Troubled by Solvay — 2 Comments

  1. At a rough estimate, in the past three years here, Einstein gets mentioned by name in thirteen blogs on Church topics.

    This is just unfair and wrong. When is Paul Dirac going to get a mention?

    Seriously though, the 17th century Bishop of Chester, John Wilkins, was an astronomer who wrote a pamphlet speculating about extraterrestrial life.

    As far as records go, churchmen preserved and commented on astronomy texts. In fact, a Christian “copyist” may well have entirely interpolated the “heliocentric” theory of Heraclides of Pontus into being.

    The 7th-century Doctor of the Church (and Archbishop) Isidore of Seville speculated in his treatises about the people and creatures that inhabited “the antipodes”. Before Columbus reached the West Indies in 1492, the 15th-century Bishop of Avila, Alonso Tostado, argued that such lands must be discoverable lands, because if they existed at all and were populated, Jesus would had to have appeared twice if the Gospel couldn’t reach them. Due to the uniqueness of Christ, these lands with unknown people were reachable.

    The 5th century Macrobius wrote “Cicero’s Dream of Scipio”, describing the Earth as “a globe of insignificant size in comparison to the remainder of the cosmos”, but it was the Church copyists and scribes which went to work preserving it.

    I would also like to put into contention the Irishman, John Scotus Eriugena, Master of the Palatine School under Charlemagne’s grandson, Charles the Bald. Several such Irishmen re-founded culture in a barbarised Europe. It is a difficult choice from a rich field. Maeldubh, the tutor of Bede? Or Peter of Ireland, Thomas Aquinas’ professor, who introduced him to works of Aristotle? However, Eriugena’s heliocentric theory (that Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury “pursue their orbits around the sun”) in his commentary, the Periphyseon, is our science pick for today. This text was a favourite of William of Malmesbury (well, Malmesbury was an Irish foundation!)

    The commentaries on the texts produced, copied, and extended in this Hiberno-Carolingian school were credited by Copernicus in the foreword of his famous book of evidence for the thesis. The Martianus text, which may not have survived without Carolingian efforts, was credited by name. Erigena added Jupiter and Mars to Martianus’ heliocentric system, and Erigena’s “Martianus Plus” text was the most popular in 12th-century Europe and onwards.

    Copernicus used modern glass lens technology (and mathematics!) to prove the thesis chiefly advanced in monastic libraries. The 15th Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli was part of that ferment, highlighting and rigorously extending the number theory introduced in Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci (which had been too obscure and bold on some points for the earlier 13th- and 14th- centuries to fully appreciate it).

    In fact, Gerbert of Aurillac, a future pope, had “re-introduced the astronomical armillary sphere to Latin Europe”. St Abbo of Fleury, and on, and on – all churchmen and all astronomers and sponsors of scientific endeavour.

    The Christian Norwegian kings produced the Konungs Skuggsjá, circa 1250, noting that the antipodes of a spherical earth would see the sun in the north in the middle of the day – and have opposite seasons to that of the Northern Hemisphere.

    The very name of Brendan, of course, the famous Irish saint, means “explorer”. Perhaps the Vatican archives can be perused for correspondence with transatlantic parishes that ceased in the reign of Pope Alexander III! You might find the early 6th-century Horse Creek Petroglyph found in that glorious American State of Virginia to be of interest.

    The only dispute which the Church had with Columbus was that the man went with some bad calculations derived from Marinus of Tyre, who reckoned the circumference of the earth much smaller than it was. The Church went with the official, and much closer to actuality, answer. If it hadn’t been for an intervening land-mass, Columbus would have fainted from thirst in a watery void. True facts don’t always aid discovery. Anyway, thought you would be interested.

  2. Ah, ha! I have been caught out!

    Devoid of inspiration, I recycled a post from May 2009 which had been prompted by attendance at the Church of Ireland General Synod. Removing from it references to the synod, and rewriting the opening left it as an oddly unbalanced piece.

    I concede all your points, (pleading tiredness in mitigation – tonight’s post is another recycled piece).

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