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History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White

Part 5 out of 19

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vol. xix, p. 310. For Cotton Mather's view, see The Christian
Philosopher, London, 1721, especially pp. 16 and 17. For the
case of Priestley, see Weld, History of the Royal Society, vol.
ii, p. 56, for the facts and the admirable letter of Priestley
upon this rejection. For Blaer, see his L'Usage des Globes,
Amsterdam, 1642.

Nor have efforts to renew the battle in the Protestant Church
been wanting in these latter days. The attempt in the Church of
England, in 1864, to fetter science, which was brought to
ridicule by Herschel, Bowring, and De Morgan; the assemblage of
Lutheran clergy at Berlin, in 1868, to protest against "science
falsely so called," are examples of these. Fortunately, to the
latter came Pastor Knak, and his denunciations of the Copernican
theory as absolutely incompatible with a belief in the Bible,
dissolved the whole assemblage in ridicule.

In its recent dealings with modern astronomy the wisdom of the
Catholic Church in the more civilized countries has prevented its
yielding to some astounding errors into which one part of the
Protestant Church has fallen heedlessly.

Though various leaders in the older Church have committed the
absurd error of allowing a text-book and sundry review articles
to appear which grossly misstate the Galileo episode, with the
certainty of ultimately undermining confidence in her teachings
among her more thoughtful young men, she has kept clear of the
folly of continuing to tie her instruction, and the acceptance of
our sacred books, to an adoption of the Ptolemaic theory.

Not so with American Lutheranism. In 1873 was published in St.
Louis, at the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri,
a work entitled Astronomische Unterredung, the author being well
known as a late president of a Lutheran Teachers' Seminary.

No attack on the whole modern system of astronomy could be more
bitter. On the first page of the introduction the author, after
stating the two theories, asks, "Which is right?" and says: "It
would be very simple to me which is right, if it were only a
question of human import. But the wise and truthful God has
expressed himself on this matter in the Bible. The entire Holy
Scripture settles the question that the earth is the principal
body (Hauptkorper) of the universe, that it stands fixed, and
that sun and moon only serve to light it."

The author then goes on to show from Scripture the folly, not
only of Copernicus and Newton, but of a long line of great
astronomers in more recent times. He declares: "Let no one
understand me as inquiring first where truth is to be found--in
the Bible or with the astronomers. No; I know that
beforehand--that my God never lies, never makes a mistake; out
of his mouth comes only truth, when he speaks of the structure of
the universe, of the earth, sun, moon, and stars....

"Because the truth of the Holy Scripture is involved in this,
therefore the above question is of the highest importance to
me....Scientists and others lean upon the miserable reed
(Rohrstab) that God teaches only the order of salvation, but not
the order of the universe."

Very noteworthy is the fact that this late survival of an ancient
belief based upon text-worship is found, not in the teachings of
any zealous priest of the mother Church, but in those of an
eminent professor in that branch of Protestantism which claims
special enlightenment.[70]

[70] For the amusing details of the attempt in the English Church
to repress science, and of the way in which it was met, see De
Morgan, Paradoxes, p. 42. For Pastor Knak and his associates,
see the Revue des Deux Mondes, 1868. Of the recent Lutheran
works against the Copernican astronomy, see especially
Astronomische Unterredung zwischen einem Liebhaber der Astronomie
und mehreren beruhmten Astronomer der Neuzeit, by J. C. W. L.,
St. Louis, 1873.

Nor has the warfare against the dead champions of science been
carried on by the older Church alone.

On the 10th of May, 1859, Alexander von Humboldt was buried. His
labours had been among the glories of the century, and his
funeral was one of the most imposing that Berlin had ever seen.
Among those who honoured themselves by their presence was the
prince regent, afterward the Emperor William I; but of the
clergy it was observed that none were present save the
officiating clergyman and a few regarded as unorthodox.[71]

[71] See Bruhns and Lassell, Life of Humboldt, London, 1873, vol.
ii, p. 411.


We return now to the sequel of the Galileo case.

Having gained their victory over Galileo, living and dead, having
used it to scare into submission the professors of astronomy
throughout Europe, conscientious churchmen exulted. Loud was
their rejoicing that the "heresy," the "infidelity" the "atheism"
involved in believing that the earth revolves about its axis and
moves around the sun had been crushed by the great tribunal of
the Church, acting in strict obedience to the expressed will of
one Pope and the written order of another. As we have seen, all
books teaching this hated belief were put upon the Index of
books forbidden to Christians, and that Index was prefaced by a
bull enforcing this condemnation upon the consciences of the
faithful throughout the world, and signed by the reigning Pope.

The losses to the world during this complete triumph of theology
were even more serious than at first appears: one must
especially be mentioned. There was then in Europe one of the
greatest thinkers ever given to mankind--Rene Descartes.
Mistaken though many of his reasonings were, they bore a rich
fruitage of truth. He had already done a vast work. His theory
of vortices--assuming a uniform material regulated by physical
laws--as the beginning of the visible universe, though it was but
a provisional hypothesis, had ended the whole old theory of the
heavens with the vaulted firmament and the direction of the
planetary movements by angels, which even Kepler had allowed.
The scientific warriors had stirred new life in him, and he was
working over and summing up in his mighty mind all the researches
of his time. The result would have made an epoch in history.
His aim was to combine all knowledge and thought into a Treatise
on the World, and in view of this he gave eleven years to the
study of anatomy alone. But the fate of Galileo robbed him of
all hope, of all courage; the battle seemed lost; he gave up his
great plan forever.[72]

[72] For Descartes's discouragement, see Humboldt, Cosmos,
London, 1851, vol iii, p. 21; also Lange, Geschichte des
Materialismus, English translation, vol. i, pp. 248, 249, where
the letters of Descartes are given, showing his despair, and the
relinquishment of his best thoughts and works in order to
preserve peace with the Church; also Saisset, Descartes et ses
Precurseurs, pp. 100 et seq.; also Jolly, Histoire du Mouvement
intellectuel au XVI Siecle, vol. i, p. 390.

But ere long it was seen that this triumph of the Church was in
reality a prodigious defeat. From all sides came proofs that
Copernicus and Galileo were right; and although Pope Urban and
the inquisition held Galileo in strict seclusion, forbidding him
even to SPEAK regarding the double motion of the earth; and
although this condemnation of "all books which affirm the motion
of the earth" was kept on the Index; and although the papal bull
still bound the Index and the condemnations in it on the
consciences of the faithful; and although colleges and
universities under Church control were compelled to teach the old
doctrine--it was seen by clear-sighted men everywhere that this
victory of the Church was a disaster to the victors.

New champions pressed on. Campanella, full of vagaries as he
was, wrote his Apology for Galileo, though for that and other
heresies, religious, and political, he seven times underwent

And Kepler comes: he leads science on to greater victories.
Copernicus, great as he was, could not disentangle scientific
reasoning entirely from the theological bias: the doctrines of
Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas as to the necessary superiority of
the circle had vitiated the minor features of his system, and
left breaches in it through which the enemy was not slow to
enter; but Kepler sees these errors, and by wonderful genius and
vigour he gives to the world the three laws which bear his name,
and this fortress of science is complete. He thinks and speaks
as one inspired. His battle is severe. He is solemnly warned by
the Protestant Consistory of Stuttgart "not to throw Christ's
kingdom into confusion with his silly fancies," and as solemnly
ordered to "bring his theory of the world into harmony with
Scripture": he is sometimes abused, sometimes ridiculed,
sometimes imprisoned. Protestants in Styria and Wurtemberg,
Catholics in Austria and Bohemia, press upon him but Newton,
Halley, Bradley, and other great astronomers follow, and to
science remains the victory.[73]

[73] For Campanella, see Amabile, Fra Tommaso Campanella, Naples,
1882, especially vol. iii; also Libri, vol. iv, pp. 149 et seq.
Fromundus, speaking of Kepler's explanation, says, "Vix teneo
ebullientem risum." This is almost equal to the New York Church
Journal, speaking of John Stuart Mill as "that small sciolist,"
and of the preface to Dr. Draper's great work as "chippering."
How a journal, generally so fair in its treatment of such
subjects, can condescend to such weapons is one of the wonders of
modern journalism. For the persecution of Kepler, see Heller,
Geschichte der Physik, vol. i, pp. 281 et seq; also Reuschle,
Kepler und die Astronomie, Frankfurt a. M., 1871, pp. 87 et seq.
There is a poetic justice in the fact that these two last-named
books come from Wurtemberg professors. See also The
New-Englander for March, 1884, p. 178.

Yet this did not end the war. During the seventeenth century, in
France, after all the splendid proofs added by Kepler, no one
dared openly teach the Copernican theory, and Cassini, the great
astronomer, never declared for it. In 1672 the Jesuit Father
Riccioli declared that there were precisely forty-nine arguments
for the Copernican theory and seventy-seven against it. Even
after the beginning of the eighteenth century--long after the
demonstrations of Sir Isaac Newton--Bossuet, the great Bishop of
Meaux, the foremost theologian that France has ever produced,
declared it contrary to Scripture.

Nor did matters seem to improve rapidly during that century. In
England, John Hutchinson, as we have seen, published in 1724 his
Moses' Principia maintaining that the Hebrew Scriptures are a
perfect system of natural philosophy, and are opposed to the
Newtonian system of gravitation; and, as we have also seen, he
was followed by a long list of noted men in the Church. In
France, two eminent mathematicians published in 1748 an edition
of Newton's Principia; but, in order to avert ecclesiastical
censure, they felt obliged to prefix to it a statement absolutely
false. Three years later, Boscovich, the great mathematician of
the Jesuits, used these words: "As for me, full of respect for
the Holy Scriptures and the decree of the Holy Inquisition, I
regard the earth as immovable; nevertheless, for simplicity in
explanation I will argue as if the earth moves; for it is proved
that of the two hypotheses the appearances favour this idea."

