Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/October 1895/Professional Institutions VI

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CLEAR as are the connections between the priesthood and the several professions thus far treated of, the connection between it and the professions which have enlightenment as their function is even clearer. Antagonistic as the offspring now are to the parent they were originally nurtured by it.

We saw that the medicine-man, ever striving to maintain and increase his influence over those around, is stimulated more than others to obtain such knowledge of natural phenomena as may aid him in his efforts.

Moreover, when seeking to propitiate the supernatural beings he believes in, he is led to think about their characters and their doings. He speculates as to the causes of the striking things he observes in the Heavens and on the Earth; and whether he regards these causes as personal or impersonal, the subject-matter of his thought is the subject-matter which, in later times, is distinguished as philosophical—the relations between that which we perceive and that which lies beyond perception.

As was said at the outset, a further reason why he becomes distinguished from men around by his wider* information and deeper insight is that he is, as compared with them, a man of leisure. From the beginning he lives on the contributions of others; and therefore he is better able to devote himself to those observations and inquiries out of which science originates.

Save some knowledge of medicinal herbs and special animal products, with perhaps a little information about minerals, often joined with such observations of weather-signs as enables them to foresee coming changes, and so, apparently, to bring rain or sunshine, there is little to be named as rudimentary science among the medicine-men, or quasi-priests, of savages. Only when there has arisen that settled life which yields facilities for investigation and for transmitting the knowledge gained, can we expect priests to display a character approaching to the scientific. Hence we may pass at once to early civilizations.

Evidence from the books of Ancient India may first be set down. Demonstration is yielded by it that science was originally a part of religion. Both astronomy and medicine, says Weber, "received their first impulse from the exigencies of religious worship." More specific, as well as wider, is the following statement of Dr. Thibaut:—

"The want of some rule by which to fix the right time for the sacrifices gave the first impulse to astronomical observations; urged by this want the priest remained watching night after night the advance of the moon. . . . and day after day the alternate progress of the sun toward the north and the south. The laws of phonetics were investigated because the wrath of the gods followed the wrong pronunciation of a single letter of the sacrificial formulas; grammar and etymology had the task of securing the right understanding of the holy texts."

Further, according to Dutt, "geometry was developed in India from the rules for the construction of altars." A sentence from the same writer implies that there presently arose a differentiation of the learned class from the ceremonial class.

"Astronomy had now come to be regarded as a distinct science, and astronomers by profession were called Nakshatra, Darsa, and Ganaka. . . sacrificial rites were regulated by the position of the moon in reference to these lunar asterisms."

So, too, we have proof that philosophy, originally forming a part of the indefinite body of knowledge possessed by the priesthood, eventually developed independently. Hunter writes:—

"The Bráhmans, therefore, treated philosophy as a branch of religion. . . . Bráhman philosophy exhausted the possible solutions. . . of most of the other great problems which have since perplexed Greek and Roman sage, mediaeval schoolman, and modern man of science." And in this, as in other cases, the speculative and critical activity presently led to rationalism. There came "a time when philosophers and laymen were alike drifting toward agnostic and heterodox opinions."

Concerning the relations of science to theology among the Babylonians and Assyrians, current statements almost suffice for the purpose of the argument. A few facts in illustration must, however, be given. All the astronomical knowledge of the Babylonians had as its ends the regulation of religious worship, the preparation of charms, the prediction of events. Here are extracts from Rawlinson, Layard, and Maury showing how religion and science were mingled.

"We are, perhaps, justified in concluding 1, from the careful emplacement of Urukh's temples, that the science of astronomy was already cultivated in his reign, and was regarded as having a certain connection with religion."

"At a very early period the Assyrian priests were able to fix the date of events by celestial phenomena, and to connect the public records with them."

The familiar fact that the cycle of lunar eclipses was discovered by the Chaldean priests, shows how exact and how long-continued were their observations.

"Comparative philology seems to have been largely studied, and the works upon it exhibit great care and diligence. Chronology is evidently much valued, and very exact records are kept whereby the lapse of time can even now be accurately measured. Geography and history have each an important place in Assyrian learning; while astronomy and mythology occupy at least as great a share of attention."

