CHAPTER XII. FROM MAGIC TO CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS.
I. THE SUPREMACY OF MAGIC.
IN all the earliest developments of human thought we find a strong tendency to ascribe mysterious powers over Nature to men and women especially gifted or skilled. Survivals of this view are found to this day among savages and barbarians left behind in the evolution of civilization, and especially is this the case among the tribes of Australia, Africa, and the Pacific coast of America. Even in the most enlightened nations still appear popular beliefs, observances, or sayings, drawn from this earlier phase of thought.
Between the prehistoric savage developing this theory, and therefore endeavouring to deal with the powers of Nature by magic, and the modern man who has outgrown it, appears a long line of nations struggling upward through it. As the hieroglyphs, cuneiform inscriptions, and various other records of antiquity are read, the development of this belief can be studied in Egypt, India, Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, and Phoenicia. From these civilizations it came into the early thought of Greece and Rome, but especially into the Jewish and Christian sacred books. Both in the Old Testament and in the New we find magic, witchcraft, and soothsaying constantly referred to as realities.
The first distinct impulse toward a higher view of research into natural laws was given by the philosophers of Greece. It is true that philosophical opposition to physical research was at times strong, and that even a great thinker like Socrates considered certain physical investigations as an impious intrusion into the work of the gods. It is also true that Plato and Aristotle, while bringing their thoughts to bear upon the world with great beauty and force, did much to draw mankind away from those methods which in modern times have produced the best results.
Plato developed a world in which the physical sciences had little if any real reason for existing; Aristotle, a world in which the same sciences were developed largely indeed by observation of what is, but still more by speculation on what ought to be. From the former of these two great men came into Christian theology many germs of medieval magic, and from the latter sundry modes of reasoning which aided in the evolution of these; yet the impulse to human thought given by these great masters was of inestimable value to our race, and one legacy from them was especially precious--the idea that a science of Nature is possible, and that the highest occupation of man is the discovery of its laws. Still another gift from them was greatest of all, for they gave scientific freedom. They laid no interdict upon new paths; they interposed no barriers to the extension of knowledge; they threatened no doom in this life or in the next against investigators on new lines; they left the world free to seek any new methods and to follow any new paths which thinking men could find.
This legacy of belief in science, of respect for scientific pursuits, and of freedom in scientific research, was especially received by the school of Alexandria, and above all by Archimedes, who began, just before the Christian era, to open new paths through the great field of the inductive sciences by observation, comparison, and experiment.
The establishment of Christianity, beginning a new evolution of theology, arrested the normal development of the physical sciences for over fifteen hundred years. The cause of this arrest was twofold: First, there was created an atmosphere in which the germs of physical science could hardly grow--an atmosphere in which all seeking in Nature for truth as truth was regarded as futile. The general belief derived from the New Testament Scriptures was, that the end of the world was at hand; that the last judgment was approaching; that all existing physical nature was soon to be destroyed: hence, the greatest thinkers in the Church generally poured contempt upon all investigators into a science of Nature, and insisted that everything except the saving of souls was folly.
This belief appears frequently through the entire period of the Middle Ages; but during the first thousand years it is clearly dominant. From Lactantius and Eusebius, in the third century, pouring contempt, as we have seen, over studies in astronomy, to Peter Damian, the noted chancellor of Pope Gregory VII, in the eleventh century, declaring all worldly sciences to be "absurdities" and "fooleries," it becomes a very important element in the atmosphere of thought.
Then, too, there was established a standard to which all science which did struggle up through this atmosphere must be made to conform--a standard which favoured magic rather than science, for it was a standard of rigid dogmatism obtained from literal readings in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The most careful inductions from ascertained facts were regarded as wretchedly fallible when compared with any view of nature whatever given or even hinted at in any poem, chronicle, code, apologue, myth, legend, allegory, letter, or discourse of any sort which had happened to be preserved in the literature which had come to be held as sacred.
For twelve centuries, then, the physical sciences were thus discouraged or perverted by the dominant orthodoxy. Whoever studied nature studied it either openly to find illustrations of the sacred text, useful in the "saving of souls," or secretly to gain the aid of occult powers, useful in securing personal advantage. Great men like Bede, Isidore of Seville, and Rabanus Maurus, accepted the scriptural standard of science and used it as a means of Christian edification. The views of Bede and Isidore on kindred subjects have been shown in former chapters; and typical of the view taken by Rabanus is the fact that in his great work on the _Universe_ there are only two chapters which seem directly or indirectly to recognise even the beginnings of a real philosophy of nature. A multitude of less-known men found warrant in Scripture for magic applied to less worthy purposes.[376b]
But after the thousand years had passed to which various thinkers in the Church, upon supposed scriptural warrant, had lengthened out the term of the earth's existence, "the end of all things" seemed further off than ever; and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, owing to causes which need not be dwelt upon here, came a great revival of thought, so that the forces of theology and of science seemed arrayed for a contest. On one side came a revival of religious fervour, and to this day the works of the cathedral builders mark its depth and strength; on the other side came a new spirit of inquiry incarnate in a line of powerful thinkers.
First among these was Albert of Bollstadt, better known as Albert the Great, the most renowned scholar of his time. Fettered though he was by the methods sanctioned in the Church, dark as was all about him, he had conceived better methods and aims; his eye pierced the mists of scholasticism. he saw the light, and sought to draw the world toward it. He stands among the great pioneers of physical and natural science; he aided in giving foundations to botany and chemistry; he rose above his time, and struck a heavy blow at those who opposed the possibility of human life on opposite sides of the earth; he noted the influence of mountains, seas, and forests upon races and products, so that Humboldt justly finds in his works the germs of physical geography as a comprehensive science.