In Germany, especially in the Protestant part of it, the war was
even more bitter, and it lasted through the first half of the
eighteenth century. Eminent Lutheran doctors of divinity flooded
the country with treatises to prove that the Copernican theory
could not be reconciled with Scripture. In the theological
seminaries and in many of the universities where clerical
influence was strong they seemed to sweep all before them; and
yet at the middle of the century we find some of the
clearest-headed of them aware of the fact that their cause was

[74] For Cassini's position, see Henri Martin, Histoire de
France, vol. xiii, p. 175. For Riccioli, see Daunou, Etudes
Historiques, vol. ii, p. 439. For Boussuet, see Bertrand, p. 41.
For Hutchinson, see Lyell, Principles of Geology, p. 48. For
Wesley, see his work, already cited. As to Boscovich, his
declaration, mentioned in the text, was in 1746, but in 1785 he
seemed to feel his position in view of history, and apologized
abjectly; Bertrand, pp. 60, 61. See also Whewell's notice of Le
Sueur and Jacquier's introduction to their edition of Newton's
Principia. For the struggle in Germany, see Zoeckler, Geschichte
der Beziehungenzwischen Theologie und Naturwissenschaft, vol. ii,
pp. 45 et seq.

In 1757 the most enlightened perhaps in the whole line of the
popes, Benedict XIV, took up the matter, and the Congregation of
the Index secretly allowed the ideas of Copernicus to be
tolerated. Yet in 1765 Lalande, the great French astronomer,
tried in vain at Rome to induce the authorities to remove
Galileo's works from the Index. Even at a date far within our
own nineteenth century the authorities of many universities in
Catholic Europe, and especially those in Spain, excluded the
Newtonian system. In 1771 the greatest of them all, the
University of Salamanca, being urged to teach physical science,
refused, making answer as follows: "Newton teaches nothing that
would make a good logician or metaphysician; and Gassendi and
Descartes do not agree so well with revealed truth as Aristotle

Vengeance upon the dead also has continued far into our own
century. On the 5th of May, 1829, a great multitude assembled at
Warsaw to honour the memory of Copernicus and to unveil
Thorwaldsen's statue of him.

Copernicus had lived a pious, Christian life; he had been
beloved for unostentatious Christian charity; with his religious
belief no fault had ever been found; he was a canon of the Church
at Frauenberg, and over his grave had been written the most
touching of Christian epitaphs. Naturally, then, the people
expected a religious service; all was understood to be arranged
for it; the procession marched to the church and waited. The
hour passed, and no priest appeared; none could be induced to
appear. Copernicus, gentle, charitable, pious, one of the
noblest gifts of God to religion as well as to science, was
evidently still under the ban. Five years after that, his book
was still standing on the Index of books prohibited to

The edition of the Index published in 1819 was as inexorable
toward the works of Copernicus and Galileo as its predecessors
had been; but in the year 182O came a crisis. Canon Settele,
Professor of Astronomy at Rome, had written an elementary book in
which the Copernican system was taken for granted. The Master of
the Sacred Palace, Anfossi, as censor of the press, refused to
allow the book to be printed unless Settele revised his work and
treated the Copernican theory as merely a hypothesis. On this
Settele appealed to Pope Pius VII, and the Pope referred the
matter to the Congregation of the Holy Office. At last, on the
16th of August, 182O, it was decided that Settele might teach the
Copernican system as established, and this decision was approved
by the Pope. This aroused considerable discussion, but finally,
on the 11th of September, 1822, the cardinals of the Holy
Inquisition graciously agreed that "the printing and publication
of works treating of the motion of the earth and the stability of
the sun, in accordance with the general opinion of modern
astronomers, is permitted at Rome." This decree was ratified by
Pius VII, but it was not until thirteen years later, in 1835,
that there was issued an edition of the Index from which the
condemnation of works defending the double motion of the earth
was left out.

This was not a moment too soon, for, as if the previous proofs
had not been sufficient, each of the motions of the earth was now
absolutely demonstrated anew, so as to be recognised by the
ordinary observer. The parallax of fixed stars, shown by Bessel
as well as other noted astronomers in 1838, clinched forever the
doctrine of the revolution of the earth around the sun, and in
1851 the great experiment of Foucault with the pendulum showed to
the human eye the earth in motion around its own axis. To make
the matter complete, this experiment was publicly made in one of
the churches at Rome by the eminent astronomer, Father Secchi, of
the Jesuits, in 1852--just two hundred and twenty years after the
Jesuits had done so much to secure Galileo's condemnation.[75]

[75] For good statements of the final action of the Church in the
matter, see Gebler; also Zoeckler, ii, 352. See also Bertrand,
Fondateurs de l'Astronomie moderne, p. 61; Flammarion, Vie de
Copernic, chap. ix. As to the time when the decree of
condemnation was repealed, there have been various pious attempts
to make it earlier than the reality. Artaud, p. 307, cited in an
apologetic article in the Dublin Review, September, 1865, says
that Galileo's famous dialogue was published in 1714, at Padua,
entire, and with the usual approbations. The same article also
declares that in 1818, the ecclesiastical decrees were repealed
by Pius VII in full Consistory. Whewell accepts this; but Cantu,
an authority favourable to the Church, acknowledges that
Copernicus's work remained on the Index as late as 1835 (Cantu,
Histoire universelle, vol. xv, p. 483); and with this Th. Martin,
not less favourable to the Church, but exceedingly careful as to
the facts, agrees; and the most eminent authority of all, Prof.
Reusch, of Bonn, in his Der Index der vorbotenen Bucher, Bonn,
1885, vol. ii, p. 396, confirms the above statement in the text.
For a clear statement of Bradley's exquisite demonstration of the
Copernican theory by reasonings upon the rapidity of light, etc.,
and Foucault's exhibition of the rotation of the earth by the
pendulum experiment, see Hoefer, Histoire de l'Astronomie, pp.
492 et seq. For more recent proofs of the Copernican theory, by
the discoveries of Bunsen, Bischoff, Benzenberg, and others, see
Jevons, Principles of Science.


Any history of the victory of astronomical science over dogmatic
theology would be incomplete without some account of the retreat
made by the Church from all its former positions in the Galileo

The retreat of the Protestant theologians was not difficult. A
little skilful warping of Scripture, a little skilful use of that
time-honoured phrase, attributed to Cardinal Baronius, that the
Bible is given to teach us, not how the heavens go, but how men
go to heaven, and a free use of explosive rhetoric against the
pursuing army of scientists, sufficed.

But in the older Church it was far less easy. The retreat of the
sacro-scientific army of Church apologists lasted through two

In spite of all that has been said by these apologists, there no
longer remains the shadow of a doubt that the papal infallibility
was committed fully and irrevocably against the double revolution
of the earth. As the documents of Galileo's trial now published
show, Paul V, in 1616, pushed on with all his might the
condemnation of Galileo and of the works of Copernicus and of all
others teaching the motion of the earth around its own axis and
around the sun. So, too, in the condemnation of Galileo in 1633,
and in all the proceedings which led up to it and which followed
it, Urban VIII was the central figure. Without his sanction no
action could have been taken.

True, the Pope did not formally sign the decree against the
Copernican theory THEN; but this came later. In 1664 Alexander
VII prefixed to the Index containing the condemnations of the
works of Copernicus and Galileo and "all books which affirm the
motion of the earth" a papal bull signed by himself, binding the
contents of the Index upon the consciences of the faithful.
This bull confirmed and approved in express terms, finally,
decisively, and infallibly, the condemnation of "all books
teaching the movement of the earth and the stability of the

[76] See Rev. William W. Roberts, The Pontifical Decrees against
the Doctrine of the Earth's Movement, London, 1885, p. 94; and
for the text of the papal bull, Speculatores domus Israel, pp.
132, 133, see also St. George Mivart's article in the Nineteenth
Century for July, 1885. For the authentic publication of the
bull, see preface to the Index of 1664, where the bull appears,
signed by the Pope. The Rev. Mr. Roberts and Mr. St. George
Mivart are Roman Catholics and both acknowledge that the papal
sanction was fully given.

The position of the mother Church had been thus made especially
difficult; and the first important move in retreat by the
apologists was the statement that Galileo was condemned, not
because he affirmed the motion of the earth, but because he
supported it from Scripture. There was a slight appearance of
truth in this. Undoubtedly, Galileo's letters to Castelli and
the grand duchess, in which he attempted to show that his
astronomical doctrines were not opposed to Scripture, gave a new
stir to religious bigotry. For a considerable time, then, this
quibble served its purpose; even a hundred and fifty years after
Galileo's condemnation it was renewed by the Protestant Mallet du
Pan, in his wish to gain favour from the older Church.

But nothing can be more absurd, in the light of the original
documents recently brought out of the Vatican archives, than to
make this contention now. The letters of Galileo to Castelli and
the Grand-Duchess were not published until after the
condemnation; and, although the Archbishop of Pisa had
endeavoured to use them against him, they were but casually
mentioned in 1616, and entirely left out of view in 1633. What
was condemned in 1616 by the Sacred Congregation held in the
presence of Pope Paul V, as "ABSURD, FALSE IN THEOLOGY, AND
REVOLVES"; and what was condemned as "ABSURD, FALSE IN
TO THE TRUE FAITH," was the proposition that "THE EARTH IS NOT

And again, what Galileo was made, by express order of Pope Urban,
and by the action of the Inquisition under threat of torture, to

What the Index condemned under sanction of the bull issued by

What the Index, prefaced by papal bulls, infallibly binding its
contents upon the consciences of the faithful, for nearly two
hundred years steadily condemned was, "ALL BOOKS WHICH AFFIRM THE

Not one of these condemnations was directed against Galileo "for
reconciling his ideas with Scripture."[77]

[77] For the original trial documents, copied carefully from the
Vatican manuscripts, see the Roman Catholic authority, L'Epinois,
especially p. 35, where the principal document is given in its
original Latin; see also Gebler, Die Acten des galilei'schen
Processes, for still more complete copies of the same documents.
For minute information regarding these documents and their
publication, see Favaro, Miscellanea Galileana Inedita, forming
vol. xxii, part iii, of the Memoirs of the Venetian Institute for
1887, and especially pp. 891 and following.

Having been dislodged from this point, the Church apologists
sought cover under the statement that Galileo was condemned not
for heresy, but for contumacy and want of respect toward the

There was a slight chance, also, for this quibble: no doubt
Urban VIII, one of the haughtiest of pontiffs, was induced by
Galileo's enemies to think that he had been treated with some
lack of proper etiquette: first, by Galileo's adhesion to his
own doctrines after his condemnation in 1616; and, next, by his
supposed reference in the Dialogue of 1632 to the arguments
which the Pope had used against him.

But it would seem to be a very poor service rendered to the
doctrine of papal infallibility to claim that a decision so
immense in its consequences could be influenced by the personal
resentment of the reigning pontiff.

