Skip to comments."How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization" ( Book Review )
Posted on 12/21/2008 6:19:03 AM PST by GonzoII
It is all very well to point out that important scientists, like Louis Pasteur, have been Catholic. More revealing is how many priests have distinguished themselves in the sciences. It turns out, for instance, that the first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body was Fr. Giambattista Riccioli. The man who has been called the father of Egyptology was Fr. Athanasius Kircher (also called "master of a hundred arts" for the breadth of his knowledge). Fr. Roger Boscovich, who has been described as "the greatest genius that Yugoslavia ever produced," has often been called the father of modern atomic theory.
In the sciences it was the Jesuits in particular who distinguished themselves; some 35 craters on the moon, in fact, are named after Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.
By the eighteenth century, the Jesuits
had contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiters surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturns rings. They theorized about the circulation of the blood (independently of Harvey), the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon effected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light. Star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics all were typical Jesuit achievements, and scientists as influential as Fermat, Huygens, Leibniz and Newton were not alone in counting Jesuits among their most prized correspondents [Jonathan Wright, The Jesuits, 2004, p. 189].
Seismology, the study of earthquakes, has been so dominated by Jesuits that it has become known as "the Jesuit science." It was a Jesuit, Fr. J.B. Macelwane, who wrote Introduction to Theoretical Seismology, the first seismology textbook in America, in 1936. To this day, the American Geophysical Union, which Fr. Macelwane once headed, gives an annual medal named after this brilliant priest to a promising young geophysicist.
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization
A Light in the Darkness
How the Monks Saved Civilization
The Church and the University
The Church and Science
The Origins of International Law
The Church and Economics
How Catholic Charity Changed the World
The Church and Western Law
The Church and Western Morality
The Galileo case is often cited as evidence of Catholic hostility toward science, and How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization accordingly takes a closer look at the Galileo matter. For now, just one little-known fact: Catholic cathedrals in Bologna, Florence, Paris, and Rome were constructed to function as solar observatories. No more precise instruments for observing the suns apparent motion could be found anywhere in the world. When Johannes Kepler posited that planetary orbits were elliptical rather than circular, Catholic astronomer Giovanni Cassini verified Keplers position through observations he made in the Basilica of San Petronio in the heart of the Papal States. Cassini, incidentally, was a student of Fr. Riccioli and Fr. Francesco Grimaldi, the great astronomer who also discovered the diffraction of light, and even gave the phenomenon its name.
Ive tried to fill the book with little-known facts like these.
To say that the Church played a positive role in the development of science has now become absolutely mainstream, even if this new consensus has not yet managed to trickle down to the general public. In fact, Stanley Jaki, over the course of an extraordinary scholarly career, has developed a compelling argument that in fact it was important aspects of the Christian worldview that accounted for why it was in the West that science enjoyed the success it did as a self-sustaining enterprise. Non-Christian cultures did not possess the same philosophical tools, and in fact were burdened by conceptual frameworks that hindered the development of science. Jaki extends this thesis to seven great cultures: Arabic, Babylonian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, and Maya. In these cultures, Jaki explains, science suffered a "stillbirth." My book gives ample attention to Jakis work.
Economic thought is another area in which more and more scholars have begun to acknowledge the previously overlooked role of Catholic thinkers. Joseph Schumpeter, one of the great economists of the twentieth century, paid tribute to the overlooked contributions of the late Scholastics mainly sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish theologians in his magisterial History of Economic Analysis (1954). "[I]t is they," he wrote, "who come nearer than does any other group to having been the founders of scientific economics." In devoting scholarly attention to this unfortunately neglected chapter in the history of economic thought, Schumpeter would be joined by other accomplished scholars over the course of the twentieth century, including Professors Raymond de Roover, Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, and Alejandro Chafuen.
...it is no surprise that the Church should have done so much to foster the nascent university system, since the Church, according to historian Lowrie Daly, "was the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge."