But the old system of deducing scientific truth from scriptural texts was renewed in the development of scholastic theology, and ecclesiastical power, acting through thousands of subtle channels, was made to aid this development. The old idea of the futility of physical science and of the vast superiority of theology was revived. Though Albert's main effort was to Christianize science, he was dealt with by the authorities of the Dominican order, subjected to suspicion and indignity, and only escaped persecution for sorcery by yielding to the ecclesiastical spirit of the time, and working finally in theological channels by, scholastic methods.
It was a vast loss to the earth; and certainly, of all organizations that have reason to lament the pressure of ecclesiasticism which turned Albert the Great from natural philosophy to theology, foremost of all in regret should be the Christian Church, and especially the Roman branch of it. Had there been evolved in the Church during the thirteenth century a faith strong enough to accept the truths in natural science which Albert and his compeers could have given, and to have encouraged their growth, this faith and this encouragement would to this day have formed the greatest argument for proving the Church directly under Divine guidance; they would have been among the brightest jewels in her crown. The loss to the Church by this want of faith and courage has proved in the long run even greater than the loss to science.
The next great man of that age whom the theological and ecclesiastical forces of the time turned from the right path was Vincent of Beauvais. During the first half of the twelfth century he devoted himself to the study of Nature in several of her most interesting fields. To astronomy, botany, and zoology he gave special attention, but in a larger way he made a general study of the universe, and in a series of treatises undertook to reveal the whole field of science. But his work simply became a vast commentary on the account of creation given in the book of Genesis. Beginning with the work of the Trinity at the creation, he goes on to detail the work of angels in all their fields, and makes excursions into every part of creation, visible and invisible, but always with the most complete subordination of his thought to the literal statements of Scripture. Could he have taken the path of experimental research, the world would have been enriched with most precious discoveries; but the force which had given wrong direction to Albert of Bollstadt, backed as it was by the whole ecclesiastical power of his time, was too strong, and in all the life labour of Vincent nothing appears of any permanent value. He reared a structure which the adaptation of facts to literal interpretations of Scripture and the application of theological subtleties to nature combine to make one of the most striking monuments of human error.
But the theological spirit of the thirteenth century gained its greatest victory in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. In him was the theological spirit of his age incarnate. Although he yielded somewhat at one period to love of natural science, it was he who finally made that great treaty or compromise which for ages subjected science entirely to theology. He it was who reared the most enduring barrier against those who in that age and in succeeding ages laboured to open for science the path by its own methods toward its own ends.
He had been the pupil of Albert the Great, and had gained much from him. Through the earlier systems of philosophy, as they were then known, and through the earlier theologic thought, he had gone with great labour and vigour; and all his mighty powers, thus disciplined and cultured, he brought to bear in making a truce which was to give theology permanent supremacy over science.
The experimental method had already been practically initiated: Albert of Bollstadt and Roger Bacon had begun their work in accordance with its methods; but St. Thomas gave all his thoughts to bringing science again under the sway of theological methods and ecclesiastical control. In his commentary on Aristotle's treatise upon _Heaven and Earth_ he gave to the world a striking example of what his method could produce, illustrating all the evils which arise in combining theological reasoning and literal interpretation of Scripture with scientific facts; and this work remains to this day a monument of scientific genius perverted by theology.
The ecclesiastical power of the time hailed him as a deliverer, it was claimed that miracles were vouchsafed, proving that the blessing of Heaven rested upon his labours, and among the legends embodying this claim is that given by the Bollandists and immortalized by a renowned painter. The great philosopher and saint is represented in the habit of his order, with book and pen in hand, kneeling before the image of Christ crucified, and as he kneels the image thus addresses him: "Thomas, thou hast written well concerning me; what price wilt thou receive for thy labour?" The myth-making faculty of the people at large was also brought into play. According to a widespread and circumstantial legend, Albert, by magical means, created an android--an artificial man, living, speaking, and answering all questions with such subtlety that St. Thomas, unable to answer its reasoning, broke it to pieces with his staff.
Historians of the Roman Church like Rohrbacher, and historians of science like Pouchet, have found it convenient to propitiate the Church by dilating upon the glories of St. Thomas Aquinas in thus making an alliance between religious and scientific thought, and laying the foundations for a "sanctified science"; but the unprejudiced historian can not indulge in this enthusiastic view: the results both for the Church and for science have been most unfortunate. It was a wretched delay in the evolution of fruitful thought, for the first result of this great man's great compromise was to close for ages that path in science which above all others leads to discoveries of value--the experimental method--and to reopen that old path of mixed theology and science which, as Hallam declares, "after three or four hundred years had not untied a single knot or added one unequivocal truth to the domain of philosophy"--the path which, as all modern history proves, has ever since led only to delusion and evil.[380b]
The theological path thus opened by these strong men became the main path for science during ages, and it led the world ever further and further from any fruitful fact or useful method. Roger Bacon's investigations already begun were discredited: worthless mixtures of scriptural legends with imperfectly authenticated physical facts took their place. Thus it was that for twelve hundred years the minds in control of Europe regarded all real science as _futile_, and diverted the great current of earnest thought into theology.
The next stage in this evolution was the development of an idea which acted with great force throughout the Middle Ages--the idea that science is _dangerous_. This belief was also of very ancient origin. From the time when the Egyptian magicians made their tremendous threat that unless their demands were granted they would reach out to the four corners of the earth, pull down the pillars of heaven, wreck the abodes of the gods above and crush those of men below, fear of these representatives of science is evident in the ancient world.
But differences in the character of magic were recognised, some sorts being considered useful and some baleful. Of the former was magic used in curing diseases, in determining times auspicious for enterprises, and even in contributing to amusement; of the latter was magic used to bring disease and death on men and animals or tempests upon the growing crops. Hence gradually arose a general distinction between white magic, which dealt openly with the more beneficent means of nature, and black magic, which dealt secretly with occult, malignant powers.
