Science and Medieval Thought Part 2

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Mysticism makes for individual religion, as with Glisson and Newton, rather than for a Church, as Albert was clear-sighted enough to foresee; if science undermines dogma, mysticism relaxes or neglects it: hence, as clerks only could teach, it may have been that independent thinkers like Hales, Roger Bacon, and Ockham entered the Franciscan order[59]. Indeed the science of Pietro di Abano (1250-1320), which laid the foundations of medicine at Padua, and inspired the frescoes of the Salla della Ragione, was occult and mystical.

In the thirteenth century then the conflict with the provisional synthesis of the Faith had become imminent and menacing. The faith, the chivalry and the learning of the Saracens led men to feel that without the Church all might not be utter darkness. Albert owed as much to Avicenna-"the Albert of the Orient"-as St Thomas to Averroes; pagan sages technically d.a.m.nable yet "mighty spirits," worthy of reverence.

Dante put in h.e.l.l, but on green meadows in an open place, lofty and luminous,-esteeming himself exalted by the sight of them,-not only Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, but also

"Euclide geometra, e Tolommeo, Ippocrate, Avicenna, e Galieno, Averrois, che il gran comento feo."

Inf. IV. 142.

Universities were founded in France, England, and Italy. Frederick the Second protected the Arabs, and even aped them; Ghibeline indeed almost signified freethinker. From the Roman de Renard, from the candid Joinville, from Boccaccio, we may infer that the very foundations of the Faith were sapped; and therewith, for good or ill, both moral and political bonds were loosened. But the natural Science which made the second renascence irresistible was absent in the first: the consolidation of the European peoples was not compact enough for a rehandling of the conceptions of religion and morals, too incomplete even for the lat.i.tude of opinion which, in nations as in individuals, is apt to slacken swift and consentient action. The toleration and scepticism of the first renascence had causes no deeper than a general enlargement of experience and thought.

To appreciate the influence, covert or overt, of scepticism in the Middle Ages we must clear the meaning of the word. Under the yoke of tribal custom scepticism can hardly arise, there is no place for the half-hearted, as all men feel alike so all think alike: scepticism arises when beliefs are put into formal propositions. Then, as experience and comparison enlarge, we detect scepticism in three forms or degrees: namely, doubt of a particular creed; doubt of all unverified propositions; and doubt of the validity of reason itself, whether in respect of the supernatural only or of all argument. It is remarkable that this last, the most devastating of the forms of scepticism, has come from the ranks of the faithful (Pascal, Hamilton, Mansel), who in resentment of the attacks of reason have turned blindly to rend reason herself. No civil society has been without scepticism; even in ages of most prevalent faith some current of doubt has flowed under the surface.

In the Ionian philosophy the place of scepticism was only restricted in so far as many aspects of the subject-matter were not before those thinkers; for instance no Greek philosopher would have separated faith from reason. In the well-known words of Hippocrates, "??d?? ?te???

?t???? ?e??te??? ??d? ?????p???te???, ???? p??ta ?e?a." "The Greek boldly set up his academy by the side of the temple." Even Protagoras never taught the futility of all reason, nor even the inconstancy of sensation which indeed is doctrine rather than scepticism. Neo-platonism had its scepticism in the first two forms, covering even the ground of the modern agnostic. Agnosticism does not deny the existence of the ladder, but a.s.serts that the ladder begins and ends in the clouds; it is consistent therefore with ethical and practical activity. When Abelard said "Dubitando enim ad inquisitionem venimus, inquirendo veritatem percipimus," if a sceptic, he was no infidel. Even in the thirteenth century it was never doubted that truth is attainable, nor indeed that the Faith contained the truth. The scepticism of that age was rather cautious and controversial than faithless, and in practice divine discontent rather than indifference (?ta?a??a). Pyrrhonism on the other hand leads to slackness of ethics; either to the insouciance of Horace and Montaigne, or to the att.i.tude of the seventeenth century in Padua (Pomponatius) and elsewhere, when the "economy," ironic or disingenuous, of allotting their several spheres to reason and dogma, if not first invented, became as fashionable as in the pulpits and in the drawing-rooms of Mayfair. "Comme savant j'ignore tout; comme citoyen je crois tout." The _Hypotyposes Pyrrhoni_ of s.e.xtus Empiricus, whose influence in the times of the Renascence was considerable, was not translated till the fourteenth century. The detachment of mind and shrewd wisdom of John of Salisbury foreshadowed Petrarch rather than Hume; and when John discusses what it is given to man to know, asking the frequent question, "Utrum contingat homini scire aliquid?", we must not fall into the error of importing into his question all it connotes for ourselves. Likewise when James of Douay (in MS. _De anima_, quoted by Haureau) roundly says, "Id quod recipitur ab aliquo non recipitur secundum naturam rei receptae sed secundum naturam recipientis ... sicut recipitur ita pat.i.tur.... Sensus judicando de sua pa.s.sione non decipitur" and so on, he knew no more whither this would lead than John Duns knew that his system must lead to that of Spinoza. That guardians of morals and social cohesion, from Cato to the Westminster a.s.sembly, and from Samuel Johnson to Cardinal Newman, should have distrusted scepticism even as reserve of judgment, or indeed repelled it with fierceness; that priest, presbyter, magistrate and moralist have tolerated irony, or even license, rather than vigilant and radical criticism of doctrine, is intelligible; and within limits springs from a justifiable apprehension. For the gay and indolent sceptic veers to conformity, especially if he mistrust the competence of reason; while the active sceptic endangers the theory of his society, and of the sanctions upon which all moral conduct temporarily depends. Hence the bitter condemnation of Galileo, "Perish all physical science rather than one article of the Faith be lost." Happily it is true that during times of transition piety and good conduct survive by virtue of "inertia,"

