Churchmen And Physical Science At Medieval Universities
( Originally Published 1911 )
There can be no doubt at all in the minds of those who know anything about the early history of the universities, but that the Popes were entirely favorable to the great educational movement represented by these institutions. It is ordinarily supposed, however, that the medieval universities limited their attention to philosophy and theology, and that even these subjects were studied from such narrow religious standpoints, as to make them of very little value for the development of human knowledge or the evolution of the human mind. Any such supposition is the result of ignorance on the part of those who entertain it, as to the actual curriculum of studies at the early universities, though it is not surprising that it should be very common, because, unfortunately, it has been fostered by many writers on educational subjects, especially in English. Scholasticism is often said to have been the very acme of absurdity in teaching, and its real import is entirely missed. Students and professors are supposed to have been limited in their interests to dialectics and metaphysics in the narrowest sense of these terms, and much time was, according to even presumably good authorities, frittered away in idle speculations with regard to things that are absolutely unknowable.
1 Much of the remainder of this chapter is taken from the chapter on what and How They Studied at the Universities, in my book The Thirteenth Greatest of Centuries. (Catholic Summer School Press, N. Y.) Some of the sources from which the material is obtained will be found more fully referred to there, and further information with regard to scientific studies at these universities will be found in the chapter
Anyone who studies the works of the professors at these medieval universities can scarcely fail to become entirely sympathetic toward these scholars, who devoted themselves with so much ardor to every form of learning that interested them, and who did not fail to accomplish at least as much for future generations, as any other generation of university men in history. Prof essor George Saintsbury in his book On the Rise of Romance and the Flourishing of Allegory, which is really the story of thirteenth century literature in Europe, in the series of Periods of European Literature,' in summing up the contributions of these medieval professors to human knowledge, said
" Yet, there has always, in generous souls who have some tincture of philosophy, subsisted a curious kind of sympathy and yearning over the work of these generations of mainly disinterested scholars, who, whatever they were, were thorough, and whatever they could not do, could think. And there have been in these latter days some graceless ones who have asked whether the science of the nineteenth century, after an equal interval, will be of any more positive value whether it will not have even less comparative interest than that which appertains to the Scholasticism of the thirteenth."
Nothing could well be less true than the impression that philosophy and theology were the exclusive subjects of the medieval university curriculum. If because our modern universities devote a great amount of time to physical science in its various forms, and more of their publications concern this department of educational work than any other, it were to be said by some future generation that our universities occupied themselves with nothing but physical science, it would be much more true than the expressions which stamp medieval university teaching as limited to dialectics and metaphysics. Besides science in the modern universities, philosophy in all its branches is the subject of ardent devotion, and the classics and languages are not neglected, and medicine and law are important postgraduate departments, and even theology comes in for goodly share of attention and occupies the minds of many deep students. In the medieval universities, medicine particularly occupied a very large share of attention ; but all the physical sciences were the subject not only of distant curiosity, but of careful investigation, many of them along lines that are supposed to be distinctly modern, yet which are really as old as the university movement.
Turner in his History of Philosophy 1 summed up the books most commonly used, the method of examination and of conferring degrees, in a way that shows the character of university teaching during the thirteenth century, and brings out not only its thoroughness, but also the fact that a good deal of time was devoted to what we now call physical or natural science, since the treatises on animals, on the earth and on meteors, under which all the phenomena of the Heavens were included, represent almost exactly those questions in physical science that most men who do not intend to devote them-'selves particularly to science care to know something about at the present time. He says :
As time went on in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the attention to physical sciences was increased rather than diminished. Much of Albertus Magnus's work, and practically all of that of Aquinas and Roger Bacon, was done after the date here given (1255).
The medieval workers at the universities were under the obligation of having to lay the foundations for modern thought, instead of being able to build up the magnificent superstructure which has risen in the seven centuries since the universities were founded. Without the foundation, however, the building would indeed not be worthy of admiration. Their work is concealed beneath the surfaces of things, but is not the less important for that, and is in most ways more significant than many portions of the structure that have risen above it. Unless one digs down to see how broad and deep and firm they laid the foundations, the modern critic will not be able to appreciate their work at its true value. Very few men are able to do this ; still fewer have the time or the inclination. The consequence is a sad lack of sympathy with these oldtime workers, who nevertheless did their work so well, and whose accomplishment meant so much for the modern time. It is not hard to show that their minds were occupied with just the same problems that interest us, and the wonderful thing is that they anticipated so many of our conclusions, though these anticipations are wrapped up not infrequently in a terminology that obscures their meaning for any but the patient, sympathetic student. In his Harveian Lecture, Science and Medieval Thought, Professor Clifford Allbutt, of the University of Cambridge, England, said :
"Each period of human achievement has its phases of spring, culmination, and decline ; and it is in its decline that the leafless tree comes to judgment. In the unloveliness of decay, the Middle Ages are as other ages have been. as our own will be ; but in those ages there was more than one outburst of life ; more than once the enthusiasm of the youth of the West went out to explore the ways of the realm of ideas ; and if we believe ourselves at last to have found the only thoroughfare, we owe this knowledge to those who before us traveled the uncharted seas. If we have inherited a great commerce and dominion of science, it is because their argosies had been on the ocean and their camels on the desert. Discipulus est prioris posterior dies ; man cannot know all at once ; knowledge must be built up by laborious generations. In all times, as in our own, the advance of knowledge is very largely by elimination and negation ; we ascertain what is not true, and we weed it out. To perceive and respect the limits of the knowable, we must have sought to transgress them. We can build our bridge over the chasm of ignorance with stored material in which the thirteenth century was poor indeed ; we can fix our bearings where then was no foundation ; yet man may be well engaged when he knows not the ends of his work ; and the schoolmen in digging for treasure cultivated the field of knowledge, even for Galileo and Harvey, for Newton and Darwin. Their many errors came not of indolence, for they were passionate workers ; not of hatred of light, for they were eager for the light ; not of fickleness, for they wrought with unparalleled devotion ; nor indeed of ignorance of particular things, for they knew many things. They erred because they did not know, and they could not know the conditions of the problems which, as they emerged from the cauldron of war and from the wreck of letters and science, they were nevertheless bound to attack, if civil societies worthy of the name were to be constructed."