Les Chaldéns avaient "une caste sacerdotale et savante qui se consacra à l'observation du ciel, en vue de pénétrer davantage dans la connaissance des dieux. . . . De la sorte, les temples devinrent de veritables observatoires: telle était la célèbre tour de Babylone, monument consacre aux sept planètes."

Of testimonies concerning science in Egypt, we may fitly begin with one from Maspero, which contrasts Egyptian views with the views of the Assyrians.

"In Egypt the majority of the books relating to science are sacred works composed and revealed by the gods themselves. The Assyrians do not attribute such a lofty origin to the works which teach them the courses and explain the influences of the stars: they believe them to have been written by learned men, who lived at different epochs, and who acquired their knowledge from direct observation of the heavens."

Basing his account on the statements of various ancient writers, Sir G. C. Lewis says of the Egyptian priesthood that—

"they were relieved from toil, and had leisure for scientific study and meditation; and that from a remote period they habitually observed the stars, recorded their observations, and cultivated scientific astronomy and geometry. The Egyptian priests are moreover related to have kept registers, in which they entered notices of remarkable natural phenomena." (Strab. xvii, 1. § 5.)

Similar is the description of the actions and achievements of the Egyptian priests given by Diodorus:—

They "are diligent observers of the course and motions of the stars; and preserve remarks of every one of them for an incredible number of years, being used to this study, and to endeavor to outvie one another therein, from the most ancient times. They have with great cost and care, observed the motions of the planets; their periodical motions, and their stated stops."
How intimate was the connection between their science and their religion is proved by the fact that "in every temple there was . . . an astronomer who had to observe the heavens;" and how their science was an outgrowth of their religion is shown by the remark of Duncker, that their writings, at first containing traditional invocations of the gods and ceremonial rules, "grew into a liturgical canon and ecclesiastical codex of religious and moral law, and a comprehensive collection of all the wisdom known to the priests." But, as is remarked by Bunsen, "the Egyptians never arrived at a systematic dialectically-conducted philosophy"—a fact of much significance; for I may remark in passing that among oriental peoples at large, and other peoples long habituated to despotic control, thinking and teaching are entirely dogmatic: absolute authority characterizes at once external government and internal government. It is only on passing to partiallyfree societies that we meet with appeals to individual judgments—a giving of reasons for beliefs.

Apparently because Greece was a congeries of independent states often at variance with one another, and because these states had their respective religious worships akin but not identical, there never arose in Greece a priestly hierarchy; and apparently the lack of one impeded some of the professional developments. Partly, perhaps, for this reason, but chiefly for the reason that scientific progress in Egypt and Assyria preceded Greek civilization, science in as lightly developed state was imported. Sir G. C. Lewis repeats the testimonies of sundry ancient authors to the effect that the Egyptian priests—

"regarded their astronomical science as an esoteric and mysterious doctrine, and that they disclosed it to curious strangers with reluctance (Strab. xvii, 1. § 29). . . . Similar statements are made with respect to Assyrian astronomy (Plat. Epinom. § 7, p. 987). This derivation does not rest merely on general declarations, but it is fortified by detailed accounts of visits of Greek philosophers to Egypt, to Assyria, and to other oriental countries, made for the purpose of profiting by the lessons of the native priests and sages." Thus Thales, Pherecydes of Syros, Pythagoras, Democritus, Œnopides of Chios, Eudoxus, Solon, Anaxagoras, Plato are said to have visited Egypt, and to have received instruction from the priests.