Again, as to the first point, the very language of the various
sentences shows the folly of this assertion; for these sentences
speak always of "heresy" and never of "contumacy." As to the
last point, the display of the original documents settled that
forever. They show Galileo from first to last as most submissive
toward the Pope, and patient under the papal arguments and
exactions. He had, indeed, expressed his anger at times against
his traducers; but to hold this the cause of the judgment
against him is to degrade the whole proceedings, and to convict
Paul V, Urban VIII, Bellarmin, the other theologians, and the
Inquisition, of direct falsehood, since they assigned entirely
different reasons for their conduct. From this position,
therefore, the assailants retreated.[78]

[78] The invention of the "contumacy" quibble seems due to
Monsignor Marini, who appears also to have manipulated the
original documents to prove it. Even Whewell was evidently
somewhat misled by him, but Whewell wrote before L'Epinois had
shown all the documents, and under the supposition that Marini
was an honest man.

The next rally was made about the statement that the persecution
of Galileo was the result of a quarrel between Aristotelian
professors on one side and professors favouring the experimental
method on the other. But this position was attacked and carried
by a very simple statement. If the divine guidance of the Church
is such that it can be dragged into a professorial squabble, and
made the tool of a faction in bringing about a most disastrous
condemnation of a proved truth, how did the Church at that time
differ from any human organization sunk into decrepitude, managed
nominally by simpletons, but really by schemers? If that argument
be true, the condition of the Church was even worse than its
enemies have declared it; and amid the jeers of an unfeeling
world the apologists sought new shelter.

The next point at which a stand was made was the assertion that
the condemnation of Galileo was "provisory"; but this proved a
more treacherous shelter than the others. The wording of the
decree of condemnation itself is a sufficient answer to this
claim. When doctrines have been solemnly declared, as those of
Galileo were solemnly declared under sanction of the highest
authority in the Church, "contrary to the sacred Scriptures,"
"opposed to the true faith," and "false and absurd in theology
and philosophy"--to say that such declarations are "provisory" is
to say that the truth held by the Church is not immutable; from
this, then, the apologists retreated.[79]

[79] This argument also seems to have been foisted upon the world
by the wily Monsignor Marini.

Still another contention was made, in some respects more curious
than any other: it was, mainly, that Galileo "was no more a
victim of Catholics than of Protestants; for they more than the
Catholic theologians impelled the Pope to the action taken."[80]

[80] See the Rev. A. M. Kirsch on Professor Huxley and Evolution,
in The American Catholic Quarterly, October, 1877. The article
is, as a whole, remarkably fair-minded, and in the main, just, as
to the Protestant attitude, and as to the causes underlying the
whole action against Galileo.

But if Protestantism could force the papal hand in a matter of
this magnitude, involving vast questions of belief and
far-reaching questions of policy, what becomes of "inerrancy"--of
special protection and guidance of the papal authority in matters
of faith?

While this retreat from position to position was going on, there
was a constant discharge of small-arms, in the shape of
innuendoes, hints, and sophistries: every effort was made to
blacken Galileo's private character: the irregularities of his
early life were dragged forth, and stress was even laid upon
breaches of etiquette; but this succeeded so poorly that even as
far back as 1850 it was thought necessary to cover the retreat by
some more careful strategy.

This new strategy is instructive. The original documents of the
Galileo trial had been brought during the Napoleonic conquests to
Paris; but in 1846 they were returned to Rome by the French
Government, on the express pledge by the papal authorities that
they should be published. In 1850, after many delays on various
pretexts, the long-expected publication appeared. The personage
charged with presenting them to the world was Monsignor Marini.
This ecclesiastic was of a kind which has too often afflicted
both the Church and the world at large. Despite the solemn
promise of the papal court, the wily Marini became the instrument
of the Roman authorities in evading the promise. By suppressing
a document here, and interpolating a statement there, he managed
to give plausible standing-ground for nearly every important
sophistry ever broached to save the infallibility of the Church
and destroy the reputation of Galileo. He it was who supported
the idea that Galileo was "condemned not for heresy, but for

The first effect of Monsignor Marini's book seemed useful in
covering the retreat of the Church apologists. Aided by him,
such vigorous writers as Ward were able to throw up temporary
intrenchments between the Roman authorities and the indignation
of the world.

But some time later came an investigator very different from
Monsignor Marini. This was a Frenchman, M. L'Epinois. Like
Marini, L'Epinois was devoted to the Church; but, unlike Marini,
he could not lie. Having obtained access in 1867 to the Galileo
documents at the Vatican, he published several of the most
important, without suppression or pious-fraudulent manipulation.
This made all the intrenchments based upon Marini's statements
untenable. Another retreat had to be made.

And now came the most desperate effort of all. The apologetic
army, reviving an idea which the popes and the Church had spurned
for centuries, declared that the popes AS POPES had never
condemned the doctrines of Copernicus and Galileo; that they had
condemned them as men simply; that therefore the Church had
never been committed to them; that the condemnation was made by
the cardinals of the inquisition and index; and that the Pope had
evidently been restrained by interposition of Providence from
signing their condemnation. Nothing could show the desperation
of the retreating party better than jugglery like this. The fact
is, that in the official account of the condemnation by
Bellarmin, in 1616, he declares distinctly that he makes this
condemnation "in the name of His Holiness the Pope."[81]

[81] See the citation from the Vatican manuscript given in
Gebler, p. 78.

Again, from Pope Urban downward, among the Church authorities of
the seventeenth century the decision was always acknowledged to
be made by the Pope and the Church. Urban VIII spoke of that of
1616 as made by Pope Paul V and the Church, and of that of 1633
as made by himself and the Church. Pope Alexander VII in 1664,
in his bull Speculatores, solemnly sanctioned the condemnation of
all books affirming the earth's movement.[82]

[82] For references by Urban VIII to the condemnation as made by
Pope Paul V see pp. 136, 144, and elsewhere in Martin, who much
against his will is forced to allow this. See also Roberts,
Pontifical decrees against the Earth's Movement, and St. George
Mivart's article, as above quoted; also Reusch, Index der
verbotenen Bucher, Bonn, 1885, vol. ii, pp. 29 et seq.

When Gassendi attempted to raise the point that the decision
against Copernicus and Galileo was not sanctioned by the Church
as such, an eminent theological authority, Father Lecazre, rector
of the College of Dijon, publicly contradicted him, and declared
that it "was not certain cardinals, but the supreme authority of
the Church," that had condemned Galileo; and to this statement
the Pope and other Church authorities gave consent either openly
or by silence. When Descartes and others attempted to raise the
same point, they were treated with contempt. Father Castelli,
who had devoted himself to Galileo, and knew to his cost just
what the condemnation meant and who made it, takes it for
granted, in his letter to the papal authorities, that it was made
by the Church. Cardinal Querenghi, in his letters; the
ambassador Guicciardini, in his dispatches; Polacco, in his
refutation; the historian Viviani, in his biography of
Galileo--all writing under Church inspection and approval at the
time, took the view that the Pope and the Church condemned
Galileo, and this was never denied at Rome. The Inquisition
itself, backed by the greatest theologian of the time
(Bellarmin), took the same view. Not only does he declare that
he makes the condemnation "in the name of His Holiness the Pope,"
but we have the Roman Index, containing the condemnation for
nearly two hundred years, prefaced by a solemn bull of the
reigning Pope binding this condemnation on the consciences of the
whole Church, and declaring year after year that "all books which
affirm the motion of the earth" are damnable. To attempt to face
all this, added to the fact that Galileo was required to abjure
"the heresy of the movement of the earth" by written order of the
Pope, was soon seen to be impossible. Against the assertion that
the Pope was not responsible we have all this mass of testimony,
and the bull of Alexander VII in 1664.[83]

[83] For Lecazre's answer to Gassendi, see Martin, pp. 146, 147.
For the attempt to make the crimes of Galileo breach of
etiquette, see Dublin Review, as above. Whewell, vol. i, p. 283.
Citation from Marini: "Galileo was punished for trifling with the
authorities, to which he refused to submit, and was punished for
obstinate contumacy, not heresy." The sufficient answer to all
this is that the words of the inflexible sentence designating the
condemned books are "libri omnes qui affirmant telluris motum."
See Bertrand, p. 59. As to the idea that "Galileo was punished
for not his opinion, but for basing it on Scripture," the answer
may be found in the Roman Index of 1704, in which are noted for
condemnation "Libri omnes docentes mobilitatem terrae et
immobilitatem solis." For the way in which, when it was found
convenient in argument, Church apologists insisted that it WAS
"the Supreme Chief of the Church by a pontifical decree, and not
certain cardinals," who condemned Galileo and his doctrine, see
Father Lecazre's letter to Gassendi, in Flammarion, Pluralite des
Mondes, p. 427, and Urban VIII's own declarations as given by
Martin. For the way in which, when necessary, Church apologists
asserted the very contrary of this, declaring that it was issued
in a doctrinal degree of the Congregation of the Index, and NOT
as the Holy Father's teaching," see Dublin Review, September,

This contention, then, was at last utterly given up by honest
Catholics themselves. In 1870 a Roman Catholic clergy man in
England, the Rev. Mr. Roberts, evidently thinking that the time
had come to tell the truth, published a book entitled The
Pontifical Decrees against the Earth's Movement, and in this
exhibited the incontrovertible evidences that the papacy had
committed itself and its infallibility fully against the movement
of the earth. This Catholic clergyman showed from the original
record that Pope Paul V, in 1616, had presided over the tribunal
condemning the doctrine of the earth's movement, and ordering
Galileo to give up the opinion. He showed that Pope Urban VIII,
in 1633, pressed on, directed, and promulgated the final
condemnation, making himself in all these ways responsible for
it. And, finally, he showed that Pope Alexander VII, in 1664, by
his bull--Speculatores domus Israel--attached to the Index,
condemning "all books which affirm the motion of the earth," had
absolutely pledged the papal infallibility against the earth's
movement. He also confessed that under the rules laid down by
the highest authorities in the Church, and especially by Sixtus V
and Pius IX, there was no escape from this conclusion.