The popes and other churchmen ranked the universities among the great jewels of Christian civilization. It was typical to hear the University of Paris described as the "new Athens" a designation that calls to mind the ambitions of the great Alcuin from the Carolingian period of several centuries earlier, who sought through his own educational efforts to establish a new Athens in the kingdom of the Franks. Pope Innocent IV (124354) described the universities as "rivers of science which water and make fertile the soil of the universal Church," and Pope Alexander IV (125461) called them "lanterns shining in the house of God." And the popes deserved no small share of the credit for the growth and success of the university system. "Thanks to the repeated intervention of the papacy," writes historian Henri Daniel-Rops, "higher education was enabled to extend its boundaries; the Church, in fact, was the matrix that produced the university, the nest whence it took flight."
As a matter of fact, among the most important medieval contributions to modern science was the essentially free inquiry of the university system, where scholars could debate and discuss propositions, and in which the utility of human reason was taken for granted. Contrary to the grossly inaccurate picture of the Middle Ages that passes for common knowledge today, medieval intellectual life made indispensable contributions to Western civilization. In The Beginnings of Western Science (1992), David Lindberg writes:
[I]t must be emphatically stated that within this educational system the medieval master had a great deal of freedom. The stereotype of the Middle Ages pictures the professor as spineless and subservient, a slavish follower of Aristotle and the Church fathers (exactly how one could be a slavish follower of both, the stereotype does not explain), fearful of departing one iota from the demands of authority. There were broad theological limits, of course, but within those limits the medieval master had remarkable freedom of thought and expression; there was almost no doctrine, philosophical or theological, that was not submitted to minute scrutiny and criticism by scholars in the medieval university.
"[S]cholars of the later Middle Ages," concludes Lindberg, "created a broad intellectual tradition, in the absence of which subsequent progress in natural philosophy would have been inconceivable."
Historian of science Edward Grant concurs with this judgment:
What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science and the social sciences in a way that no other civilization had ever done before? The answer, I am convinced, lies in a pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that was a natural consequence of the emphasis on reason that began in the Middle Ages. With the exception of revealed truths, reason was enthroned in medieval universities as the ultimate arbiter for most intellectual arguments and controversies. It was quite natural for scholars immersed in a university environment to employ reason to probe into subject areas that had not been explored before, as well as to discuss possibilities that had not previously been seriously entertained.
The creation of the university, the commitment to reason and rational argument, and the overall spirit of inquiry that characterized medieval intellectual life amounted to "a gift from the Latin Middle Ages to the modern world though it is a gift that may never be acknowledged. Perhaps it will always retain the status it has had for the past four centuries as the best-kept secret of Western civilization."
Here, then, are just a few of the topics to be found in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Ive been asked quite a few times in recent weeks what my next project will be. For now, itll be getting some rest.
"How the Monks Saved Civilization", chapter three from
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, is available online here.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization." LewRockwell.com (May 2, 2005).
Reprinted by permission of Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Copyright © 2005 LewRockwell.com
Thanks for that long-lasting cheese, Louis!
When confronted by irifutable and non - nonconformational fact, the church had to accessise to science, this has been done for at least the last 2 or 3 hundredd years, back in the old days the Church put on house arrest Galilieo, one guy. No The Catholic church is no favorite of mine, but I think they learned thier lesson.
But No, I reject the authors claim, The church was used as a litmus test, And that test rejected a whole heaping amount of knowledge, lots of western Civ from the Greeks and others went Bye Bye thanks to the Catholic church, They did have an agenda, it was based upon doctrine, later it would be challanged, many times, in the end nowadays the Catholics want you to know they’re hip. I don’t buy it at all.
I got nothing against catholic persons except the church has done away with more goofy rules in the last 40 to 400 years than you can shake a stick at. I mean really, dose God care what I eat? and when? Stupid, no wonder thay flow with the wind. I say stick to the word, but what do I know?
I'm guessing - Ph.D?
Mt:17:21: But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.
Lk:2:37: And she was a widow until fourscore and four years: who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. (DRV)
The catholic church did not build the USA. That’s more important, I think. Not to single out the catholic church by any means.