And from his work may be added this further passage—: "Aristotle. . . says that mathematical science originated in Egypt, on account of the leisure which the priests enjoyed for contemplation." Respecting which statement may be interposed the remark that whether the name "geometry" was a translation of the Egyptian equivalent word or was independently originated, we equally see, in the first place, that this concrete half of mathematics germinated from the practical needs for measuring out the Earth's surface, and we see, in the second place, that since temples (which, served also as king's palaces) were in early times the sole permanent and finished buildings (the rest being of wood or of sun-dried clay) it is inferable that this great division of science, first employed in the orientation and laying out of them, took its earliest steps in the service of religion. Returning now from this parenthesis to the subject of Greek science, we find that development of it can be but in very small measure ascribed to the priesthood. From Curtius we learn that "the localities of the oracles became places where knowledge of various kinds was collected, such as could not be met with elsewhere," and that "the Greek calendar fell under the superintendence of Delphi," and also that "the art of road-making and of building bridges took its first origin from the national sanctuaries, especially from those of Apollo:" some culture of science being thus implied. But, practically, the scientific advances made by the Greeks were not of sacred but of secular origin. So, too, was it with their philosophy. Though Mahaffy thinks "we have no reason to doubt the fact that philosophers were called in professionally to minister in cases of grief," and though in ministering they assumed a function characteristic of priests, yet we can not assume that they acted in a religious capacity. Evidently in the main their speculations took their departure not from theological dogmas but from the facts which scientific observation had elsewhere established. Before there was time for an indigenous development of science and philosophy out of priestly culture, there was an intrusion of that science and philosophy which priestly culture had developed elsewhere.

The normal course of evolution having been in Rome, still more than in Greece, interrupted by intruding elements, an unbroken genealogy of science and philosophy is still less to be looked for. But it seems as though the naturalness of the connection between priestly culture and scientific knowledge led to a re-genesis of it. Mommsen, after stating that there were originally only two "colleges of sacred lore"—the augurs and the pontifices, says:—

"The five 'bridge-builders' (pontifices) derived their name from their function, as sacred as it was politically important, of conducting the building and demolition of the bridge over the Tiber. They were the Roman engineers who understood the mystery of measures and numbers; whence there devolved upon them also the duties of managing the Calendar of the State, of proclaiming to the people the time of the new and full moon and the days of festivals, and of seeing that every religious and every judicial act took place on the right day. . . thus they acquired. . . the general oversight of Roman worship and of whatever was connected with it—and what was there that was not so connected?. . . In fact the rudiments of spiritual and temporal jurisprudence as well as of historical composition proceeded from this college."
A curious parallel, not unsuggestive, is thus displayed. As in Greece the art of bridge-building arose in connection with the national sanctuaries, and as in Rome the building of bridges was the function of a priestly college, the implication appears to be that since in those days building a bridge was one of the most difficult of undertakings, it naturally fell into the hands of those who were reputed to have the greatest knowledge and skill—the priests. And, probably, the connection between the priesthood and this piece of applied science was furthered by the apparent supernaturalness of the arch—a structure which must have seemed to the people incomprehensible. But alike in science and in philosophy, the Romans were the pupils of the Greeks; and hence possibly may have arisen the parallelism between a certain function of the philosopher in Greece and one he exercised in Rome.
The philosopher "was generally to he found in a large mansion acting almost like a private chaplain, instructing in ethics those who wished to learn, and attending the death-beds of members of the family."

Most likely, the ethics and the consolations here indicated were more or less tinged with ideas theologically derived; but even if not, the function described appears semi-priestly.


During those dark days which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, nothing to be called science existed. But when, along with gradual reorganization, the re-genesis of science began, it began as in earlier instances among the cultured men—the priesthood. It was not, indeed, a re-genesis de novo, but one which took its departure from the knowledge, the ideas, and the methods, bequeathed by the older civilizations. From these, long buried, it was resuscitated, almost exclusively in the monasteries. In his Science and Literature in the Middle Ages Lacroix writes:—

"At the death of Charlemagne, the exact sciences, which had flourished for a brief space at his court, seemed to shrink into the seclusion of the monasteries. . . . The order of St. Benedict had almost made a monopoly of the exact sciences, which were held in high honor at the Abbeys of Mount Cassini, in Italy; of St. Martin, at Tours (France); of St. Arnulph, at Metz; of St. Gall, in Switzerland; of Prum, in Bavaria; of Canterbury, in England, etc."

A significant parallelism has here to be noted. We saw that in India, in Assyria, and in Egypt, the earliest steps in science were made in subservience to religious needs: their primary purpose was to regulate the times of religious sacrifices so as to avoid offense to the gods. And now, strange to say, mediæval records show that among Christian peoples science was first called in for fixing the date of Easter.

