Thursday, April 30, 2009

Catching Up

I have been busy with a variety of projects, as you no doubt surmised - there was the Lenten project of a series of Catholic scientists, and the obsequies for Fr. Jaki - and that's just here on the blogg.

One of the little items I wanted to note was that my good friends at Loome Books have posted an entry in their catalog for my recent fantasy, The Creatures Who Live in the Walls, the sequel to The Black Hole in the Basement. (Just do a search for author "Thursday" and you can see it. It's amusing.)

As you will observe there, our art department has managed to come up with a cover picture, which you might find interesting...

There have also been some indications that work has begun on the third part of the saga. More news on that as it becomes available.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Ninth Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

The celebration of Easter marked the spread of Christian faith. While in Augustine's time only a third of the oikumene was Christian, this ratio increased by leaps and bounds at least in Western Europe, where one young nation after another accepted the Christian message. Before long, only a historical value remained to Augustine's famous argument on behalf of Jesus' resurrection and of the faithful's resurrection. The argument is a piece of the dialectical abilities of the great rhetor Augustine was. He set forth the argument in Chapter 5 of Book XXII of his On the City of God, a work written against the pagans who blamed the destruction of Rome, the City of Man in ancient times, on the spread of the Christian religion, whose devotees undermined societal reverence toward the gods of Rome.

The argument begins with the statement of the obvious, although once it was held to be incredible: "But see, the whole world has now come to believe that the earthly body of Christ has been taken up into heaven. Learned and unlearned alike have now come to believe in the resurrection of his flesh and his ascension to the realms on high, and only a very few among learned and unlearned still remain in stupefied incredulity. If what the world believes is credible, the unbelievers should notice how stupid they are! If it is incredible, then surely it is even more incredible that so incredible a thing should be so credited! So we have two incredible things, the resurrection of our body to eternity, and the world's credence in this incredibility, both of them foretold by God before either of them came to pass."

There was still another incredibility: the fact that the world believed that Jesus rose and the dead will rise to the preaching, to the witnessing of "just a few men, the merest handful, untrained in the liberal arts, completely uneducated, as far as pagan philosophy is concerned, with no knowledge of literature, no equipment in logic, no trappings of rhetoric. And Christ sent them out as fishermen with the nets of faith into the sea of this world; and in this way he caught all those fish of every kind, including - more wonderful, because rarer - even some of the philosophers themselves."

And now came the knife of dialectic: "The first of those three incredibilities our opponents refuse to believe; the second they are compelled to observe; and unless they believe the third, they cannot account for the second." Then Augustine felt free to give a vast canvass of what that preaching was: "The resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven with the flesh in which he rose again, is by now proclaimed and believed throughout the world; if it is incredible, how is it that it is believed throughout the world? If many people, people of noble birth, of high position, of profound learning, had said that they had witnessed it and had been at pains to spread the news of what they had witnessed, it would be no marvel, if the world believed them; it would be crass obstinacy, in our opponents to refuse belief. If, and this is the truth, the world has believed a few men, of obscure birth, of no importance and of no learning, who assert in speech and wridng that they have witnessed this event, why do as few men show this perverse obstinacy in continued refusal to believe the believing world? The world has believed a hny number of men of low birth, low position, with no academic qualifications; and it has believed them just because in the persons of such insignificant witnesses the power of God exercised a much more wonderful persuasion. What I mean is that those who persuaded men of this truth did so by utterances which on their lips were turned into miracles, rather than mere words. For those who had not witnessed Christ's resurrection in the flesh, and his ascension into heaven in that same flesh, believed the report of those who told what they had seen, who not only spoke of it, but displayed miraculous signs. In fact, people who were known to have only one language, or two at most, were suddenly heard speaking miraculously in the languages of other nations; a man lame from birth stood up, sound and strong after forty years, cured at their word in the name of Christ; cloths taken from their persons had power to heal the sick; a countless number of sufferers from various diseases were stationed along the road by which the disciples were to pass, so that as they passed their shadows might pass over the sufferers and, as a rule, the sick were restored to health; and many other amazing acts were performed by the disciples in Christ's name; indeed, even the dead were restored to life. All this was observed by those who had not witnessed Christ's resurrection."

Here was the best presentation ever of the merit of the divine logic which wanted faith to be born out of the words and deeds of ever more indirect witnesses of Jesus' resurrection. Augustine wanted his reader to savor all aspects of the force of the argument, by showing the measure of unreasonableness on the part of unbelievers: "Now if these people admit that those things happened as they are recorded, then here we have all those incredibilities to add to our first three. And in order to make credible that one incredible event, Christ's resurrection and ascension, as it is reported, we heap up all this evidence for a multitude of incredible events; and yet we still cannot turn them from their hair-raising obstinacy and bring them to believe. Nevertheless, if they do not believe that those miracles were effected through Christ's apostles, to ensure belief in their proclamation of Christ's resurrection and ascension, then this one overpowering miracle is enough for us - that the whole world has come to believe in it without any miracles at all!"
[Jaki, Resurrection?]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Eighth Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
...there is no trace of despair in Jesus' death. Otherwise the good thief would not have begged to be remembered when he was coming into his Kingdom. And just as in Jesus' case death was overshadowed by resurrection, so it was in Paul's case. Paul, too, kept death and resurrection in an indissoluble unity. He set forth that unity in terms of his existential experience which he detailed in chapter 4 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He begins with excoriating false teachers, who "specialize in shameful, underhanded practices," the purpose of which is to dilute the reality of the resurrection of Jesus by slighting his crucifixion. But only the unity of the two gives salvation, which Paul carries, so he states, in an earthen vessel. The whiff of death breathes through in every detail Paul is now to give. That he speaks in the plural is a hint that what he says of himself would be shared by all the faithful...


The world, or the universe, is surely a priceless gem, as Chesterton once put it. But the value of the universe vanishes if, as Whitehead claimed in his philosophical cosmology, the universe takes on all possible forms of cosmic frames as it allegedly lives through eternity and, presumably, we all with it. How would one know? No science can give guidance within such flights of fancy, so many vain flights from the reality of a once-and-for-all life and death.

It is important to note that the purpose of marshalling cases of Christian heroism in the face of cruel deaths was not to frighten ordinary Christians, many of whom, through the mercy of God, are destined to die comfortably in bed. The purpose was to protect them from the disease of self-pity in the face of trials that appear harsh only when viewed out of proportion. Here attention has been called to the danger of being lured by vain flights from death, flights dressed up in the latest of worldly sophistication. Disease will not become less dangerous just by its coming in medical gowns indicative of superb skills and in lab-coats suggestive of fabulous learning. In that case the disease may prove to be even more lethal.

The Catholic must chart his or her path to death in a spirit which is dominated neither by fright nor by overconfidence. There is nothing new in this observation, though it may sound novel in this age of "new" spirituality, which favors more the body than the soul, turns the soul into a mere psyche, and ignores any critical mind who knows that theology did not begin a few decades ago. The Catholic is on the right path when he or she, though falling seven times a day as does the just (Prov 24:16), still cherishes Newman's remark that a venial sin is a greater catastrophe than all cosmic catastrophes taken together.

