Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/162

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
150
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

excursions into every part of creation, visible and invisible, but always with the most complete subordination of his thought to the literal statements of Scripture.

Could he have taken the path of experimental research, the world would have been enriched with most precious discoveries; but the force which had given wrong direction to Albert of Bollstadt, backed as it was by the whole ecclesiastical power of his time, was too strong, and in all the life labor of Vincent nothing appears of any permanent value. He reared a structure which the adaptation of facts to literal interpretations of Scripture, and the application of theological subtleties to Nature combine to make one of the most striking monuments of human error.[1]

But the theological spirit of the thirteenth century gained its greatest victory in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. In him was the theological spirit of his age incarnate. Although he yielded somewhat at one period to love of natural science, it was he who finally made that great treaty or compromise which for ages subjected science entirely to theology. He it was who reared the most enduring barrier against those who in that age and in succeeding ages labored to open for science the path by its own legitimate methods toward its own noble ends.

He had been the pupil of Albert the Great, and had gained much from him. Through the earlier systems of philosophy, as they were then known, and through the earlier theologic thought, he had gone with great labor and vigor; and all his mighty powers, thus disciplined and cultured, he brought to bear in making a treaty or truce which was to give theology permanent supremacy over science.

The experimental method had already been practically initiated; Albert of Bollstadt and Roger Bacon had begun their work in accordance with its methods; but St. Thomas gave all his thoughts to bringing science again under the sway of theological methods and ecclesiastical control. In his commentary on Aristotle's treatise upon Heaven and Earth, he gave to the world a striking example of what his method could produce; illustrating all the evils which arise in combining theological reasoning and literal interpretation of Scripture with scientific facts, and this work remains to this day a monument of scientific genius perverted by theology.[2]

The ecclesiastical power of the time hailed him as a deliverer; it was claimed that miracles were vouchsafed, proving that the


  1. For Vincent de Beauvais, see Études sur Vincent de Beauvais, par l'Abbé Bourgeat, chaps, xii, xiii, and xiv; also Pouchet, Histoire des Sciences Naturelles au Moyen Age, Paris, 1853, pp. 470 et seq.; also other histories cited hereafter.
  2. For citations showing this subordination of science to theology, see Eicken, chap. vi.