Down to the Christian era the fear of magic rarely led to any persecution very systematic or very cruel. While in Greece and Rome laws were at times enacted against magicians, they were only occasionally enforced with rigour, and finally, toward the end of the pagan empire, the feeling against them seemed dying out altogether. As to its more kindly phases, men like Marcus Aurelius and Julian did not hesitate to consult those who claimed to foretell the future. As to black magic, it seemed hardly worth while to enact severe laws, when charms, amulets, and even gestures could thwart its worst machinations.
Moreover, under the old empire a real science was coming in, and thought was progressing. Both the theory and practice of magic were more and more held up to ridicule. Even as early a writer as Ennius ridiculed the idea that magicians, who were generally poor and hungry themselves, could bestow wealth on others; Pliny, in his _Natural Philosophy_, showed at great length their absurdities and cheatery; others followed in the same line of thought, and the whole theory, except among the very lowest classes, seemed dying out.
But with the development of Christian theology came a change. The idea of the active interference of Satan in magic, which had come into the Hebrew mind with especial force from Persia during the captivity of Israel, had passed from the Hebrew Scriptures into Christianity, and had been made still stronger by various statements in the New Testament. Theologians laid stress especially upon the famous utterances of the Psalmist that "all the gods of the heathen are devils," and of St. Paul that "the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils"; and it was widely held that these devils were naturally indignant at their dethronement and anxious to wreak vengeance upon Christianity. Magicians were held to be active agents of these dethroned gods, and this persuasion was strengthened by sundry old practitioners in the art of magic--impostors who pretended to supernatural powers, and who made use of old rites and phrases inherited from paganism.
Hence it was that as soon as Christianity came into power it more than renewed the old severities against the forbidden art, and one of the first acts of the Emperor Constantine after his conversion was to enact a most severe law against magic and magicians, under which the main offender might be burned alive. But here, too, it should be noted that a distinction between the two sorts of magic was recognised, for Constantine shortly afterward found it necessary to issue a proclamation stating that his intention was only to prohibit deadly and malignant magic; that he had no intention of prohibiting magic used to cure diseases and to protect the crops from hail and tempests. But as new emperors came to the throne who had not in them that old leaven of paganism which to the last influenced Constantine, and as theology obtained a firmer hold, severity against magic increased. Toleration of it, even in its milder forms, was more and more denied. Black magic and white were classed together.
This severity went on increasing and threatened the simplest efforts in physics and chemistry; even the science of mathematics was looked upon with dread. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the older theology having arrived at the climax of its development in Europe, terror of magic and witchcraft took complete possession of the popular mind. In sculpture, painting, and literature it appeared in forms ever more and more striking. The lives of saints were filled with it. The cathedral sculpture embodied it in every part. The storied windows made it all the more impressive. The missal painters wrought it not only into prayer books, but, despite the fact that hardly a trace of the belief appears in the Psalms, they illustrated it in the great illuminated psalters from which the noblest part of the service was sung before the high altar. The service books showed every form of agonizing petition for delivery from this dire influence, and every form of exorcism for thwarting it.
All the great theologians of the Church entered into this belief and aided to develop it. The fathers of the early Church were full and explicit, and the medieval doctors became more and more minute in describing the operations of the black art and in denouncing them. It was argued that, as the devil afflicted Job, so he and his minions continue to cause diseases; that, as Satan is the Prince of the power of the air, he and his minions cause tempests; that the cases of Nebuchadnezzar and Lot's wife prove that sorcerers can transform human beings into animals or even lifeless matter; that, as the devils of Gadara were cast into swine, all animals could be afflicted in the same manner; and that, as Christ himself had been transported through the air by the power of Satan, so any human being might be thus transported to "an exceeding high mountain."
Thus the horror of magic and witchcraft increased on every hand, and in 1317 Pope John XXII issued his bull _Spondent pariter_, levelled at the alchemists, but really dealing a terrible blow at the beginnings of chemical science. That many alchemists were knavish is no doubt true, but no infallibility in separating the evil from the good was shown by the papacy in this matter. In this and in sundry other bulls and briefs we find Pope John, by virtue of his infallibility as the world's instructor in all that pertains to faith and morals, condemning real science and pseudo-science alike. In two of these documents, supposed to be inspired by wisdom from on high, he complains that both he and his flock are in danger of their lives by the arts of the sorcerers; he declares that such sorcerers can send devils into mirrors and finger rings, and kill men and women by a magic word; that they had tried to kill him by piercing a waxen image of him with needles in the name of the devil. He therefore called on all rulers, secular and ecclesiastical, to hunt down the miscreants who thus afflicted the faithful, and he especially increased the powers of inquisitors in various parts of Europe for this purpose.
The impulse thus given to childish fear and hatred against the investigation of nature was felt for centuries; more and more chemistry came to be known as one of the "seven devilish arts."
Thus began a long series of demonstrations against magic from the centre of Christendom. In 1437, and again in 1445, Pope Eugene IV issued bulls exhorting inquisitors to be more diligent in searching out and delivering over to punishment magicians and witches who produced bad weather, the result being that persecution received a fearful impulse. But the worst came forty years later still, when, in 1484, there came the yet more terrible bull of Pope Innocent VIII, known as _Summis Desiderantes_, which let inquisitors loose upon Germany, with Sprenger at their head, armed with the _Witch-Hammer_, the fearful manual _Malleus Maleficarum_, to torture and destroy men and women by tens of thousands for sorcery and magic. Similar bulls were issued in 1504 by Julius II, and in 1523 by Adrian VI.
The system of repression thus begun lasted for hundreds of years. The Reformation did little to change it, and in Germany, where Catholics and Protestants vied with each other in proving their orthodoxy, it was at its worst. On German soil more than one hundred thousand victims are believed to have been sacrificed to it between the middle of the fifteenth and the middle of the sixteenth centuries.