We are very prone to think that the interests of the men of the Middle Ages were very different to our own, and that they had not the slightest inkling of what were to be the interests of the future centuries. Ordinarily students of science, for instance, would be sure to think that electricity and magnetism, interest in which is supposed to be a thing of comparatively recent years, or at most of the last two centuries, would not be mentioned at all in the thirteenth century. Such an idea is not only absolutely false to the history of science as we know it, but is utterly unjust to the powers of observation of men who have always noted, and almost necessarily tried to investigate, the phenomena which are now grouped under these sciences. Perhaps no better idea of the intense interest of this first century of university life in natural phenomena can be obtained, than will be gleaned at once from the following short paragraph, in which Brother Potamian, of Manhattan College, in his brief, striking introduction to the letter of Petrus Peregrinus describing the first conception of a dynamo, condenses the references to magnetic manifestions that are found in the literature of the time.'
Most of the writers he mentions were not scientists in the ordinary sense of the word, but were literary men ; and the fact that these references occur, shows very clearly that there must have been widespread interest in such scientific phenomena, since they had attracted the attention of literary writers, who would not have spoken of them doubtless, but that they knew that in this they would be satisfying as well as exciting public interest.
" Abbot Neckam, the Augustinian (1157-1217), distinguished between the properties of the two ends of the lodestone, and gives in his De Utensilibus what is perhaps the earliest reference to the mariner's compass that we have. Albertus Magnus, the Dominican (1193-1280), in his treatise De Mineralibus, enumerates different kinds of natural magnets and states some of the properties commonly attributed to them ; the minstrel, Guyot de Provins, in a famous satirical poem written about 1208, refers to the directive quality of the lodestone and its use in navigation, as do also Cardinal de Vitry in his Historia Orientalis (1215-1220) ; Brunetto Latini poet, orator and philosopher (the teacher of Dante), in his Tresor des Sciences, a veritable library, written in Paris in 1260 ; Raymond Lully, the enlightened Doctor, in his treatise, De Contemplatione, begun in 1272 ; and Guido Guinicelli, the poet-priest of Bologna, who died in 1276."
All of these writers, it may be said, with a single exception, were clergymen, and some of them were very prominent ecclesiastics in their time.
The present generation has not as yet quite got over the bad habit of making fun of these medieval thinkers for having accepted the idea of the transmutation of metals and searched so assiduously for the philosopher's stone. This supposed absurdity has for most scientific minds during the nineteenth century been quite enough of itself, without more ado, to stamp the generations of the Middle Ages who accepted it, as utterly lacking, if not in common sense, at least in serious reasoning power. At the present moment, however, we are in the full tide of a set of opinions that tend to make us believe not only in the possibility, but in the actual occurrence of the transmutation of metals. Observations made with regard to radium have revolutionized all the scientific thinking in this matter. Radium has apparently been demonstrated changing into helium, and so there is a transmutation of metals. On the strength of this and certain other recently investigated physical phenomena, there is a definite tendency in the minds of many serious students of physics and chemistry to consider that other metals possibly change into one another, and that all that is needed is careful observation to discover it, for this change is supposed to be going on around us all the time.
Not very long since, a professor of physical science at an important American university suggested that it would be extremely interesting to take a large specimen of lead ore, say several tons, and having removed from it carefully all traces of silver that might be contained in it, put it away for twenty years, and then see whether any further traces of silver could be found. The idea that possibly lead occasionally changes into silver by some slow chemical process is evidently deep-seated in his mind. It would remind one of Newton's expression some two centuries ago, that he had seen copper and gold ores occurring together in specimens, and that he looked upon this as evidence that copper in the course of time changes into gold. Certain it is that lead ores constantly occur in connection with silver, or at least that silver is found wherever lead is; that a corresponding relationship between gold and copper has also been noted ; and that Newton's idea was not near so absurd, in the light of what we now know, or still more, what we surmise on good scientific grounds, as the nineteenth century scientists would have had us believe.
As I go over this manuscript for the last time just before going to press, there comes the announcement that Sir William Ramsay has probably solved the problem of the transmutation of metals. He has shown apparently that lithium, when acted upon by radium emanations, changes to some extent to copper. It is true that the change is only in small quantities, and that there is no question as yet of any commercial value to the process ; but we all know that it is by such small scientific announcements as this that the entering wedges of large industrial processes are introduced. The fact that this announcement should have been made before the British Association for the Advancement of Science and by a thoroughly conservative English chemist, probably settles forever the question of the transmutation of metals, in the way that the people of the Middle Ages looked at the problem rather than as the intervening centuries did.
The old medieval thinkers, then, were only ridiculous to a few generations of nineteenth century scientists who, because they knew a little more about certain details in science than preceding generations had done, thought that they knew all that there was to be known about this immense subject, and made fun of thinkers quite as great as themselves in preceding centuries. At the beginning of the twentieth century, instead of making ourselves ludicrous by raising a laugh at the expense of these fellow students in science of the olden time, we should rather feel like congratulating them upon the perspicacity which enabled them to anticipate a great truth with regard to the relationships of chemical elements, especially the metals, to each other. The present day idea of thinking physicists and chemists is that the seventy odd elements described in our text books on chemistry, are not so many essentially independent forms of matter, but are rather examples of one kind of material exhibiting special dynamic energies which it possesses under varying conditions, as yet not well understood. This was exactly the idea that the old scholastic philosophers had of the constitution of matter. They said that matter was composed of two principles, prime matter and form. When this doctrine of theirs is properly elucidated, it proves to be an anticipation of what is most modern in the thoughts of twentieth century physicists. A restatement of the old time views would read not unlike many a contribution to a discussion of this subject at an annual meeting of the British or American Associations for the Advancement of Science.
This doctrine of prime matter and form, which the scholastics adopted and adapted from the Greeks, and especially from Aristotle, cannot fail to be of interest even to modern scientists. According to it, prime matter was an indeterminate something which made up the underlying substratum of all material things. Form was the dynamic element which entered into the composition of matter and made it exhibit its specific qualities. We have heard much of ionization in recent times, and in many ways this would remind one even only slightly familiar with the old scholastics, of their theories of form entering into matter. Prime matter was supposed to be absolutely without distinguishing characteristics of its own. It was indifferent, and had no influence on other material unless when associated with form. Form was the dynamic and energizing element.