that is by tradition, social pressure, custom and sense of fitness; and it is true that in times of transition, as in our own times, halting thought is quickened for a while by plenitude of emotion, and wealth of aesthetic impressions makes amends for poverty of ideas; yet that morals are based on a theory of life is a truth still deeper and more abiding, and this deeper truth it was the function of the "Ages of Faith" to root in the conscience of mankind. "Abeunt studia in mores." As contrasted with Pyrrhonism, scepticism in its normal sense, while it declares that the conformity of notions with things in themselves cannot be postulated, for lack of an external standpoint of comparison, and while it declines to be confuted by the "regressus ad infinitum," for, having repudiated first principles it is prepared to be pushed backwards to remoter and remoter causes, is ready nevertheless to yield to a.s.surance as facts are intercalated into inferences, and as inferences thus stiffened by verification are found to consist with each other and with the general context of experience.

If in the Middle Ages these various att.i.tudes of mind were not fully distinguished, yet scepticism was moving variably towards the demand for verification on which all natural science is based; and the reaction was not long delayed. In the thirteenth century the culture of Omeyad and Abasid caliphs failed; by the end of the century philosophy was denounced and its books were burned; the generous and learned Frederick dashed himself in vain against the Papacy; Clement, the protector of Bacon, was dead, and during the two following centuries, in Spain at any rate, freedom of thought was crushed out by the Church. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the very name of Averroes-of "the mad dog who barked against the Christ," the "Averroem impium ?a? t??? ?at??at??"

of Erasmus-began to signify loose life as well as free thought. Of this resentment there had been no trace in Albert or St Thomas; but Imola had begun to wonder why Dante had treated so well Averroes who, if the Great Commentator, was yet the father of infidels.

The Dominicans controlled the fine arts, and for them,-at Pisa, at Siena, in the Spanish Chapel,-Orcagna, Gaddi, Spinello Aretino, Simone Memmi abased the Empire, Averroes, and the new learning far more intolerantly than Dante had done; and exalted the Pope, with his handmaids Theology, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. In Santa Maria Novella, Memmi represents the triumph of the Dominicans in theology, Gaddi in philosophy; St Thomas and the Dominicans march triumphant over Arius, Sabellius, Averroes, and Savonarola. Thus in the Middle Ages Averroes appeared in two forms-first as the Great Commentator, later as the blasphemer and father of infidels of the Campo Santo and of Santa Maria Novella. In the fifteenth century the Council of Constance forbad the laity to teach, under a penalty of forty days' excommunication. In the sixteenth, in Granada, Ximenes burnt, it is said, 80,000 books of Arab philosophy, as Torquemada did for Hebrew in Seville; medical works, however, such as the Colliget[60] of Averroes, and his Commentary on Galen, were spared.

With the greater renascence the second period of Scholasticism, and indeed the Middle Ages themselves are closed. With the fall of Constantinople the stream of learning, driven eastwards in the first period of the Middle Ages, set westward again. Exiled grammarians now found their shelter under the protection of the "literate tyrants" of Italy, and with their spoil of ma.n.u.scripts enriched the libraries of Rome and Venice. The Universities of Bologna and Padua from their foundation became notable for independence of thought; and, on the revival of learning, for their peripatetic teaching as opposed to the platonism of Florence, where, however, a spirit of accurate learning was nurtured in the deciphering and verification of texts. The political and commercial ambition of Venice, the Holland of Italy, of which State Padua was the learned quarter, and the inflow of liberal thinkers from other nations, kept her aloof from the fury of the Catholic reaction of the sixteenth century, which ruined Paris; thus in North-east Italy the spirit of modern science awoke sooner than in England or in France, and inquisitive students, both home and foreign, were attracted rather to Padua and to Bologna than, as in earlier times, to Paris.

