« AnteriorContinuar »
refuge in absolute incredulity, and with absurd pertinacity refused to assure themselves by actual inspection of the reality of the phenomena thus revealed for the first time to mortal eyes. “Oh, my dear Kepler,' says Galileo, in one of his letters to that astronomer, how I wish that we could have one hearty laugh together! Here at Padua is the principal Professor of Philosophy, whom I have repeatedly and earnestly requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass, pertinaciously refusing to do so. Why are you not here? What shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly, and to hear the Professor of Philosophy at Padua labouring before the Grand Duke with logical arguments, as with magical incantations, to charm the new planets out of the sky.''
Kepler himself, speaking in extravagant ecstasy of his celebrated work, Harmonice Mundi' (in which he details the discovery of his third law of the planetary motions), says, “To be read now, or by posterity, I care not which ; it may well wait a century for a reader, since God has waited six thousand years for an observer.2
Kepler was a most remarkable character; among the last of the old astrologers and the first of the great astronomers. As a discoverer he is only excelled by Sir Isaac Newton. He discovered three great laws which, extended from the case of Mars (the planet he chose for study) to that of all the other planets in our system, constitute the foundation of celestial mechanics. The first law regulates the velocity; the second determines the figure of the orbit; the third establishes harmony among all the planetary motions. Since Kepler's time the discovered number of bodies in our system has more than trebled, and all have in turn verified these laws.3
i Grant's Hist. of Physical Astronomy, p. 521.
2 Kepler, Gallery of Portraits and Memoirs, vol. iii. Charles Knight, 1834.
3 See these laws explained in Whewell's Hist. of the Inductive Sciences, vol. i. p. 482, ' Inductive Epoch of Kepler ;' and in Herschel's Astronomy, (485)-(492).
The Christian Fathers—The Inquisition-Religious
Persecution. Intellectual history nowhere records a more remarkable revolution than the change of opinion that has occurred concerning the authority of the Fathers. Occasionally, indeed, even now, some mind of mediæval mould may be seen exhibiting the zeal or indiscretion of its piety by a flutter, so fervid or fantastic, of these antiquated ecclesiastical scarecrows, as to give them a semblance of life in the eyes of the unsophisticated vulgar; but in England the general judgment of the public has long since been pronounced against them, and is nowhere perhaps more leniently expressed than in the Edinburgh Review for November 1814, which says (in allusion to such an exploit as is above referred to), “We had thought that the merits of the Fathers were beginning to be pretty fairly estimated. .... That the time of their authority over conscience and opinion was gone by; that they were no longer to be regarded as guides either in faith or in morals; and that we should be quite within the pale of orthodoxy in saying that, though admirable martyrs and saints, they were, after all, but indifferent Christians.
A philosophical historian, whose rare range of erudition, investigating intellect, and uncompromising veracity impart to his opinions peculiar power, has not hesitated to declare that the lives and writings of the Saints and Fathers are, on the whole, the most puerile literature Europe has ever produced.''
We are living in an age when the discoveries and methods of the physical sciences have so marvellously enlightened, disciplined, and strengthened the intellectual faculties as to render it not a little difficult to realise that mental condition of the dark ages, when credulity and superstition were so intense and widespread as to impel even the most intelligent
| Buckle, History of Civilisation, vol. i. p. 730.
persons to believe thoroughly the fables and forgeries that these once venerated worthies with solemn theological jargon dogmatically asserted to be profound truths, laboriously derived from the ascetic study of inspired writings, or visibly attested by the constant happening of astounding miracles.
If any reader be disposed to doubt the soundness of Buckle's views in this matter he need only turn to Middleton's learned and manly Free Enquiry,'' peruse carefully its well-considered pages, and consult some halfdozen of the original authorities there cited, and he will not, I think, fail to feel that in point of fact, no force of speech can be too strong to express the derision and contempt in which the lucubrations of the Fathers ought for the most part to be regarded by the intelligence of the present day.
To us, who look back upon the period, it really seems as though the mind of Protestant Europe had been suddenly aroused from some slumber of superstition by the publication of Middleton's book; for, though the opinions of the Fathers were, by the progress of enlightenment, becoming more and more a difficulty with theologians—who were reproached by Chillingworth with the duplicity with which in his time the Fathers were treated, accounting them Fathers when they are for you, but children when they are against you, there was no generally prevailing sentiment of the worthlessness of the various improbabilities, absurdities, and falsities that constitute no small portion of the staple of those celebrated writings—the works of the
Middleton's great work, “a book of extraordinary merit,' consists of three portions—the Introductory Discourse, the Enquiry itself, and the Vindication from the objections of Dr. Dodwell and Dr. Church. Middleton's Works, vols. i. & ii. London, 1755. 5 vols.