This, of course, still remains in the realm of theory but it is interesting to realize that in the olden time they theorized about the constitution of matter at the universities of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries just as we do now, and most surprisingly came to conclusions quite like ours. Their thoughts not only concerned the same subject, but were worked out in the same way. It is idle to say that they knew nothing about it and hit on their theory by chance. As a matter of fact, they knew very little, if any less about it than we do, for our ignorance on this subject is monumental, and they anticipated our latest thinking by seven centuries. Many have been the divagations of thought since that time, but now we return to their conclusions. It is chastening to the modern mind, so confident of the advances that have been made by these latter generations, "the heirs of all the ages in the foremost files of time," to find that we are so little farther on in an important problem than these men of the thirteenth century.
Other basic problems with regard to matter and force filled the minds of the medieval schoolmen quite as they do those of the modern generations. For instance, they occupied themselves with the question of the indestructibility of matter, and also, strange as it may seem, with the conservation of energy. We have presumably learned so much by experimental demonstration and original observation in the physical sciences in the modern times, and especially during the precious nineteenth century, that any thinking of the medieval mind along these lines might, in the opinion of those who know nothing of what they speak, be at once set aside without further question as preposterous, or at best nugatory. The opinions of medieval scholars in these matters would be presumed, without more ado, to have been so entirely speculative as to deserve no further attention. Nothing could well be farther from the truth than this. No-where will more marvelous anticipations of what is most modern in science be found than in some of these considerations of basic principles in the physical sciences.
For instance, Thomas Aquinas, usually known as St. Thomas, in a series of lectures given at the University of Paris toward the end of the third quarter of the thirteenth century, stated as the most important conclusion with regard to matter that " Nihil omnino in nihilism redigetur. Nothing at all will ever be reduced to nothingness." By this, as is very evident from the context, he meant to say that matter would never be annihilated and could never be destroyed. It might be changed in various ways, but it could never go back into the nothingness from which it had been taken by the creative act. Annihilation was pronounced as not being a part of the scheme of things as far as the human mind could hope to fathom its meaning.
In this sentence, then, Thomas of Aquin was proclaiming the doctrine of the indestructibility of matter. It was not until well on in the nineteenth century that the chemists and physicists of modern times realized the truth of this great principle. The chemists had seen matter change its form in many ways, had seen it disappear apparently in the smoke of fire or evaporate under the influence of heat, but investigation proved that if care were taken in the collection of the gases that came off under these circumstances, of the ashes of combustion and of the residue of evaporation, all the original material that had been contained in the supposedly disappearing substance could be recovered, or at least completely accounted for. The physicists on their part had realized this same truth, and finally there came the definite enunciation of the absolute indestructibility of matter. St. Thomas's conclusion, "Nothing at all will ever be reduced to nothingness," had anticipated this doctrine by nearly seven centuries. What happened in the nineteenth century was that there came an experimental demonstration of the truth of the principle. The principle itself, however, had been reached long before by the human mind, by speculative processes quite as inerrable in their way as the more modern method of investigation.
When St. Thomas used the aphorism, " Nothing at all will ever be reduced to nothingness, there was another signification that he attached to the words quite as clearly as that by which they expressed the indestructibility of matter. For him nihil or nothing meant neither matter nor form, that is, neither the material substance nor the energy which is contained in it. He meant, then, that no energy would ever be destroyed as well as no matter would ever be annihilated. He was teaching the conservation of energy as well as the indestructibility of matter. Here once more the experimental demonstration of the doctrine was delayed for over six centuries and a half. The truth itself, however, had been reached by this medieval master mind, and was the subject of his teaching to the university students in Paris in the thirteenth century. These examples should, I think, serve to illustrate that the minds of medieval students were occupied with practically the same questions as those which are now taught to the university students of our day, and that the content of the teaching was identical with ours.
The scholars of the Middle, Ages are usually said to have been profoundly ignorant as regards the shape of the earth, its size, and the number of its inhabitants, and to have cherished the queerest notions, when they really permitted themselves any ideas at all, as to the antipodes. This is very true if the ideas of the ignorant masses of the people and the second rate authors and thinkers be taken as the standard of medieval thought. Unfortunately, such sources as these have only too often served as authorities for modern historians of education and modern essayists on the history of science. This state of affairs would painfully suggest the curiously inverted notion of the supposed ideas entertained with regard to science in our day, that would be obtained by some thirtieth century student, were he to judge our scientific opinions from some of the queer books written by pretentiously ignorant writers, who have pet scientific hobbies of their own and exploit them at the expense of a long-suffering world, if by some accident of fortune these books should be preserved and the really great contributions to science be either actually lost or lost to sight. It is from Albert the Great and such men, and not from their petty contemporaries, that the true spirit of the science of the age must be deduced. Albert's biographer said :
" He treats as fabulous the commonly-received idea, in which Venerable Bede had acquiesced, that the region of the earth south of the equator was uninhabitable, and considers, that from the equator to the South Pole, the earth was not only habitable, but in all probability actually inhabited, except directly at the poles, where he imagines the cold to be excessive. If there be any animals there, he says, they must have very thick skins to defend them from the rigor of the climate, and they are probably of a white color. The intensity of cold is,however, tempered by the action of the sea. He de-scribes the antipodes and the countries they comprise, and divides the climate of the earth into seven zones. He smiles with a scholar's freedom at the simplicity of those who suppose that persons living at the opposite region of the earth must fall off, an opinion that can only rise out of the grossest ignorance, `for when we speak of the lower hemisphere, this must be understood merely as relatively to ourselves.'
" It is as a geographer that Albert's superiority to the writers of his own time chiefly appears. Bearing in mind the astonishing ignorance which then prevailed on this subject, it is truly admirable to find him correctly tracing the chief mountain chains of Europe, with the rivers which take their source in each ; remarking on portions of coast which have in later times been sub-merged by the ocean, and islands which have been raised by volcanic action above the level of the sea ; noticing the modification of climate caused by mountains, seas and forests, and the division of the human race, whose differences he ascribes to the effect upon them of the countries they inhabit. In speaking of the British Isles, he alludes to the commonly-received idea that another distant island called Thile, or Thule, existed far in the Western Ocean, uninhabitable by reason of its frightful climate, but which, he says, has perhaps not yet been visited by man."