In so far as Scholasticism may be described as a temporary reconciliation of Aristotle-that is, of natural and secular methods-with the Faith, this end had been attained, if at all, by St Thomas; in St Thomas Scholasticism culminated. But no such artificial truce could abide; and the issue of the chief scholastic controversy was to be determined by one greater than St Thomas. The pilgrim to Ockham, sitting in its church beneath the seven lancets of its twelfth century window, may be solitary also in his memory of one of the greatest of Englishmen, who saw that light six long centuries ago; yet a child rather of our age than of his own. As Abelard had closed the gates upon the neo-platonist tradition of Alexandria, so Ockham closed them against realism in all its forms; and the Church cursed them both. In his own person the occupation of professorial chairs by Franciscans came to an end; Paris and the Thomists could not consistently oppose nominalism; Duns the Northumbrian had inflated realism into a monstrous phantasm, and speculative reason had to submit to the yoke of verification. Yet what could nominalism do for theology, or for clerical schools? The Franciscans for the most part had turned to mysticism, and thenceforth the man of science and the devotee were to work apart. Furthermore, by Ockham philosophy gained a new meaning, or lost all meaning. Before Locke, Voltaire, and Kant, Ockham demonstrated that faculties were not substances; and differentiated logic, psychology, and natural science[61].

But if, as I have said, the way for Harvey and the other pioneers of natural knowledge was thus prepared for them, it was still, even in the seventeenth century, dark, rough and perilous. As in all times of transition, still the weight of defunct systems rolled inertly along; and while the new forces seemed to slumber stresses were acc.u.mulating.

In Oxford and Cambridge the influence of Linacre, and even of Caius[62], seems to have been rather humanist than scientific[63]; in Oxford the text rather than the inspiration of Aristotle prevailed, while in Cambridge the platonist school, of which the charming Henry More was the leader, full of inspiration as it was, soon evaporated into mysticism, or obscurantism. Bacon and Harvey seem to have left Cambridge-for Paris and Padua respectively-as Locke left Oxford[64], under some discouragement. Of Paris the great days were over; it was in Padua that medicine, long degraded or disguised, was now to prove her lineage as the mother of natural science, and the truth of the saying of Hippocrates that to know the nature of man one must know the nature of all things. But on Harvey's arrival, Padua, which had become the first school of Medicine in Europe, as was Bologna of Imperial Law[65], was settling down upon the lees of the once n.o.ble school of Averroes: a discipline which, by its original strength, by its freedom of thought, and by the ascendency of its professors, had withstood in the thirteenth century the direct condemnation of the brilliant fourth Lateran Council; and in the sixteenth the thunders of Trent. Padua adopted Averroism, in the fourteenth century, because of its medical contents; in the two following centuries this system was emptied of heart and life, but pattered and mumbled by pretentious pedants in North-east Italy it prevailed till the seventeenth, when after a reign of three centuries it was succeeded by the Cartesian. Of its phases in the sixteenth century Patrizzi said, "Ingens ab his philosophorum numerus ac successio manavit quae in Aven Rois hypothesibus habitavit.... Inde dubitationum ac quaestionum s.e.xcentorum milium numerus manavit" (Disc.

Peripat. Vol. I. Venet. 1571; quoted by Renan, Averroes). The name of Averroes, "perfectus et gloriosissimus physicus, veritatis amicus et defensor intrepidus," became the shibboleth of philosophers who held the different nature of the heavenly bodies against the "moderns" who alleged the ident.i.ty of matter in sky and earth, and the doctrine of the universal against the individual soul.

Yet, in spite of Petrarch's gibes, Averroism in its spring had nursed Padua with the milk of natural science. Even in its decay-for all teaching of philosophy, as a separate study, must decay-the triumph of the Faith was premature; like Jansenism, the School of Averroes, effete as it became, held the ground for a more dangerous invasion, for Leonardo, Telesio, Bruno, Gilbert, Sarpi, Campanella, Galileo, and Harvey; for the pioneers of truth, not as consistency with tradition, not as an alchemical search for real essences, nor indeed as wisdom only; but as the verification of premises. This fuse Paracelsus fixed to the sh.e.l.l which burst upon the Faith, upon Scholasticism, upon Galenism, and even upon humanism, "So Christus spricht 'Perscrutamini scripturas'; warum soll ich nicht sagen 'Perscrutamini naturas rerum'?" The _Credo ut intelligam_ of Augustine and Anselm of Canterbury; the _Intelligo ut credam_ of Aquinas belonged to the past; and men began to cry "c'est Dieu qui nous veut heretiques." A criticism based upon a larger sense of the relativity of knowledge, and, in the sixteenth century, a new scepticism[66], which pierced even into the Vatican, as to the very possibility of knowledge of the nature of being, were preparing the way for new conceptions: but in ethics meanwhile men were falling either into the carelessness of the scoffer or into the anti-nomianism of the mystic. The brilliant futilities of the medieval dialectic had led to weariness of spirit. After vain and vexatious jugglings with the dry tissues of unchastened ratiocination, simplicity and even ignorance brought their solace.

