Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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counselled prudence in publication. He therefore published his observa-
tions anonymously, stating as his reason for so doing: " My Superiors
thought that I should proceed slowly and cautiously until the phenomenon
should be corroborated by other people's observations, and that I should
not depart from the beaten track of the philosophers without evidence
to the contrary," which seems very sensible advice and much more
probable than the tale in the text. As another instance of the Aristotelo-
mania of the day may be quoted the tale which relates that Ca?sar
Cremonini (1552-1631) refused to look through Galileo's telescope for fear
of finding that Aristotle's physics were wrong !

2 " Astronomy," in Home University Library, Williams & Norgate,
n. d., p. 9.


vaguest kind of foundation. Planets must move in circles
because the circle is the only ' perfect ' figure. Seven is a
perfect number, and therefore if you have found seven of a
thing you need not waste time looking for an eighth. This
was the kind of argument that passed for scientific in the
Middle Ages ; this was the kind of prejudice which the early
European astronomers had to rid their own minds of first,
and then to banish from the minds of others."

Very foolish, no doubt ; still it was the spirit of the
period, and unless we try to grasp that fact it is impossible
to understand the relations between religion in general
and science at that time. Again, the very idea of proving a
statement by experiment never seems to have entered into
the minds of men ; "if it is in print, it must be true"
seems to have been their attitude. Take, for example, the
case of the discussion between Galileo and Sarsi. 1

Sarsi quoted Suidas, in support of his theory that motion
always produces heat, to the effect that the Babylonians
used to cook their eggs by whirling them in a sling. Galileo
replies by pointing out that it is quite easy to repeat the
experiment and by so doing to expose the absurdity of the
statement. Sarsi, no doubt, had never thought of that ;
an excellent illustration of the attitude of the time which
has to be reckoned with. " Yes," it will perhaps be argued,
"but all these instances relate to places and persons under
papal sway, and it is just that baneful influence which led
them to take up these absurd positions." Well, Francis
Bacon was pretty nearly contemporary with Galileo.
No one will contend that he was under papal sway, nor
has he ever been charged with being an obscurantist : in
fact he is often called the Father of Modern Science. Yet
Bacon's writings are full of the same kind of errors which
might easily have been corrected by experiment. For
example, 2 wooden arrows without an iron point penetrate
farther into wooden substance than the same arrows pointed
with iron, owing to " the similitude of substance." No more
foolish sentence could be discovered in Sarsi.

1 ** Galileo," by Hull, p. 40.

1 " Natural History," Cent, viii, 704. A number of similar absurd-
ities can be culled from his pages.


Again in 1596 — that is, some thirty odd years before
Galileo's trouble — the University of Tubingen was certainly
not under papal sway or influence : its Theological Faculty
was of a purely Protestant character. Yet that Faculty
censured Kepler most unmercifully for writing a book in
favour of the Copernican views — that is, for taking up the
same position as Galileo was to take up somewhat later.
In fact they harried the unfortunate man to that extent
that he fled from Tubingen, and to whom ? Of all people in
the world, to those notorious obscurantists the Jesuits of
Gratz and of Ingoldstadt, who welcomed him warmly on
account of his great services to learning ! Still two wrongs
do not make a right, and the Protestant condemnation of
Kepler does not make the Catholic condemnation of Galileo
any the more tolerable. 1

But it does help us to understand how it came about.
And, further, it does lead us to ask ourselves how it comes
about that whilst we are dosed with the Galileo episode ad
nauseam, we never hear Protestantism attacked for its
treatment of Kepler. At any rate, what has just been said
will help us to understand to some slight extent the kind
of world into which Galileo was born. Galileo (1564-1642)
found himself confronted by two theories as to our solar
system. There was the geocentric theory of Ptolemy, which
made the earth the centre around which the sun, moon, and
stars revolved ; and there was the heliocentric theory of
Copernicus, which regarded the sun as the centre around
which the earth and the other bodies in question revolved.
Galileo's observations led him to adopt the latter theory,
which everybody now knows to have been the correct one :
but it was the unpopular view amongst the men of science of
the day, not to speak of the theologians of various kinds.
They attacked Galileo and his theory on scientific grounds,
and, being worsted, turned their attention to the religious