How on the Continent was illustrated the monopoly of science and philosophy by the priesthood in early days, scarcely needs pointing out. Such philosophical dogmas as were current during the ages of darkness were supplementary to the current theological dogmas and in subordination to them. When, in the time of Charlemagne, some intellectual life began, it was initiated by the establishment of schools in connection with all abbeys throughout his dominions. These schools, carried on under priestly rule, eventually became the centers at once of philosophy and science: the philosophy distinguished as scholasticism being of such kind as consisted with the authorized theology, and the science—geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music—being such as did not obviously conflict with it or could be conformed to it. That is to say, alike in their nature and in their agency, the philosophy and science of the time diverged in a relatively small degree from the theology—the differentiation was but incipient. And the long continued identification of the cultivators of philosophy and science with the cultivators of theology is seen in the familiar names of the leading scholastics—William of Champeaux, Abelard, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, etc. To which may be added the notable fact that such independence of theological dogma as was thought to be implied in the doctrine of the Nominalists, was condemned alike by the Pope and by secondary ecclesiastical authorities—the differentiation was slowly effected under resistance.

In England there was a no less clear identity of the priest with the philosopher and the man of science. In his account of the Saxon clergy Kemble writes:—

"They were honorably distinguished by the possession of arts and learning, which could be found in no other class. . . . To them England owed the more accurate calculations which enabled the divisions of times and seasons to be duly settled."

The first illustration is furnished by Bede, a monk who, besides works of other kinds, wrote a work on The Nature of Things, in which the scientific knowledge of his day was gathered up. Next may be named Dicuil, an Irish monk and writer on geography. And then comes Archbishop Dunstan:—

He "was very well skilled in most of the liberal arts, and among the rest in refining metals and forging them; which being qualifications much above the genius of the age he lived in, first gained him the name of a conjurer, and then of a saint."

Though, soon after the Conquest, there lived two cultivators of science who seem not to have been clerical—Gerland and Athelard of Bath—yet it is to be remarked of the first that his science was devoted to a religious purpose—making a Computus or calculation of Easter,—and of the other that his scientific knowledge was acquired during travels in the East, and can not be regarded as an indigenous development. In Richard the First's time flourished Abbot Neckham, who wrote a scientific treatise in Latin verse, and the Bishop-elect Giraldus Cambrensis, who was a topographer. Under John we have Bishop Grosseteste, a writer on physical science, and in the next reign comes the Franciscan monk Roger Bacon, whose scientific reputation is familiar. The 15th century yields us among clerical men of science John Lydgate, chiefly known for his poetry. When we turn back to see who were the first to occupy themselves with the science of the sciences—philosophy—we perceive this same connection. In the old English period lived Scotus Erigena, a philosophical ecclesiastic whose philosophy was theological in its bearings. After a long interval, the next of this class was prior Henry of Huntingdon, who, as a moralist, brought other incentives than divine commands to bear on conduct. Presently came Bishop John of Salisbury, who, besides being classed as a writer on morality, was more distinctly to be classed as a writer on ancient philosophy. Grosseteste to his physical philosophy added mental philosophy, as also did Roger Bacon.

Joined with the fact that in mediæval days scarcely any laymen are named as devoted to studies of these kinds, the facts above given suffice to show that in Christian Europe, as in the pagan East, the man of science and the philosopher were of priestly origin. Inductive proof seems needless when we remember that during pre-feudal and feudal days, war and the chase were thought by the ruling classes the only honorable occupations. Themselves unable to read and write, they held that learning should be left to the children of mean people. And since learning was inaccessible to the masses, it becomes a necessary implication that the clerical class was the one to which mental culture of all kinds, inclusive of the scientific and philosophical kinds, was limited.


To trace the stages by which has been gradually effected the differentiation of the scientifico-philosophical class from the clerical class is not here requisite. It will suffice to note the leading characters of the change, and the state now reached.