As from Florence humanism invaded English letters, so the Averroistic physician of Padua became known, even in Chaucer's day, as a man of secular rather than of Scriptural learning. In Padua, while Galileo was teaching Euclid for a pittance, chairs of Averroistic philosophy were filled by highly paid professors, whose "rotuli" or portfolios, many of which now rest in the dust of the libraries of North Italy, were handed down from one to another in deadly routine. Virtually, however, the Averroistic tradition ended with a contemporary Paduan professor, Cremonini, lifted into fame by Harvey's refutation in the _De motu cordis_, and by his own repudiation of the satellites of Jupiter, bodies for which Aristotle had made no provision. The coa.r.s.eness and pedantry of the Averroistic freethinkers, whose scepticism lacked the elegance and sprightliness of the French, and their b.a.s.t.a.r.d language-mongrel of Greek and Arabic-revolted the humanists also: "Nihil indoctius, nihil insulsius, frigidius." "Unum te obsecro," Petrarch had said two hundred years before (in his invectives against doctors, whom he cla.s.sed with astrologers, as afterwards indeed did Harvey more or less), "ut ab omni consilio mearum rerum tui isti Arabes arceantur atque exsulent." "De medicis non modo nil sperandum sed valde etiam metuendum[67]." The doctors in their turn did not hide their disdain for poets. Whether justly or unjustly, the Doctors of Medicine were cla.s.sed with astrologers and alchemists; the latter of whom Harvey repudiated frankly, not altogether avoiding a contempt for chemistry itself. Clad in fine raiment, with rings on their fingers and golden spurs on their heels, they rode tall horses, and gave themselves pompous airs. The humanist would rather pose as a believer than as an underbred infidel; the Averroist protected the license of his doctrines and manners by subterfuge and ironic evasion: and humanist and Averroist alike stood by at the burning of Bruno[68].

It must not be supposed, however, that these pompous pedants had it all their own way, and that Medicine was not better justified of her children. It is full of interest for our present purpose to read in the preface by Thomas Junta to the Edition of Averroes (1552), "Plerique omnes juniores medici jam intolerabile in Arab.u.m Mauritaniorumque dogmata odium conceperunt, ut ne nominandi citandive locus relinquatur; principes etiam Hippocratem atque Galenum habere nos praedicant." This enlightenment seems to have come about in some part through the teaching of Thomaeus Nicolaus Leonicus[69], who began to lecture, for the first time, from the Greek text of Aristotle (there were chairs thenceforth for both the Arabian and the Greek Aristotle) in 1497.

It was with Galileo however that scientific research began in Padua, at any rate for professors; and Galileo may be venerated as the first modern naturalist to set the experimental method conceptually, coherently, and thoroughly before himself, including the deductive side of it. In the Harveian Oration of 1892, Dr Bridges reminded us that Galileo conceived of motion and energy as calculable quant.i.ties, and drew our attention to those most interesting experiments wherein Galileo applied the pendulum to measure the rate and rhythm of the pulse. Roger Bacon had dwelt upon experiment, but scarcely upon methodical verification thereby. The chemistry of Albert of Cologne was but a return of the curiosity of Geber of Cordova (in the ninth century). Even Francis Bacon saw the method less clearly than Galileo had done; and, as the last of the schoolmen and encyclopedists, he made a place for it rather in literature and philosophy: he ignored, as the scientific Descartes welcomed, the cardinal discoveries of Copernicus and of Harvey[70]. But if Galileo discovered the experimental method as a method, before Galileo the method was in use. Leonardo had laid down the rule of investigation of nature by experiment, and the aphorism that nature never deceives us; unfortunately his ma.n.u.scripts were not published. In the first half of the fifteenth century Nicholas of Cusa weighed plants at definite stages of their growth in known weights of earth; and he weighed the moisture of the air. His contemporary Leon Battista Alberti of Genoa had done likewise. But above all the scientific forerunners of Galileo and Harvey stands William Gilbert, Fellow of St John's College, Doctor of Medicine of Cambridge, Censor and President of this College, Physician to Queen Elizabeth, and Founder of the science of Magnetism.

The century dating from the birth of Galileo to the death of Harvey was perhaps the most brilliant in the history of modern knowledge. The discovery of Greek texts had destroyed the conventional Aristotle, the conventional Hippocrates and Galen; since the latter part of the sixteenth century Greek had been taught in the High Schools, philosophy was born again, and men found themselves no longer the slaves but the kin of the great ancients. Telesius, Bruno, Campanella vindicated natural science and liberty of thought. Galileo taught in Padua for twenty years, including the time when Harvey graduated there; Torricelli was a pupil of the great Florentine; in 1582, on the theory of Copernicus, Gregory reformed the Calendar, and thus laid the axe to the root of astrology; by Newton terrestrial physics were established in the celestial spheres[71]. Malpighi, who was to fulfil Harvey's discovery and foresight, was born in N.-E. Italy in the very year (1628) in which the _De motu cordis_ was published. In 1626 Boyle was creating chemistry. Anatomy, which had slept since its days in Alexandria, was fully awake. The Society of the Lincei was virtually founded in 1603; the Royal Society[72] in 1645; the Academy of France in 1656. Clinical teaching, initiated in Salerno and advanced by the _Consilia_ _medica_[73], was formally established in Padua[74], to be pursued in Heidelberg, Leyden, and Vienna. Thus was the study "De rerum natura juxta propria principia" unfolded, and the "Civitas Dei" gave place to the "Regnum Hominis."