To cherish such notion is to have the right perspective. To cling to it is a proof of one's right intention, which ultimately decides one's eternal fate. This is not to be taken for a suggestion that one should sin freely. It became the privilege of Martin Luther, this archprophet of subjectivism, to speak in a vein that can rightly be translated into "pecca fortiter, sed fide fortius," or "sin spiritedly, but believe even more strongly." The Christian can take great comfort from the fact that Christ came to save sinners and not to call the righteous, and certainly not the self-righteous.

Few things are as appropriate as to mark the entrance of religious houses with Saint Bernard's words: "In monasteries one falls less frequently, but also rises more rapidly." For Christians living in the world the relative frequency of falling and rising may be different, but the fact remains that many lay Christians kept their baptismal innocence intact throughout their lives, of which a momentous instance was given in the preceding chapter. But only such succeeded in living innocently, for whom the fear of the Lord has been always the beginning of all their wisdom and who never let the specter of death drift out of their focus.

They feared death in a way which did not encourage them to seek vain flights, - thanatological, clinical, psychological, and pseudo-theological - from death's fearsome reality. Whatever their pains, they looked at death as a portal of punishment beyond which a triad of the greatest comforting realities beckoned to them. Those three were known to them as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, whose mere names tell infinitely more than thick volumes of theologizing on death. Most importantly, no learning, let alone its veneer, is needed to grasp and relish the significance and power of those three, and precisely when one is in the throes of dying.
[Jaki, Death?]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Seventh Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

... unlike many stalwarts of the "new theology," Newman was biblical in the sense in which Saint Paul wanted Christians to be such who not only heard the word, but also implemented with deeds what they heard. In this age, when so many say so much about a "deepened" and "fuller" notion of the Church, there are so few among them who enthusiastically recommend devotion to Saint Joseph. And this in an age during which popes, from Blessed Pope Pius IX, through Leo XIII, Saint Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI to John Paul II have acclaimed Saint Joseph as Patron of the Church. There is practically nothing on Saint Joseph in the Sacramentum mundi, this multivolume flagship of the "new" theology, a most un-Newmanite product. For that work is much more about this world of mere nature, than about the world to come in its supernatural splendor and effulgence.

The contrast is brought out by a brief look at that finest gem of modern prayer books, which is Newman's Meditations and Devotions .... in which Newman offers a page which is perhaps the most beautiful ever penned in English about the holiness of Joseph as a holiness most intimately connected with that of Mary. Both owed their holiness to their intimate proximity to Jesus, the infinitely Holy Incarnate Son of God. And, as Newman states, intercessory power is always proportional to the holiness of the one who is invoked to intercede. About Mary, it has been the teaching of the Church, especially since the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, that her holiness is the greatest conceivable holiness available for a created being. A women who carried under her heart for nine months the Son of God, and therefore was in the most intimate biological symbiosis with God who took body in her womb, had to be absolutely free of the merest trace of sin or even of sinful inclinations. This is why she is to be believed to have been so free of any trace of sin as to have been exempt even from that most tragic consequence of sin, which is bodily death. She merely fell asleep just before her body was taken up to Heaven.
Now a Doctor of the Church, Saint Francis of Sales, held that in view of Joseph's intimate proximity to Jesus and Mary, he had to have an extraordinary degree of holiness. So extraordinary, indeed, as to imply that he was not only one of those who rose from their graves when Christ died (Mt 27:53), but also among those the only one, who was eventually lifted to heaven in a glorious body. It is not necessary to agree with Saint Francis de Sales, and with other theologians, like Suarez, who held a similar view. But it is necessary to be impressed that such a view was held by great figures of the Christian theological past. So much in a way of introduction to this commentary on the Litany of Saint Joseph, which begins with two exclamations:
Holy Mary, pray for us!
Saint Joseph, pray for us!
Let us therefore exclaim: "Holy Mary, Saint Joseph, pray for us, and do so together!" No combined voice can be stronger than the united voice of those two. The two are so united that whenever we invoke Joseph, Mary also hears our voice, and so does the Child of theirs, who as the Savior of the world is the greatest treasure which a marital union could conceivably guard. This should be uppermost in our mind as we recite one after another the twenty-five invocations that form the Litany of Saint Joseph.
[Jaki, The Litany of St. Joseph]
I thnk that is one of Jaki's most important insights:
Holy Mary, Saint Joseph, pray for us, and do so together!
Please make a note of it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Sixth Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
But to return to Jesus' supreme novelty which the apostles thought they grasped after they listened to Jesus' discourses following the Last Supper. They rejoiced in their superficial grasp of that novelty. Otherwise they would not have been pained by Jesus' telling them that they would be expelled from the synagogue and be hated by the world. They were puzzled by his statement that he would leave them for a while but then he would return. To their comfort Jesus said that as long as he was with them he could speak in parables, because his presence served as a support in their uncertainties. But now that he told them that he would leave them grief seized their hearts and they did not feel like asking him further questions. Jesus then told them he would go to his Father, whom the world hated just as the world hated him, and precisely because the world chose sin rather than truth.

On hearing that he would go to the Father and that he would send them an advocate, the apostles felt that they knew all they needed to know: "Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God." They were quickly enlightened by Jesus about the difference between theoretical knowledge and one tested in fire: "Do you believe now?" The former kind of knowledge could not stand trial: "Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone." This happened within less than a few hours.

However, Jesus did not come to prove himself a failure. This could not happen for the reason he put concisely in the same breath: "I am not alone, because the Father is with me." His purpose in saying this was to give confidence to the apostles that their assurance in him would not falter: "I have told you this so that you might have peace in me." The peace was its most novel kind, unseen beforehand by the world and in a world which would give them the very opposite to peace: "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (Jn 16:32-33). No promise could be more novel in a world where conquests devour one another and war reigns in spite of bold promises, such as the one that specified the end of the First World War as a war that had just put an end to all wars.

Jesus' conquest of the world was to become manifest through the coming of the Holy Spirit who alone would transform the apostles' conceptual knowledge of Jesus into one with elemental force and assure thereby perennial vigor to Jesus' novelty. This the Holy Spirit did and still does in accordance with the etymology of its Greek name, Paraclete, which is usually rendered as Advocate but may also, and perhaps not irreverently, be given as Cheerleader. If Jesus keeps having disciples who do not tire in spite of all expectations to the contrary, it is because only a divine Cheerleader cannot grow tired in a perennially novel work. It is to inspire the cheerfulness displayed in the lives of an unending succession of saints who keep replaying the novelty which is Jesus.
[Jaki, The Perennial Novelty of Jesus]

I feel compelled to add a footnote tying this to Chesterton:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:263-4, emphasis added]

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Fifth Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Jews who became Jesus' followers would not have found anything strange in the supposition that the words of the Magnificat came spontaneously to Mary's lips. Precisely because she, as many other Jewish girls, might have known by heart Hannah's song, it would have been easy for her to form a vivid consciousness about the difference between Hannah's song and her Magnificat. For she was not another Hannah but the most special human being ever to walk on earth. For all her Jewishness she was immensely more than Hannah. Whereas almost all lines in Hannah's song evoke belligerence and divine vengeance, the Magnificat echoes the special dispositions of a maiden who wanted to serve and submit wholly to the words God spoke to her through the Angel. Herein lies the perennial appeal of the Magnificat, though only to those who want to serve instead of just jubilating in the belief that lasting joy can be had without unremitting self-effacement.
[Jaki, Mary's Magnificat, introduction]

Friday, April 24, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Fourth Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

We adore Thee o Christ and we bless thee.
Because by Thy holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

The physiological details of the crucifixion have been set forth so well by the author, a physician, of A Doctor at Calvary as to make amateurish to add anything to what he had presented. Suffice it so say that his studies traumatized him to the point that in the end he was unable to endure the sight of a crucifix. Others have chosen for less respectable reasons to change the corpus on the cross into a glorified body. They thought that it was possible to claim the glory of heaven without going through the crucible of suffering. Worse, they thought that this was a good theology.