9 Calamy's Life, vol. i. p. 253. London, 1820. 2 vols. Chillingworth's own opinion of the authority of the Fathers is sufficiently clear. 'I see plainly with mine own eyes that there are Popes against Popes, Councils against Councils, some Fathers against others, the same Fathers against themselves, a consent of Fathers of one age against a consent of Fathers of another age, the Church of one age against the Church of another age.'— Religion of Protestants, chap. vi. sec. 56.
Fathers; compositions which, viewed collectively, present so melancholy a picture of the wasteful misapplication of mental power.
The Patristic edifice seems to have been only completely shattered by the crushing assault of Middleton.
• Middleton's attack upon the veracity of the Fathers was so eloquent, so uncompromising, and so admirably directed, that all England soon rang with the controversy. He contended that the religious leaders of the fourth and earlier centuries had admitted, eulogised, and habitually acted upon principles that were diametrically opposed, not simply to the aspirations of a transcendent sanctity, but to the dictates of the most common honesty. He showed that they had applauded falsehood, that they had practised the most wholesale forgeries, that they had habitually and grossly falsified history, and that they had adopted to the fullest extent the system of pious frauds, and that they continually employed them to stimulate the devotion of the people.'!
Such were the charges which Middleton brought against those great Fathers who had formed the theological system of Europe !
The real knowledge possessed by the two renowned doctors, Lactantius and Augustin, to whose opinions Kepler pointedly refers, may to some extent be gauged by a consideration of their views of the physical discoveries of their day, their bigoted rejection of the most obvious truths in natural science.'?
The ecclesiastical notion entertained concerning the shape of the earth during the earlier centuries of Christianity described it as an oblong floor, surrounded by upright walls, and covered by a vault.3 In Augustin (Civ. Dei) it is asserted that there are no inhabitants on the opposite side, because no such race is recorded in Scripture. The existence of antipodes, or persons inhabiting the opposite side of the
Lecky's Hist. of Rationalism, vol. i. p. 168. 2 Edinburgh Review, ubi supra.
3 Cosmas Indicopleustes, • Topographia Christiana,' or Christian Opinion concerning the World.'—Montfaucon, Collectio Novum Patrum, book ii. p. 113, cited by Lecky, ubi supra, p. 294.
globe of the earth was indeed a much vexed question. Is it possible,' says Lactantius, ' that men can be so absurd as to believe that the crops and the trees on the other side of the earth hang downwards, and that men have their feet higher than their heads ??!
With regard to the philosophical proposition of the earth's motion, it would seem, from the passage quoted from Kepler, that the Inquisition had denounced that idea previously to its formal condemnation of Galileo. Kepler's courageous book (De Motibus Stellæ Martis') was published in 1609. Galileo was first warned in 1616, and condemned in 1632, when he was made to retract his scientific conclusions, and, in his celebrated recantation, to declare-first, the proposition that the sun is the centre of the world and immoveable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.' Secondly, the proposition that the earth is not the centre of the world, nor immoveable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is absurd, philosophically false, and, theo= logically considered, at least erroneous in faith.'?
The narrative of the treatment of Galileo by the august and venerable body of the Inquisition can never become trite or commonplace, be too frequently repeated, or too seriously dwelt upon. Like the sentence upon Socrates, it should be preserved as a specimen of persecution through all time. The Inquisitors were amongst the most enlightened ecclesiastics of their age; they were not bad men, they acted conscientiously according to their light, and they certainly contrast very favourably with their theological successors in
I Whewell's Hist. of the Inductive Sciences, vol. i. p. 271.
? Article Galiléi Galiléo,' Penny Cyclopædia ; Life of Galileo, Library of Useful Knowledge.
3 "To hear of so illustrious a man being condemned to death .... inspires at the present day a sentiment of indignant reprobation, the force of which I have no desire to enfeeble. The fact stands eternally recorded as one among the thousand misdeeds of intolerance.'—Grote's History of Greece, vol. vi. ch. 68. “Sokratés, p. 180. Murray, 1862.