“Whether or not God made Man in his image. It is certain that man makes gods in his” – Xenophanes
To observe Western Science during the crumbling of the Roman Empire to the Rennaissance is like similar to the Veneral Bede’s study of the tides – it is diurnal: it goes back and forth. What makes it interesring is to see how Religion – State, Collective and Personal plays a big part in it.
To better understand this we need to look at beginnings of Christianity in Rome. Christianity was one of many sects in the Empire. Probably what differenitiated it from the other sects was its promise of redemption in the afterlife and the coming day of Judgemenr. Most importantly its emphasis on One God. Monotheism, although not solely the belief of Christians, led to its conflict with the Roman State, especially near the end of its division and dissolution. Early Christians refusal to offer sacrifices to the survival of the Roman Empire made them convenient scapegoats for massacre, executions and ridicule. Some were willing to become maetyrs to their Faith. Of course this was not constantly the situation: The treatment changed from Emperor to Emperor and from situation to situation. Of course as the Empire crumbled one saw an increase in persecution.
This all changed when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. A military victory enabled by the blessing of the Christian God made Constantin Emperor of both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. This changed everything. Christians were no longer the scapegoats.
One has to understand though at this time that Christianity was not Christianity as we know. It was in itself composed of many groups. And the Early Christian Fathers were often talking and debating on what Christianity was. It was time when the Bishop of Rome was the Bishop of Rome and not the Pope.
It was at this period that Christians tackled the question of Christianity and Ancient Knowledge – among them Science and it varied. Origen (185-254) proclaimed the initial conformity of ancient learning, especially Alexandrian Science with Christian Faith (Dampler,1959). Saint Augustine (354- 430) mixed Platonian Philosophy with the teachings from the Epistle of Saint Paul. What complicated the state between science and religion and faith was predominantly the importance of Christian faith in individual redemption as Saint Ambrose said,” To discuss the position and nature of the earth does not help us in our hope of life to come”.
The adversorial attitude of Early Christians to science thus leads to an ambivalence or ironically persecution. Bishop Theophilus has a branch of the Alexandrian Library burned in 390 and in 415 the last Alexandrian. Mathemathician was murdered cruelly by a Christian mob – skinned alived – allegedly instigated by the Patriarch Cyril.
When the Roman Empire crumbled. It fragmented into different parts. Power devolved to the local chiefs or lords and to the Religious Groups. It was the time of Feudalism and the Monastery and Abbeys.
Knowledge and science survived. In Salerno, Naples – Benedictine Monks were reading the books of Hypocrates and Galen. Salerno was a secular hub of learning becoming a link to the Ancient world and the then contemporaey world. Of course knowledge and learning thrived elsewhere in Constantinople, Baghdad and the Islamic kingdoms in Spain were busy translsting,preserving and improving knowledge. And in time this knowledge began to filter back into Europe.
Science and knowledge in Europe was fragmnpented but slowly there were signs of learning. Emperor and Kings like Charlemagne ans Alfred began secular schools. These became the seeds of Universities. In Bologna schools for legal studies, medicines and philosophy were established. Student Guilds or Universitas were established for mutual protection and hiring of teachers. In Paris a community of Teachers or Universitas was formed. The academic study focused on the basic trivium – grammar, rhetoric and dialectic and specialized on advance quadrivium – arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. This of course led to theology.
Again we see here an attemp to reconcile religious belief and science – in this Plato s science. The books of Aristotle were not yet fully translated into Latin for Europe.And when the full works of Aristotle was regained it opened a flood gate of problem and change in the relationship of Chrisrian religion and science.
It took sometime but people like the Bishop of Lincon and Chancellor of Oxford Robert Grosseteste and his pupel Roger Bacon unlocked the works of Aristotle. Making it available for study. In 1209 the works were condemned by a Church Council in Paris and in 1223 the University of Paris included the works as a subject of study.
Two of the most important Aristotleian scholars were Albertus Magus (1206-1280) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Both rationalized Aristotleian works with contemporary sciences. Aquinos, who would become Saint Thomas Aquinas, believed that there were two sources of knowledge:
First, the Christian Faith. Gained through the scriptures,the Church Fathers and Church Traditon.
Second, the truths reached by human reason as set forth by Plato and Aristotle.
While Augustine the kingdom of heaven could be reached by faith alone, Aquinas believed the Kingdom of Heaven could be reached also by logic and reason. He, Aquinas, also believed in the Ptolemic earth-centered view of astronomy – as a working hypothesis.
Something not followed by his disciples. The geocentric view of the universe became an Orthodox view of the Church and would plagued it later on.
There were also other scientists. Roger Bacon studied and wrote about mathemathics, astronomy and conceptualized several inventions. Bacon believed and insisted the only way to verify the works of Aristotle and company was to test ans observe. Pope Clement Iv urged Bacon to write his work, but when Pope Clement IV died Bacon lost his protector and was imprisoned.
Others, like Bacon were William of Occam and Duns Scrotus who revolted against scholasticism and claimed freedom for both.
In 1879 – in the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII established the doctrine of Aquinas as the official Roman Catholic Philosophy.
Meanwhile back in the Rennaissance
Nicholas Koppernigk (1473-1543) or Copernicus was a pupil of Novare of Bologna who found the Ptolemeic astronomy to cumbersome.
“Copernicus search what books were available, and found that, according to Cicero, Hicetas thought that the Earth revolved around its axis, and, according to Plutarch, others had the same opinion, or even thought with Aristarchus that the Earth moved around the Sun… For Copernicus to Pythagoras and to Plato the object was to find the most simplest anc harmoniou picture of Heavem”
Copernicus published an abstract of his work in 1530 and in 1543 the complete work – De Revolutionibus Orbium Celestium. Osiander wrote a preface to the book describing was an aid to mathemathical simplicity. The theory was criticized by the science of its time – debunking it by saying if the Earth moved eould not objects fly up and about, and wont time lag?
Potentially what Copernicus, and latee Kepler did was by research and mathemathic disproved the Ptolemic view of the universe. And since it was critized by other scientists it did not make the rounds as fast as it should. But when Galileo Galleli and his new telescope proved Copernicus theory by discovering Jupiter s sattelites – a miniture universe things became interesting. In 1616 the Pope reproved Galileo and the theory was condemned as false and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture.
It seems the great effort to rationalize philosophy and science and to rationalize religion ans science despite best effort by Thomas Aquinas and the Christian Scholars unraveled when it hit a snag from Copernicus and Galileo.
Perhaps Bacon and Occam were correct in seperating the two. Aa has been often misquoted in the story of Galileo, A Cardinal said that your task is to describe the heavens, while ours is to go Heaven.
What do you think?