1 As bearing upon the history of the time and its ideas, it must not be
forgotten that Servetus, in whose " Christianismi Restitutio " (1553)
occurs the first description of the pulmonary circulation ever penned, was
slowly and barbarously roasted to death at Geneva by order of Calvin.
Cardinal de Tournon, who controlled the Inquisition in France, had
previously rejected with scorn the accusation of heresy which the arch-
heretic Calvin had sent to him against Servetus,


aspect of the case. Literal explanation of every proposition
in argument had been fostered by the scholastic method of
discussion. Further, the controversies with the Protestant
Reformers, committed by their fundamental principles to
theories of rigid verbal inspiration, had intensified this
narrow method of scriptural exegesis, and caused the ancient
broad figurative and symbolic interpretation of S. Augustine
and other Fathers to be at times lost sight of, even by theo-
logians when drawn into ardent controversy on properly
scientific questions, unfortunately with subsequent discredit
to the cause of religion. In a later chapter our present
attitude to this question will be alluded to — a question
adequately and illuminatively dealt with by Leo XIII in
his Encyclical " Providentissimus Deus."

It was on account of its apparent inconsistence with the
Biblical account of the miracle of Joshua and the sun that
the Theological Faculty at Tubingen had condemned Kepler,
and it was on very similar grounds that the Qualifiers or
experts of the Holy Office or Inquisition gave their cele-
brated verdict that : "the proposition that the sun is the
centre of the world and does not move from its place is
absurd and false philosophically, and formally heretical,
because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture " : and (2),
" The proposition that the earth is not the centre of the
world and immovable, but that it moves, and also with a
diurnal motion, is equally absurd, false philosophically,
and, theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith."

In thus concluding, the experts did take upon themselves
to condemn what we all now believe to be a fact of science.
Of course, at the moment it was a theory only, but let that
pass. In this, as all writers now agree, they acted wrongly
and foolishly, and led the Pope, who possibly did not know
very much about what was under consideration, into error
with them. No doubt Galileo's own conduct, 1 which was

1 Of course what was really wrong with Galileo was that he was unable
to grasp the conception of a " working hypothesis," a thing well known
and well recognised to-day by men of science, though apparently unknown
to many of the writers on " popular science." In his " Trattato della
Sfera," written in 1606, Galileo adopted the Ptolemaic views as not merely
useful but as indisputably true. Later on he was equally sure of Coper-
nicanism, though his proofs were patently inadequate, and one of them,
that based on the tides, wholly wrong.


tactless and provocative in the extreme, conduced to a
condemnation which might otherwise not have been asked
for, perhaps even obtained. But none of this really excuses
what took place, and in the interest of truth the fact should
not be blinked. Huxley, who certainly was not biased in
favour of the Church, stated his opinion as follows : " I
looked into the matter when I was in Italy, and I arrived
at the conclusion that the Pope and the College of Cardinals
had rather the best of it." 1 That Catholic writers take a
less favourable view than did Huxley may be gathered
from the following quotations : " In spite of such pleas "
(i.e. pleas, Catholic and Protestant, on behalf of the Roman
authorities), " we can only deplore the prosecution of
Galileo, and the assumption by an ecclesiastical tribunal of
authority to which it had no claim in the domain of physical
science." 2 " The official documents plainly embody the
view that the Copernican theory was not only ' false ' but
also ' heretical ' because ' altogether contrary to Scrip-
ture ' ; and Galileo was condemned as ' grievously sus-
pected of heresy,' which heresy is defined as ' holding
that the earth moved and the sun stood still.' It is pre-
cisely in this dogmatical pronouncement on the heretical
character of the new astronomy that their blunder con-
sisted." 3 It has been claimed by some who were wholly
ignorant of what they were writing about, that the Infalli-
bility of the Church and of the Pope was involved in this
decision. It would be impossible here to deal fully with the
matter, so we content ourselves with summing up the reply
in the words of a very distinguished Protestant astronomer : 4
" The Catholic doctrine on the subject " (Papal Infallibility)
" is perfectly definite ; and it is absolutely certain that the
decision in regard to Galileo's teaching, shown now to have
been unsound, does not in the slightest degree affect the
doctrine of infallibility, either of the Pope or of the Church.
The decision was neither ex cathedra nor addressed to the
whole Church ; in not one single point does the case illus-

1 " Life and Letters," Macmillan, London. 1900, II, 113.