Thus it was that from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas, from Aquinas to Luther, and from Luther to Wesley, theologians of both branches of the Church, with hardly an exception, enforced the belief in magic and witchcraft, and, as far as they had power, carried out the injunction, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
How this was ended by the progress of scientific modes of thought I shall endeavour to show elsewhere: here we are only concerned with the effect of this widespread terrorism on the germs and early growth of the physical sciences.
Of course, the atmosphere created by this persecution of magicians was deadly to any open beginnings of experimental science. The conscience of the time, acting in obedience to the highest authorities of the Church, and, as was supposed, in defence of religion, now brought out a missile which it hurled against scientific investigators with deadly effect. The medieval battlefields of thought were strewn with various forms of it. This missile was the charge of unlawful compact with Satan, and it was most effective. We find it used against every great investigator of nature in those times and for ages after. The list of great men in those centuries charged with magic, as given by Naude, is astounding; it includes every man of real mark, and in the midst of them stands one of the most thoughtful popes, Sylvester II (Gerbert), and the foremost of mediaeval thinkers on natural science, Albert the Great. It came to be the accepted idea that, as soon as a man conceived a wish to study the works of God, his first step must be a league with the devil.
It was entirely natural, then, that in 1163 Pope Alexander III, in connection with the Council of Tours, forbade the study of physics to all ecclesiastics, which, of course, in that age meant prohibition of all such scientific studies to the only persons likely to make them. What the Pope then expressly forbade was, in the words of the papal bull, "the study of physics or the laws of the world," and it was added that any person violating this rule "shall be avoided by all and excommunicated."
The first great thinker who, in spite of some stumbling into theologic pitfalls, persevered in a truly scientific path, was Roger Bacon. His life and works seem until recently to have been generally misunderstood: he was formerly ranked as a superstitious alchemist who happened upon some inventions, but more recent investigation has shown him to be one of the great masters in the evolution of human thought. The advance of sound historical judgment seems likely to bring the fame of the two who bear the name of Bacon nearly to equality. Bacon of the chancellorship and of the _Novum Organum_ may not wane, but Bacon of the prison cell and the _Opus Majus_ steadily approaches him in brightness.
More than three centuries before Francis Bacon advocated the experimental method, Roger Bacon practised it, and the results as now revealed are wonderful. He wrought with power in many sciences, and his knowledge was sound and exact. By him, more than by any other man of the Middle Ages, was the world brought into the more fruitful paths of scientific thought--the paths which have led to the most precious inventions; and among these are clocks, lenses, and burning specula, which were given by him to the world, directly or indirectly. In his writings are found formulae for extracting phosphorus, manganese, and bismuth. It is even claimed, with much appearance of justice, that he investigated the power of steam, and he seems to have very nearly reached some of the principal doctrines of modern chemistry. But it should be borne in mind that his _method_ of investigation was even greater than its _results_. In an age when theological subtilizing was alone thought to give the title of scholar, he insisted on _real_ reasoning and the aid of natural science by mathematics; in an age when experimenting was sure to cost a man his reputation, and was likely to cost him his life, he insisted on experimenting, and braved all its risks. Few greater men have lived. As we follow Bacon's process of reasoning regarding the refraction of light, we see that he was divinely inspired.
On this man came the brunt of the battle. The most conscientious men of his time thought it their duty to fight him, and they fought him steadily and bitterly. His sin was not disbelief in Christianity, not want of fidelity to the Church, not even dissent from the main lines of orthodoxy; on the contrary, he showed in all his writings a desire to strengthen Christianity, to build up the Church, and to develop orthodoxy. He was attacked and condemned mainly because he did not believe that philosophy had become complete, and that nothing more was to be learned; he was condemned, as his opponents expressly declared, "on account of certain suspicious novelties"--"_propter quasdam novitates suspectas_."
Upon his return to Oxford, about 1250, the forces of unreason beset him on all sides. Greatest of all his enemies was Bonaventura. This enemy was the theologic idol of the period: the learned world knew him as the "seraphic Doctor"; Dante gave him an honoured place in the great poem of the Middle Ages; the Church finally enrolled him among the saints. By force of great ability in theology he had become, in the middle of the thirteenth century, general of the Franciscan order: thus, as Bacon's master, his hands were laid heavily on the new teaching, so that in 1257 the troublesome monk was forbidden to lecture; all men were solemnly warned not to listen to his teaching, and he was ordered to Paris, to be kept under surveillance by the monastic authorities. Herein was exhibited another of the myriad examples showing the care exercised over scientific teaching by the Church. The reasons for thus dealing with Bacon were evident: First, he had dared attempt scientific explanations of natural phenomena, which under the mystic theology of the Middle Ages had been referred simply to supernatural causes. Typical was his explanation of the causes and character of the rainbow. It was clear, cogent, a great step in the right direction as regards physical science: but there, in the book of Genesis, stood the legend regarding the origin of the rainbow, supposed to have been dictated immediately by the Holy Spirit; and, according to that, the "bow in the cloud" was not the result of natural laws, but a "sign" arbitrarily placed in the heavens for the simple purpose of assuring mankind that there was not to be another universal deluge.
But this was not the worst: another theological idea was arrayed against him--the idea of Satanic intervention in science; hence he was attacked with that goodly missile which with the epithets "infidel" and "atheist" has decided the fate of so many battles--the charge of magic and compact with Satan.
He defended himself with a most unfortunate weapon--a weapon which exploded in his hands and injured him more than the enemy; for he argued against the idea of compacts with Satan, and showed that much which is ascribed to demons results from natural means. This added fuel to the flame. To limit the power of Satan was deemed hardly less impious than to limit the power of God.
