands of Copernicus as he was dying. He died a few hours later.
It will at once be seen that the attempt to exonerate the Church is futile. Dread of the Church alone kept Copernicus for thirteen years from pressing the truth upon the world. The dedication to the Pope sounds quite nice and confiding until you look up (no one does) who the Pope was. That is why I urge the reader, when he hears a Pope or bishop praised in connection with science, to look up his record. Paul III had been flagrantly corrupt as a cardinal, and had attained that spiritual dignity only because his younger sister was in the arms of Pope Alexander VI. He had four children, and he was not in the least likely to lose a night's sleep over the question whether the sun did or did not stand still at the command of Joshua.
You do not read these little details in either academic or apologetic works on these subjects, but I hope you see how much they matter. When Copernicus' book reached the Vatican in 1543, Rome was still, and had been for half a century, semi-pagan: much more interested in Apollo and Aphrodite than in Moses and Joshua. The Popes had their own astrologers.
What, in any case, could the Church do? Copernicus was beyond the reach of the Inquisition, and his book was artfully protected by the preface in which Osiander said that it was merely a suggestion, not a statement of fact. It was left to that intrepid thinker, Giordano Bruno, to claim that the theory was a fact -- and for this and other heresies Rome promptly butchered him (1600) -- and to the man who has next to occupy us, Galileo Galilei. And remember that the ecclesiastical murder of Bruno was only a few years old when Galileo took up the theory.
There is no need here to go over the familiar ground. Galileo, a great physicist as well as astronomer, perfected the telescope, and soon found positive evidence that Copernicus was right. Philosophers hurled Aristotle at him, it is true, but the truth is only obscured by dragging in the prejudices of these gentlemen. The question of the statements in the Old Testament which decidedly make the sun go around the earth, was raised, and Galileo still maintained his position and said that the texts could be explained. The "hounds of the Lord," the Dominican friars, the most despicable religious body in Europe, denounced him to the Roman Inquisition. The Archbishop of Pisa was secretly instructed to get hold of certain private letters of Galileo, which were said to compromise him. Galileo, confident of his case, went voluntarily to Rome -- it is a mistake to say that he was summoned by the Inquisition to Rome in 1615 -- and seemed to be getting the better of his bitter monkish and clerical enemies, when a grim summons from the Inquisition reached him.
So far there is no controversy; and there is a dispute only about one point in what follows. Fortunately, the main point for us is clear. It is not whether the polite Inquisitors supplied the aged Galileo with Oxo and pneumatic cushions, or something of that sort, at his second trial, or whether Galileo was dogmatic or conceited or anything else. It is whether the Inquisition condemned the belief that the earth revolves around the sun as "heresy." That is the sole point. If they did, it is ludicrous to say that they did not interfere with science; for "heresy" was a sure pass to their dungeons and torture-chambers.
There is, again, no dispute whatever about the fact that they did. Two propositions of Galileo's were submitted to the experts:
- The sun is the center of the world, therefore, immovable from its place.
- The earth is not the center of the world, and is not immovable, but it moves, and with a diumal motion.
Writers like Zahm neatly surmount the difficulty created by this branding of a great astronomical truth as "formal heresy" by omitting the words altogether! Others humorously point out that it was not the Pope, or the Church, but merely the Roman Inquisition, which condemned science. That is the thinnest of all subterfuges. The members of the tribunal of the Inquisition at Rome acted solely on the authority of the Popes, and they represented the Church in the most official sense. At the second condemnation of Galileo the Pope followed and directed every step with great zeal, if not vindictiveness.
The only serious dispute is whether in 1615 Galileo was ordered under all conditions to refrain from teaching his heresy, and promised. He was summoned before Cardinal Bellarmine who, in the name of the Inquisition, laid some such command upon him and dismissed him. But the report of the actual words of Bellarmine was, with suspicious convenience, only found at the time of Galileo's second trial in 1633, and weighty authorities regard it as falsified. The best, indeed the only sober and substantial life of Galileo at present available to American readers, is J.J. Fahie's excellent "Galileo: His Life and Work" (1903). A pretentious little book (a few reprinted articles from the "Scientific American") by Dr. C.S. Holden ("Galileo," 1905) shows a complete lack of sense of proportion; and many of its points were undone when, two years later, the famous expert on Galileo, Antonio Favaro, published for the first time the full documents about the trial of 1633 ("Galileo e l' Inquisizione"). Forbes' "History of Astronomy" has merely one ridiculous and totally inaccurate paragraph on Galileo. He puts the murder of Bruno after the condemnation of Galileo!
It must remain an open question whether Galileo was absolutely and under all conditions forbidden to discuss the theory further. All Copernican books were, at the direction of the Pope, put on the Index, on the ground that the main idea was " entirely contrary to Holy Scripture." It confirms what I said about the Church and Copernicus that the work of Copernicus himself was merely put on the black list "until it is corrected"; and a few immaterial alterations enabled it to pass the censor. The Church could not condemn Copernicus, because the preface which was written in his name declared that he did not hold the Pythagorean idea to be true; so it is futile to boast about the Church's liberality in regard to Copernicus.