Compared with these dubious strategies, far more theology should seem to be incorporated in at times nonartistic representations of Christ as he hangs on the cross. In defense of them one should refer to Grünewald's famed triptych. With red splashes all over his body, Jesus is shown real he always was, whether in the stable in Bethlehem, or with whip in his hand as he was chasing the merchants out of the Temple precincts, or sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. This last detail troubled so much some early copyists of Luke's Gospel as to leave it out. They were just as mistaken as that champion of the "new" theology, who emphasized Christ's agony so much as to conclude that he lost his awareness of being the Son of God and therefore did not remain in uninterrupted possession of beatific vision.

Here too Christian truth is like a coin, which, if real, must have two sides to it and both sides must be asserted, contradictory as they may appear. They are merely very mysterious when it comes to the unity of two natures, one fully divine, the other fully human, in one divine person. This is not something for psychology, let alone to its depth kind, which is one of the most shallow preoccupations. It should suffice to say that the fully human nature of Christ had to experience death in all its reality. And it is a terrible reality which escapes those who want to die in "dignity," through assisted suicide. It is only because Jesus endured death in its gruesome fullness that he could become a comfort to all who die with their gaze, physical or spiritual, fixed on the crucifix. It is still the best compendium of theology as put by more than one saint.

As for his burial, it was a thumping proof of the fact that the body taken down from the cross was really a dead body. It would be tempting to dwell on the pain of those who washed in a hurry Jesus' bruised body, and carried it into a newly hewn tomb nearby. As the huge stone was rolled into the tomb's opening the feeling must have been which one experiences when faced with something totally irreversible. Humanly speaking that Master was dead once and for all.
[Jaki, The Apostles' Creed: a Commentary]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Third Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

A very different, though equally eloquent witness on behalf of the spiritual power of the rosary came from the ageing Cardinal Newman. First he had to forgo saying the Mass. Then he was no longer able to recite the breviary. In view of Newman's enormous love for the Divine Office, this must have been an especially great loss for him. Newman's ready reply to a condolence on that loss of his was preserved by a fellow Oratorian who reminisced that for Newman "the rosary more than made up for it; that the rosary was to him the most beautiful of all devotions and that it contained all in itself." The same priest continued: "In time, however, the rosary had to be abandoned; a want of sensitiveness in his finger-ends disabling him from its use. From far back," the priest added, "in the long distance of time, memory brings him forward, when not engaged in writing or reading, as most frequently having the rosary in his hand."

The same priest could not guess, although Newman himself foresaw this, that a grim contestation would arise within the Church about the status of the supernatural. Yet even Newman with his prophetic gifts would not have dared guess that he would be in the center of the storm, though hardly responsible for it. Liberals who try to dissolve the supernatural into the mere natural did their best to hijack Newman. No wonder that they do not want him to be recalled as one who, whenever free of writing and reading, reached out for his rosary. No single spiritual exercise, with the exception of doing the stations of the cross, stands so powerfully in the way of the juggernaut of the sinister "naturalization" of the supernatural as does the devout recitation of Hail Marys grouped around the twenty mysteries.
[Jaki, Twenty Mysteries, introduction]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Second Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Prayer must contain the lifting of the mind to God, an act rooted in conceptualization before it can blossom into the unutterable promptings of the Spirit that in turn are immensely more than mere aesthetics.
It is well to recall that Augustine took Athanasius, one of the greatest minds ever in the Church, for his guide in the matter of praying the psalms. Athanasius, so wrote Augustine in that chapter 33, "used to oblige the rectors to recite the psalms with such slight modulation of the voice that they seem to be speaking rather than chanting." Such problems do not, of course, arise in private recitation of the psalms.
As a wise pastor of souls, Augustine did not urge the abolition of melodies attached to the psalms. "I am inclined," he wrote, "to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion." Yet whenever he found "the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys," he took this for a "grievous sin" and at those times he "preferred not to hear the singer." Such was the dilemma of the one appreciative of music and yet even more sensitive to what prayer had to be, an "elevatio mentis ad Deum," the lifting of the mind to God.

[Jaki, Praying the Psalms introduction]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - First Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

"O most sweet Jesus, what riches you have contained in your Sacred Heart, and how easy it is for us to enrich ourselves when we possess in the Blessed Eucharist this infinite treasure."
-- St. Bernard

Whereas [certain] blasphemers, on all whose heads once flowed the waters of baptism, quickly vanish, the Sacred Heart retains his divine hold on the better part of the faithful. They can but bewail the fact that today in the Church they are in midst of a large scale imbalance, due to a "pastoral" slighting of pivotal dogmas, of which the most central is that of the Incarnation. They should take heart from the letter Pope Benedict XVI addressed to the General of the Jesuits on the fiftieth anniversary of Haurietis aquas. He urged them to renew their zeal in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart, this "fundamental form of devotion, a powerful antidote to "self-absorption."

Recitation of the Litany of the Sacred Heart remains a principal form of that devotion.
[-- S. L. Jaki, The Litany of the Sacred Heart, introduction]

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Novena for Fr. Jaki

According to information, the funeral and burial of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, OSB will be next Wednesday April 29 at the archabbey of Pannonhalma. And so, as I posted here, we shall begin a novena of prayer on Tuesday April 29 for the repose of his soul.

Please join us in reciting the Rosary, or you may choose your own prayers.

Also, I think it fitting that we recite one of the Litanies he wrote about - those of Loreto (Mary), or of St. Joseph, or of the Sacred Heart, or of the Holy Name.

Among other things, he particularly urged a renewal of our dedication to the Sacred Heart - I have no time to elaborate just now, but if you do not have a copy of his booklet, you should order one. See here for details.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jaki: Darwin and Easter

S. L. Jaki, renowned historian of science, tells of Darwin's confrontation with "the most significant fact of history":
[A seventeen-year-old German student wrote to Darwin:] "I therefore come to you ... asking and begging, so that your kind reply may provide a directive that tells me what I should believe. Please, in your great kindness, don't brush me aside, keenly as I realize that my requests are improper and impertinent, because I know not where, apart from you, I can get hold of the truth."