In only needs to be said in addition to this, that Albert had more than a vague hint of the possible existence of land on the other side of the globe. He gives an elaborate demonstration of the sphericity of the earth, and it has been suggested by more than one scholar that his views on this subject led eventually to the discovery of America.
Humboldt, the distinguished German natural philosopher of the beginning of the nineteenth century, who was undoubtedly the most important figure in scientific thought in his own time, and whose own work was great enough to have an enduring influence even down to our day, in spite of the immense progress made during the nineteenth century, has praised Albert's work very highly. Almost needless to say, Humboldt was possessed of a thorough critical faculty and had a very wide range of knowledge, so that he was in an eminently proper position to judge of Albert's work. He has summed up his appreciation briefly as follows :
"Albertus Magnus was equally active and influential in promoting the study of natural science and of the Aristotelian philosophy. His works contain some exceedingly acute remarks on the organic structure and physiology of plants. One of his works, bearing the title of ` Liber Cosmographicus de Natura Locorum,' is a species of physical geography. I have found in it considerations on the dependence of temperature concurrently on latitude and elevation, and on the effect of different angles of incidence of the sun's rays in heating the ground, which have excited my surprise."
I have thought that perhaps the best way to bring out properly Albert's knowledge in the physical sciences would be to take up Humboldt's headings in their order and illustrate them by quotations from the great scholar's writings the only scholar to whom the epithet has been applied in all history and from condensed accounts as they appear in his life written by Sighart. These will serve to show at once the extent of Albert's knowledge and the presumptuous ignorance of those who make little of the science of the medieval period.
When we have catalogued, for instance, the many facts with regard to astronomy and the physics of light that are supposed to be of much later entrance into the sphere of human knowledge that were grasped by Albert, and evidently formed the subject of his teaching at various times at both Paris and Cologne, since they are found in his authentic works, we can scarcely help but be amused at the pretentious lack of knowledge that has relegated their author to a place in education so trivial as is that which is represented in many minds by the term scholastic.
" He decides that the Milky Way is nothing but a vast assemblage of stars, but supposed, naturally enough, that they occupy the orbit which receives the light of the sun. The figures visible on the moon's disc are not, he says, as hitherto has been supposed, reflections of the seas and mountains of the earth, but configurations of her own surface. He notices, in order to correct it, the assertions of Aristotle that lunar rainbows appear only twice in fifty years; ' I myself,' he says, ` have observed two in a single year.' He has something to say on the refraction of a solar ray, notices certain crystals which have a power of refraction, and remarks that none of the ancients and few moderns were acquainted with the properties of mirrors."
Botany is supposed to be a very modern science, and to most people Humboldt's expression that he found in Albertus Magnus's writings some "exceedingly acute remarks on the organic structure and physiology of plants," will come as an supreme surprise. A few details with regard to Albert's botanical knowledge, however, will serve to heighten that surprise, and to show that the foolish tirades of modern sciolists, who have often expressed their wonder that with all the beauties of nature around them these scholars of the Middle Ages did not devote themselves to nature study, are absurd ; because if the critics but knew it, there was profound interest in nature and all her manifestations, and a series of discoveries that anticipated not a little of what we consider most important in our modern science. The story of Albert's botanical knowledge has been told in a single very full paragraph by his biographer. Sighart also quotes an appreciative opinion from a modern German botanist, which will serve to dispel any doubts with regard to Albert's position in botany that modern students might perhaps continue to harbor, unless they had good authority to support their opinion, though, of course, it will be remembered that the main difference between the medieval and the modern mind is only too often said to be that the medieval required an authority, while the modern makes its opinion for itself. Even the most skeptical of modern minds, however, will probably be satisfied by the following paragraph :
"He was acquainted with the sleep of plants, with the periodical opening and closing of blossoms, with the diminution of sap through evaporation from the cuticle of the leaves, and with the influence of the distribution of the bundles of vessels on the folial indentations. His minute observations on the forms and variety of plants intimate an exquisite sense of floral beauty. He distinguished the star from the bell-floral, tells us that a red rose will turn white when submitted to the vapor of sulphur, and makes some very sagacious observations on the subject of germination. The extraordinary erudition and originality of this treatise (his tenth book) has drawn from M. Meyer the following comment : No botanist who lived before Albert can be compared to him, unless Theophrastus, with whom he was not acquainted ; and after him none has painted nature in such living colors or studied it so profoundly until the time of Conrad Gesner and Caesalpino.' All honor, then, to the man who made such astonishing progress in the science of nature as to find no one, I will not say to surpass, but even to equal him for the space of three centuries."
Pagel in Puschmann's History of Medicine gives a list of the books written by Albert which are concerned with the physical sciences. These were Physica, Books VIII., that is, eight treatises on Natural Science, consisting of commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and on the underlying principles of natural philosophy, and of energy and movement ; four treatises concerning the Heavens and the Earth, which contain the general principles of the movement of the heavenly bodies Besides there is a treatise On the Nature of Places, consisting of a description of climates and natural conditions. This volume contains, according to Pagel, numerous suggestions with regard to ethnography and physiology. There is a treatise on the causes of the properties of the elements, which takes up the specific peculiarities of the elements, according to their physical and geographical relations. To which must be added two treatises on generation and corruption ; six books on meteors ; five books on minerals ; three books on the soul, in which is considered the vital principle ; a treatise on nutrition and nutritives ; a treatise on the senses ; another on the memory and the imagination two books on the intellect ; a treatise on sleep and waking; a treatise on youth and old age ; a treatise on breath and respiration ; a treatise on the motion of animals, in two books, which concerns the voluntary and involuntary movements of animals ; a treatise on life and death ; a treatise in six books on vegetables and plants ; a treatise on breathing things. His treatise on minerals contains, according to Pagel, besides an extensive presentation of the ordinary peculiarities of minerals, a description of ninety-five different kinds of precious stones, among them the pearl, of seven metals, of salt, vitriol, alum, arsenic, marcasite, nitre, tutia, and amber. Albert's volumes on the vegetables and plants were reproduced under the editorship of Meyer, the historian of botany in Germany, and published in Berlin (1867). All Albert's books are available in modern editions.