Various theologians attempted to evade the force of the argument.
Some, like Dr. Ward and Bouix, took refuge in verbal niceties;
some, like Dr. Jeremiah Murphy, comforted themselves with
declamation. The only result was, that in 1885 came another
edition of the Rev. Mr. Roberts's work, even more cogent than
the first; and, besides this, an essay by that eminent Catholic,
St. George Mivart, acknowledging the Rev. Mr. Roberts's position
to be impregnable, and declaring virtually that the Almighty
allowed Pope and Church to fall into complete error regarding the
Copernican theory, in order to teach them that science lies
outside their province, and that the true priesthood of
scientific truth rests with scientific investigators alone.[84]

[84] For the crushing answer by two eminent Roman Catholics to
the sophistries cited--an answer which does infinitely more
credit to the older Church that all the perverted ingenuity used
in concealing the truth or breaking the force of it--see Roberts
and St. George Mivart, as already cited.

In spite, then, of all casuistry and special pleading, this
sturdy honesty ended the controversy among Catholics themselves,
so far as fair-minded men are concerned.

In recalling it at this day there stand out from its later phases
two efforts at compromise especially instructive, as showing the
embarrassment of militant theology in the nineteenth century.

The first of these was made by John Henry Newman in the days when
he was hovering between the Anglican and Roman Churches. In one
of his sermons before the University of Oxford he spoke as

"Scripture says that the sun moves and the earth is stationary,
and science that the earth moves and the sun is comparatively at
rest. How can we determine which of these opposite statements is
the very truth till we know what motion is? If our idea of
motion is but an accidental result of our present senses, neither
proposition is true and both are true: neither true
philosophically; both true for certain practical purposes in the
system in which they are respectively found."

In all anti-theological literature there is no utterance more
hopelessly skeptical. And for what were the youth of Oxford led
into such bottomless depths of disbelief as to any real existence
of truth or any real foundation for it? Simply to save an
outworn system of interpretation into which the gifted preacher
happened to be born.

The other utterance was suggested by De Bonald and developed in
the Dublin Review, as is understood, by one of Newman's
associates. This argument was nothing less than an attempt to
retreat under the charge of deception against the Almighty
himself. It is as follows: "But it may well be doubted whether
the Church did retard the progress of scientific truth. What
retarded it was the circumstance that God has thought fit to
express many texts of Scripture in words which have every
appearance of denying the earth's motion. But it is God who did
this, not the Church; and, moreover, since he saw fit so to act
as to retard the progress of scientific truth, it would be little
to her discredit, even if it were true, that she had followed his

This argument, like Mr. Gosse's famous attempt to reconcile
geology to Genesis--by supposing that for some inscrutable
purpose God deliberately deceived the thinking world by giving to
the earth all the appearances of development through long periods
of time, while really creating it in six days, each of an evening
and a morning--seems only to have awakened the amazed pity of
thinking men. This, like the argument of Newman, was a last
desperate effort of Anglican and Roman divines to save something
from the wreckage of dogmatic theology.[85]

[85] For the quotation from Newman, see his Sermons on the Theory
of Religious Belief, sermon xiv, cited by Bishop Goodwin in
Contemporary Review for January, 1892. For the attempt to take
the blame off the shoulders of both Pope and cardinals and place
it upon the Almighty, see the article above cited, in the Dublin
Review, September 1865, p. 419 and July, 1871, pp. 157 et seq.
For a good summary of the various attempts, and for replies to
them in a spirit of judicial fairness, see Th. Martin, Vie de
Galilee, though there is some special pleading to save the
infallibility of the Pope and Church. The bibliography at the
close is very valuable. For details of Mr. Gosse's theory, as
developed in his Omphalos, see the chapter on Geology in this
work. As to a still later attempt, see Wegg-Prosser, Galileo and
his Judges, London, 1889, the main thing in it being an attempt
to establish, against the honest and honourable concessions of
Catholics like Roberts and Mivart, sundry far-fetched and wire-
drawn distinctions between dogmatic and disciplinary bulls--an
attempt which will only deepen the distrust of straightforward
reasoners. The author's point of view is stated in the words, "I
have maintained that the Church has a right to lay her
restraining hand on the speculations of natural science" (p.

All these well-meaning defenders of the faith but wrought into
the hearts of great numbers of thinking men the idea that there
is a necessary antagonism between science and religion. Like the
landsman who lashes himself to the anchor of the sinking ship,
they simply attached Christianity by the strongest cords of logic
which they could spin to these mistaken ideas in science, and,
could they have had their way, the advance of knowledge would
have ingulfed both together.

On the other hand, what had science done for religion? Simply
this: Copernicus, escaping persecution only by death; Giordano
Bruno, burned alive as a monster of impiety; Galileo, imprisoned
and humiliated as the worst of misbelievers; Kepler, accused of
"throwing Christ's kingdom into confusion with his silly
fancies"; Newton, bitterly attacked for "dethroning Providence,"
gave to religion stronger foundations and more ennobling

Under the old system, that princely astronomer, Alphonso of
Castile, seeing the inadequacy of the Ptolemaic theory, yet
knowing no other, startled Europe with the blasphemy that, if he
had been present at creation, he could have suggested a better
order of the heavenly bodies. Under the new system, Kepler,
filled with a religious spirit, exclaimed, "I do think the
thoughts of God." The difference in religious spirit between
these two men marks the conquest made in this long struggle by
Science for Religion.[86]

[86] As a pendant to this ejaculation of Kepler may be cited the
words of Linnaeus: "Deum ominpotentem a tergo transeuntem vidi et

Nothing is more unjust than to cast especial blame for all this
resistance to science upon the Roman Church. The Protestant
Church, though rarely able to be so severe, has been more
blameworthy. The persecution of Galileo and his compeers by the
older Church was mainly at the beginning of the seventeenth
century; the persecution of Robertson Smith, and Winchell, and
Woodrow, and Toy, and the young professors at Beyrout, by various
Protestant authorities, was near the end of the nineteenth
century. Those earlier persecutions by Catholicism were strictly
in accordance with principles held at that time by all
religionists, Catholic and Protestant, throughout the world;
these later persecutions by Protestants were in defiance of
principles which all Protestants to-day hold or pretend to hold,
and none make louder claim to hold them than the very sects which
persecuted these eminent Christian men of our day, men whose
crime was that they were intelligent enough to accept the science
of their time, and honest enough to acknowledge it.

Most unjustly, then, would Protestantism taunt Catholicism for
excluding knowledge of astronomical truths from European Catholic
universities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while
real knowledge of geological and biological and anthropological
truth is denied or pitifully diluted in so many American
Protestant colleges and universities in the nineteenth century.

Nor has Protestantism the right to point with scorn to the
Catholic Index, and to lay stress on the fact that nearly every
really important book in the last three centuries has been
forbidden by it, so long as young men in so many American
Protestant universities and colleges are nursed with
"ecclesiastical pap" rather than with real thought, and directed
to the works of "solemnly constituted impostors," or to sundry
"approved courses of reading," while they are studiously kept
aloof from such leaders in modern thought as Darwin, Spencer,
Huxley, Draper, and Lecky.

It may indeed be justly claimed by Protestantism that some of the
former strongholds of her bigotry have become liberalized; but,
on the other hand, Catholicism can point to the fact that Pope
Leo XIII, now happily reigning, has made a noble change as
regards open dealing with documents. The days of Monsignor
Marini, it may be hoped, are gone. The Vatican Library, with its
masses of historical material, has been thrown open to Protestant
and Catholic scholars alike, and this privilege has been freely
used by men representing all shades of religious thought.

As to the older errors, the whole civilized world was at fault,
Protestant as well as Catholic. It was not the fault of
religion; it was the fault of that short-sighted linking of
theological dogmas to scriptural texts which, in utter defiance
of the words and works of the Blessed Founder of Christianity,
narrow-minded, loud-voiced men are ever prone to substitute for
religion. Justly is it said by one of the most eminent among
contemporary Anglican divines, that "it is because they have
mistaken the dawn for a conflagration that theologians have so
often been foes of light."[87]

[87] For an exceedingly striking statement, by a Roman Catholic
historian of genius, as to the POPULAR demand for persecution and
the pressure of the lower strata in ecclesiastical organizations
for cruel measures, see Balmes's Le Protestantisme compare au
Catholicisme, etc., fourth edition, Paris, 1855, vol. ii.
Archbishop Spaulding has something of the same sort in his
Miscellanies. L'Epinois, Galilee, p. 22 et seq., stretches this
as far as possible to save the reputation of the Church in the
Galileo matter. As to the various branches of the Protestant
Church in England and the United States, it is a matter of
notoriety that the smug, well-to-do laymen, whether elders,
deacons, or vestrymen, are, as a rule, far more prone to heresy-
hunting than are their better educated pastors. As to the cases
of Messrs. Winchell, Woodrow, Toy, and all the professors at
Beyrout, with details, see the chapter in this series on The Fall
of Man and Anthropology. Among Protestant historians who have
recently been allowed full and free examination of the treasures
in the Vatican Library, and even those involving questions
between Catholicism and Protestantism, are von Sybel, of Berlin,
and Philip Schaff, of New York. It should be added that the
latter went with commendatory letters from eminent prelates in
the Catholic Church in America and Europe. For the closing
citation, see Canon Farrar, History of Interpretation, p. 432.




Few things in the evolution of astronomy are more suggestive than
the struggle between the theological and the scientific doctrine
regarding comets--the passage from the conception of them as
fire-balls flung by an angry God for the purpose of scaring a
wicked world, to a recognition of them as natural in origin and
obedient to law in movement. Hardly anything throws a more vivid
light upon the danger of wresting texts of Scripture to preserve
ideas which observation and thought have superseded, and upon the
folly of arraying ecclesiastical power against scientific

[88] The present study, after its appearance in the Popular
Science Monthly as a "new chapter in the Warfare of Science," was
revised and enlarged to nearly its present form, and read before
the American Historical Association, among whose papers it was
published, in 1887, under the title of A History of the Doctrine
of Comets.