The most powerful protectors availed him little. His friend Guy of Foulques, having in 1265 been made Pope under the name of Clement IV, shielded him for a time; but the fury of the enemy was too strong, and when he made ready to perform a few experiments before a small audience, we are told that all Oxford was in an uproar. It was believed that Satan was about to be let loose. Everywhere priests, monks, fellows, and students rushed about, their garments streaming in the wind, and everywhere rose the cry, "Down with the magician!" and this cry, "Down with the magician!" resounded from cell to cell and from hall to hall.
Another weapon was also used upon the battlefields of science in that time with much effect. The Arabs had made many noble discoveries in science, and Averroes had, in the opinion of many, divided the honours with St. Thomas Aquinas; these facts gave the new missile--it was the epithet "Mohammedan"; this, too, was flung with effect at Bacon.
The attack now began to take its final shape. The two great religious orders, Franciscan and Dominican, then in all the vigour of their youth, vied with each other in fighting the new thought in chemistry and physics. St. Dominic solemnly condemned research by experiment and observation; the general of the Franciscan order took similar ground. In 1243 the Dominicans interdicted every member of their order from the study of medicine and natural philosophy, and in 1287 this interdiction was extended to the study of chemistry.
In 1278 the authorities of the Franciscan order assembled at Paris, solemnly condemned Bacon's teaching, and the general of the Franciscans, Jerome of Ascoli, afterward Pope, threw him into prison, where he remained for fourteen years, Though Pope Clement IV had protected him, Popes Nicholas III and IV, by virtue of their infallibility, decided that he was too dangerous to be at large, and he was only released at the age of eighty--but a year or two before death placed him beyond the reach of his enemies. How deeply the struggle had racked his mind may be gathered from that last affecting declaration of his, "Would that I had not given myself so much trouble for the love of science!"
The attempt has been made by sundry champions of the Church to show that some of Bacon's utterances against ecclesiastical and other corruptions in his time were the main cause of the severity which the Church authorities exercised against him. This helps the Church but little, even if it be well based; but it is not well based. That some of his utterances of this sort made him enemies is doubtless true, but the charges on which St. Bonaventura silenced him, and Jerome of Ascoli imprisoned him, and successive popes kept him in prison for fourteen years, were "dangerous novelties" and suspected sorcery.
Sad is it to think of what this great man might have given to the world had ecclesiasticism allowed the gift. He held the key of treasures which would have freed mankind from ages of error and misery. With his discoveries as a basis, with his method as a guide, what might not the world have gained! Nor was the wrong done to that age alone; it was done to this age also. The nineteenth century was robbed at the same time with the thirteenth. But for that interference with science the nineteenth century would be enjoying discoveries which will not be reached before the twentieth century, and even later. Thousands of precious lives shall be lost, tens of thousands shall suffer discomfort, privation, sickness, poverty, ignorance, for lack of discoveries and methods which, but for this mistaken dealing with Roger Bacon and his compeers, would now be blessing the earth.
In two recent years sixty thousand children died in England and in Wales of scarlet fever; probably quite as many died in the United States. Had not Bacon been hindered, we should have had in our hands, by this time, the means to save two thirds of these victims; and the same is true of typhoid, typhus, cholera, and that great class of diseases of whose physical causes science is just beginning to get an inkling. Put together all the efforts of all the atheists who have ever lived, and they have not done so much harm to Christianity and the world as has been done by the narrow-minded, conscientious men who persecuted Roger Bacon, and closed the path which he gave his life to open.
But despite the persecution of Bacon and the defection of those who ought to have followed him, champions of the experimental method rose from time to time during the succeeding centuries. We know little of them personally; our main knowledge of their efforts is derived from the endeavours of their persecutors.
Under such guidance the secular rulers were naturally vigorous. In France Charles V forbade, in 1380, the possession of furnaces and apparatus necessary for chemical processes; under this law the chemist John Barrillon was thrown into prison, and it was only by the greatest effort that his life was saved. In England Henry IV, in 1404, issued a similar decree. In Italy the Republic of Venice, in 1418, followed these examples. The judicial torture and murder of Antonio de Dominis were not simply for heresy his investigations in the phenomena of light were an additional crime. In Spain everything like scientific research was crushed out among Christians. Some earnest efforts were afterward made by Jews and Moors, but these were finally ended by persecution; and to this hour the Spanish race, in some respects the most gifted in Europe, which began its career with everything in its favour and with every form of noble achievement, remains in intellectual development behind every other in Christendom.
To question the theological view of physical science was, even long after the close of the Middle Ages, exceedingly perilous. We have seen how one of Roger Bacon's unpardonable offences was his argument against the efficacy of magic, and how, centuries afterward, Cornelius Agrippa, Weyer, Flade, Loos, Bekker, and a multitude of other investigators and thinkers, suffered confiscation of property, loss of position, and even torture and death, for similar views.
The theological atmosphere, which in consequence settled down about the great universities and colleges, seemed likely to stifle all scientific effort in every part of Europe, and it is one of the great wonders in human history that in spite of this deadly atmosphere a considerable body of thinking men, under such protection as they could secure, still persisted in devoting themselves to the physical sciences.
In Italy, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, came a striking example of the difficulties which science still encountered even after the Renaissance had undermined the old beliefs. At that time John Baptist Porta was conducting his investigations, and, despite a considerable mixture of pseudo-science, they were fruitful. His was not "black magic," claiming the aid of Satan, but "white magic," bringing into service the laws of nature--the precursor of applied science. His book on meteorology was the first in which sound ideas were broached on this subject; his researches in optics gave the world the camera obscura, and possibly the telescope; in chemistry he seems to have been the first to show how to reduce the metallic oxides, and thus to have laid the foundation of several important industries. He did much to change natural philosophy from a black art to a vigorous open science. He encountered the old ecclesiastical policy. The society founded by him for physical research, "I Secreti," was broken up, and he was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul III and forbidden to continue his investigations.
