BLTC Press Titles


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The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian


The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Catholic churchmen in science

by James Joseph Walsh

Excerpt:

It is rather surprising, in view of this common impression with regard to Copernicus, to find him, according to recent biographers, a faithful clergyman in honor with his ecclesiastical superiors, a distinguished physician whose chief patients were clerical friends of prominent position and the great noblemen of his day, who not only retained all his faith and reverence for the Church, but seems to have been especially religious, a devoted adherent of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, and the author of a series of poems in her honor that constitute a distinct contribution to the literature of his time.

All this should not be astonishing, however; for in the list of the churchmen of the half century just before the great religious revolt in Germany are to be found some of the best known names in the history of the intellectual development of the race. This statement is so contrary to the usual impression that obtains in regard to the character of that period as to be a distinct source of surprise to the ordinary reader of history who has the realization of its truth thrust upon him for the first time. Just before the socalled Reformation, the clergy are considered to have been so sunk in ignorance, or at least to have been so indifferent to intellectual pursuits and so cramped in mind as regards progress, or so timorous because of inquisition methods, that no great advances in thought, and especially none in science, could possibly be looked for from them. To find, then, that not only were faithful churchmen leaders in thought, discoverers in science, organizers in education, initiators of new progress, teachers of the New Learning, but that they were also typical representatives and yet prudent directors of the advancing spirit of that truly wonderful time, is apt to make us think that surely—as the Count de Maistre said one hundred years ago, and the Cambridge Modern History repeats at the beginning of the twentieth century when treating of this very period— "history has been a conspiracy against the truth." Not quite fifty years before Luther's movement of protest began—that is, in 1471—there passed away in a little town in the Rhineland a man who has been a greater spiritual force than perhaps any other single man that has ever existed. This was Thomas a Kempis, a product of the schools of the Brethren of the Common Life, a teaching order that during these fifty years before the Protestant Revolution had over ten thousand pupils in its schools in the Rhineland and the Netherlands alone. As among these pupils there occur such names as Erasmus, Nicholas of Cusa, Agricola, not to mention many less illustrious, some idea of this old teaching institution, that has been very aptly compared to our modern Brothers of the Christian Schools, can be realized.

Kempis was a worthy initiator of a great half century. He had among his contemporaries, or followers in the next generation, such men as Grocyn, Dean Colet, and Linacre in England, Cardinal Ximenes in Spain, and Copernicus in Germany. Considering the usual impression in this matter as regards the lack of interest at Rome in serious study, it is curiously interesting to realize how closely these great scholars and thinkers were in touch with the famous popes of the Renaissance period. The second half of the sixteenth century saw the elevation to the papacy of some of the most learned and worthy men that have ever occupied the Chair of Peter. In 1447 Nicholas V became pope, and during his eight years of pontificate initiated a movement of sympathy with modern art and letters that was never to be extinguished. To him more than to any other may be attributed the foundation of the Vatican Library. To him also is attributed the famous expression that " no art can be too lofty for the service of the Church." He was succeeded by Calixtus III, a patron of learning, who was followed by Pius II, the famous Mneas Sylvius, one of the greatest scholars and most learned men of his day, who had done more for the spread of culture and of education in the various parts of Europe than perhaps any other alive at the time.

The next Pope, Paul II, accomplished much during a period of great danger by arousing the Christian opposition to the Saracens. His encouragement and material aid to the Hungarians, who were making a bold stand against the Oriental invaders, merit for him a place in the role of defenders of civilization. To him is due the introduction of the recently discovered art of printing and its installation on a sumptuous scale worthy of the center of Christian culture. His successor, Sixtus IV, deserves the title of the founder of modern Rome. Bridges, aqueducts, public buildings, libraries, churches—all owe to his fostering care their restoration and renewed foundation. He made it the purpose of his life to attract distinguished humanistic scholars to his capital, and Rome became the metropolis of culture and learning as well as the mother city of Christendom.

Under such popes it is no wonder that Rome and the cities of Italy generally became the homes of art and culture, centers of the new humanistic learning and the shelters of the scholars of the outer world. The Italian universities entered on a period of intellectual and educational development as glorious almost as the art movement that characterized the time. As this was marked by the work of such men as that universal genius Leonardo da Vinci, of Michael Angelo, poet, painter, sculptor, architect; of Raphael, Titian, and Correggio, whose contemporaries were worthy of them in every way, some idea can be attained of the wonderful era that developed. No wonder scholars in every department of learning flocked to Italy for inspiration and the enthusiasm bred of scholarly fellowship in such an environment. From England came men like Linacre, Selling, Grocyn, and Dean Colet; Erasmus came from the Netherlands, and Copernicus from Poland. Copernicus there obtained that scientific training which was later to prove so fruitful in his practical work as a physician and in his scientific work as the founder of modern astronomy. It may be as well to say at the beginning that even Copernicus was not the first to suggest that the earth moved, and not the sun; and that, curiously enough, his anticipator was another churchman, Nicholas of Cusa, the famous Bishop of Brixen. Readers of Janssen's History of the German People will remember that the distinguished historian introduces his monumental work by a short sketch of the career of Cusanus, as he is called, who may be well taken as the typical pre-Reformation scholar and clergyman. Cusa wrote in a manuscript—which is still preserved in the hospital of Cues, or Cusa—published for the first time by Professor Clemens in 1847: "I have long considered that this earth can not be fixed, but moves as do the other stars —sed movetur ut alia stellce." What a curious commentary these words, written more than half a century before Galileo was born, form on the famous expression so often quoted because supposed to have been drawn from Galileo by the condemnation of his doctrine at Rome: E pur se muove—" and yet it moves!" Cusanus was a Cardinal, the personal friend of three popes, and he seems to have had no hesitation in expressing his opinion in the matter. In the same manuscript the Cardinal adds: "And to my mind the earth revolves upon its axis once in a day and a night." Cusanus was, moreover, one of the most independent thinkers that the world has ever seen, yet he was intrusted by the pope about the middle of the fifteenth century with the reformation of abuses in the Church in Germany. The pope seems to have been glad to be able to secure a man of such straightforward ways for his reformatory designs.

The ideas of Nicholas of Cusa with regard to knowledge and the liberty of judgment in things not matters of faith can be very well appreciated from some of his expressions. "To know and to think," he says in one passage, "to see the truth with the eye of the mind is always a joy. The older a man grows, the greater is the pleasure it affords him; and the more he devotes himself to the search after truth, the stronger grows his desire of possessing it. As love is the life of the heart, so is the endeavor after knowledge and truth the life of the mind. In the midst of the movements of time, of the daily work of life, of its perplexities and contradictions, we should lift our gaze fearlessly to the clear vault of heaven and seek ever to obtain a firmer grasp of, and keener insight into, the origin of all goodness and duty, the capacities of our own hearts and minds, the intellectual fruits of mankind throughout the centuries, and the wondrous works of nature around us; but ever remembering that in humility alone lies true greatness, and that knowledge and wisdom are alone profitable in so far as our lives are governed by them." 1 It is no wonder, then, that the time was ripe for Copernicus and his great work in astronomy, nor that that work should be accomplished while he was a canon of a cathedral and for a time the vicar-general of a diocese.


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