With this the letter reached the crucial point, or Christ. "Please tell me," the youth continued, "can one believe in Christ as described in the Bible? What should one, according to your opinion, grant to Mr. Haeckel and what definition of God is appropriate to be held by one who accepts your theory?" All this had an existential backdrop: "If you, however, are kind enough to be generous with your answer, would you please tell me what one should think about life after death and whether one should expect to meet others in afterlife? This question has agitated me anew because, owing to the death of my best friend, I have been in the grip of most serious thoughts." Most accounts of spiritual crises set off by Darwin's theory have yet to match the plain but incisive reflections of a youth not yet out of high school or gymnasium.

By 1879, Darwin confessed that his "theology was a muddle." But he never saw with any comparable accuracy the muddle of his thinking about the scientific method. Was it a method or a "road-guide" into a specific area, the mechanism of evolution, or was the scientific method a guide about everything under the sun and even above it? Was it a method about something specific, or about everything that ever exerted the human mind? Not having even a modest amount of clarity about the limits of the validity of the scientific method, Darwin once more asked his son Francis to pen, on his behalf, a short résumé of his views on the bearing of evolutionary theory on matters theological, Christ not excepted: "I am much engaged, an old man, and out of health, and I cannot spare time to answer your questions fully, - nor indeed can they be answered. Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities."

Darwin's reply is important partly because it is very typical of views prevailing in a secularist culture about Christ and afterlife, a culture that claims to be scientific. A further importance derives from the extent to which Darwin's theory advanced the secularization of the modern world. Last but not least, Darwin's reply gives a glimpse of the Achilles' heel of that culture boastful of its empiricism. Darwin most likely thought that the strongest point in his reply related to that caution which familiarity with scientific method should generate. He did not suspect the extent to which the same familiarity could also give rise to an unwarranted discrimination among various kinds of facts and to a shocking insensitivity about the countless facts of history which, unlike "the facts" of science, do not repeat themselves.

Among those unrepeatable facts of human history - individual and social, obscure and famous - none created as much of a stir as the fact of the Prophet from Nazareth. Men of power, men of learning, men of violence, men of lust, men of political madness, all tried to dismiss that fact, time and again, as a mere myth of no consequence. Nobody in Domitian's entourage had the slightest second thought as the Emperor treated with contempt the simple relatives of "Christos" presented to him. Within two hundred years, the Empire had to fix on its standards the ignominious cross which that "Christos" alone turned into a token of victory.

The commodity of second thought has not been more plentiful in times that are known as the progressive de-Christianization of the Western world. All too often camouflaged in scientific garb, it is a process which effectively hides from view facts that are neither of the making of science, nor can science make anything of them. A "scientific" stance that stimulates insensitivity to those facts is a parody of science, worthy of being called plain antiscience. All the more so because among those facts belong also some facts of scientific history, facts so very different from the facts of nature. A close look at the "unscientific" facts of the history of science, which is offered in the subsequent pages, must have in its focus the fact of Christ if that fact is indeed the most significant fact of history.

[Jaki, The Savior of Science 6-8, quoting Darwin's Letters]

Alleluia! Christ has indeed risen! His Cross of defeat has become the Sign of Victory! Alleluia!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Jaki on Easter and the Papacy

Alleluia! He is risen as He said! Alleluia!

After all: "...our God knows the way out of the grave..." [cf. GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:382]

Let us hear about the connection from the Pasch to the Papacy...

[Peter] boasted that even if all the others were to desert Jesus, he would stand by no matter what. But a little later he could not resist the urge to sleep. In spite of Christ's explicit words he did not suspect the difference between a ready spirit and a weak flesh. On seeing the enemy come, he acted as man of outbursts. He drew his sword and drew blood. His Master was not impressed: he healed the bleeding ear of Malchus, the high priest's servant, on the spot.

But Jesus was very much interested when Peter, the boasting and sword-rattling leader of the Twelve, was forced into a triple betrayal triggered by the wagging tongue of a servant girl. As a self-centered enthusiast, Peter needed an outside reminder to perceive his true predicament. It came when Jesus turned around and looked at him as the cock crowed. Peter wept bitterly as he went out of the courtyard where he had just seen the Messiah passing through, rejected and humiliated by his own.

Convulsive tears could be produced by a deep love which did not turn into disillusion when the beloved Master utterly failed by all human standards. His dead body was now the last link Peter had with him. A strong link it was. When told on early Easter morning that the tomb was empty, he rushed there with John who, although first in the race, deferred to him in the moment of victory. Peter entered the tomb first, a possible deference to his leadership. Since he did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead, he must have felt heartbroken on seeing that the dead body of his Master, his last link with him, had vanished. Being by nature an intense lover, he could only go outside the tomb and weep.

Legend has it that Peter often wept for the rest of his life and that the tears made deep furrows in his cheeks. But a few, hardly visible, sincere tears were enough to turn Peter into a rock through which the marvel of grace made living waters flow, as was the case with the rock in the desert struck by Moses. That rock, as Saint Paul emphatically remarked, prefigured Christ, who when hanging on the cross let the Church be born in the water and blood that flowed from his pierced heart. The rock, which was to be the continuation of Christ, also had to be a source of the water of life-giving suffering.

In order to assure that continuity, Jesus, through some heartrending questions, caused Peter to cry. When Peter rushed through the water after spotting Jesus on the shore, he did not realize what was in store for him. A rock-like stability was to be grafted on his nature, which had been shaken by outbursts of emotions. Grafts always extract some moisture, and there must have been some tears in Peter's eyes when his Master asked him for the third time: "Do you love me more than these?" The proof of the tears is Peter's answer, given as he trembled in pain, "Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you," the kind of answer that can hardly be made without tears in one's eyes. In reply Jesus let him hear for the third time, the biblical symbol of consummation, his great assignment: "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep." He already had the keys of the kingdom; he now received the staff of the supreme shepherd.

[Jaki, And On This Rock 83-4]

Update (Easter afternoon)
When I wrote this early this morning, I felt something nagging at me - some link to the liturgy - but I could not get the link to come. Then I went to Mass and of course it glared out at me from the Introit - and I nearly laughed aloud:
...mirabilis facta est scientia tua... [Ps138:6]
Which to a scientist of little Latin will sound like "Your science has been made wonderful" (hee hee) Of course I know scientia means "knowledge" but I knew there was another link to be had here. And as GKC said about the way out of the grave, our knowledge of the Resurrection is the best and indeed most wonderful science of all!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Announcing the Duhem Society

See here for details...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

RIP: Stanley L. Jaki, OSB: Bridge Builder

God has called Father Jaki home to be with Him - with his parents and teachers, with Gilbert and Frances, with Pierre and Hélène Duhem - with Fresnel and Mersenne and Pasteur and Volta and Galvani and Galileo and Newton - with Alexis Carrell and Sigrid Undset and Karl Stern and Fr. Kneller - with Jordanus and Oresme and Buridan - with Sts. John Fisher, Benedict, Aquinas and Augustine... and with Mary and Joseph.

I have no idea what arrangements will be made for his funeral Mass, but I know what the "responsorial Psalm" verse ought to be:
God "disposed everything according to measure and number and weight" (Wis 11:20)
Nearly every one of his books quotes this line. During the Middle Ages it was the verse most often quoted of Sacred Scripture (I can give his reference for that, but have no heart just now to go looking for it.)