So, too, in France. In 1624, some young chemists at Paris having taught the experimental method and cut loose from Aristotle, the faculty of theology beset the Parliament of Paris, and the Parliament prohibited these new chemical researches under the severest penalties.
The same war continued in Italy. Even after the belief in magic had been seriously weakened, the old theological fear and dislike of physical science continued. In 1657 occurred the first sitting of the Accademia del Cimento at Florence, under the presidency of Prince Leopold de' Medici This academy promised great things for science; it was open to all talent; its only fundamental law was "the repudiation of any favourite system or sect of philosophy, and the obligation to investigate Nature by the pure light of experiment"; it entered into scientific investigations with energy. Borelli in mathematics, Redi in natural history, and many others, enlarged the boundaries of knowledge. Heat, light, magnetism, electricity, projectiles, digestion, and the incompressibility of water were studied by the right method and with results that enriched the world.
The academy was a fortress of science, and siege was soon laid to it. The votaries of scholastic learning denounced it as irreligious, quarrels were fomented, Leopold was bribed with a cardinal's hat and drawn away to Rome, and, after ten years of beleaguering, the fortress fell: Borelli was left a beggar; Oliva killed himself in despair.
So, too, the noted Academy of the Lincei at times incurred the ill will of the papacy by the very fact that it included thoughtful investigators. It was "patronized" by Pope Urban VIII in such manner as to paralyze it, and it was afterward vexed by Pope Gregory XVI. Even in our own time sessions of scientific associations were discouraged and thwarted by as kindly a pontiff as Pius IX.
A hostility similar in kind, though less in degree, was shown in Protestant countries.
Even after Thomasius in Germany and Voltaire in France and Beccaria in Italy had given final blows to the belief in magic and witchcraft throughout Christendom, the traditional orthodox distrust of the physical sciences continued for a long time.
In England a marked dislike was shown among various leading ecclesiastics and theologians towards the Royal Society, and later toward the Association for the Advancement of Science; and this dislike, as will hereafter be seen, sometimes took shape in serious opposition.
As a rule, both in Protestant and Catholic countries instruction in chemistry and physics was for a long time discouraged by Church authorities; and, when its suppression was no longer possible, great pains were taken to subordinate it to instruction supposed to be more fully in accordance with the older methods of theological reasoning.
I have now presented in outline the more direct and open struggle of the physical sciences with theology, mainly as an exterior foe. We will next consider their warfare with the same foe in its more subtle form, mainly as a vitiating and sterilizing principle in science itself.
We have seen thus far, first, how such men as Eusebius, Lactantius, and their compeers, opposed scientific investigation as futile; next, how such men as Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the multitude who followed them, turned the main current of medieval thought from science to theology; and, finally, how a long line of Church authorities from Popes John XXII and Innocent VIII, and the heads of the great religious orders, down to various theologians and ecclesiastics, Catholic and Protestant, of a very recent period, endeavoured first to crush and afterward to discourage scientific research as dangerous.
Yet, injurious as all this was to the evolution of science, there was developed something in many respects more destructive; and this was the influence of mystic theology, penetrating, permeating, vitiating, sterilizing nearly every branch of science for hundreds of years. Among the forms taken by this development in the earlier Middle Ages we find a mixture of physical science with a pseudo-science obtained from texts of Scripture. In compounding this mixture, Jews and Christians vied with each other. In this process the sacred books were used as a fetich; every word, every letter, being considered to have a divine and hidden meaning. By combining various scriptural letters in various abstruse ways, new words of prodigious significance in magic were obtained, and among them the great word embracing the seventy-two mystical names of God--the mighty word "_Schemhamphoras._" Why should men seek knowledge by observation and experiment in the book of Nature, when the book of Revelation, interpreted by the Kabbalah, opened such treasures to the ingenious believer?
So, too, we have ancient mystical theories of number which the theological spirit had made Christian, usurping an enormous place in medieval science. The sacred power of the number three was seen in the Trinity; in the three main divisions of the universe--the empyrean, the heavens, and the earth; in the three angelic hierarchies; in the three choirs of seraphim, cherubim, and thrones; in the three of dominions, virtues, and powers; in the three of principalities, archangels, and angels; in the three orders in the Church--bishops, priests, and deacons; in the three classes--the baptized, the communicants, and the monks; in the three degrees of attainment--light, purity, and knowledge; in the three theological virtues--faith, hope, and charity--and in much else. All this was brought into a theologico-scientific relation, then and afterward, with the three dimensions of space; with the three divisions of time--past, present, and future; with the three realms of the visible world--sky, earth, and sea; with the three constituents of man--body, soul, and spirit; with the threefold enemies of man--the world, the flesh, and the devil; with the three kingdoms in nature--mineral, vegetable, and animal; with "the three colours"--red, yellow, and blue; with "the three eyes of the honey-bee"--and with a multitude of other analogues equally precious. The sacred power of the number seven was seen in the seven golden candlesticks and the seven churches in the Apocalypse; in the seven cardinal virtues and the seven deadly sins; in the seven liberal arts and the seven devilish arts, and, above all, in the seven sacraments. And as this proved in astrology that there could be only seven planets, so it proved in alchemy that there must be exactly seven metals. The twelve apostles were connected with the twelve signs in the zodiac, and with much in physical science. The seventy-two disciples, the seventy-two interpreters of the Old Testament, the seventy-two mystical names of God, were connected with the alleged fact in anatomy that there were seventy-two joints in the human frame.
Then, also, there were revived such theologic and metaphysical substitutes for scientific thought as the declaration that the perfect line is a circle, and hence that the planets must move in absolute circles--a statement which led astronomy astray even when the great truths of the Copernican theory were well in sight; also, the declaration that nature abhors a vacuum--a statement which led physics astray until Torricelli made his experiments; also, the declaration that we see the lightning before we hear the thunder because "sight is nobler than hearing."