In a word, there was scarcely a subject in natural science which Albert did not treat, in what would now be considered a formal serious volume, and. no department of science that he did not illuminate in some way, not only by the collection of information that had previously been in existence, but also by his own observations, and especially by his interpretations of the significance of the various phenomena that had been observed. His work is especially noteworthy for its lack of dependence on authority and the straightforward way in which the great pioneer of modern science made his observations.
Some of Albert's contemporaries, and especially his pupils, were almost as distinguished as he was himself in the physical sciences.
In a previous chapter we spoke particularly of Roger Bacon's attitude toward the physical sciences, above all in what concerns the experimental method. He was typically modern in the standpoint that he assumed, as the only one by which knowledge of the things of nature can be obtained. It will be interesting now to see the number of things which Friar Bacon succeeded in discovering by the application of the principle of testing everything by personal observation, of not accepting things on secondhand authorities, and of not being afraid to say, " I do not know," in trying to learn for himself. His discoveries will seem almost incredible to a modern student of science and of education who has known nothing before of the progress of science made by this wonderful man, or who has known only vaguely that Friar Bacon was a great original thinker in science, in spite of the fact that his life-history is bounded by the thirteenth century. I may say that the material of what I have to say of him, and also of his great con-temporaries, Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas, is taken almost literally from the chapter of my book, The Thirteenth Greatest of Centuries, on What They Studied at the Universities.
Roger Bacon has been declared to be the discoverer of gunpowder, but this is a mistake, since it was known many years before by the Arabs and by them introduced into Europe. He did study explosives very deeply, however, and besides learning many things about them, realized how much might be accomplished by their use in the after-time. He declares in his Opus Magnum : "That one may cause to burst forth from bronze, thunderbolts more formidable that those produced by nature. A small quantity of prepared matter occasions a terrible explosion accompanied by a brilliant light. One may multiply this phenomenon so far as to destroy a city or an army." Considering how little was know about gun-powder at this time, this was of itself a marvelous anticipation of what might be accomplished by it.
Bacon anticipated, however, much more than merely destructive effects from the use of high explosives, and indeed it is almost amusing to see how closely he anticipated some of the most modern usages of high explosives for motor purposes. He seems to have realized that some time the apparently uncontrollable forces of explosion would come under the control of man and be harnessed by him for his own purposes. He foresaw that one of the great applications of such a force would be for transportation. Accordingly he said : "Art can construct instruments of navigation such that the largest vessels, governed by a single man, will traverse rivers and seas more rapidly than if they were filled with oarsmen. One may also make carriages which without the aid of any animal will run with remarkable swiftness."
When we recall that the very latest thing in transportation are motorboats and automobiles driven by gasoline, a high explosive, Roger Bacon's prophecy becomes one of those weird anticipations of human progress which seem almost more than human.
It was not with regard to explosives alone, however, that Roger Bacon was to make great advances and still more marvelous anticipations in physical science. He was not, as is sometimes claimed for him, either the inventor of the telescope or of the theory of lenses. He did more, however, than perhaps anyone else to make the principles of lenses clear and to establish them on a mathematical basis. His traditional connection with the telescope can probably be traced to the fact that he was very much interested in astronomy and the relations of the heavens to the earth. He pointed out very clearly the errors which had crept into the Julian calendar, calculated exactly how much of a correction was needed in order to restore the year to its proper place, and suggested the method by which future errors of this kind could be avoided. His ideas were too far beyond his century to be applied practically, but they were not to be without their effect, and it is said that they formed the basis of the subsequent correction of the calendar in the time of Pope Gregory XIII., about three centuries later.
It is rather surprising to find how much besides the theory of lenses Friar Bacon had succeeded in finding out in the department of optics. He taught, for in-stance, the principle of the aberration of light, and, still more marvelous to consider, taught that light did not travel instantaneously, but had a definite rate of motion, though this was extremely rapid. It is rather difficult to understand how he reached this conclusion, since light travels so fast that, as far as regards any observation that can be made upon earth, the diffusion is practically instantaneous. It was not for over three centuries later that Römer, the German astronomer, demonstrated the motion of light and its rate by his observations upon the moons of Jupiter at different phases of the earth's orbit, which showed that the light of these moons took a definite and quite appreciable time to reach the earth after their eclipse by the planet was over.
Albertus Magnus's other great pupil besides Roger Bacon was St. Thomas Aquinas. If any suspicion were still left that Thomas did not appreciate just what the significance of his teachings in physics was, when he announced that neither matter nor force could ever be reduced to nothingness, it would surely be removed by the consideration that he had been for many years in intimate relations with Albert, and that he had probably also been close to Roger Bacon. In association with such men as these, he was not likely to stumble upon truths unawares, even though they might concern physical science. St. Thomas himself has left three treatises on chemical subjects, and it is said that the first occurrence of the word amalgam can be traced to one of these treatises. Everybody was as much interested then, as we are at the present time, in the transformation of metals and mercury with its silvery sheen ; its facility to enter into metallic combinations of all kinds, and its elusive ways, naturally made it the center of scientific interest quite as radium is at the present moment.
These three men, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Roger Bacon, were all closely associated with ecclesiastical authorities, and indeed all three of them had intimate personal relations with the Popes of their time. Albertus Magnus had been highly honored by the Dominican Order, to which he belonged. He had been chosen as Provincial that is, the superior of a number of houses in the German part of Europe at least once, and he had been constantly appealed to by his superiors for advice and counsel. Although it was almost a rule that members of religious orders should not be chosen as bishops, he was made Bishop of Ratisbon, and his appointment was considered to be due to his surpassing merit as a great scholar and teacher. In spite of his devotion to scientific studies during a long life, he lost nothing of the ardor of his faith, and is universally considered to have been a saint. He has been formally raised to the altars of the Catholic Church, as the expression is that is, he had the title of Blessed " conferred on him, and his prayers may be invoked as one of those who are considered to stand high in the favor of Heaven.