It may sound unbelievable to hear, but there was a certain line of Chesterton's which I first read in one of Jaki's books (the one on GKC, of course!) because at that time I did not own the Chesterton book.

It ought to be carved in his tombstone:

The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind.
[GKC, The Defendant 75]
I believe Father Jaki was the pre-eminent builder of that bridge...

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Please stay tuned for a very important announcement to follow....

Science, it must not be forgotten, lives by hope no less than does religion.
[Jaki, Catholic Essays 27]

Monday, April 06, 2009

Please pray

for Father Stanley L. Jaki, O.S.B. who is near death.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Andre Ampère

This Catholic physicist, whose name (like Volta's) appears all over the world, was called "The Newton of electricity" by James Clerk Maxwell, the great physicist whose four laws were enshrined by Einstein:
It was ... a source of deep satisfaction for them [physicists of the late 1800s] to learn that the mathematical interpretation of a physical process in which gravitation played no part might show a striking resemblance to the law of gravitation. Maxwell was particularly eager to point this out in connection with the law of the conduction of heat in uniform media. Newton's laws were also the ideal Ampère had emulated in his work with such success that Maxwell was prompted to say: "The whole theory and experiment seems as if it had leaped, full-grown, full-armed, from the brain of the Newton of electricity."
[Jaki, The Relevance of Physics 73 quoting Maxwell's A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism]
One of Maxwell's four laws is a generalization of Ampère's law of magentism. In that same work, Jaki goes very deep in to a very important aspect of science, giving some more light on Ampère:
Culture is the art of finding the true proportion in things, situations, and human affairs. Consequently, any ingredient in culture must take its place in the whole according to its own proportion of truth, uncertainty, and error. By ignoring history, it is easy to forget that errors, blind alleys, wrong assumptions, and illusions in physics far outnumbered the successful efforts. Faraday, for one, found that even in the most successful instances not a tenth of his preliminary ideas and conclusions could be carried to satisfactory completion. In his diaries failures were recorded as faithfully as successes, in the conviction that an awareness of failures was indispensable for progress. No one upheld this view more resolutely than Maxwell, whose electromagnetic theory was deeply rooted in the study of Faraday's notes. Comparing the methods of Ampère and Faraday, Maxwell warned his students that it was necessary to study both in order to get a view in depth of a scientific theory. Ampère, said Maxwell, does not show the steps by which he arrived at his perfect demonstration: "He removed all traces of the scaffolding by which he had raised it." Faraday, on the other hand, made known both his successful and his unsuccessful experiments, both his crude and his developed ideas. Therefore, if Ampère's research should be read, to hear Maxwell state it, as a "splendid example of scientific research," Faraday's writings should be studied "for the cultivation of a scientific spirit." Maxwell made this point even more explicit soon after the opening of the Cavendish Laboratories. "The history of science," he said, "is not restricted to the enumeration of successful investigations. It has to tell of unsuccessful inquiries, and to explain why some of the ablest men have failed to find the key of knowledge, and how the reputation of others has only given a firmer footing to the errors into which they fell."
[Ibid, 519-20 quoting the same book by Maxwell and his "Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics" from Maxwell's Scientific Papers]
Jaki also reveals an interesting study of cybernetics by Ampère: Maxwell interpreted the progress of science, it steadily tended "to deepen the distinction between the visible part, which perishes before our eyes and that which we are ourselves." The accumulation of scientific knowledge kept bringing, he insisted, ever fresh evidence that human personality, "with respect to its nature as well as to its destiny, lies quite beyond the range of science." In stating this, Maxwell merely voiced a conviction shared by all the outstanding figures of nineteenth-century physics. This should be abundantly clear to anyone having some familiarity with the views of Ohm, Young, Gauss, Fresnel, and Ampère, to mention only some of Maxwell's older contemporaries. Ampère's name is particularly relevant in this connection, as he gave in his Essai sur la philosophie des sciences a concise outline of the art of governing, or as he called it, cybernetics. While present-day definitions of cybernetics are all too often equivalent to questionable generalizations of the notion of feedback mechanism, Ampère's idea of cybernetics is not marred by debilitating physicalism. For contrary to the narrow outlook of physicalism, Ampère emphasized that the science of governing should be based on a thorough attentiveness to every facet of human life and activity. Cybernetics, according to him, far transcended the skill of establishing quantitative correlations. It was, rather, a science that had to ponder carefully the character, manners, history, religion, and laws of society before trying to formulate the general patterns of human activities. This is why, in his classification of sciences, cybernetics is at the very end of a long list of both quantitative and non-quantitative fields of inquiry, the knowledge of all of which was, in his opinion, indispensable for the development of a science that at the same time did justice to the wholeness of man.
[Jaki, Brain, Mind, and Computers]
There is a good deal more on Ampère and his work in Father Jaki's books, but let us hear some more about the man from Father Kneller:
Of the great Ampère, who, taking up Volta's work in electricity, developed it in many directions, the same [as Volta; see my posting] is to be recorded. André Marie Ampère was, according to the judgment of all who knew him and as his discoveries show, a man remarkable alike for acuteness and width of mind, a many-sided genius. His point of departure in science was Oerstedt's accidental discovery of the influence of a galvanic current on a magnetised needle. This at once suggested to Ampère a truth of much larger scope, namely, that magnetism could be transformed into electricity, and that electric currents in general exercised an influence on one another. He devised apparatus for the investigation of this hypothesis, and in a short time had established its truth, and formulated the laws according to which currents attract and repel one another, and cause deflections of magnetic needles. These discoveries have proved inexhaustible in their consequences, and mark the first step towards a true understanding of earth-magnetism and of magnetism in general. While the general course of scientific discovery is the establishment of the facts by one investigator, a general explanation of them by a second, and an exact formulation of the laws governing them by a third, in the case of electro-dynamics the three stages were performed by the single mind of Ampère. "A man who possessed all the characteristics of scientific genius, spacious vision, acuteness, and infallible accuracy in deduction", is the estimate of Ampère given by Clausius, surely a competent judge. And Bertrand says: "Ampère's essay is one of the most wonderful productions of modern science, and forms the foundation of the vastest and most perfect construction erected by natural philosophy since the time of Newton." Science owes to Ampère other discoveries in addition to those which have made his name immortal. He opened his career with mathematical works of great brilliancy, and it was, indeed, through these that he obtained his position in Paris and Membership of the Academy of Sciences. In Chemistry he had independently re-established the important law discovered by Avogadro in 1811 but since then completely forgotten: and in the controversy on the nature of chlorine he was a vigorous upholder of the true view at a time when the greatest specialists in Chemistry confessed themselves puzzled. In Zoology and Botany he was also thoroughly grounded. But it was philosophy proper that interested him most and his last work was an essay in the classification of the sciences. Ampère's religious experience included an early period of indifference, and after his return to Christianity a period of great doubt and distress. These were however merely stages in his development. At the time of his great discoveries he was once more a zealous and convinced Christian, and in this faith he remained to the end. Ozanam, who lived for some time in Ampère's household expresses himself unmistakably on this point:
"But over and above his scientific achievements there is something more to be said: for us Catholics, this rare genius has other titles to our veneration and love. He was a brother in the Faith.... Religion presided over the labours of his mind, shed its light over every field of his thought: and it was from this sublime point of view that he judged all things, even science itself.... This venerable head, with all its wisdom and glory, bowed unreservedly before the mysteries of the Divine Teaching. He knelt at the same altar as Descartes and Pascal, side by side with poor women and children, humbler in soul than the least of them. No one could have observed more scrupulously the austere, and yet sweet discipline of the Church.... But most beautiful of all was the operation of Christianity in the interior of his noble soul: that admirable simplicity, the modesty of a genius which, knowing everything, was content to be ignorant of its own greatness: that high scientific probity, eager not after glory, but after truth alone, nowadays so rare: that affable and communicative temper, pouring out in familiar conversation treasures beyond count, so communicative indeed that its ideas lay at the mercy of the plagiarist; finally that benevolence towards all he met but especially the young.... We know more than one, towards whom he showed the care and affection of a father. I say emphatically that those who knew only his intellect knew the less perfect part of him. For if he thought deeply, he loved more deeply still."
Ampère's discussions with Ozanam hardly ever concluded without some mention of the name of God. "Then Ampère took his broad brow between his hands and cried out: 'How great God is, Ozanam, how great God is! All our knowledge is absolutely nothing'."