I just think that the Catholic religion has had its battles with science, and in the end, had to swallow thier own pride, more than once. These are well known facts, refute the fact that one of our greatest scientists was not on house arrest and I’ll shut up.
And yes, I have a GED, with 0 colledge credits, my opinions are based upon the fact that my retard father was a part of that religion, and that idiot knows nothing, I digress, dude, be catholic, fine by me, whatever, it’s cool, I was only talkin about the old church days. And I am sorry if I offend.
Well for a time, the Catholic Church held back progress during the dark ages in Western Europe..
In other words: The Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners.
I wondered about the reference to Catholicism as opposed to Christianity. Some of this can be explained by the fact that the early history of Christianity preceded the Catholic/Protestant split. Much of the history he recounts is part of a heritage that is common to both Catholics and Protestants. It may be that after the split, Catholics maintained a more hierarchical order and perhaps more universities and hospitals, and was perhaps easier to document and track. The author is also Catholic.
I think it is an excellent book. It wouldn't have been difficult for him to have presented it as “How Christianity Built Western Civilization,” and I wish he had done so. Still, no one should feel snubbed. I think we can all learn form this book.
Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:
Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of interest.
Obama Says A Baby Is A Punishment
And thanks for this thread. Will order copy of book tomorrow.
I have nothing against Catholics, but back in the day the Church was quite oppressive, There were lots of goofy things they used to do, much to thier credit the Church has tried to be more mainstream, I reject the latest of thier notions as well, but then again, I’m not a Catholic. And lots of people that used to be Catholic, think that things are going too goofy for even them, So Vatican suffers, from the goofyness of the past to the goofyness of the present, I’m smart, I don’t give a penny to anybody. This way nobody bothers me. There are thosands of folk affiliated with the Catholic church that do go work, I respect thier sacrifies, but to the higher ups, I must say they have gone off track, What ever happened to the word?
And You’re welcome.
Well, I think I would put it like this; as the saying goes, first things first, the Catholic Church is historically the first Christian religion, so we could say (I don't want to sound arrogant here) the Protestant religion benefited in a sense from the Catholic one, for example by the preservation of the Scriptures by the monks etc.
This is false. Who do you think was copying Aristotle, Vergil, Livy, all that? Very very few actual texts survive from antiquity--most of what we have is medieval recopies by monks. The record of the monasteries in preserving the literature of antiquity from the barbarian onslaughts is well known.
Second of all, if the Church "had an agenda" that made it miss some scientific discoveries, then what kind of agenda did Fred Hoyle and all the atheists have who believed in the erroneous "steady state" theory in the mid-1900s? They criticized FATHER Georges Lemaitre and others for the Big Bang theory--which they said smacked too much of Genesis. I have yet to see them called on the carpet for that. But it's true--their a priori atheism interfered with their science.
I had the pleasure of reading this book a few years ago. You raise an interesting point about Galileo. If you gave the book a shot, you’d learn the part of the story you apparently never heard.
"The term 'Dark Ages' was once applied to the entire millennium separating the period of late antiquity from the Renaissance. Nowadays, there is widespread acknowledgment of the accomplishments of the High Middle Ages. As David Knowles points out, scholars have begun more and more to push the 'Dark Ages' back still further, excluding the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries from that dubious distinction.
Still, there can be little doubt that the sixth and seventh centeries were marked by cultural and intellectual retrogression, in terms of education, literary output, and similar indicators. Was that the Church's fault? Historian Will Durant--an agnostic--defended the Church against this charge decades ago, placing blame for the decline not on the Church, which did everything could to reverse it, but on the barbarian invasions of late antiquity. 'The basic cause of cultural retrogression,' Durant explained, 'was not Christianity but barbarism; not religion but war. The human inundations ruined or impoverished cities, monasteries, libraries, schools, and made impossible the life of the scholar or the scientist. Perhaps the destruction would have been worse had not the Church maintained some measure of order in a crumbling civilization."(How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization; Ch.II ) Thomas E, Woods Jr.