Of Thomas Aquinas the same story may be told only in much more emphatic words. He was honored by his own order, the Dominican, in many ways. Early in his life they recognized his talent and sent him to Cologne to study under the great Albert, When the Dominicans realized the necessity for. not only making a significant exhibition of the talents of their order at the University of Paris, which had become the most prominent educational institution in the world, but also wished to influence as deeply as possible the cause of education, Albert was sent to Paris, and Thomas Aquinas accompanied him. When there were difficulties between Dominicans and the university, it was to Thomas that his order turned to defend them and maintain their rights. He did so not only with intellectual acumen, but with great tact and successfully. After this he was sent on business of his order to England and was for some time at Oxford. His reputation as a philosopher and a scientist had now spread over the world and he was invited to teach at various Italian universities where ecclesiastical influences were very strong. The Popes asked, and their request was practically a command, that he should teach for some time at least at their own university at Rome. Later he taught also at the University of Naples.
While here, one of the Popes wishing to confer a supreme mark of favor on him, his name was selected for the vacant archbishopric of Naples. The bulls and formal documents creating him Archbishop were already on the way when Thomas was informed of it, and he asked to be allowed to continue his studies rather than to have to take up the unwonted duties of an archbishop. His plea was evidently so sincere that the Pope relented and respected Thomas's humility and his desire for leisure to finish his great work, the Summa Theologiae. He continued to be the great friend of the Popes and their special counsellor. When the Council of Lyons was summoned, a number of important questions concerning the most serious theological problems were to be discussed, Thomas was asked to go to Lyons as the theologian for the Papacy. It was while fulfilling this duty that he came to his death, at a comparatively early age, though not until the Council, consisting of the bishops of all the world, had shown their respect for him, had listened to his words of wisdom, and had acknowledged that he was the greatest scholar of his time and worthy of the respect and admiration of all of them. Because of all that his kindness to them had meant for their uplift, the workmen of Lyons craved and obtained the permission to carry his coffin on their shoulders to his tomb.
Like his great teacher Albert, Thomas was respected even more for his piety than for his learning. Not long after his death, people began to speak of him as a saint. Though he was the most learned man of his time, he was considered to have given an example of heroic virtue. A careful investigation of his life showed that there was nothing in it unworthy of the highest ideals as a man and a religious. Accordingly he was canonized, and has ever since been considered the special patron, helper and advocate of Catholic students. All down the centuries his teaching has been looked upon as the most important in the whole realm of theology. There has never been a time when his works have not been considered the most authoritative sources of theological lore. At the end of the nineteenth century Leo XIII. crowned the tributes which many Popes had conferred upon Thomas by selecting him as the teacher to whom Catholic schools should ever turn by formulating the authoritative Papal opinion the nearer to Thomas, the nearer to Catholic truth. When it is recalled that this is the man who gave the great modern impulse to the doctrine of matter and form, who taught the indestructibility of matter and the conservation of energy, and declared with St. Augustine that the Creator had made only the seeds of things, allowing these afterwards to develop for themselves, which is the essence of the doctrine of evolution, it is hard to understand how there should be question of opposition between the Church and science in his time.
With regard to the third of these great physical scientists, the story of his relation to the ecclesiastical authorities is not quite so simple. Roger Bacon was in his younger years very much thought of by his own order, the Franciscans. They sent him to Paris and provided him opportunities to study under the great Albert, and then transferred him to Oxford, where he had a magnificent opportunity for teaching. Many years of his life were spent in peace and happiness in the cloister. A friend and fellow student at Paris became Pope Clement, and his command was the primary cause of the composition of Bacon's great works. All three of his books, and especially the Opus Majus, were written at the command of the Pope, and were highly praised by the Pontiff himself and by those who read them in Rome. Unfortunately, difficulties occurred within Friar Bacon's own order. It is not quite clear now just how these came about. The Franciscans of the rigid observance of those early times took vows of the severest poverty. There had been some relaxation of the rule, however, and certain abuses crept in. The consequence was the reassertion after a time of the original rule of absolute poverty in all its stringency. It was Friar Bacon himself who had chosen this mode of life and had taken the vows of poverty. Paper was a very dear commodity, if indeed it was invented early enough in the century for him to have used it. Vellum was even more expensive. Just what material Bacon employed for his writings is not now known. Whatever it was, it seems to have cost much money, and because of his violation of his vow of poverty Roger Bacon fell under the ban of his order. He was ordered to be confined to his cell in the monastery and to be fed on bread and water for a considerable period. It must not be forgotten that this was within a century after the foundation of the Franciscans, and to an ardent son of St. Francis the living on bread and water would not be a very difficult thing at this time, since his ordinary diet would, at least during certain portions of the year, .be scarcely better than this. There is no account of how Roger Bacon took his punishment. He might easily have left his order. There were many others at that time who did. He wished to remain as a faithful son of St. Francis, and seems to have accepted his punishment with the idea that his ex-ample would influence others of the order to submit to the enforcement of the regulation with regard to poverty, which superiors now thought so important, if the original spirit of St. Francis was to be regained.
It is sometimes said that Friar Bacon indulged in scientific speculations which seemed subversive of Christian mysteries, and that this was one reason for his punishment. Recently he has been declared the first of the modernists since he attempted to rationalize religious mysteries. Whatever truth there may be in this, of one thing we are certain, that before his death Bacon deeply regretted some of his expressions and theories, and did not hesitate to confess humbly that he was sorry to have even seemed to hint at supposed science contrary to religious truth.
Of course, it may well be said, even after all these communities of interest between the medieval and the modern teaching of the general principles of science have been pointed out, that the universities of the Middle Ages did not present the subjects under discussion in a practical way, and their teaching was not likely to lead to directly beneficial results in applied science. It might well be responded to this, that it is not the function of a university to teach applications of science, but only the great principles, the broad generalizations that underlie scientific thinking, leaving details to be filled in in whatever form of practical work the man may take up. Very few of those, however, who talk about the purely speculative character of medieval teaching, have manifestly ever made it their business to know anything about the actual facts of oldtime university teaching by definite knowledge, but have rather allowed themselves to be guided by speculation and by inadequate second-hand authorities, whose dicta they have never taken the trouble to substantiate by a glance at contemporary authorities on medieval matters, much less by reading the old scholastics themselves.