We add to Ozanam's testimony that of Sainte-Beuve, a witness certainly not open to the charge of prejudice:
"The religious doubts and struggles of his early life had ceased: or at least his trouble of mind was no longer so acute. For years many things had been leading him back to the faith and submission of mind which he had so well expressed in 1803, in an affecting document which no doubt he had often re read in the interval. Interior sorrows, his instinct for the infinite, active correspondence with his old friend Father Barret, the very atmosphere of the Restoration all drew him back. Throughout all the years that followed down to the very end, we saw him effecting without effort and in a fashion to arouse admiration and respect, a reconciliation and alliance of faith and science, of belief and hope in human thought and adoration before the Revealed Word."
In Ampère's own writings we find many passages in which he speaks of Nature as leading up to God:
"We can see only the works of the Creator but through them we rise to a knowledge of the Creator Himself. Just as the real movements of the stars are hidden by their apparent movements, and yet it is by observation of the one that we determine the other: so God is in some sort hidden by His works, and yet it is through them that we discern Him and catch a hint of the Divine attributes. One of the most striking evidences of the existence of God is the wonderful harmony by which the universe is preserved and lilting beings are furnished in their organization with everything necessary to life, multiplication, and the enjoyment of all their powers, physical and intellectual."
[Kneller, Christianity and the Leaders of Modern Science]
For more details, please see the Catholic Encyclopedia.

I will conclude with an excerpt from another source, which unfortunately does not give its source, but given Fr. Kneller's report, it rings true:
The Rosary in the Hands of an Eminent Scientist

When Frederick Ozanam, the French Catholic scholar, leader of the 19th century Catholic social thought and founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (1833) was eighteen years old, he was experiencing a serious religious crisis. Tormented by doubts he entered one of the Paris churches seeking a bit of tranquility and solace. In the corner, near the Blessed Sacrament, he noticed a venerable old man fervently absorbed in praying the rosary.
Ozanam recognized the devout gentleman as Andre Ampère, the famous physicist, mathematician, natural philosopher and eminent researcher in electrodynamics, after whom the electrical unit ampere is named. Quietly he knelt down in back of his admired master. As he observed the great scientist absorbed in prayer he felt how faith and love of God began to surge in his soul. Later he confessed that the rosary in the hands of Ampère impressed him far more than any book or sermon.
[from Key to Happiness, September/October 1990]
Another scientist - an electrical engineer - who said the Rosary!

Well? What are YOU waiting for?

Catholic Scientists - an Index

My project for Lent, 2009 is this series of glimpses into the life and work of Catholic scientists - drawn from the works of S. L. Jaki, Fr. Kneller, Dr. Walsh, the Catholic Encyclopedia and other sources.

Introduction - the Heart of Jesus & Mary, Seat of Wisdom

1206-1280 St. Albert the Great, O.P., patron of science
?-1184 St. Bénezet the Bridge Builder and
1199-1252 St. Ferdinand III, King of Castile, founder of the university of Salamanca, patron of engineering
121?-1277 Pope John XXI, ophthalmologist

1638-1686 Nicholas of Steno (Stensen), bishop
1588-1648 Marin Mersenne, priest, order of Minims
13??-14?? Jean (John) Buridan
1601-1680 Athanasius Kircher S. J.
132?-1382 Nicole Oresme, Bishop of Lisieux
1861-1916 Pierre Duhem, thermodynamicist and historian of science

1789-1857 Augustin Cauchy, mathematician
1436-1476 Johann Müller ("Regiomontanus"), bishop of Ratisbon, astronomer
1801-1858 Johann Müller, physiologist
1737-1798 Luigi Galvani, physician and father of electricity
1822-1884 Gregor Mendel, Augustinian abbot, geneticist
1788-1827 Augustin-Jean Fresnel, physicist of optics

1746-1826 Giuseppe (Joseph) Piazzi, Theatine monk, astronomer
1810-1882 Theodore Schwann, biologist
1763-1829 Louis Nicolas Vauquelin, chemist, and
1777-1857 Louis Jacques Thénard, chemist
1822-1895 Louis Pasteur, chemist, biologist, physiologist
1564-1642 Galileo Galilei, astronomer
1822-1901 Charles Hermite, mathematician

1811-1877 Urbain-Jean-Joseph Leverrier, astronomer
1874-1937 Guglielmo Marconi, father of radio
1745-1827 Alessandro Volta, physicist of electricity
1743-1822 Fr. René-Just Haüy, father of scientific crystallography
1781-1826 René Laënnec, physician
1743-1794 Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, chemist

1762-1833 Fr. Pierre André Latreille, founder of modern entomology
1799-1883 Joachim Barrande, paleontologist
1718-1799 Maria Gaetana Agnesi, polymath
1473-1543 Nicolaus Copernicus, astronomer
1682-1771 Giovanni Battista Morgagni, father of modern pathology
1775-1836 Andre Ampère, physicist of electricity

(to be continued...)

For books by S. L. Jaki, see, which also reprinted Father Karl A. Kneller's Christianity and the Leaders of Modern Science.
The Catholic Encyclopedia is available here. Dr. Walsh's books appear to be mostly out of print, but I have found some through Loome.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Giovanni Battista Morgagni

The Catholic physician behind autopsies/post-mortems, the founder of pathological anatomy.