The "Regnum Hominis"! Yet when I look, from a respectful distance, upon the folios of the schoolmen, monuments, I am told, as empty as the Pyramids of Egypt, my mind turns back to the fiery and turbulent tribes which in the "deep but dazzling darkness" of the Middle Ages raged upon a barren land before the nations began; and I wonder if the ideas which awed them, swayed them, and welded them into stable societies were fancies as wild and sterile; and if the men who wrought them were mere traffickers in words. And then I wonder if we are glad that the riddle of the origin and issues of being, which tormented their eager hearts, is not solved, but proved insoluble: if we are glad that "sub specie hominis" the earth, no longer the nursery of eternal souls, is but a meteor in the sky; men and women but the gleam upon it; the sons of Heaven but companies of whirling stones, and the Father of Heaven an inaccessible idea.

The scholastic philosophies became inhuman only in their decrepitude. In the equal eye of history, the Middle Ages teach us that the slow and painful travail of natural science is not to be regarded as the belated labour of light in the womb of darkness, nor as a mere stifling of the growth of the human mind by tyranny and oppression, nor indeed as the arming of moral forces against brute forces, but as the condition of time in the making of societies on a necessarily provisional theory of life. They teach us that conduct in state and morals depends upon a theory of life; that although habits and even standards of ethics may abide for a time after the theory on which they were built is sapped, it is but for a time; that if the social discipline and fruition are to be renewed and enlarged it must be upon a new synthesis, as laborious and ardent as the former, and more true. Meanwhile the business of a nation, whether in war or peace, is first to be quick and strong in action, to be rational afterwards; and swiftness and strength come of union of wills and singleness of heart rather than of wisdom. Even within its borders freedom of opinion must awaken slowly; the nation strong enough to suffer irresolutions in its outward policy has yet to appear. Hence it is that we find in ruling cla.s.ses, and in social circles which put on aristocratical fashions, that ideas, and especially scientific ideas, are held in sincere aversion and in simulated contempt.

The Greek was no heathen, suckled by nature and endowed only with her instincts; he sought in his mind to improve nature: but in the Renascence instincts were set as free as thought. In this pa.s.sionate and adventurous time to preach the destruction of the animal instincts, or to crush them for the higher life, was a n.o.ble idea, but an impossible hope; the animal impulses are to be trained, not suppressed, and for this the help of science was to come. Yet science was to be not the hated rival but a necessary ally of religion. It is not within the province of science to answer the medieval searchings on the nature of being, nevertheless this threshold problem-"_der Drudenfuss auf der Schwelle_"-faces us still; and the world, so far as we have seen of it, has always demanded a provisional answer. To-day Professor James Ward offers it again in "Supreme Intelligence"; and Princ.i.p.al Caird ("Fundamental Christianity") yearns for the knowledge of infinite being almost in the words of Plato himself:-"If," he cries, "underneath all the phenomena of the world in which we live we can discern no principle of reason and order, no absolute intelligence and love, then indeed"

this world is a "meaningless waste."

Gilbert Galileo and Harvey, Maxwell Hertz and Darwin have taught men not that the speculations of the schoolmen were over-bold, for they busied themselves with no speculations bolder or more transcendental than are our modern theories on matter, on inertia, on the ether, or on the origin of life, but that metaphysics by "intercalation of facts" shall become physics, that, in the words of Descartes, concepts, if "et? t?

f?s???," "talia sint tantum ut omnibus naturae phaenomenis accurate respondeant," and that notions great and small shall be subjected to strict verification, so far as such tests can be carried; not that men shall deny themselves the rapture of touching that various instrument they find within themselves, but that they shall endure the drudgery of learning to play it in harmony with the orchestra of nature; not that they shall desist from imagining, but that before proclaiming hypotheses they shall be compelled to the humble task of making an infinite number of little piles of facts. The art of experiment can grow only with the growth of science itself; instruments of precision are not provided till men feel the need of them. The experimental verification of concepts is no mere alternative path, no mere renunciation, but a new birth; a birth into a dull and vexatious discipline for the impatient Hegelian, whether of the thirteenth or of the twentieth century, who believes that, as mind is the product of evolution, and so the sum and store of nature, "in dem Gedanken selbst das Wahre ist zu suchen[75]."

"Long fed on boundless hopes, O race of man, How angrily thou spurn'st all simpler fare."