Out of the ancient world had come a mass of beliefs regarding
comets, meteors, and eclipses; all these were held to be signs
displayed from heaven for the warning of mankind. Stars and
meteors were generally thought to presage happy events,
especially the births of gods, heroes, and great men. So firmly
rooted was this idea that we constantly find among the ancient
nations traditions of lights in the heavens preceding the birth
of persons of note. The sacred books of India show that the
births of Crishna and of Buddha were announced by such heavenly
lights.[89] The sacred books of China tell of similar
appearances at the births of Yu, the founder of the first
dynasty, and of the inspired sage, Lao-tse. According to the
Jewish legends, a star appeared at the birth of Moses, and was
seen by the Magi of Egypt, who informed the king; and when
Abraham was born an unusual star appeared in the east. The
Greeks and Romans cherished similar traditions. A heavenly light
accompanied the birth of Aesculapius, and the births of various
Caesars were heralded in like manner.[90]

[89] For Crishna, see Cox, Aryan Mythology, vol. ii, p. 133; the
Vishnu Purana (Wilson's translation), book v, chap. iv. As to
lights at the birth, or rather at the conception, of Buddha, see
Bunsen, Angel Messiah, pp. 22,23; Alabaster, Wheel of the Law
(illustrations of Buddhism), p. 102; Edwin Arnold, Light of Asia;
Bp. Bigandet, Life of Gaudama, the Burmese Buddha, p. 30;
Oldenberg, Buddha (English translation), part i, chap. ii.

[90] For Chinese legends regarding stars at the birth of Yu and
Lao-tse, see Thornton, History of China, vol. i, p. 137; also
Pingre, Cometographie, p. 245. Regarding stars at the birth of
Moses and Abraham, see Calmet, Fragments, part viii; Baring-
Gould, Legends of Old Testament Characters, chap. xxiv; Farrar,
Life of Christ, chap. iii. As to the Magi, see Higgins,
Anacalypsis; Hooykaas, Ort, and Kuenen, Bible for Learners, vol.
iii. For Greek and Roman traditions, see Bell, Pantheon, s. v.
Aesculapius and Atreus; Gibbon, Decline and Fall, vol. i, pp.
151, 590; Farrar, Life of Christ (American edition), p. 52; Cox,
Tales of Ancient Greece, pp. 41, 61, 62; Higgins, Anacalypsis,
vol. i, p. 322; also Suetonius, Caes., Julius, p.88, Claud., p.
463; Seneca, Nat. Quaest, vol. 1, p. 1; Virgil, Ecl., vol. ix, p.
47; as well as Ovid, Pliny, and others.

The same conception entered into our Christian sacred books. Of
all the legends which grew in such luxuriance and beauty about
the cradle of Jesus of Nazareth, none appeals more directly to
the highest poetic feeling than that given by one of the
evangelists, in which a star, rising in the east, conducted the
wise men to the manger where the Galilean peasant-child--the Hope
of Mankind, the Light of the World--was lying in poverty and

Among the Mohammedans we have a curious example of the same
tendency toward a kindly interpretation of stars and meteors, in
the belief of certain Mohammedan teachers that meteoric showers
are caused by good angels hurling missiles to drive evil angels
out of the sky.

Eclipses were regarded in a very different light, being supposed
to express the distress of Nature at earthly calamities. The
Greeks believed that darkness overshadowed the earth at the
deaths of Prometheus, Atreus, Hercules, Aesculapius, and
Alexander the Great. The Roman legends held that at the death of
Romulus there was darkness for six hours. In the history of the
Caesars occur portents of all three kinds; for at the death of
Julius the earth was shrouded in darkness, the birth of Augustus
was heralded by a star, and the downfall of Nero by a comet. So,
too, in one of the Christian legends clustering about the
crucifixion, darkness overspread the earth from the sixth to the
ninth hour. Neither the silence regarding it of the only
evangelist who claims to have been present, nor the fact that
observers like Seneca and Pliny, who, though they carefully
described much less striking occurrences of the same sort and in
more remote regions, failed to note any such darkness even in
Judea, have availed to shake faith in an account so true to the
highest poetic instincts of humanity.

This view of the relations between Nature and man continued among
both Jews and Christians. According to Jewish tradition,
darkness overspread the earth for three days when the books of
the Law were profaned by translation into Greek. Tertullian
thought an eclipse an evidence of God's wrath against
unbelievers. Nor has this mode of thinking ceased in modern
times. A similar claim was made at the execution of Charles I;
and Increase Mather thought an eclipse in Massachusetts an
evidence of the grief of Nature at the death of President
Chauncey, of Harvard College. Archbishop Sandys expected
eclipses to be the final tokens of woe at the destruction of the
world, and traces of this feeling have come down to our own time.

The quaint story of the Connecticut statesman who, when his
associates in the General Assembly were alarmed by an eclipse of
the sun, and thought it the beginning of the Day of Judgment,
quietly ordered in candles, that he might in any case be found
doing his duty, marks probably the last noteworthy appearance of
the old belief in any civilized nation.[91]

[91] For Hindu theories, see Alabaster, Wheel of the Law, 11.
For Greek and Roman legends, See Higgins, Anacalypsis, vol. i,
pp. 616, 617.; also Suetonius, Caes., Julius, p. 88, Claud., p.
46; Seneca, Quaest. Nat., vol. i, p. 1, vol. vii, p. 17; Pliny,
Hist. Nat., vol. ii, p. 25; Tacitus, Ann., vol. xiv, p. 22;
Josephus, Antiq., vol. xiv, p. 12; and the authorities above
cited. For the tradition of the Jews regarding the darkness of
three days, see citation in Renan, Histoire du Peuple Israel,
vol. iv, chap. iv. For Tertullian's belief regarding the
significance of an eclipse, see the Ad Scapulum, chap. iii, in
Migne, Patrolog. Lat., vol. i, p. 701. For the claim regarding
Charles I, see a sermon preached before Charles II, cited by
Lecky, England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. i, p. 65. Mather
thought, too, that it might have something to do with the death
of sundry civil functionaries of the colonies; see his Discourse
concerning comets, 1682. For Archbishop Sandy's belief, see his
eighteenth sermon (in Parker Soc. Publications). The story of
Abraham Davenport has been made familiar by the poem of Whittier.

In these beliefs regarding meteors and eclipses there was little
calculated to do harm by arousing that superstitious terror which
is the worst breeding-bed of cruelty. Far otherwise was it with
the belief regarding comets. During many centuries it gave rise
to the direst superstition and fanaticism. The Chaldeans alone
among the ancient peoples generally regarded comets without fear,
and thought them bodies wandering as harmless as fishes in the
sea; the Pythagoreans alone among philosophers seem to have had
a vague idea of them as bodies returning at fixed periods of
time; and in all antiquity, so far as is known, one man alone,
Seneca, had the scientific instinct and prophetic inspiration to
give this idea definite shape, and to declare that the time would
come when comets would be found to move in accordance with
natural law. Here and there a few strong men rose above the
prevailing superstition. The Emperor Vespasian tried to laugh it
down, and insisted that a certain comet in his time could not
betoken his death, because it was hairy, and he bald; but such
scoffing produced little permanent effect, and the prophecy of
Seneca was soon forgotten. These and similar isolated utterances
could not stand against the mass of opinion which upheld the
doctrine that comets are "signs and wonders."[92]

[92] For terror caused in Rome by comets, see Pingre,
Cometographie, pp. 165, 166. For the Chaldeans, see Wolf,
Geschichte der Astronomie, p. 10 et seq., and p. 181 et seq.;
also Pingre, chap. ii. For the Pythagorean notions, see
citations from Plutarch in Costard, History of Astronomy, p. 283.
For Seneca's prediction, see Guillemin, World of Comets
(translated by Glaisher), pp. 4, 5; also Watson, On Comets, p.
126. For this feeling in antiquity generally, see the
preliminary chapters of the two works last cited.

The belief that every comet is a ball of fire flung from the
right hand of an angry God to warn the grovelling dwellers of
earth was received into the early Church, transmitted through the
Middle Ages to the Reformation period, and in its transmission
was made all the more precious by supposed textual proofs from
Scripture. The great fathers of the Church committed themselves
unreservedly to it. In the third century Origen, perhaps the
most influential of the earlier fathers of the universal Church
in all questions between science and faith, insisted that comets
indicate catastrophes and the downfall of empires and worlds.
Bede, so justly revered by the English Church, declared in the
eighth century that "comets portend revolutions of kingdoms,
pestilence, war, winds, or heat"; and John of Damascus, his
eminent contemporary in the Eastern Church, took the same view.
Rabanus Maurus, the great teacher of Europe in the ninth century,
an authority throughout the Middle Ages, adopted Bede's opinion
fully. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great light of the universal
Church in the thirteenth century, whose works the Pope now
reigning commends as the centre and source of all university
instruction, accepted and handed down the same opinion. The
sainted Albert the Great, the most noted genius of the medieval
Church in natural science, received and developed this theory.
These men and those who followed them founded upon scriptural
texts and theological reasonings a system that for seventeen
centuries defied every advance of thought.[93]

[93] For Origen, se his De Princip., vol. i, p. 7; also Maury,
Leg. pieuses, p. 203, note. For Bede and others, see De Nat.,
vol. xxiv; Joh. Dam., De Fid. Or.,vol. ii, p. 7; Maury, La Magie
et l'Astronomie, pp. 181, 182. For Albertus Magnus, see his
Opera, vol. i, tr. iii, chaps. x, xi. Among the texts of
Scripture on which this belief rested was especially Joel ii, 30,

The main evils thence arising were three: the paralysis of
self-help, the arousing of fanaticism, and the strengthening of
ecclesiastical and political tyranny. The first two of these
evils--the paralysis of self-help and the arousing of
fanaticism--are evident throughout all these ages. At the
appearance of a comet we constantly see all Christendom, from
pope to peasant, instead of striving to avert war by wise
statesmanship, instead of striving to avert pestilence by
observation and reason, instead of striving to avert famine by
skilful economy, whining before fetiches, trying to bribe them to
remove these signs of God's wrath, and planning to wreak this
supposed wrath of God upon misbelievers.

As to the third of these evils--the strengthening of
ecclesiastical and civil despotism--examples appear on every
side. It was natural that hierarchs and monarchs whose births
were announced by stars, or whose deaths were announced by
comets, should regard themselves as far above the common herd,
and should be so regarded by mankind; passive obedience was thus
strengthened, and the most monstrous assumptions of authority
were considered simply as manifestations of the Divine will.
Shakespeare makes Calphurnia say to Caesar:

"When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."

Galeazzo, the tyrant of Milan, expressing satisfaction on his
deathbed that his approaching end was of such importance as to be
heralded by a comet, is but a type of many thus encouraged to
prey upon mankind; and Charles V, one of the most powerful
monarchs the world has known, abdicating under fear of the comet
of 1556, taking refuge in the monastery of San Yuste, and giving
up the best of his vast realms to such a scribbling bigot as
Philip II, furnishes an example even more striking.[94]

[94] For Caesar, see Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act ii, sc. 2.
For Galeazzo, see Guillemin, World of Comets, p. 19. For Charles
V, see Prof. Wolf's essay in the Monatschrift des
wissenschaftlichen Vereins, Zurich, 1857, p. 228.