In chemistry we have the same theologic tendency to magic, and, as a result, a muddle of science and theology, which from one point of view seems blasphemous and from another idiotic, but which none the less sterilized physical investigation for ages. That debased Platonism which had been such an important factor in the evolution of Christian theology from the earliest days of the Church continued its work. As everything in inorganic nature was supposed to have spiritual significance, the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation were turned into an argument in behalf of the philosopher's stone; arguments for the scheme of redemption and for transubstantiation suggested others of similar construction to prove the transmutation of metals; the doctrine of the resurrection of the human body was by similar mystic jugglery connected with the processes of distillation and sublimation. Even after the Middle Ages were past, strong men seemed unable to break away from such reasoning as this--among them such leaders as Basil Valentine in the fifteenth century, Agricola in the sixteenth, and Van Helmont in the seventeenth.
The greatest theologians contributed to the welter of unreason from which this pseudo-science was developed. One question largely discussed was, whether at the Redemption it was necessary for God to take the human form. Thomas Aquinas answered that it was necessary, but William Occam and Duns Scotus answered that it was not; that God might have taken the form of a stone, or of a log, or of a beast. The possibilities opened to wild substitutes for science by this sort of reasoning were infinite. Men have often asked how it was that the Arabians accomplished so much in scientific discovery as compared with Christian investigators; but the answer is easy: the Arabians were comparatively free from these theologic allurements which in Christian Europe flickered in the air on all sides, luring men into paths which led no-whither.
Strong investigators, like Arnold of Villanova, Raymond Lully, Basil Valentine, Paracelsus, and their compeers, were thus drawn far out of the only paths which led to fruitful truths. In a work generally ascribed to the first of these, the student is told that in mixing his chemicals he must repeat the psalm _Exsurge Domine_, and that on certain chemical vessels must be placed the last words of Jesus on the cross. Vincent of Beauvais insisted that, as the Bible declares that Noah, when five hundred years old, had children born to him, he must have possessed alchemical means of preserving life; and much later Dickinson insisted that the patriarchs generally must have owed their long lives to such means. It was loudly declared that the reality of the philosopher's stone was proved by the words of St. John in the Revelation. "To him that overcometh I will give a white stone." The reasonableness of seeking to develop gold out of the baser metals was for many generations based upon the doctrine of the resurrection of the physical body, which, though explicitly denied by St. Paul, had become a part of the creed of the Church. Martin Luther was especially drawn to believe in the alchemistic doctrine of transmutation by this analogy. The Bible was everywhere used, both among Protestants and Catholics, in support of these mystic adulterations of science, and one writer, as late as 1751, based his alchemistic arguments on more than a hundred passages of Scripture. As an example of this sort of reasoning, we have a proof that the elect will preserve the philosopher's stone until the last judgment, drawn from a passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels."
The greatest thinkers devoted themselves to adding new ingredients to this strange mixture of scientific and theologic thought. The Catholic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, the Protestant mysticism of Jacob Boehme, and the alchemistic reveries of Basil Valentine were all cast into this seething mass.
And when alchemy in its old form had been discredited, we find scriptural arguments no less perverse, and even comical, used on the other side. As an example of this, just before the great discoveries by Stahl, we find the valuable scientific efforts of Becher opposed with the following syllogism: "King Solomon, according to the Scriptures, possessed the united wisdom of heaven and earth; but King Solomon knew nothing about alchemy [or chemistry in the form it then took], and sent his vessels to Ophir to seek gold, and levied taxes upon his subjects; _ergo_ alchemy [or chemistry] has no reality or truth." And we find that Becher is absolutely turned away from his labours, and obliged to devote himself to proving that Solomon used more money than he possibly could have obtained from Ophir or his subjects, and therefore that he must have possessed a knowledge of chemical methods and the philosopher's stone as the result of them.
Of the general reasoning enforced by theology regarding physical science, every age has shown examples; yet out of them all I will select but two, and these are given because they show how this mixture of theological with scientific ideas took hold upon the strongest supporters of better reasoning even after the power of medieval theology seemed broken.
The first of these examples is Melanchthon. He was the scholar of the Reformation, and justly won the title "Preceptor of Germany." His mind was singularly open, his sympathies broad, and his usual freedom from bigotry drew down upon him that wrath of Protestant heresy-hunters which embittered the last years of his life and tortured him upon his deathbed. During his career at the University of Wittenberg he gave a course of lectures on physics, and in these he dwelt upon scriptural texts as affording scientific proofs, accepted the interference of the devil in physical phenomena as in other things, and applied the medieval method throughout his whole work.
Yet far more remarkable was the example, a century later, of the man who more than any other led the world out of the path opened by Aquinas, and into that through which modern thought has advanced to its greatest conquests. Strange as it may at first seem, Francis Bacon, whose keenness of sight revealed the delusions of the old path and the promises of the new, and whose boldness did so much to turn the world from the old path into the new, presents in his own writings one of the most striking examples of the evil he did so much to destroy.
The _Novum Organon_, considering the time when it came from his pen, is doubtless one of the greatest exhibitions of genius in the history of human thought. It showed the modern world the way out of the scholastic method and reverence for dogma into the experimental method and reverence for fact. In it occur many passages which show that the great philosopher was fully alive to the danger both to religion and to science arising from their mixture. He declares that the "corruption of philosophy from superstition and theology introduced the greatest amount of evil both into whole systems of philosophy and into their parts." He denounces those who "have endeavoured to found a natural philosophy on the books of Genesis and Job and other sacred Scriptures, so `seeking the dead among the living.'" He speaks of the result as "an unwholesome mixture of things human and divine; not merely fantastic philosophy, but heretical religion." He refers to the opposition of the fathers to the doctrine of the rotundity of the earth, and says that, "thanks to some of them, you may find the approach to any kind of philosophy, however improved, entirely closed up." He charges that some of these divines are "afraid lest perhaps a deeper inquiry into nature should, penetrate beyond the allowed limits of sobriety"; and finally speaks of theologians as sometimes craftily conjecturing that, if science be little understood, "each single thing can be referred more easily to the hand and rod of God," and says, "_This is nothing more or less than wishing to please God by a lie_."
