Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/884

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investigators of a much later epoch. Thus, in the Hexacmeron of St. Gregory of Nyssa, "is developed, in unequivocal terms, the same hypothesis that has so long been regarded as the special glory of the Système du Monde of Laplace." According to this saint, the words, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," "do not refer to the creation of the heavens and the earth, as we now behold them, and still less do they signify the creation of the creatures—plants, animals, and man—that inhabit the earth. They refer rather to the creation from nothing of the primitive, cosmic matter—from which all forms of matter, organic and inorganic, were subsequently fashioned. The saint finds a warrant for this interpretation in the words of Genesis itself. For, according to the inspired writer, the earth, after the first creative act, was 'void and empty,' or, as the Septuagint has it, 'invisible and discomposed.' In the beginning, then, all things were created potentially rather than in act. They were contained naturally or in germ in the invisible and unformed matter that came forth from nothing in response to the divine fiat. The first sentence of Gene, sis tells us of creation, properly so called, the opus creationis (or work of creation). That which follows refers to the formation from pre-existing matter of all the bodies of the universe. This is what theologians call the opus formationis (work of formation) and what modern scientists term the development of evolution. In the beginning, therefore, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, all was in a chaotic or nebulous state. But it did not remain so, because the Almighty put it under the action of certain physical laws by virtue of which it was to go through that long cycle of changes of which science speaks. . . . The manner in which the saint expresses himself when treating of this subject is, considering the scientific knowledge of his time, simply marvelous. He seems to have had an intuitive knowledge of what could then not be demonstrated, and of what could be known only after the revelations of modern geography and astronomy. . . . After the primitive, nebulous matter of the cosmos was created, certain molecules, St. Gregory teaches, began, under the influence of attraction, to unite with other molecules, and to form separate masses of matter. In the course of time, these masses of matter, rotating on their axes, gave off similar masses, which assumed a spherical form. In this wise were produced the sun and moon, stars and planets. . . . In this brilliant conception, in which he could but divine what Laplace and his compeers have rendered all but certain, St. Gregory recognized the existence of laws which he was unable to detect, much less to comprehend. These were the laws made known long ages afterward by the investigations of Kepler, Newton, and Plateau, and the laws of chemical affinity which have thrown such a flood of light on the secret operations of Nature. . . . No exegetist has ever been more happy in the employment of the scientific method; no one has ever had a keener appreciation of the reign of law and order which obtains in the universe. No one has ever realized more thoroughly that the cosmos as we now see it, far from being the work of chance, is the result of a series of divine interventions, is the outcome of a gradual evolution of that primordial matter which God created in the beginning; which he then put under what we call laws of Nature; and which he still conserves by his providence."

A Monument to Lavoisier.—A proposition was published by Gustavus Hinrichs, of St. Louis, on the 8th of May of this year—it being the centenary of the death of that chemist—for the erection by the chemists of the world of a monument to the memory of Lavoisier, "the Copernicus of chemistry." "It is now well understood," Mr. Hinrichs says, "that the claims of Lavoisier to universal recognition depend in no way upon the title to the discovery of any new substance, however important. Both England and Sweden have appropriately honored their discoverers of dephlogisticated air by imposing monuments. The well-known fact that both these eminent chemists remained faithful and aggressive phlogistonists till death is an all-sufficient proof that their discovery is in no way essential to the glory of Lavoisier. The life work of Lavoisier was deeper and broader than the discovery of any new substance, and affected the very foundation of the science of chemistry. He broke through the veil of mere