But for the retention of this belief there was a moral cause.
Myriads of good men in the Christian Church down to a recent
period saw in the appearance of comets not merely an exhibition
of "signs in the heavens" foretold in Scripture, but also Divine
warnings of vast value to humanity as incentives to repentance
and improvement of life-warnings, indeed, so precious that they
could not be spared without danger to the moral government of the
world. And this belief in the portentous character of comets as
an essential part of the Divine government, being, as it was
thought, in full accord with Scripture, was made for centuries a
source of terror to humanity. To say nothing of examples in the
earlier periods, comets in the tenth century especially increased
the distress of all Europe. In the middle of the eleventh
century a comet was thought to accompany the death of Edward the
Confessor and to presage the Norman conquest; the traveller in
France to-day may see this belief as it was then wrought into the
Bayeux tapestry.[95]

[95] For evidences of this widespread terror, see chronicles of
Raoul Glaber, Guillaume de Nangis, William of Malmesbury,
Florence of Worcester, Ordericus Vitalis, et al., passim, and the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (in the Rolls Series). For very thrilling
pictures of this horror in England, see Freeman, Norman Conquest,
vol. iii, pp. 640-644, and William Rufus, vol. ii, p. 118. For
the Bayeau tapestry, see Bruce, Bayeux Tapestry Elucidated, plate
vii and p. 86; also Guillemin, World of Comets, p. 24. There is
a large photographic copy, in the South Kensington Museum at
London, of the original, wrought, as is generally believed, by
the wife of William the Conqueror and her ladies, and is still
preserved in the town museum at Bayeux.

Nearly every decade of years throughout the Middle Ages saw
Europe plunged into alarm by appearances of this sort, but the
culmination seems to have been reached in 1456. At that time the
Turks, after a long effort, had made good their footing in
Europe. A large statesmanship or generalship might have kept
them out; but, while different religious factions were disputing
over petty shades of dogma, they had advanced, had taken
Constantinople, and were evidently securing their foothold. Now
came the full bloom of this superstition. A comet appeared. The
Pope of that period, Calixtus III, though a man of more than
ordinary ability, was saturated with the ideas of his time.
Alarmed at this monster, if we are to believe the contemporary
historian, this infallible head of the Church solemnly "decreed
several days of prayer for the averting of the wrath of God, that
whatever calamity impended might be turned from the Christians
and against the Turks." And, that all might join daily in this
petition, there was then established that midday Angelus which
has ever since called good Catholics to prayer against the powers
of evil. Then, too, was incorporated into a litany the plea,
"From the Turk and the comet, good Lord, deliver us." Never was
papal intercession less effective; for the Turk has held
Constantinople from that day to this, while the obstinate comet,
being that now known under the name of Halley, has returned
imperturbably at short periods ever since.[96]

[96] The usual statement is, that Calixtus excommunicated the
comet by a bull, and this is accepted by Arago, Grant, Hoefer,
Guillemin, Watson, and many historians of astronomy. Hence the
parallel is made on a noted occasion by President Lincoln. No
such bull, however, is to be found in the published Bulleria, and
that establishing the Angelus (as given by Raynaldus in the
Annales Eccl.) contains no mention of the comet. But the
authority of Platina (in his Vitae Pontificum, Venice, 1479, sub
Calistus III) who was not only in Rome at the time, but when he
wrote his history, archivist of the Vatican, is final as to the
Pope's attitude. Platina's authority was never questioned until
modern science changed the ideas of the world. The recent
attempt of Pastor (in his Geschichte der Papste) to pooh-pooh
down the whole matter is too evident an evasion to carry weight
with those who know how even the most careful histories have to
be modified to suit the views of the censorship at Rome.

But the superstition went still further. It became more and more
incorporated into what was considered "scriptural science" and
"sound learning." The encyclopedic summaries, in which the
science of the Middle Ages and the Reformation period took form,
furnish abundant proofs of this.

Yet scientific observation was slowly undermining this structure.
The inspired prophecy of Seneca had not been forgotten. Even as
far back as the ninth century, in the midst of the sacred
learning so abundant at the court of Charlemagne and his
successors, we find a scholar protesting against the accepted
doctrine. In the thirteenth century we have a mild question by
Albert the Great as to the supposed influence of comets upon
individuals; but the prevailing theological current was too
strong, and he finally yielded to it in this as in so many other

So, too, in the sixteenth century, we have Copernicus refusing to
accept the usual theory, Paracelsus writing to Zwingli against
it, and Julius Caesar Scaliger denouncing it as "ridiculous

[97] As to encyclopedic summaries, see Vincent of Beauvais,
Speculum Naturale, and the various editions of Reisch's Margarita
Philosophica. For Charlemagne's time, see Champion, La Fin du
Monde, p. 156; Leopardi, Errori Popolari, p. 165. As to Albert
the Great's question, see Heller, Geschichte der Physik, vol. i,
p. 188. As to scepticism in the sixteenth century, see Champion,
La Fin du Monde, pp. 155, 156; and for Scaliger, Dudith's book,
cited below.

At first this scepticism only aroused the horror of theologians
and increased the vigour of ecclesiastics; both asserted the
theological theory of comets all the more strenuously as based on
scriptural truth. During the sixteenth century France felt the
influence of one of her greatest men on the side of this
superstition. Jean Bodin, so far before his time in political
theories, was only thoroughly abreast of it in religious
theories: the same reverence for the mere letter of Scripture
which made him so fatally powerful in supporting the witchcraft
delusion, led him to support this theological theory of
comets--but with a difference: he thought them the souls of men,
wandering in space, bringing famine, pestilence, and war.

Not less strong was the same superstition in England. Based upon
mediaeval theology, it outlived the revival of learning. From a
multitude of examples a few may be selected as typical. Early in
the sixteenth century Polydore Virgil, an ecclesiastic of the
unreformed Church, alludes, in his English History, to the
presage of the death of the Emperor Constantine by a comet as to
a simple matter of fact; and in his work on prodigies he pushes
this superstition to its most extreme point, exhibiting comets as
preceding almost every form of calamity.

In 1532, just at the transition period from the old Church to the
new, Cranmer, paving the way to his archbishopric, writes from
Germany to Henry VIII, and says of the comet then visible: "What
strange things these tokens do signify to come hereafter, God
knoweth; for they do not lightly appear but against some great

Twenty years later Bishop Latimer, in an Advent sermon, speaks of
eclipses, rings about the sun, and the like, as signs of the
approaching end of the world.[98]

[98] For Bodin, see Theatr., lib. ii, cited by Pingre, vol. i, p.
45; also a vague citation in Baudrillart, Bodin et son Temps, p.
360. For Polydore Virgil, see English History, p. 97 (in Camden
Society Publications). For Cranmer, see Remains, vol. ii, p. 535
(in Parker Society Publications). For Latimer, see Sermons,
second Sunday in Advent, 1552.

In 1580, under Queen Elizabeth, there was set forth an "order of
prayer to avert God's wrath from us, threatened by the late
terrible earthquake, to be used in all parish churches." In
connection with this there was also commended to the faithful "a
godly admonition for the time present"; and among the things
referred to as evidence of God's wrath are comets, eclipses, and
falls of snow.

This view held sway in the Church of England during Elizabeth's
whole reign and far into the Stuart period: Strype, the
ecclesiastical annalist, gives ample evidence of this, and among
the more curious examples is the surmise that the comet of 1572
was a token of Divine wrath provoked by the St. Bartholomew

As to the Stuart period, Archbishop Spottiswoode seems to have
been active in carrying the superstition from the sixteenth
century to the seventeenth, and Archbishop Bramhall cites
Scripture in support of it. Rather curiously, while the diary of
Archbishop Laud shows so much superstition regarding dreams as
portents, it shows little or none regarding comets; but Bishop
Jeremy Taylor, strong as he was, evidently favoured the usual
view. John Howe, the eminent Nonconformist divine in the latter
part of the century, seems to have regarded the comet
superstition as almost a fundamental article of belief; he
laments the total neglect of comets and portents generally,
declaring that this neglect betokens want of reverence for the
Ruler of the world; he expresses contempt for scientific inquiry
regarding comets, insists that they may be natural bodies and yet
supernatural portents, and ends by saying, "I conceive it very
safe to suppose that some very considerable thing, either in the
way of judgment or mercy, may ensue, according as the cry of
persevering wickedness or of penitential prayer is more or less
loud at that time."[99]

[99] For Liturgical Services of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, see
Parker Society Publications, pp. 569, 570. For Strype, see his
Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. iii, part i, p. 472; also see his
Annals of the reformation, vol. ii, part ii, p. 151; and his Life
of Sir Thomas Smith, pp. 161, 162. For Spottiswoode, see History
of the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh reprint, 1851), vol. i, pp.
185, 186. For Bramhall, see his Works, Oxford, 1844, vol. iv,
pp. 60, 307, etc. For Jeremy Taylor, see his Sermons on the Life
of Christ. For John Howe, see his Works, London, 1862, vol. iv,
pp. 140, 141.

The Reformed Church of Scotland supported the superstition just
as strongly. John Knox saw in comets tokens of the wrath of
Heaven; other authorities considered them "a warning to the king
to extirpate the Papists"; and as late as 1680, after Halley had
won his victory, comets were announced on high authority in the
Scottish Church to be "prodigies of great judgment on these lands
for our sins, for never was the Lord more provoked by a people."

While such was the view of the clergy during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, the laity generally accepted it as a
matter of course, Among the great leaders in literature there was
at least general acquiescence in it. Both Shakespeare and Milton
recognise it, whether they fully accept it or not. Shakespeare
makes the Duke of Bedford, lamenting at the bier of Henry V, say:

"Comets, importing change of time and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky;
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars,
That have consented unto Henry's death."

Milton, speaking of Satan preparing for combat, says:

"On the other side,
Incensed with indignation, Satan stood.
Unterrified, and like a comet burned,
That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge
In the arctic sky, and from its horrid hair
Shakes pestilence and war."