8 Gerard, op. cit.

3 Hull. op. cit., p. 118.

« Proctor, in " Knowledge," Vol. IX, p. 274, teste Hull, p. 117.


trate this doctrine of papal infallibility as denned by the
Vatican Council."

Lastly, we may look at the further history of the question,
which, as Cardinal Newman somewhere points out, is re-
markable above all things for this fact that it is the only
case of its kind which the enemies of the Church are able to
bring against her.

Father Hull sums the matter up thus : " In spite of its
condemnation by the Roman Congregations, the Copernican
doctrine gradually spread till it was finally clinched by
Newton's Principia in 1696, and so secured general accept-
ance. The decrees of the Congregations were by no means
regarded as having closed the question for Catholics ; and,
generally, no scruple was felt on disciplinary grounds as
regards professedly teaching the new theory in Catholic
colleges. Thus, as early as 1634, leave was given to intro-
duce instruments for the teaching of astronomy in Rome
based entirely on the Copernican system. Cardinal Barberini,
nephew of Urban VIII, was presented with one of them.
In 1639 an d 1645 Bulialdus and Gassendi, both of them
Catholic priests, undertook the defence of the Copernican
system, and were neither reprimanded for it nor suspected
of heretical teaching.

" In 1656 the Imprimatur was given in Rome itself for a
defence of Copernicus against various physical and astro-
nomical objections ; and the same occurred again in 1667
and 1669. In 1661, P. Fabri, s.j., professor at the Roman
College, publicly declared that the authorities would at
once adopt the figurative explanation of the various passages
in Holy Writ, if only a real proof for the Copernican system
were forthcoming. P. Baldigiani, s.j., in 1678, thought that
the time had come to revoke the decree forbidding the
reading of the Dialogues ; and in 1685 P. Kochansky went
so far as to state that every Catholic was allowed to search
for a proof of the truth of Copernicanism. Meantime [like
the ancient obsolete laws in England], the decrees remained
on the books, and presented a certain technical difficulty
to the canonist. Hence, in 1757, Benedict XIV expunged
the universal prohibition of 1640. In 1744, Galileo's
Dialogo was allowed to be included in a new edition of his


collected works. In the year 1820 positive official permis-
sion was asked for and granted by Pius VII to Canon
Joseph Settle, a Roman professor, to publish a textbook
on science, containing the Copernican doctrine. Finally,
in 1822, the Inquisitor-General, under the sanction of Pope
Leo XII, declared that the printing and publication of
works treating of the motion of the earth and the stability
of the sun, according to the opinion of modern astronomers,
is permitted in Rome. In the next edition of the Index,
dated 1835, the decree of 1616 and all others touching the
question, as well as the names of all the prohibited books,
were finally expunged from the list." 1

The criticism which at once rises to the mind is that it
took a long time to convince Rome that a mistake had been
made. In this connection it is only right to remember that
the mistake was admitted eventually by the highest authori-
ties, and that it is at least fair to argue that, having once
fallen into error, it was better to wait and make perfectly
certain before once more expressing an opinion. But this
point may be raised again in a subsequent chapter.

1 It may be interesting to note that the famous expression attributed
to Galileo after his disavowal of the earth's motion (e pur si muove, i.e. yet
it does move), which has unfortunately been adopted as a motto for
that very useful series the Home University Library, is a myth. The
earliest known source of it appears to be the Abbe Irailh's " Querelles
Litteraires," Paris, 1761. (See " Notes and Queries," 7th series, xi, 424.)


