Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/389

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supporting the firmament; then, throwing together the reference to the firmament in Genesis and the outburst of poetry in the Psalms regarding the "waters that be above the heavens," he insisted that over the terrestrial universe are solid arches bearing a vault, closing it in and supporting a vast cistern "containing the waters"; finally, taking from Genesis the expression regarding the "windows of heaven," he insisted that these windows are opened and closed by the angels whenever the Almighty wishes to send rain upon the earth or to withhold it.[1]

This was accepted by the universal Church as a vast contribution to thought; for over a thousand years it was the orthodox doctrine, and various leaders in theology devoted themselves to developing and supplementing it.

About the beginning of the seventh century, Isidore, Bishop of Seville, was the ablest prelate in Christendom, and was showing those great qualities which led to his enrollment among the saints of the Church. His theological view of science marks an epoch. As to the "waters above the firmament," Isidore contends that they must be lower than the uppermost heaven, though higher than the lower heaven, because in the one hundred and forty-eighth Psalm they are mentioned after the heavenly bodies and the "heaven of heavens," but before the terrestrial elements. As to their purpose, he hesitates between those who held that they were stored up there by the prescience of God for the destruction of the world at the flood, as the words of Scripture that "the windows of heaven were opened" seemed to indicate, and those who held that they were kept there to moderate the heat of the heavenly bodies. As to the firmament, he is in doubt whether it envelops the earth "like an egg-shell," or is merely spread over it "like a curtain"; for he holds that the passage in the one hundred and fourth Psalm may be used to support either view.

Having laid these scriptural foundations, Isidore shows considerable power of thought; indeed, at times, when he discusses the rainbow, rain, hail, snow, and frost, his theories are rational, and give evidence that, if he could have broken away from his adhesion to the letter of Scripture, he might have given a vast impulse to the evolution of a true science.[2]

About a century later appeared, at the other extremity of Europe, the second in the trio of theological men of science in the early middle ages, Bede the Venerable. The nucleus of his theory also is to be found in the accepted view of the "firmament" and of the "waters above the heavens," derived from Genesis; the firmament he holds to be spherical, and of a nature subtile and fiery; the upper heavens, he says, which contain the angels, God has tempered with ice, lest they

  1. Sec Cosmas, "Topographia Christiana" (in Montfaucon, "Collectio nova patrum," ii).
  2. See Isidore, "Etymologiæ," xiii, 7-9, "De ordine creaturarum," 3, 4, and "De natura rerum," 29, 30 (Mignc, "Patr. Lat.," lxxxii, 476, 477, lxxxiii, 920-922, 1001-1003).