We do indeed find that in some minds the discoveries of Tycho
Brahe and Kepler begin to take effect, for, in 1621, Burton in
his Anatomy of Melancholy alludes to them as changing public
opinion somewhat regarding comets; and, just before the middle
of the century, Sir Thomas Browne expresses a doubt whether
comets produce such terrible effects, "since it is found that
many of them are above the moon."[100] Yet even as late as the
last years of the seventeenth century we have English authors of
much power battling for this supposed scriptural view and among
the natural and typical results we find, in 1682, Ralph Thoresby,
a Fellow of the Royal Society, terrified at the comet of that
year, and writing in his diary the following passage: "Lord, fit
us for whatever changes it may portend; for, though I am not
ignorant that such meteors proceed from natural causes, yet are
they frequently also the presages of imminent calamities."
Interesting is it to note here that this was Halley's comet, and
that Halley was at this very moment making those scientific
studies upon it which were to free the civilized world
forever from such terrors as distressed Thoresby.

[100] For John Knox, see his Histoire of the Reformation of
Religion within the Realm of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1732), lib. iv;
also Chambers, Domestic Annals of Scotland, vol. ii, pp 410-412.
For Burton, see his Anatomy of Melancholy, part ii, sect 2. For
Browne, see the Vulgar and Common Errors, book vi, chap. xiv.

The belief in comets as warnings against sin was especially one
of those held "always, everywhere, and by all," and by Eastern
Christians as well as by Western. One of the most striking
scenes in the history of the Eastern Church is that which took
place at the condemnation of Nikon, the great Patriarch of
Moscow. Turning toward his judges, he pointed to a comet then
blazing in the sky, and said, "God's besom shall sweep you all

Of all countries in western Europe, it was in Germany and German
Switzerland that this superstition took strongest hold. That
same depth of religious feeling which produced in those countries
the most terrible growth of witchcraft persecution, brought
superstition to its highest development regarding comets. No
country suffered more from it in the Middle Ages. At the
Reformation Luther declared strongly in favour of it. In one of
his Advent sermons he said, "The heathen write that the comet may
arise from natural causes, but God creates not one that does not
foretoken a sure calamity." Again he said, "Whatever moves in
the heaven in an unusual way is certainly a sign of God's wrath."

And sometimes, yielding to another phase of his belief, he
declared them works of the devil, and declaimed against them as
"harlot stars."[101]

[101] For Thoresby, see his Diary, (London, 1830). Halley's
great service is described further on in this chapter. For
Nikon's speech, see Dean Stanley's History of the Eastern Church,
p. 485. For very striking examples of this mediaeval terror in
Germany, see Von Raumer, Geschichte der Hohenstaufen, vol. vi, p.
538. For the Reformation period, see Wolf, Gesch. d. Astronomie;
also Praetorius, Ueber d. Cometstern (Erfurt, 1589), in which the
above sentences of Luther are printed on the title page as
epigraphs. For "Huren-Sternen," see the sermon of Celichius,
described later.

Melanchthon, too, in various letters refers to comets as heralds
of Heaven's wrath, classing them, with evil conjunctions of the
planets and abortive births, among the "signs" referred to in
Scripture. Zwingli, boldest of the greater Reformers in shaking
off traditional beliefs, could not shake off this, and insisted
that the comet of 1531 betokened calamity. Arietus, a leading
Protestant theologian, declared, "The heavens are given us not
merely for our pleasure, but also as a warning of the wrath of
God for the correction of our lives." Lavater insisted that
comets are signs of death or calamity, and cited proofs from

Catholic and Protestant strove together for the glory of this
doctrine. It was maintained with especial vigour by Fromundus,
the eminent professor and Doctor of Theology at the Catholic
University of Louvain, who so strongly opposed the Copernican
system; at the beginning of the seventeenth century, even so
gifted an astronomer as Kepler yielded somewhat to the belief;
and near the end of that century Voigt declared that the comet of
1618 clearly presaged the downfall of the Turkish Empire, and he
stigmatized as "atheists and Epicureans" all who did not believe
comets to be God's warnings.[102]

[102] For Melanchthon, see Wolf, ubi supra. For Zwingli, see
Wolf, p. 235. For Arietus, see Madler, Geschichte der
Himmelskunde, vol. ii. For Kepler's superstition, see Wolf, p.
281. For Voight, see Himmels-Manaten Reichstage, Hamburg, 1676.
For both Fromundus and Voigt, see also Madler, vol. ii, p. 399,
and Lecky, Rationalism in Europe, vol. i, p.28.


Out of this belief was developed a great series of efforts to
maintain the theological view of comets, and to put down forever
the scientific view. These efforts may be divided into two
classes: those directed toward learned men and scholars, through
the universities, and those directed toward the people at large,
through the pulpits. As to the first of these, that learned men
and scholars might be kept in the paths of "sacred science" and
"sound learning," especial pains was taken to keep all knowledge
of the scientific view of comets as far as possible from students
in the universities. Even to the end of the seventeenth century
the oath generally required of professors of astronomy over a
large part of Europe prevented their teaching that comets are
heavenly bodies obedient to law. Efforts just as earnest were
made to fasten into students' minds the theological theory. Two
or three examples out of many may serve as types. First of these
may be named the teaching of Jacob Heerbrand, professor at the
University of Tubingen, who in 1577 illustrated the moral value
of comets by comparing the Almighty sending a comet, to the judge
laying the executioner's sword on the table between himself and
the criminal in a court of justice; and, again, to the father or
schoolmaster displaying the rod before naughty children. A
little later we have another churchman of great importance in
that region, Schickhart, head pastor and superintendent at
Goppingen, preaching and publishing a comet sermon, in which he
denounces those who stare at such warnings of God without heeding
them, and compares them to "calves gaping at a new barn door."
Still later, at the end of the seventeenth century, we find
Conrad Dieterich, director of studies at the University of
Marburg, denouncing all scientific investigation of comets as
impious, and insisting that they are only to be regarded as
"signs and wonders."[103]

[103] For the effect of the anti-Pythagorean oath, see Prowe,
Copernicus; also Madler and Wolf. For Heerbrand, see his Von dem
erschrockenlichen Wunderzeichen, Tubingen, 1577. For Schickart,
see his Predigt vom Wunderzeichen, Stuttgart, 1621. For
Deiterich, see his sermon, described more fully below.

The results of this ecclesiastical pressure upon science in the
universities were painfully shown during generation after
generation, as regards both professors and students; and
examples may be given typical of its effects upon each of these
two classes.

The first of these is the case of Michael Maestlin. He was by
birth a Swabian Protestant, was educated at Tubingen as a pupil
of Apian, and, after a period of travel, was settled as deacon in
the little parish of Backnang, when the comet of 1577 gave him an
occasion to apply his astronomical studies. His minute and
accurate observation of it is to this day one of the wonders of
science. It seems almost impossible that so much could be
accomplished by the naked eye. His observations agreed with
those of Tycho Brahe, and won for Maestlin the professorship of
astronomy in the University of Heidelberg. No man had so clearly
proved the supralunar position of a comet, or shown so
conclusively that its motion was not erratic, but regular. The
young astronomer, though Apian's pupil, was an avowed Copernican
and the destined master and friend of Kepler. Yet, in the
treatise embodying his observations, he felt it necessary to save
his reputation for orthodoxy by calling the comet a "new and
horrible prodigy," and by giving a chapter of "conjectures on the
signification of the present comet," in which he proves from
history that this variety of comet betokens peace, but peace
purchased by a bloody victory. That he really believed in this
theological theory seems impossible; the very fact that his
observations had settled the supralunar character and regular
motion of comets proves this. It was a humiliation only to be
compared to that of Osiander when he wrote his grovelling preface
to the great book of Copernicus. Maestlin had his reward: when,
a few years, later his old teacher, Apian, was driven from his
chair at Tubingen for refusing to sign the Lutheran
Concord-Book, Maestlin was elected to his place.

Not less striking was the effect of this theological pressure
upon the minds of students. Noteworthy as an example of this is
the book of the Leipsic lawyer, Buttner. From no less than
eighty-six biblical texts he proves the Almighty's purpose of
using the heavenly bodies for the instruction of men as to future
events, and then proceeds to frame exhaustive tables, from which,
the time and place of the comet's first appearance being known,
its signification can be deduced. This manual he gave forth as a
triumph of religious science, under the name of the Comet

[104] For Maestlin, see his Observatio et Demonstration Cometae,
Tubingen, 1578. For Buttner, see his Cometen Stundbuchlein,
Leipsic, 1605.

The same devotion to the portent theory is found in the
universities of Protestant Holland. Striking is it to see in the
sixteenth century, after Tycho Brahe's discovery, the Dutch
theologian, Gerard Vossius, Professor of Theology and Eloquence
at Leyden, lending his great weight to the superstition. "The
history of all times," he says, "shows comets to be the
messengers of misfortune. It does not follow that they are
endowed with intelligence, but that there is a deity who makes
use of them to call the human race to repentance." Though
familiar with the works of Tycho Brahe, he finds it "hard to
believe" that all comets are ethereal, and adduces several
historical examples of sublunary ones.

Nor was this attempt to hold back university teaching to the old
view of comets confined to Protestants. The Roman Church was, if
possible, more strenuous in the same effort. A few examples will
serve as types, representing the orthodox teaching at the great
centres of Catholic theology.

One of these is seen in Spain. The eminent jurist Torreblanca
was recognised as a controlling authority in all the universities
of Spain, and from these he swayed in the seventeenth century the
thought of Catholic Europe, especially as to witchcraft and the
occult powers in Nature. He lays down the old cometary
superstition as one of the foundations of orthodox teaching:
Begging the question, after the fashion of his time, he argues
that comets can not be stars, because new stars always betoken
good, while comets betoken evil.

The same teaching was given in the Catholic universities of the
Netherlands. Fromundus, at Louvain, the enemy of Galileo,
steadily continued his crusade against all cometary heresy.[105]

[105] For Vossius, see the De Idololatria (in his Opera, vol. v,
pp. 283-285). For Torreblanc, see his De Magia, Seville, 1618,
and often reprinted. For Fromundus, see his Meteorologica.