IN the course of the preliminary pages of this book,
when the subjects which were to come under discus-
sion were being enumerated, mention was made of a third
factor in addition to Religion and Science — namely, Philo-
sophy : and to that subject it will now be necessary to devote
some attention. More especially it will be necessary to
draw attention to and to correct certain wholly inaccurate
ideas which exist in the minds of many persons with regard
to that system of Philosophy which is usually known by
the name of Scholastic. The term Philosophy, like the term
Science, has come to possess a much narrower significance
than it once had, or indeed than its derivation warrants.

Philosophy means a love of knowledge, and it must be
admitted that, if such were its present-day signification, a
considerable number of persons would be entitled to describe
themselves as philosophers to whom the world would deny
that title, at least in its rigid significance.

At the present day philosophy means a system of unifica-
tion and explanation of knowledge, or of the sum of know-

The learned Professor de Wulf says that "all philosophy
consists in a rational study of all or some of the problems
arising from our attempts to explain the universal order of
things by their ultimate causes or principles." 1 It will
scarcely be necessary to remind the readers of this work that
whilst the term Philosophy is one, the systems of Philosophy
are many, and are usually distinguished from one another

1 " Scholastic Philosophy," Dublin, Gill, 1907, trans., Coffey, 1907,
p. 7. Quotations from this work in this or subsequent chapters will be
cited as de Wulf.

D 33


by the names of their founders ; thus there are Kantians,
Hegelians, and so on.

The Scholastic system or system of the School is the
system traditionally associated with Catholic teaching in-
stitutions, and it is that with which we shall chiefly be con-
cerned in this book. It must, therefore, be very briefly dealt
with, and its exact relationship to the Church explained.

The Scholastic Philosophy may generally be said to be
built upon the works and ideas of Aristotle, who, though he
was affected by the erroneous science of the day, was un-
doubtedly one of the greatest thinkers and most powerful
intellects in the history of the world. The system was
developed by many great writers, not always by any means
on identical lines. For an account of these we must refer our
readers to some general work on the History of Philosophy. 1
Here it need only be said that the exponent whose name
is of the greatest significance to us is St. Thomas
Aquinas (1226-1274), a man whose marvellous knowledge
and extraordinary output of work during the comparatively
few years of his life upon earth cannot but excite the astonish-
ment of all who devote even the most casual attention to
the subject. From him is named the Thomistic Philosophy,
which is a form of Scholastic Philosophy, and that form
which has received the special approbation of Pope
Leo XIII, in his celebrated Encyclical " iEterni Patris."

From the very fact of its close connection with the
Church and her teaching organisations, there have arisen
two misconceptions altogether too prevalent, even to-day,
to which attention must be drawn. First of all, it is a
common mistake to confuse Scholastic Theology with
Scholastic Philosophy ; and secondly, even if this mistake
be not made, to imagine that the scholastic philosopher is
so tied and bound by authority that he cannot deal freely
and independently with his subject. On these two points
I shall not rely on my own statements, which would be of
but little value, but shall quote freely from those whose

1 The general reader may be confidently recommended to read de Wulf,
as translated by Coffey. Admirably translated and not unduly technical,
this book gives an adequate idea of the older and of the newer Scholastic
Philosophy. It is published by Gill in Dublin and by Benziger in America.


expressions of opinion must be listened to with respect as
coming from acknowledged authorities on the subject.
There is perhaps some excuse for the first mistake, for there
is a Scholastic Theology as well as a Scholastic Philosophy,
and, at least during the Middle Ages, the authors of books
upon one of the subjects were often, if not usually, also the
writers whose names are known in connection with the other ;
such, for example, was the case with St. Thomas Aquinas.