The genius and courage concerned in a particular discovery or reform it were impossible to estimate; there is no method of determining the specific gravity of such adventures: moreover we are now so well used to the lights, bells, and soundings of the routes of scientific enquiry that it is hard for us to realise the pain and peril of fogs and contrary winds in voyages where were no such guides. Indeed no exposition of defects of methods can explain false habits of thought without a careful estimate of historical causes also, in what we may call the embryology of thought; for at no time were right methods of thought wholly wanting, or even wholly disregarded. But, as we approach Harvey's own time, if on the one hand I have shown that Europe until he came was not ready for him, on the other hand I trust I have made it more easy to conceive the weight of the social systems, opinions, and prejudices against which his gigantic effort was made. For, brilliant as was the promise of the Renascence, yet in the time of Harvey, and in the generation immediately before him, the decay of the scholastic methods and the worldliness of the Church, which in the first half of the sixteenth century had favoured the advance of secular culture, had led to a reaction, not against Luther only but also against all liberal learning and science. In the Vatican, in the Sorbonne, in the Consistory, and even in the courts of justice it was proclaimed that as these studies make government more difficult, it were ill to encourage them! We have seen that the Faith, though undermined and no longer catholic, was aroused, and was terrible still; orthodoxy was crushing free thought in Italy; Alva was in Flanders, and had been visited by Catherine de Medici at Bayonne; in France the ruthless religious wars ended in the triumph of Rome; Europe was overrun by Dominicans and Franciscans; Trent was long pregnant with anathema. Contrary sects alike defied liberal culture; and four years before Harvey's birth the wolf, hidden under another cloak, had torn Servetus-Servetus who shared with Colombo the honour of preparing the way for the founder of modern physiology. Even the genial conformist of the world, after his manner when he is scared, had turned brutal; he felt that the old conceptions upon which society was built for him, were suspected, and therewith society itself beginning to crack and split, yet he did not see that now by science only could society be recreated.

In Italy the Cinque Cento had taken its birth and nourishment chiefly from Latin sources and tradition. It regarded symmetry of form and rhetorical modes of pa.s.sion; elegance was preferred to matter, and style to knowledge. Such a culture had not the seeds of life in it; in the middle of the sixteenth century its enthusiasms waned, its philosophy fell into routine, its style into mannerism; but science, not philosophy, not the Faith, was the heir of the Middle Ages. Science is not of Latin but of Greek inheritance, its sources are Greek; and with the westward swarm of the Greeks their older boons of eloquence and beauty were rivalled by their newer gifts of scholarship and natural knowledge. In France the leaders of this school were the Huguenots, the flower of the nation; in the Catholic reaction of the sixteenth century France scorched her own bloom, and Spain was blasted for ever. The humanists, who at best were false friends of science and medicine, were no longer powerful friends; their n.o.ble rage was suppressed by chill penury, and many of the most learned and zealous of them were vagabonds in Europe. Rhetoric, fine art, and even philosophy may flourish in slavery, learning and science can breathe no air but that of freedom; and freedom of learning was quenched in the blood of the Ma.s.sacre of St Bartholomew. In 1540 had been founded the Society of Jesus, which then as now used science and learning, not as sources of truth or tests of conduct, but as tactics; putting on indeed the habit of the scholar, but only the more effectually to control research. Two years later the Spanish Inquisition was set up in Rome; and its shadow fell even over Venice, which abased itself to the imprisonment of Bruno. The great Venetian printers, some time reduced to the publications of decadent Averroism (p. 97), to avert bankruptcy had to print breviaries. Henry of Navarre, deserting Du Plessis Mornay, D'Aubigne, and De Thou, turned not only Roman Catholic but also ultramontane; and, if with his accession the Terror had ceased, social and political ostracisms, tests, and disabilities stifled all generous culture.

The great University of Paris, which throughout the Middle Ages had been the heart of Christendom, the centre of its life and heat, which in the fourteenth century was at its splendid culmination, and which had meddled with no feeble hand even in the State, was waning even in the fifteenth century, when France was devastated by war and rapine and her schools were emptied. This University, which had savagely condemned Joan of Arc, and sent Nicholas Midi to preach a solemn sermon at the stake, "pro Joannae salutari admonitione et populi aedificatione," in the sixteenth century came out of the religious wars stripped of its endowments, and deserted by its students; its curriculum was cra.s.sly conservative, its philosophy buckram, its theology a petrifaction; its forty colleges were closed, gra.s.s grew in its courts, and its public disputations were abased to the decorous apostasy of the freethinker.

Montpellier was dominated by realism (vitalism). Francis Bacon had done better to have gone with Harvey to Padua; almost in the year of the publication of the _De motu cordis_, the Parliament of Paris issued an edict that no teacher should promulgate anything contrary to the accepted doctrines of the ancients.