If it were of vital importance to know whether Galileo broke faith with the Church, we should have to settle the difficult question about the actual terms of the order given him by Cardinal Bellarmine. Holden and others obscure the issue by talking a great deal about Galileo's breach of faith, obstinacy, etc. But the really vital issue is plain. It is: Did the Church condemn as heresy the statement that the earth revolves around the sun? There is no dispute about that. It did.
The controversy, of course continued. The orthodox were perfectly free to gird at Galileo, and in time -- I do not care a cent whether or not this was a violation of his promise, and I rather hope that it was -- Galileo hit back. And he hit hard. In his "Dialogues" (1632) he made these people who denied the existence of sun-spots, and refused to look at them through the telescope, squirm. "Now," said a liberal prelate at Rome, sadly, "the Jesuits will get him." The Lord had new hounds, black instead of white, the dark-loving sons of St, Agnathous instead of the bloody-robed sons of St. Dominic.
But let not the apologist escape by pleading that even Jesuits and Inquisition together do not represent the Church. The documents reproduced in Fable and every other fully informed writer show that the new Pope, Urban VIII, truculently egged on the Inquisitors and is as responsible as any of them. Gialileo was, beyond question, very ill, but the Inquisition harshly replied that his subterfuge would not be tolerated. Writers who talk about the "consideration" with which Galileo was treated ought to read the letters sent him from Rome (in Favaro's work). In the harshest possible language he is told that a commissary is to be sent to see if he is not lying about his health, and, if he is found fit to travel, he is to be sent "in custody, bound, and in irons," to Rome. All the "consideration" the Pope -- who was in the lead -- showed was that, when the seventy-year-old scientist was found to be really very ill, he was graciously permitted to travel in comfort. But heaven and earth could not restrain the Pope's vindictiveness. Men said that Galileo had caricatured him in the "Dialogues."
Galileo set out for Rome in January, 1633. He was kept in suspense and anxiety for several months. Reasonable prelates strained every nerve to restrain the Pope from punishing (and probably killing) the most learned man in Europe, and from condemning what was now a palpable scientific truth. Kepler had long before this formulated the laws of the solar system. But Jesuits and Dominicans and Pope were determined to avenge their wounded vanity -- or to vindicate the faith -- and in the early summer Galileo had to move to the palace of the Inquisition.
What follows is airily waved aside by the apologists with an assurance that these wicked Rationalists of long ago have been proven to be quite wrong about "dungeons" and "tortures," and that we now know that Galileo was "treated with every consideration," and the Pope himself directed that he be lodged in the most comfortable rooms available.
Yes -- Urban VIII directed every step. It is true that Galileo was at first housed in comfortable rooms; a wonderful concession to a man of seventy, in very bad health, and faced with the most appalling of trials. But let us be just to the Rationalists as well as to Jesuits. As Fahie shows, and any man may verify in the documents. We do not know where Galileo was from June 21st to June 24th. The evidence is consistent with the view that he was put in the dungeons.
As to torture, the phrase used in the documents is ambiguous, and might mean torture or the threat of torture; but it certainly meant at least the latter. Galileo was, in the usual way, threatened with torture, but his willingness to recant most probably -- I should say certainly -- saved him from it. The aged scientist was compelled to go on his knees and swear that he did not believe that the earth moved around the sun. The formula given by White in his "Warfare" (which is quite accurate about Galileo) is a fair abridgment of the long confession dictated to Galileo:
I, Galitei, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner on my knees and before you Eminences, having before my eyes the Holy Gospels, which I touch with my hands. ... I abjure, curse and detest the said errors and heresies of the movement of the earth and the stationary sun, etc.
I have compared this with the original and find that each of these phrases is in it.
The story that Galileo -- his surname is Galilei, but even the Italian Galileists call him Galileo -- rose from his knees muttering, "It moves for all that," has no authority and is improbable in the last degree. But be knew that it moved, and there is something nauseous in the way in which the Priests now try to clear the Church by calling attention to the "cowardice" of Galileo. As it was, although he recanted, he was condemned to confinement for life, at first in a strange house and place. And these things are sneered at by men who, for a comfortable living, keep the truth in their hearts and lies on their lips.
The "Catholic Encyclopedia" article is a summary of all the glib sophistry ever written from the Catholic side. Galileo did not prove his case, and Galileo was irritating, and Galileo did not appreciate Kepler, and Galileo meddled with theology, and -- in short, a group of theologians (not the Church, of course) committed the error of condemning him personally (not his idea, of course) as "vehemently suspected of heresy."
I need answer only on two points. First, it is absolutely notorious in the history of the case that the Pope directed every step at the second trial. Napoleon's troops, luckily, stole the Galileo documents from the Vatican Archives, and France restored them only on condition that they be published; and, although Rome at first published a fraudulent version of them, all have now seen the light. That Pope Urban does not put his name to the decree of the Inquisition is, from the Catholic or any other point of view, either quite irrelevant, since be directed the whole proceedings and the tribunal acted entirely in his name, or it is worse. The Church condemned Galileo and the Copernican theory with the utmost official solemnity, through the proper and authoritative organ for that purpose. the Holy Office.