But that does not make the two subjects identical, and
de Wulf * bids us beware lest we confound, " as happens too
often, scholastic philosophy with scholastic theology. Theology
is not a study of the universal order by the light of human
intelligence ; it is, at least in its dogmatic portion, a systema-
tisation of certain doctrines that a positive revelation has
delivered to us. To confound scholastic philosophy with
scholastic theology is to confound the examination of
natural truths by reason with the study of Christian dogma
— as if scholasticism were only, as Brucker expresses it, a
discussion of revealed mysteries by the light of the badly
understood principles of Aristotelianism." In a further
passage de Wulf strenuously opposes this false view, pointing
out that, if it were true, the history of mediaeval philosophy
would be nothing more than a subsection of the history of
religions. And he continues, " What determines the proper
individuality of each of the various sciences, what furnishes
us with a test of their diversity, is not, the scholastics tell
us, the identity or diversity of the materials which they
treat (the material object of the sciences), but the treatment
itself of those materials (formal object of the sciences).
The distinction between two sciences is altogether due to
the distinction between the points of view from which they
regard things, of their principles and of their methods of
procedure. Just as two architects can build, by different
arrangements of the same stones, the one a Roman temple
the other a Gothic cathedral, so can two sciences deal with
the same realities, provided they approach them from
different standpoints. The astronomer, remarks St. Thomas,
studies the rotundity of the earth, no less than the physician, 2

1 Op. cit., p. 8.

2 The physicist, not the medical man, is here meant.


but the former draws his proofs from mathematics, the
latter from the laws of matter. So it is with theology and
philosophy. Each presents under every respect the char-
acteristics of that independence which is proper to a distinct
science. The one is based on the revealed word, the other
on the light of reason : the one is built up by way of au-
thority, the other proceeds by scientific proofs. Thomas of
Aquin, Henry of Ghent, Bonaventure, Godfrey of Fontaines,
Duns Scotus — in a word, all the scholastics, have given
expression to the same view regarding the distinction between
theological science and philosophical science." The other
error is that, though Scholastic Philosophy and Scholastic
Theology may be formally recognised as being distinct
studies, yet the former is so much based upon and con-
ditioned by the latter as to be unworthy of the name of an
independent branch of study. This objection was actually
pressed before the Irish Privy Council quite recently in
connection with the opposition to an appointment of a
lecturer in this subject in a college in Ireland. It was then
contended that the Scholastic system was not really a
philosophy at all " inasmuch as it was avowedly based on
the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and accepted
this authority instead of the evidence of reason as the
ultimate motive of assent to all its teachings." 1

Now to this error also de Wulf calls attention, remarking
" what a number of modern authors fall into the same error
and think that ' the content of the ideas being fixed by
dogma, no liberty remained except in the method of ex-
plaining and applying them.' If scholasticism be no more
than that, we may truly call it no longer a philosophy, but
an exegesis of belief, a commentary on the faith, a mere
plea pro domo." But I shall allow Dr. Coffey to speak on
this matter. " Anyone," he writes, " who has even a super-
ficial acquaintance with scholastic philosophy will be aware
of its clear and emphatic insistence on the fact that no
authority, human or divine, can be the ultimate ' test ' or

1 Coffey, quoting from the report of the proceedings before the Privy-
Council in his article " Philosophy and Sectarianism," " The Irish Theo-
logical Quarterly," October, 1910. The learned Professor of Philosophy
at Maynooth is admittedly an unexceptionable authority on his subject,
and I quote his criticism of the opinion in question a few lines lower down.


' criterion ' of truth, or the last underlying ground for our
assent to, and acceptance of, any truth ; and this for the
very simple reason that whenever we do assent to truth on
authority, we must first have employed our own reason to
estimate and judge the evidence forthcoming on behalf of
the knowledge and truthfulness of that authority. This is
a dictate of common sense ; and it is applied by scholastic
philosophy to all authority — including the authority of
God and the authority of the Church (and the Bible) in
regard to the contents of the Christian Revelation. Were
we unable to convince ourselves on grounds of reason —
namely, by submitting to the independent judgement of our
own reason the objective evidence available — that an all-
wise and all-truthful God exists and has spoken to men,
and that His revelation is faithfully conveyed (in the
Bible, or in the Bible and Tradition) and accurately inter-
preted for us by the Church (or by ourselves, according to
non-Catholic Christians) we could not rationally assent
(whether as Christians or as men) to what the Church (or
the Bible) proposes to us for our belief. 1 So scholastic
philosophy teaches that objective evidence, estimated by
the careful and cautious use of our own judging and reason-
ing faculties, is the ultimate test of all truth. And if it
taught otherwise it would obviously stultify both itself
and whatever authority, whether human or divine, it pur-
posed to examine. When, therefore, truths are proposed

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 4 of 38)