The Popes and Science: The History of the Papal Relations to Science During the Middle Ages and Down to Our Own Time, Thomas Kingsmill Abbott, 9781724493040


Excerpt: There is much more readiness at the present time to accept the conclusions with regard to the relations of the Popes and science here suggested than there was when the book was first published. Knowledge of the general history of science has grown very materially in the last ten years. Every increase in historical knowledge has shown more and more clearly how utterly without foundation were many ideas which had been very commonly accepted, particularly in English-speaking countries, on the subjects here discussed. The supposed opposition to the development of science on the part of the Popes and the Church is now readily seen to have had no existence in reality, and popular notions on the subject were due entirely to ignorance of the history of science. There was supposed to be no scientific development and no nature study until quite recent times. The generations immediately preceding ours knew of none, and therefore concluded there must have been none. They went even farther, and felt that since there had been none, there must be some special reason for this lacuna in human progress. The Church and the Popes were the favorite scapegoats for human failings, so they were blamed. Now we know that there was a magnificent development of science, not only in the Renaissance period under the fostering care of the Popes and ecclesiastics, but also during the old university times. What has come above all to be recognized is that the medieval universities were scientific universities. They paid more attention to the ethical and philosophical sciences than we do, but they devoted a great deal of time to mathematics and the physical sciences. Mr. Huxley, in his inaugural address as Rector of the University of Aberdeen, declared thirty years ago that the curriculum of these old universities was better calculated to develop the many-sided mind of man than the curriculum of any modern university. Above all, in surgery and in medicine they did magnificent work. Anaesthesia, antisepsis, and the natural methods of cure were all anticipated in the medieval time. At the International Congress of Medicine last summer, a section on the history of medicine was organized because it has come to be recognized that very much that is even of practical value can be learned from medical history. The fact of the matter is that during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there was a great decadence of interest in scholarship and true education. There is a distinct descent in human culture at this time. Education was at its lowest ebb, hospitals were the worst ever built, art and architecture were neglected, and human liberty was so shackled that the French Revolution was needed to lift the fetters from men’s minds as well as bodies. They, in their ignorance, spoke slightingly of old-time scholars. During the past century we have come to a better knowledge of the Middle Ages, and he is indeed a backward student of history who now thinks of them as “dark.” Our millionaires have gathered, at immense expense, magnificent examples of the arts and crafts and beautiful books of the medieval and Renaissance periods. Our binders imitate their books, our artists study their works, we have revived their architecture and literature, are imitating their social ideas until, instead of “the dark ages,” we have come to think of them as “the bright ages.” What is not generally realized is that they are just as bright in science as they were in art, architecture, literature, and the arts and crafts

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