No man who has reflected much upon the annals of his race can, without a feeling of awe, come into the presence of such clearness of insight and boldness of utterance, and the first thought of the reader is that, of all men, Francis Bacon is the most free from the unfortunate bias he condemns; that he, certainly, can not be deluded into the old path. But as we go on through his main work we are surprised to find that the strong arm of Aquinas has been stretched over the intervening ages, and has laid hold upon this master-thinker of the seventeenth century; for only a few chapters beyond those containing the citations already made we find Bacon alluding to the recent voyage of Columbus, and speaking of the prophecy of Daniel regarding the latter days, that "many shall run to and fro, and knowledge be increased," as clearly signifying "that... the circumnavigation of the world and the increase of science should happen in the same age."
In his great work on the _Advancement of Learning_ the firm grasp which the methods he condemned held upon him is shown yet more clearly. In the first book of it he asserts that "that excellent book of Job, if it be revolved with diligence, will be found pregnant and swelling with natural philosophy," and he endeavours to show that in it the "roundness of the earth," the "fixing of the stars, ever standing at equal distances," the "depression of the southern pole," the "matter of generation," and "matter of minerals" are "with great elegancy noted." But, curiously enough, he uses to support some of these truths the very texts which the fathers of the Church used to destroy them, and those for which he finds Scripture warrant most clearly are such as science has since disproved. So, too, he says that Solomon was enabled in his Proverbs, "by donation of God, to compile a natural history of all verdure."
Such was the struggle of the physical sciences in general. Let us now look briefly at one special example out of many, which reveals, as well as any, one of the main theories which prompted theological interference with them.
It will doubtless seem amazing to many that for ages the weight of theological thought in Christendom was thrown against the idea of the suffocating properties of certain gases, and especially of carbonic acid. Although in antiquity we see men forming a right theory of gases in mines, we find that, early in the history of the Church, St. Clement of Alexandria put forth the theory that these gases are manifestations of diabolic action, and that, throughout Christendom, suffocation in caverns, wells, and cellars was attributed to the direct action of evil spirits. Evidences of this view abound through the medieval period, and during the Reformation period a great authority, Agricola, one of the most earnest and truthful of investigators, still adhered to the belief that these gases in mines were manifestations of devils, and he specified two classes--one of malignant imps, who blow out the miners' lamps, and the other of friendly imps, who simply tease the workmen in various ways. He went so far as to say that one of these spirits in the Saxon mine of Annaberg destroyed twelve workmen at once by the power of his breath.
At the end of the sixteenth century we find a writer on mineralogy complaining that the mines in France and Germany had been in large part abandoned on account of the "evil spirits of metals which had taken possession of them."
Even as late as the seventeenth century, Van Helmont, after he had broken away from alchemy and opened one of the great paths to chemistry--even after he had announced to the world the existence of various gases and the mode of their generation--was not strong enough to free himself from theologic bias; he still inclined to believe that the gases he had discovered, were in some sense living spirits, beneficent or diabolical.
But at various. periods glimpses of the truth had been gained. The ancient view had not been entirely forgotten; and as far back as the first part of the thirteenth century Albert the Great suggested a natural cause in the possibility of exhalations from minerals causing a "corruption of the air"; but he, as we have seen, was driven or dragged off into, theological studies, and the world relapsed into the theological view.
Toward the end of the fifteenth century there had come a great genius laden with important truths in chemistry, but for whom the world was not ready--Basil Valentine. His discoveries anticipated much that has brought fame and fortune to chemists since, yet so fearful of danger was he that his work was carefully concealed. Not until after his death was his treatise on alchemy found, and even then it was for a long time not known where and when he lived. The papal bull, _Spondent pariter_, and the various prohibitions it bred, forcing other alchemists to conceal their laboratories, led him to let himself be known during his life at Erfurt simply as an apothecary, and to wait until after his death to make a revelation of truth which during his lifetime might have cost him dear. Among the legacies of this greatest of the alchemists was the doctrine that the air which asphyxiates workers in mines is similar to that which is produced by fermentation of malt, and a recommendation that, in order to drive away the evil and to prevent serious accidents, fires be lighted and jets of steam used to ventilate the mines--stress being especially laid upon the idea that the danger in the mines is produced by "exhalations of metals."
Thanks to men like Valentine, this idea of the interference of Satan and his minions with the mining industry was gradually weakened, and the working of the deserted mines was resumed; yet even at a comparatively recent period we find it still lingering, and among leading divines in the very heart of Protestant Germany. In 1715 a cellar-digger having been stifled at Jena, the medical faculty of the university decided that the cause was not the direct action of the devil, but a deadly gas. Thereupon Prof. Loescher, of the University of Wittenberg, entered a solemn protest, declaring that the decision of the medical faculty was "only a proof of the lamentable license which has so taken possession of us, and which, if we are not earnestly on our guard, will finally turn away from us the blessing of God." But denunciations of this kind could not hold back the little army of science; in spite of adverse influences, the evolution of physics and chemistry went on. More and more there rose men bold enough to break away from theological methods and strong enough to resist ecclesiastical bribes and threats. As alchemy in its first form, seeking for the philosopher's stone and the transmutation of metals, had given way to alchemy in its second form, seeking for the elixir of life and remedies more or less magical for disease, so now the latter yielded to the search for truth as truth. More and more the "solemnly constituted impostors" were resisted in every field. A great line of physicists and chemists began to appear.[404b]
| HOME | CONTENTS | NEXT |