Dr. Walsh devotes an entire chapter to this great scientist:

Like many another great man, Morgagni seems to have been especially fortunate in his mother. He was left an orphan at a very early age. His mother, however, whose maiden name was Maria Tornieli, not only bore her loss bravely, but devoted her life and talents to the education of her gifted son. She seems to have been a woman of uncommon good sense and remarkable understanding. Morgagni often spoke of her during the course of his life, and attributed much of his success to the training he had received from her. It is the custom sometimes to think that women have come to exert great cultural influence only in these latter days. Nothing could be more untrue. All through history are abundant traces of women exerting the highest intellectual influences in their own sphere, and the North Italians in their era of highest cultural development seem to have been happier in nothing more than their recognition of the possibilities that lay in providing educational facilities for women. These times and this part of Italy are famous in history for some of the opportunities afforded women in the matter of higher education. It has been suggested that it is perhaps to the liberal culture of the mothers we owe the fact that this part of Italy furnished for one hundred and fifty years about this time the greatest men in science of the time. It is well known that women occasionally held professorships at the University of Bologna, not far from Morgagni's birthplace.

After an excellent preliminary education at Forli, always under the careful supervision and enlightened encouragement of his mother, Morgagni, as might have been expected from the place of his birth, went to the neighboring university town of Bologna for his higher studies.

Bologna was at this time at the very acme of its reputation as the greatest of existent medical schools. The science of anatomy had been especially developed here as the result of important investigations and discoveries made by some of the greatest men in the history of medical science. Mondino had, very early in the fourteenth century, recreated the modern science of anatomy as we know it. He was the first to realize the importance and urge the necessity for the dissection of human bodies, if any real lasting progress in human anatomy was to be made. Medical teaching before this time had been largely by lectures and disputations upon the work of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen, but actual observation on human tissues and organs now replaced the older method. Bologna became a papal city in 1512, and it is especially after this date that, under the fostering care of the Popes, the University of Bologna became the centre of medical teaching for the whole world for several centuries.

As the result of actual observation and patient study instead of idle theorizing there came a large number of great discoveries in anatomy. From Mondino to Morgagni there is a continuous series of great men in connection with the University of Bologna such as no other institution can show. About midway between the first and last came the great Vesalius, who taught at Bologna as well as at Padua and Pisa, and whose work on anatomy was to be a treasure for anatomists of all countries for many generations.


Some idea of the estimation in which Morgagni was held at this time may be gathered from the fact that, though scarcely more than twenty-one years of age, he was sometimes allowed to assume Valsalva's lecture obligations during the master's absence.

His first publication was a series of notes on anatomy. These were published in the form of collected essays, with the title Adversaria Anatomica. The title has a pugnacious sound, but Morgagni did not indulge in controversy and adversaria is only the Latin name for note-books. The first articles thus collected were really communications made by Morgagni to the "Academy of the Restless" during his presidency of that body. This opened his career as a writer, and it is interesting to note that his last book was to be published some sixty-three years later - a person of fecund authorship almost unprecedented.


...medicine lost much of its obscurity by losing all its vagueness when Morgagni's methods came into general use.

As a medical student scarcely twenty years of age, he revolutionized medical observation by studying his fatal cases with a comparative investigation of their clinical symptoms and the postmortem findings. This had been done before, but mainly with the idea of finding out the cause of death and the principal reasons for the illness which preceded. Morgagni's investigations in pathology consisted in tracing side by side all the clinical symptoms to their causes as far as that might be possible. This looks so simple now as to be quite obvious, as all great discoveries are both simple and obvious once they have been made; but it takes a genius to make them, since their very nearness causes them to be overlooked by the ordinary observer so prone to seek something strange and different from the common.

How much Morgagni's studies from this new viewpoint of the investigation of all the symptoms of disease has meant for modern medicine, may be best appreciated by a quotation from an address delivered before the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society in 1864, by Professor Gairdner, who thus tersely describes the character of the distinguished Italian pathologist's work:
"In investigating the seats of disease, Morgagni is not content to record the coincidence of a lesion in an organ with the symptoms apparently due to disordered function in that organ.
"For the first time almost in medical inquiry, he insists on examining every organ, as well as the one suspected to be chiefly implicated; not only so, he marshals with the utmost care, from his own experience and that of his predecessors, all the instances in which the symptoms have existed apart from the lesion, or the lesion apart from the symptoms. He discusses each of these incidents with severe exactness in the interest of truth, and only after an exhaustive investigation will he allow the inference either that the organ referred to is or is not the seat of the disease.
"And in like manner in dealing with causes: a group of symptoms may be caused by certain organic changes - it may be even probable that it is so - but, according to Morgagni's method, we must first inquire into all the lesions of organs which occur in connection with such symptoms; in the second place, we must know if such lesions ever occur without the symptoms; and again if such symptoms can be attributed in any cases to other causes in the absence of such lesions."

Mogagni had a family of fifteen children, eight of whom survived their father though he lived to the ripe age of eighty-seven years. There were three sons, one of whom died in childhood; another became a Jesuit and taught in the famous Jesuit school at Bologna whose magnificent building has now become the municipal museum, the Accademia delle Belle Arte. The third followed his father's profession, married and settled in Bologna, but died before his father, who assumed the care of his grandchildren. All Morgagni's daughters who grew up to womanhood, eight in number, became nuns in various religious orders.

The spirit of science had not disturbed the development of a homely simple faith in the family. The great Father of Pathology, far from being disturbed by the unselfish self-sacrifice of so many of his children, bore it not only with equanimity but even rejoiced at it. His relations to his children were ever most tender. After the suppression of the Jesuits, his son, who had been a member of the order, worked at science with his father at the University of Bologna and not without distinction.

The estimation in which Morgagni was held by his contemporaries can be judged from the fact that twice when invading armies had entered the Emilia and laid siege to Bologna, their commanders, as in old Greek history did the Grecian generals with regard to Pindar and Archimedes, gave strict orders that special care was to be taken that no harm come to Morgagni, and that his work was not to be hampered. Having lived his long life amidst the reverent respect of all who knew him, he died full of day and honors.

The great medical scientist whose work was to prove the foundation of modern pathology, and thus be the source of more blessings to mankind than ever even he dreamed of, remained in the midst of the reverence and gratitude of his generation, one of those beautifully simple characters whom all the world delights to honor. As a teacher he was the idol of his students. No great scientist who came to Italy felt that his journey had been quite complete unless he had had the privilege of an interview with Morgagni. This friend of Popes and of many of the European rulers was the happy father of a houseful of members of religious orders, and considered himself blest that so many of them had chosen the better part. He was himself all during his long life the ardent seeker after truth, who did well the work that came to his hand and followed his conscience in sincere simplicity of heart and reaped his personal reward in the peace that is beyond understanding to those who have not the gift of faith to appreciate the things that are beyond the domain of sense.

[Walsh, Makers of Modern Medicine]

Also see the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Nicolaus Copernicus

Mikolaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus) (1473-1543) was a Polish astronomer and physician, who hypothesized that the earth went around the sun.