The first broad fact to be observed is that the great body of doctrine distinguished by being based on reason instead of authority, has divided into a concrete part and an abstract part; with the result of generating two different classes of cultivators—the man of science and the philosopher. In the ancient East the distinction between the two was vague. Among the Greeks, from T hales onward, the thinker was one who studied physical facts and drew his general conceptions from them. Even on coming to Aristotle we see in the same man the union of scientific inquiry and philosophical speculation. So all through the development of knowledge in Europe, down to the time of Newton, when the use of the term "natural philosophy" for physical science implies an indefinite distinction between the two. But now the distinction has become tolerably definite—quite definite in Germany and in large measure definite here. The philosopher does not enter upon scientific investigations and often knows little about scientific truths; while, conversely, the man of science, of whatever class, is little given to philosophical speculation, and is commonly uninformed about the philosophical conclusions held by this or that school. How distinct the-two classes have become is implied by the contempt not unfrequently expressed by each for the other.

Simultaneously there has progressed a separation within the body of scientific men into those who respectively deal with the inorganic and the organic. Nowadays, men who occupy themselves with mathematical, physical and chemical investigations are generally ignorant of biology; while men who spend their lives in studying the phenomena of life, under one or other of its aspects, are often without interest in the truths constituting the exact sciences. Between animate and inanimate things there is a marked contrast, and there has come to be a marked division between the students of the two groups.

Yet a further transformation of the same nature has been going on. Within each-of these groups differentiations and subdifferentiations have been taking place. The biologists have divided themselves primarily into those who study plant-life and those who study animal-life—the phytologists (commonly called botanists) and the zoölogists. In each of these great divisions there have been established large sub-divisions: in the one those who devote themselves to the classification of species, those who treat of plant-morphology, those who treat of plant-physiology; and in the other the classifiers, the comparative anatomists, the animal-physiologists. More restricted specializations have arisen. Among botanists there are some who study almost exclusively this or that order; among physiologists, some who commonly take one class of function for their province, and among zoölogists there are first of all the divisions into those who are professed entomologists, ornithologists, ichthyologists, etc., and again within each of these are smaller groups, as among the entomologists, those who study more especially the coleoptera, the lepidoptera, the hymenoptera, etc.

Respecting these major and minor differentiations it has only further to be remarked that though the prosecution of science as a whole is not called a profession (the whole being too extensive and heterogeneous), yet the prosecution of this or that part of it has come to be thus distinguished. We have "professors" of various divisions and sub-divisions of it; and this implies that the bread-winning pursuit of science, irrespective of the particular kind, must be regarded as a profession.


The combinations of like units which have accompanied these separations of unlike units, are equally conspicuous. Those occupied in science as a whole, as well as those occupied in particular divisions of science, have everywhere tended to segregate themselves and consolidate.

On the, Continent each nation has a scientific academy or equivalent body, and in some cases several such. In our own country we have, similarly, a fixed general union among scientific men—the Royal Society; in addition to which we have a nomadic general union—the British Association.

Then beyond these largest corporations including all kinds of scientific men, we have various smaller corporations, each comprised of those devoted to a particular branch or sub-branch of science—a Mathematical Society, a Physical Society, a Chemical Society, an Astronomical Society, a Geological Society, a Physiological Society; and others occupied with sub-divisions of Biology—Botany, Zoölogy, Anthropology, and Entomology: all of them being children of the Royal Society and in some measure aids to it. Nor let us forget that besides these metropolitan societies there are scattered throughout the kingdom local societies, devoted to science in general or to some division of science.

This is not all. Integration, general and special, of the scientific world is made closer, and the co-operation of all parts aided, by continuous publications: weekly and monthly and quarterly journals which are general in their scope, and others of like periodicities which are special in their scope. Thus minor aggregates held in connection as parts of a great aggregate have their activities furthered by literary inter-communication; and as elsewhere implied (see Essays, vol. i, "The Genesis of Science"), the vast organism thus constituted has acquired a power of digesting and assimilating the various classes of phenomena which no one part of it alone could effectually deal with.


How the style of house-building may be affected by the character of the neighborhood is illustrated by the observation of Captain H. Bowen, that while traveling in Turkistan, after crossing the Kotli-i Kandahar Pass, from the Tung River into the valley of the Wachi River, the houses bore evidence of the fear in which the inhabitants live of their neighbors on the south, the Kunjuts. Instead of scattered farmhouses, the traveler invariably found several houses joined together and presenting a fortlike appearance.