How much was accomplished in applied science during the Middle Ages, that is, in those departments of science
which are usually supposed to have been least cultivated, since educators are prone to ridicule the over emphasis of speculation in education and the constant preoccupation of mind of the scholars of these generations with merely theoretic questions, may be appreciated from any history of the arts and architecture during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Some of the most difficult problems in mechanics as applied to the structural work of cathedrals, palaces, castles, fortresses, and bridges, were solved with a success that was only equaled by the audacity with which they were attempted. Men hesitated at nothing. There is no problem of mechanical engineering as applied to structural work which these men did not find an answer for in their wonderful buildings. This has been very well brought out by Prince Kropotkin in certain chapters of his book, Mutual Aid a Factor of Evolution, in which he treats of mutual aid in the medieval cities. He says:
"At the beginning of the eleventh century the towns of Europe were small clusters of miserable huts, adorned with but low clumsy churches, the builders of which hardly knew how to make an arch ; the arts, mostly consisting of some weaving and forging, were in their in-fancy ; learning was found in but a few monasteries. Three hundred and fifty years later, the very face of Europe had been changed. The land was dotted with rich cities, surrounded by immense thick walls which were embellished by towers and gates, each of them a work of art itself. The cathedrals, conceived in a grand style and profusely decorated, lifted their belltowers to the skies, displaying a purity of form and a boldness of imagination which we now vainly strive to attain. The crafts and arts had risen to a degree of perfection which we can hardly boast of having superseded in many directions, if the inventive skill of the worker and the superior finish of his work be appreciated higher than rapidity of fabrication. The navies of the free cities furrowed in all directions the Northern Seas and the Southern Mediterranean ; one effort more and they would cross the oceans. Over large tracts of land, wellbeing had taken the place of misery ; learning had grown and spread ; the methods of science had been elaborated ; the basis of natural philosophy had been laid down ; and the way had been paved for all the mechanical inventions of which our own times are so proud."
The period for which Prince Kropotkin is thus enthusiastic in the matter of applied science, is all before the date usually given as the beginning of the Renaissance the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The three centuries and a half from the beginning of the eleventh century represent just the time of the rise of scholasticism and the beginning of its decline. Few periods of history are so maligned as regards their intellectual feebleness, and in nothing is that quality supposed to be more marked than in applied science ; yet here is what a special student of the time says of this very period in this particular department.
Kropotkin has shown just what were the limitations of scientific progress in the Middle Ages while emphasizing how much these wonderful generations accomplished. In this I am inclined to the opinion that he does not allow as much to the Middle Ages as he should. I have been able to point out, I think, in this chapter many evidences of important principles in science that were fully reached during the Middle Ages. Because of his more conservative opinion in this matter, however, Kropotkin's opinion should carry all the more weight with those who are now called upon to realize for the first time, how much these despised generations accomplished in matters that were to prove a precious heritage for subsequent generations, and the foundation stones of that great edifice of science which has been built up in more recent years. Kropotkin says :
" True that no new principle was illustrated by any of these discoveries, as Whewell said ; but medieval science had done something more than the actual discovery of new principles. It had prepared the discovery of all the new principles which we know at the present time in mechanical sciences ; it had accustomed the explorer to observe facts and to reason from them. It had inductive science, even though it had not yet fully grasped the importance and the powers of induction ; and it had laid the foundations of both mechanical and natural philosophy. Francis Bacon, Galileo, and Copernicus were the direct descendants of a Roger Bacon and a Michael Scot, as the steam engine was a direct product of the researches carried on in the Italian universities on the weight of the atmosphere, and of the mathematical and technical learning which characterized Nuremberg.
But why should one take trouble to insist upon the advance of science and art in the medieval city ? Is it not enough to point to the cathedrals in the domain of skill, and to the Italian language and the poem of Dante in the domain of thought, to give at once the measure of what the medieval city created during the four centuries it lived ?"
We are prone to think of evolution in human affairs as being the ruling principle. As a consequence of this,we are apt to consider that since intervening periods between the nineteenth century and the Middle Ages were lacking in education, in applied science, and in interest in physical science to a great degree, beyond doubt, then, the Middle Ages must have been still more lacking in these desirable qualities of education and human knowledge. This is the sort of deduction that greets one constantly in so-called histories of education, and especially in . such supposed contributions to the history of the relationship of science to religion or theology as have been made here in America. This deduction, as I have said before, is made by men who are the first to asperse the medieval scholars for having used deduction too freely, and who are ever ready to praise induction. The induction in this matter that is, the story of the actual history of science in the Middle Ages is the direct contradiction of the deduction from false principles. Intervening centuries not only failed to progress beyond the Middle Ages, but some of them were far behind the achievements of that unfortunately despised period. Once more Prince Kropotkin has touched this matter very suggestively. After describing the achievements of applied science in the Middle Ages, he says :
" Such were the magic changes accomplished in Europe in less than four hundred years. And the losses which Europe sustained through the loss of its free cities can only be understood when we compare the seventeenth century with the fourteenth or thirteenth. The prosperity which formerly characterized Scotland, Germany, the plains of Italy, was gone. The roads had fallen into an abject state, the cities were depopulated, labor was brought into slavery, art had vanished, commerce itself was decaying."
In the meantime the reformation so-called had come, and had carried away with it in its course nearly everything precious that men had gained during the four centuries immediately preceding. Art, education, science, liberty, democracy everything worth while had been hurt ; most of them had been ruined for the time. Even the nineteenth century did not succeed in bringing us back to a level with the earlier centuries in all the intellectual and esthetic accomplishments.