Such was the check which, after the death of Leo the Tenth, had befallen liberal studies: no Bembo now secretly protected freethinkers; in Central Europe the generous Maximilian the Second, who died in 1576 while counselling tolerance in religion to Henry the Third, was followed by reactionary emperors. In England no doubt the sky was clearer; in the Salamis of modern civilization the malign pretensions of Philip were shattered, and the "s.p.a.cious times of Elizabeth" were glorious in their outburst of freedom, adventure, and culture, Medicine, however, sinking in the sixteenth century, fell, in the seventeenth, into that reproach which has become a byword. All superst.i.tion was not within the Faith.

When Harvey's discovery, like an earthquake, had broken up galenism and other outworn sophistries, his masterly work stood forth not only against long-winded dialectics on ars sphygmica, critical days, coctions, derivatives, revulsives, and like abstractions bequeathed by realism and uncritical subservience to texts, but also against a more lurid background of folk superst.i.tions-of vampires, witch-burning, magic, cabbalism, astrology, alchemy, chiromancy, and water-casting. For medicine, says Bacon, is a.s.sociated with charlatanry as Aesculapius with Circe. In physics, terrestrial and celestial, Galileo, persecuted as he was, had some current with him and before him; Copernicus had preceded him, Kepler was beside him: but in physiology the waters had closed upon the path of Galen as upon the wake of a great ship; the anatomists, themselves galenists, had given Harvey little help; and the share of Servetus[76], Colombo, and Fabricius was but small in the discovery of the central fact of the science, and of the method which opened the way to Pecquet and Aselli, to Glisson, to Steno, to Wharton and Willis, to Haller and Bernard. Harvey's discovery was the first step to a transfiguration of medicine; and though after Harvey there arose much false physiology and therewith again great floods of medical sophistry, yet from his time medicine has had to reckon with physiology, the only source of scientific nosology and therapeutics.

We celebrate the memory of great men in the certain hope that in their children they will be born again.



Besides those greater preventions which lay in the very structure and organised conceptions of society in the Middle Ages, the student of natural science was thwarted also by many lesser, which could not find place in this oration. Among the chief of these was judicial astrology, which supplanted and degraded the art of medicine.

It is difficult to carry the imagination into a time when the heavens were conceived as an animate and divine being[77], the heavenly bodies as active and intelligent parts of it, and the whole set not in illimitable s.p.a.ce but around man and his home, and waiting upon him (vid. p. 47); yet without such an effort we cannot realise the ancient place and dominion of astrology. Such a possession when in its strength must have enthralled the human mind; and it abode tenaciously with the first scientific conceptions of celestial phenomena, even in the thoughts of the enlightened. Tycho Brahe, for many years of his life, was an adept; and even Kepler saw portents in the skies. When we read the doctrines of Aristotle on the celestial beings, it is indeed somewhat strange that upon him, upon Plato, and upon the Ionians, the "judicia astrorum" had even less hold than the mythology: so truly poised, even in the infancy of science, were the cosmic speculations of this wonderful race. The Romans by their Etruscan tradition held to astrology, chiefly derived from Chaldea and Egypt, and by them it was mixed with grosser folk magic; yet even in Rome there were many to repudiate it, not only such Grecian spirits as Cicero but also such Romans as Juvenal; as in Harvey's time it was a.s.sailed by the irony of Pascal and of La Fontaine. Even in the twelfth century John of Salisbury had not failed to turn his light artillery upon astrology.

This art of forecast naturally attached itself closely to that of medicine; and in its decrepitude still it clung to medicine like a parasite. And as parasites in the field of pathology, so astrology brought with it other noxious superst.i.tions and follies even worse than itself. In England it survived till the witty attack of Swift killed Partridge and astrology together; yet to this day many of its notions are embedded in our common speech.