Unfortunately, Copernicus is far too early to be considered in Father Kneller's book, but Dr. Walsh has this very enlightening paragraph:
A hundred years before Galileo's time Copernicus went down to Italy to study astronomy and medicine, and when his book was published it was dedicated to a Pope. Copernicus himself was a faithful churchman all his life, came near being made a bishop once, and kept the diocese in which he lived, and in which his personal friend was bishop, in the fold of the Church in spite of Luther and the religious revolt all around it in Germany.
[Walsh, The Popes and Science 17-18]
Copernicus, like Galileo, is a name which appears dozens of times throughout Jaki's writing. Some of his study gets into complexities which (as in the case of Galileo) are not what you may have heard before, of very great importance to those of us who want to know the history of science.
...the historian appreciative only of writings but not of writers, because the latter are not sympathetic to him, will become the prisoner of his own sympathies. He will then take some halfjesting remarks of Buridan and Oresme for a proof that they were not believers but skeptics. Underneath this sleight of hand lies the "dogmatic" conviction that no intelligent individual, let alone an individual creatively intelligent in the sciences, can espouse wholeheartedly basic Christian dogmas. The result is that a Copernicus is turned into a Renaissance man. Such is a transparent device to minimize the support he derived from his Christian faith as he conceived and kept developing his views that opened the way to a truly scientific grasp of the universe, the greatest prize for science.


In the early 17th century no full scientific conviction would be carried by the enormous simplification that resulted from the heliocentric arrangement of planets. A chief reason for this lay in the inability of Copernicus to offer more precise predictions of planetary positions than was possible on the basis of geocentric astronomy as set forth in impressive detail and cogency in Ptolemy's Almagest. Copernicus' work could almost appear a mere rewriting of Ptolemy. The idiom, Euclidean geometry, was the same, together with such staple parts of it as epicycles, deferents, and eccentrics, to say nothing of its archaic trigonometry. Also, the data were almost the same. Copernicus added fewer than thirty observations of his own to the hundreds he took from the Almagest. Last but not least, his tools of observation were age-old. The invention of the telescope still lay in the misty future.

Why is it, one may ask, that Copernicus was not anticipated by the Greeks of old? The ready answer that Copernicus was a genius is a mere begging of the question, and all the more so as geniuses were not lacking among the Greeks, and certainly not in the field of astronomy. One of them was Aristarchus of Samos. His method of measuring the absolute sizes of the moon and the sun and their relative and absolute distances from the earth still fill with astonishment any sensitive mind when first exposed to it. No less a genius was Archimedes who made much of that method as he calculated the total number of sand grains that could be accommodated within the sphere ofthe fixed stars, standing for the entire universe. Archimedes meant it to be a teaser, a means for entertaining his royal patron in Syracuse.

Both Aristarchus and Archimedes could have easily preceded Ptolemy by three and two hundred years respectively in writing an essential equivalent to the Almagest. If such is the case, may not one reasonably entertain the possibility that Aristarchus of Samos could not only have written a short Almagest but also a teaser, a heliocentric version of it? As a teaser it certainly would have remained within the perspectives of the great majority of Greek astronomers. They had fully subscribed to the methodology set by Plato. Their learned, intricate combination of circles, arcs, and radiuses were to be offered as so many devices "to save the phenomena." They were means of prediction but in no sense a reflection of reality. The program was a sophisticated resignation, a glittering abdication of search for truth about the physical universe. would be natural to assume that very different religious motivations may have helped Copernicus, as he boldly cast his scholarly lot with heliocentrism. The standard claim that he was a Renaissance man is a cheap red-herring. He was certainly not one of those many Renaissance humanists who poured scorn on science as incompatible with the dignity of "Letters" often reduced to hairsplitting in matters grammatical. He was not known to have engaged in alchemy and in that obscurantist animization of the universe which had Paracelsus, Bruno, and Fludd for its chief promoters. He was in fact at poles removed from the pan-animism which Bruno used as a cover-up for pantheism. ...

Copernicus himself had to muster some saving grace. That the grace in question was strictly religious in character may be surmised from an admission telling for its brevity. It was made in a much applauded book on the astronomical revolution by a sophisticatedly tendencious historian of science, Alexandre Koyré, whom many in a now aging generation of historians of science have been fond of recalling as the master. Koyré's chief aim was to discredit Duhem's claim that medieval science, especially in the form given to it by Buridan and Oresme, grew organically into the science of Galileo. He therefore could not say more about Copernicus' religious conviction than that he was a "good Catholic." Coming as it does from a professed agnostic, fond of the spirit of the French Enlightenment, this brief admission admits enormously much. Not that Koyré would have wished to explain the various possible meanings of being a "good Catholic." In all appearance he wanted the expression to stand by itself That way it could suggest that Copernicus was a good but not necessarily a thinking Catholic. But this is precisely what will not do in the case of a thinker of Copernicus' stature.

Copernicus was, of course, a Catholic of his times. As such he was fond of the fashionable phrases of the day. For some time already and for a while yet, thoughts were presentable only when offered in a verbal garb overdecorated with references to Greek and Latin celebrities. Hence the references of Copernicus to various antique authors in the letter dedicating his De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium to Cardinal Schönberg. Being a good Catholic and in Renaissance times, the Cardinal did not have to think that he might be deceived as was Isaac whom Jacob approached as if he were Esau. The Cardinal expected the Catholic voice to come in Renaissance garb. Instead of the biblical Lord of Hosts, Copernicus spoke of the divine Artificer. Yet Renaissance as the expression could appear, good Catholics of Renaissance times were fully aware of its equally biblical use in the Book of Wisdom (13:2), which they revered as a revealed word of God. But the confidence which Copernicus expressed in the full rationality of the universe could not be referred to Greek and Latin sources. That confidence was the echo of the voice of Athanasius whose "Nicene" creed Copernicus, as a canon of the Cathedral of Frauenburg, recited every Sunday.
[Jaki, The Savior of Science]
There's a lot there - and there's far more to explore, but like Galileo and Duhem and others, I will have to defer a larger study for now.

Also see the Catholic Encyclopedia for more.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Maria Gaetana Agnesi

A Catholic and a witch? Our April Fool paradox is perhaps the most brilliant scientist of all we'll consider.

According to the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) is "the first woman in the Western world who can accurately be called a mathematician." She was the oldest of 21 children; her father was a professor of mathematics at the University of Bologna, and encouraged her interest in scientific matters. She was brilliant at languages: "By age eleven, she was thoroughly familiar with Greek, German, Spanish, and Hebrew." In 1748, she wrote a massive work (over 1000 pages) on teaching mathematics to the young - it was in Italian but "won acclaim in academic circles all over Europe" and was translated into English. (Another book to hunt for.)

She is famous for the "Witch" of Agnesi, a certain curve known as the "versiera" (from the Latin vertere to turn):

[image from the CRC Handbook of Standard Mathematical Tables]

For more see here.

But Maria was not simply a brilliant writer, linguist, and mathematician. She was also a very serious Catholic:
The recognition of greatest significance to Agnesi was provided in two letters from Pope Benedict XIV. The first, dated June 1749, a congratulatory note on the occasion of the publication of her book, was accompanied by a gold medal and a gold wreath adorned with precious stones. In his second letter, dated September 1750, the pope appointed her to the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Bologna. [DSB]

After her father's death in 1752, she retired from all scientific work, and devoted herself to religious work and study, making great material sacrifices to help the poor in her parish. "Maria then devoted herself to the study of theology and the Fathers of the Church." Finally, a long-held desire for the religious life was satisfied: "after acting for some years as the director of the Hospice Trivalzio of the Blue Nuns in Milan, she joined the order and died a member of it, in her 81st year." [CE]

See the Catholic Encyclopedia for more.