Another striking evidence of the deep interest of these generations in science of all kinds and in details of information with regard to which they are generally said to have been quite incurious, was the publication of the famous encyclopedia, the first work of its kind ever is-sued, which was written about the middle of the thirteenth century by Vincent of Beauvais. It is only when a generation actually calls for it, and when the want of it has been for a good while felt, that such a work is likely to be undertaken. This immense literary undertaking was completed under the patronage of King Louis IX. by Vincent, a Dominican friar, who died at the beginning of the last quarter of the thirteenth century. His Majus Speculum is not the first book of general information, but it is the first deserving the name of Encyclopedia in the full sense of the word that we have. It is divided into three parts the Speculum Naturale, Doctrinale, and Historiale. The only one which interests us here is the Speculum Naturale, which fills a huge folio volume of nearly a thousand pages, closely printed in double columns. It is divided into 32 books and some 4,000 chapters. The Encyclopedia Brittanica says of it :
" It was, as it were, the great temple of medieval science, whose floor and walls are inlaid with an enormous mosaic of skilfully arranged passages from Latin, Greek, Arabic, and even Hebrew authors. To each quotation, as he borrows it, Vincent prefixes the name of the book and the author from which it is taken, distinguishing, however, his own remarks by the word ' actor.' "
The interest aroused by Vincent's compilation outside of professional and educational circles strictly so-called, can be very well appreciated from the fact that, besides King Louis's interest, his Queen Margaret, their son Philip and son-in-law, King Theobald V., of Champagne and Navarre, were, according to tradition, among those who encouraged him in the work and aided him in bearing the expenses of it. It is rather curious to find that the method of compilation was nearly the same as that employed at the present day. Young men, mainly members of Vincent's own order of the Dominicans, were engaged in collecting the material, collating references, and verifying quotations. The main burden of the work, however, fell upon Vincent himself, and he accordingly deserves the reputation for wonderful industry which he has enjoyed. Much as he wrote, however, it does not exceed much in amount what was written by others of the great scholastics, and theirs was original material and not merely the collection of information.
If we had no other evidence of interest in nature and in natural science than this great work of Vincent of Beauvais, it would be ample to show the absurdity of the general impression that exists in the minds of most scientists, and, unfortunately, also in the minds of man educators, with regard to the barrenness of interest of the Middle Age in natural phenomena. It might easily be imagined that this work of Vincent would have very little of interest for a modern scientist. Any such anticipation is entirely due, however, to the false impression that exists with regard to the supposed ridiculously absurd views in matters of science entertained by the medieval scholars. Those who do not take their opinions on theory, but actually consult the books with regard to which they are ready to express themselves, have no such opinion. There has been much more interest in this class of books and in the scientific side of the literature of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries during the last few years, and the consequence has been a complete reversal of opinions with regard to them, among German and French scholars.
An excellent example of this is to be noted in Dr. Julius Pagel, who, in his chapter on Medicine in the Middle Ages, in Puschmann's Handbook of the History of Medicine, says : There were three writers whose works were even more popular than those of Albertus Magnus. These three were : Bartholomew the Englishman, Thomas of Cantimprato, and Vincent of Beauvais, the last of whom must be considered as one of the most important contributors to the generalization of scientific knowledge, not alone in the thirteenth, but in the immediately succeeding centuries. His most important work was really an encyclopedia of the knowledge of his time. It was called the Greater Triple Mirror, and there is no doubt that it reflected very thoroughly the knowledge of his period. He had the true scientific spirit, and constantly cites the authorities from whom his information was derived. He cites hundreds of authors, and there is scarcely a subject that he does not touch on. One book of his work is concerned with human anatomy, and the concluding portion of it is an abbreviation of history carried down to the year 1250."
It might be considered that such a compend of information would be very dry-as-dust reading and that it would be fragmentary in character and little likely to be attractive except to a serious student. Dr. Pagel's opinion does not agree with this a priori impression. He says with regard to Vincent's work : "The language is clear, readily intelligible, and the information is conveyed usually in an excellent, simple style. Through the introduction of interesting similes the contents do not lack a certain taking quality, so that the reading of the work easily becomes absorbing." This is, I suppose, almost the last thing that might be expected of a scientific teacher in the thirteenth century, because, after all, Vincent of Beauvais must be considered as one of the schoolmen, and they are supposed to be eminently arid, but evidently, since we must trust this testimony of a discerning modern German physician, only by those who have not taken the trouble to read them.
Vincent of Beauvais was not the only one to occupy himself with work of an encyclopedic character during the thirteenth century. At least two other clergymen gave themselves up to the life long work of collecting details of information so as to make them available for ready reference in their own times and for succeeding generations. The very fact that three men should have taken up such a task, shows that there must have been a loud call for this sort of writing, and that there must have been a veritable thirst for information among the educated classes of the time. Such books, as we have said, are not created without a demand for them, though they undoubtedly serve in turn to awaken a greater thirst for the information which they purvey. The other two encyclopedists of the time are Thomas Cantipratano and Bartholomaeus Anglicus, the Englishman.
Thomas of Cantimprato's work was probably published about 1260. Von Töply, in his Studies in Anatomy in the Middle Ages, has the most readily available information with regard to Thomas's work. The work of most interest to us is the De Natura Rerum, a single large volume in twenty books. It required some fifteen years of work, and for some fifteen years before he began his work on it Thomas had been writing various historical and biographical works. Thomas's encyclopedic volume contains one book with regard to anatomy, one with regard to human monsters, and books with regard to quadrupeds, birds, marine monsters, fishes, serpents, worms, ordinary trees, aromatic and medicinal plants and the virtues of herbs, and of curative waters of various kinds. Then there are books on precious stones and their cutting, on the seven regions and the humors of the air, on the earth and the seven planets, and on the four elements and the Heavens and eclipses of the sun and moon. When such a work was published for general reading, it is easy to understand that no phase of information with regard to nature failed to be of interest to readers of the thirteenth century. Much that is absurd is contained in the book. But when we compare it with books written in the early part of the eighteenth century, we are apt to wonder rather at how little advance had taken place in the four centuries of interval, than at the ignorance of the medieval writer.
We have been able, of course, in this limited space to give only a modicum of the evidence for the cultivation of the Physical Sciences at the Medieval Universities, and their records in monumental works still extant ; but this will probably be enough to enable those who are interested in the subject to realize its significance and to gather further material if they so wish. The universities were ecclesiastical institutions. Most of them derived their authority to give degrees directly from the Popes. Appeals were frequently made to the Popes with regard to the discipline and the teaching at the universities. Most of the great teachers of physical science were ecclesiastics. Nearly all the students were clerics. Many of those who were most successful in science reached high preferment in the Church. Evidently the pursuit of science did not prejudice their advancement, either in their orders, when they belonged to any of the various religious orders, or in the Church itself. They were the near and dear friends of archbishops, cardinals and Popes. This is entirely contrary to the ordinary impression in the matter ; but this is the plain truth, while the contrary opinions are founded on the false assumption of Church opposition to science.