Ptolemy among his good services did one ill to mankind by his _Tetrabiblon_ or "Quadripert.i.t," an astrological treatise which was current with the Almagest in the Western Schools. This authoritative treatise, together with the Aristotelian conception of the heavens, gave to astrology the aspect of a regular science with its own principles and methods; a science admired and even courted by princes. As Frederick the Second and Charles the Fifth would learn of the stars the moment to take the field against their foes, so the medieval physician sought their countenance in the letting of blood or in the exhibition of a clyster or emetic. The Church, abhorring all concurrent dominion, and justly abhorring this bondage of the judgment of G.o.d and of the will of man, almost alone withstood the astrologer. If the doctors of theology did not know how to deny the power of the stars in the material cosmos, they vehemently denied it in the world of the spirit. "Et ideo pro certo tenendum est," says Aquinas, "grave peccatum esse circa ea quae a voluntate hominis dependent judiciis astrorum uti." Of the priestly a.s.sailants of astrology, the most attractive to us for his wit, sagacity and sound knowledge, was Nicholas Oresme, sometime Bishop of Lisieux (died 1382), translator of the _Ethics_ and other Aristotelian treatises, as he is portrayed for us by Haureau (_Dict. des Sciences philosophiques_, art. Oresme) and M. Charles Jourdain. The fun of the thing is that the outspoken Oresme was the counsellor, the friend, and even the tutor of that notable astrologer Charles the Fifth; a story as honourable to the prince as to the subject. As Charles issued from the chambers of his astrologers the discourses of Oresme must have made him a little uncomfortable, especially when Oresme records the misfortunes of astrologising captains, such as Alphonso king of Castille, of whom, says he, I have heard nothing notable except that he cast horoscopes, was unfortunate in war, and neglected his kingdom; or such again as James the king of Majorca, a pa.s.sionate astrologer, who on the dictation of the stars made a sortie against Peter of Aragon, and never came back again. It is all very well, says Oresme, for kings to know somewhat of the n.o.ble science of astronomy, but they must be content to hear of it in talk with sages, and not to spend upon the stars time and care which they should devote to the interests of their people. "Mesmement tele chose (astrology, necromancy, geomancy and "quelconques tels ars") est plus perilleuse a personnes d'estat, comme sont princes et seigneurs ausquelz appartient le gouvernement publique. Et pour ce ay je compose ce livret en francois afin que gens lais le puissent entendre, desquels, si comme j'ay entendu, plusieurs sont trop enclins a telles fatuites. Et autres fois ay je escript en latin de ceste matiere" etc. In spite of the Bishop of Lisieux, astrology at the end of the fourteenth century reached the summit of its influence and popularity. In the course of his argument Oresme gives an admirable account of the nature of hallucination and the parts it may play in perverting knowledge; not only so but he explains also the fallibility of the normal senses in respect of organic defects, of media, of false inference, of a.s.sociation, of imposition of the imagination, and so forth. Under such circ.u.mstances, he says, a mystic might conceive himself to have been visited by an angel!


[1] To bring the oration within the time allotted, this portion, and the paragraphs on astrology added as an appendix, were omitted. For the same reason the paragraphs on scepticism (p. 82) were also omitted but by inadvertence have held their continuity in the text. It is customary to print the text as delivered; and this must be my excuse for the c.u.mbrous apparatus of notes, much of which might have been taken into an enlarged text. The notes are necessary to fortify statements which orally may pa.s.s, but do not satisfy a reader.

[2] The "humoral doctrine" is imperfectly known. The four _elements_ are earth, water, air, fire; the four _qualities_ are hot, cold, moist, dry; the four _humours_ are blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile. By permutation of these were obtained the endless elaborations of the galenist doctrine which for many centuries blinded Europe not to the truth only, but also to the clinical and physiological methods, example, and attainments of Galen himself.

[3] "Nec ullum satis validum imperium erat coercendis seditionibus populi, flagitia hominum ut caeremonias deum protegentis." Tac. Ann.

III. 60.

[4] It must not be supposed that the idealism of Plato and the mysticism of the East were alike, or even akin. Plato was a Greek; his mind, as we appreciate such qualities, was sane and lucid: he had no yearning whatever for absorption in the Infinite; but rather, like Aristotle, for a n.o.ble life.

[5] "Oftener on her knees than on her feet Died every day she lived."

Macbeth IV. 3.

[6] I see in recent reports of Egyptian exploration that at Oxyrhynchus Plato was represented with curious persistence by the Phaedo and the Laches; and these treatises appear in the early Fayyum papyri.

[7] A few axioms, collected from the physical and metaphysical treatises (perhaps by Ca.s.siodorus from Boetius), were current from an early date. The translations of Boetius must for a time have lain in some neglect?

[8] Alcuin had but a translated abridgment or summary of the Categories, attributed to Augustine; and in a MS. of the tenth century we find no more than this. Boetius' full translation of the Categories was not current till the end of this century, when all the logic of Aristotle was in the hands of the doctors. In the earlier Middle Ages, as in the writings of John of Salisbury and of William of Conches, we hear even more of Boetius than of the master himself. Virgil, Seneca and Cicero also were the sources of much of the culture of this period. Alcuin was a grammarian; he taught from Priscian and Donatus, improved the eighth century Latin, and probably made Virgil and Cicero known in Gaul and Britain. He knew but little Greek, as we infer from his quotation of the names of the Categories. Erigena knew more Greek and carried some of it to the Court of Charles the Bald. See note 2, p. 65. Alcuin probably did not visit Ireland. Boetius had translated also both a.n.a.lytics and the Topics.

[9] Yet Roger Bacon seems to have apprehended both progress and the relativity of truth. Before Newman, he declared that G.o.d makes no full revelation but gives it in instalments; and in another pa.s.sage he speaks of the judgments of Aristotle, and of other great teachers, "secundum possibilitatem sui temporis ... aliud tempus fuit tunc, et aliud nunc est"-a remarkable saying. Of the Saints he says "they had their time, we have our own." Vid. also note, p. 80.

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