And, secondly, the Church condemned, not merely the person of Galileo, as these writers mendaciously say, but the truth that the earth moves around the sun. The decree of the Inquisition repeats and embodies the earlier condemnation of this truth as "formally heretical" because it contradicts the Bible. It goes on to say that Galileo is "vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world." This means, not that the Inquisitors suspect astronomical doctrine of heresy, but that they suspect Galileo of holding, or having held, what they categorically call a "heresy." The formal declaration is that it is "heresy" to hold that the earth moves around the sun. The words " 'seems' to be contrary to Scripture," which are inserted by the writer in the "Catholic Encyclopedia," are an invention of his own. The Inquisition was categorical.
And any Catholic who suggests that the Pope, who directed every step, has no responsibility for that decree, has his tongue in his cheek. Pope Urban was appealed to all his life against that decree. Subsequent Popes were appealed to repeatedly to clear the Church of its disgrace. But they maintained the condemnation of Copernican works on the Index -- Pope Alexander VII formally lent his name to it in 1664 -- until the whole civilized world laughed at their stupidity and the days of Voltaire arrived. And long after even that time Catholic universities in really Catholic lands (Spain) were still teaching that, as Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, Copernicus was wrong.
Well, what do you think? Don't talk about the infallibility of the Pope. That doctrine is not involved. Its formula was drawn up with an eye on the case of Galileo. But did the Church promote science? Or did the Church grievously hamper science? In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it extinguished Bacon and Albert, and murdered Cecco d'Ascoli and Peter of Abano. In the seventeenth century, even after the Renaissance, it murdered Giordano Bruno, and it let the scientific world know, in the person of Galileo, that any man of science who said, and persisted in saying, that the earth moved round the sun, would be burned at the stake, It "heresy." Probably you itch ... But if you are a Protestant, my good reader, wait until you hear what the Reformers did.
The development of science from that time onward illustrates this. England, for instance, has, for so small a country, a remarkably high record in the development of science. Francis Bacon, writing in the last years of the sixteenth and early years of the seventeenth century, did splendid service in urging the direct study of nature. It does not matter two pins that he opposed Copernicus (whose general system is absurd and far removed from true science), made no discoveries, and did not at once strike the correct methods of research. The modern attempt of a few to belittle him in comparison with Roger Bacon is silly. Patient research has shown that we cannot be sure that Roger Bacon went beyond what he found in the Arab works already translated for him. But Lord Bacon gave a splendid call to scientific research, and from his time onward England contributed mightily to the progress.
With one exception, and it is important in connection with our present subject, there was certainly no encouragement of science during the Puritan reaction. No man can get away from the fact that it was in the semi-pagan, semi-skeptical, loose-living -- in a word, very far from Christian -- days of Elizabeth, and the Stuarts, and Queen Anne, and the Georges that science made progress: just as it did in Italy whenever the joyous pagan note returned, as it did in France under the immoral Louises and the Revolution, and so on. Genuine deep-felt religion has always acted like a blight on it.
Protestantism, in other words, insofar as it was a sincere religious movement, dissociated from political or other secular considerations, something more than a protest against Papal usurpation and exploitation, means a return to primitive Christianity; and this means a blight on art and science and everything merely human. It always did. You may talk sentimental rhetoric about the Christian legend and the hope of heaven lifting up the hearts of the poor, and so on. You may say -- though it is ridiculously false -- that I have no sentiment. But the plain common-sense view is that unless the Christian promise is true, it is a blight. Precisely insofar as it was sincerely believed, it has suspended the development of civilization. It was not "bad Popes" who did this, but good Popes.
The Reformers notoriously scorned and hampered science. The great scientific issue in their day was Copernicanism, and they were as mischievous as the Inquisition. Luther and Melanchthon were as fierce against Copernicus as Pope Urban VII was against Galileo. The Copernican view was opposed to the Bible. The sun was not the center of the system, so it was ridiculous to talk about astronomical proof. The same attitude is so clearly reproduced in the American Fundamentalists today, in regard to so solid a scientific fact as evolution, that we need not linger over it. Calvin was worse than Luther, as he was less sensual and nearer to the asceticism of Christ. His ghastly crime in murdering Servetus -- he did that as truly as a man who hires a gunman -- was inspired very largely by the consciousness that the science of Servetus was a deadly foe of his theology.
No, Protestantism pure and sincere is a blight on science. But the world was awakening when Protestantism appeared, and the narrow fanaticism of the Reformers could not be sustained. Errors for which men had fought truculently in the name of religion were now proved beyond cavil to be errors. Races were actually found living at the antipodes. Navigators sailed round the world, so it was not flat. The advance of astronomy proved beyond question that the earth revolved round the sun, and the universe was a vast affair. Then science began to show its fruits, and, just as Popes had encouraged anatomy when they realized that it enabled their physicians to deal better with their gout or syphilis, so the whole race now insisted on freedom to develop science.