But a still more striking case is seen in Italy. The reverend
Father Augustin de Angelis, rector of the Clementine College at
Rome, as late as 1673, after the new cometary theory had been
placed beyond reasonable doubt, and even while Newton was working
out its final demonstration, published a third edition of his
Lectures on Meteorology. It was dedicated to the Cardinal of
Hesse, and bore the express sanction of the Master of the Sacred
Palace at Rome and of the head of the religious order to which De
Angelis belonged. This work deserves careful analysis, not only
as representing the highest and most approved university teaching
of the time at the centre of Roman Catholic Christendom, but
still more because it represents that attempt to make a
compromise between theology and science, or rather the attempt to
confiscate science to the uses of theology, which we so
constantly find whenever the triumph of science in any field has
become inevitable.

As to the scientific element in this compromise, De Angelis
holds, in his general introduction regarding meteorology, that
the main material cause of comets is "exhalation," and says, "If
this exhalation is thick and sticky, it blazes into a comet."
And again he returns to the same view, saying that "one form of
exhalation is dense, hence easily inflammable and long retentive
of fire, from which sort are especially generated comets." But
it is in his third lecture that he takes up comets specially, and
his discussion of them is extended through the fourth, fifth, and
sixth lectures. Having given in detail the opinions of various
theologians and philosophers, he declares his own in the form of
two conclusions. The first of these is that "comets are not
heavenly bodies, but originate in the earth's atmosphere below
the moon; for everything heavenly is eternal and incorruptible,
but comets have a beginning and ending--ergo, comets can not be
heavenly bodies." This, we may observe, is levelled at the
observations and reasonings of Tycho Brahe and Kepler, and is a
very good illustration of the scholastic and mediaeval
method--the method which blots out an ascertained fact by means
of a metaphysical formula. His second conclusion is that "comets
are of elemental and sublunary nature; for they are an
exhalation hot and dry, fatty and well condensed, inflammable and
kindled in the uppermost regions of the air." He then goes on to
answer sundry objections to this mixture of metaphysics and
science, and among other things declares that "the fatty, sticky
material of a comet may be kindled from sparks falling from fiery
heavenly bodies or from a thunderbolt"; and, again, that the
thick, fatty, sticky quality of the comet holds its tail in
shape, and that, so far are comets from having their paths beyond
the, moon's orbit, as Tycho Brahe and Kepler thought, he himself
in 1618 saw "a bearded comet so near the summit of Vesuvius that
it almost seemed to touch it." As to sorts and qualities of
comets, he accepts Aristotle's view, and divides them into
bearded and tailed.[106] He goes on into long disquisitions upon
their colours, forms, and motions. Under this latter head he
again plunges deep into a sea of metaphysical considerations, and
does not reappear until he brings up his compromise in the
opinion that their movement is as yet uncertain and not
understood, but that, if we must account definitely for it, we
must say that it is effected by angels especially assigned to
this service by Divine Providence. But, while proposing this
compromise between science and theology as to the origin and
movement of comets, he will hear to none as regards their mission
as "signs and wonders" and presages of evil. He draws up a
careful table of these evils, arranging them in the following
order: Drought, wind, earthquake, tempest, famine, pestilence,
war, and, to clinch the matter, declares that the comet
observed by him in 1618 brought not only war, famine,
pestilence, and earthquake, but also a general volcanic eruption,
"which would have destroyed Naples, had not the blood of the
invincible martyr Januarius withstood it."

[106] Barbata et caudata.

It will be observed, even from this sketch, that, while the
learned Father Augustin thus comes infallibly to the mediaeval
conclusion, he does so very largely by scientific and essentially
modern processes, giving unwonted prominence to observation, and
at times twisting scientific observation into the strand with his
metaphysics. The observations and methods of his science are
sometimes shrewd, sometimes comical. Good examples of the latter
sort are such as his observing that the comet stood very near the
summit of Vesuvius, and his reasoning that its tail was kept in
place by its stickiness. But observations and reasonings of this
sort are always the first homage paid by theology to science as
the end of their struggle approaches.[107]

[107] See De Angelis, Lectiones Meteorologicae, Rome, 1669.

Equally striking is an example seen a little later in another
part of Europe; and it is the more noteworthy because Halley and
Newton had already fully established the modern scientific
theory. Just at the close of the seventeenth century the Jesuit
Reinzer, professor at Linz, put forth his Meteorologia
Philosophico-Politica, in which all natural phenomena received
both a physical and a moral interpretation. It was profusely and
elaborately illustrated, and on account of its instructive
contents was in 1712 translated into German for the unlearned
reader. The comet receives, of course, great attention. "It
appears," says Reinzer, "only then in the heavens when the latter
punish the earth, and through it [the comet] not only predict but
bring to pass all sorts of calamity....And, to that end, its
tail serves for a rod, its hair for weapons and arrows, its light
for a threat, and its heat for a sign of anger and vengeance."
Its warnings are threefold: (1) "Comets, generated in the air,
betoken NATURALLY drought, wind, earthquake, famine, and
pestilence." (2) "Comets can indirectly, in view of their
material, betoken wars, tumults, and the death of princes; for,
being hot and dry, they bring the moistnesses [Feuchtigkeiten]
in the human body to an extraordinary heat and dryness,
increasing the gall; and, since the emotions depend on the
temperament and condition of the body, men are through this
change driven to violent deeds, quarrels, disputes, and finally
to arms: especially is this the result with princes, who are
more delicate and also more arrogant than other men, and whose
moistnesses are more liable to inflammation of this sort,
inasmuch as they live in luxury and seldom restrain themselves
from those things which in such a dry state of the heavens are
especially injurious." (3) "All comets, whatever prophetic
significance they may have naturally in and of themselves, are
yet principally, according to the Divine pleasure, heralds of the
death of great princes, of war, and of other such great
calamities; and this is known and proved, first of all, from the
words of Christ himself: `Nation shall rise against nation, and
kingdom against kingdom; and great earthquakes shall be in
divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights
and great signs shall there be from heaven.'"[108]

[108] See Reinzer, Meteorologica Philosophico-Politica (edition
of Augsburg, 1712), pp. 101-103.

While such pains was taken to keep the more highly educated
classes in the "paths of scriptural science and sound learning;
at the universities, equal efforts were made to preserve the
cometary orthodoxy of the people at large by means of the
pulpits. Out of the mass of sermons for this purpose which were
widely circulated I will select just two as typical, and they are
worthy of careful study as showing some special dangers of
applying theological methods to scientific facts. In the second
half of the sixteenth century the recognised capital of orthodox
Lutheranism was Magdeburg, and in the region tributary to this
metropolis no Church official held a more prominent station than
the "Superintendent," or Lutheran bishop, of the neighbouring
Altmark. It was this dignitary, Andreas Celichius by name, who
at Magdeburg, in 1578, gave to the press his Theological Reminder
of the New Comet. After deprecating as blasphemous the attempt
of Aristotle to explain the phenomenon otherwise than as a
supernatural warning from God to sinful man, he assures his
hearers that "whoever would know the comet's real source and
nature must not merely gape and stare at the scientific theory
that it is an earthy, greasy, tough, and sticky vapour and mist,
rising into the upper air and set ablaze by the celestial heat."
Far more important for them is it to know what this vapour is.
It is really, in the opinion of Celichius, nothing more or less
than "the thick smoke of human sins, rising every day, every
hour, every moment, full of stench and horror, before the face of
God, and becoming gradually so thick as to form a comet, with
curled and plaited tresses, which at last is kindled by the hot
and fiery anger of the Supreme Heavenly Judge." He adds that it
is probably only through the prayers and tears of Christ that
this blazing monument of human depravity becomes visible to
mortals. In support of this theory, he urges the "coming up
before God" of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and of
Nineveh, and especially the words of the prophet regarding
Babylon, "Her stench and rottenness is come up before me." That
the anger of God can produce the conflagration without any
intervention of Nature is proved from the Psalms, "He sendeth out
his word and melteth them." From the position of the comet, its
course, and the direction of its tail he augurs especially the
near approach of the judgment day, though it may also betoken, as
usual, famine, pestilence, and war. "Yet even in these days," he
mourns, "there are people reckless and giddy enough to pay no
heed to such celestial warnings, and these even cite in their own
defence the injunction of Jeremiah not to fear signs in the
heavens." This idea he explodes, and shows that good and
orthodox Christians, while not superstitious like the heathen,
know well "that God is not bound to his creation and the ordinary
course of Nature, but must often, especially in these last dregs
of the world, resort to irregular means to display his anger at
human guilt."[109]

[109] For Celichius, or Celich, see his own treatise, as above.

The other typical case occurred in the following century and in
another part of Germany. Conrad Dieterich was, during the first
half of the seventeenth century, a Lutheran ecclesiastic of the
highest authority. His ability as a theologian had made him
Archdeacon of Marburg, Professor of Philosophy and Director of
Studies at the University of Giessen, and "Superintendent," or
Lutheran bishop, in southwestern Germany. In the year 162O, on
the second Sunday in Advent, in the great Cathedral of Ulm, he
developed the orthodox doctrine of comets in a sermon, taking up
the questions: 1. What are comets? 2. What do they indicate?
3. What have we to do with their significance? This sermon marks
an epoch. Delivered in that stronghold of German Protestantism
and by a prelate of the highest standing, it was immediately
printed, prefaced by three laudatory poems from different men of
note, and sent forth to drive back the scientific, or, as it was
called, the "godless," view of comets. The preface shows that
Dieterich was sincerely alarmed by the tendency to regard comets
as natural appearances. His text was taken from the twenty-fifth
verse of the twenty-first chapter of St. Luke: "And there shall
be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon
the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the
waves roaring." As to what comets are, he cites a multitude of
philosophers, and, finding that they differ among themselves, he
uses a form of argument not uncommon from that day to this,
declaring that this difference of opinion proves that there is no
solution of the problem save in revelation, and insisting that
comets are "signs especially sent by the Almighty to warn the
earth." An additional proof of this he finds in the forms of
comets. One, he says, took the form of a trumpet; another, of a
spear; another of a goat; another, of a torch; another, of a
sword; another, of an arrow; another, of a sabre; still another,
of a bare arm. From these forms of comets he infers that we may
divine their purpose. As to their creation, he quotes John of
Damascus and other early Church authorities in behalf of the idea
that each comet is a star newly created at the Divine command,
out of nothing, and that it indicates the wrath of God. As to
their purpose, having quoted largely from the Bible and from
Luther, he winds up by insisting that, as God can make nothing in
vain, comets must have some distinct object; then, from Isaiah
and Joel among the prophets, from Matthew, Mark, and Luke among
the evangelists, from Origen and John Chrysostom among the
fathers, from Luther and Melanchthon among the Reformers, he
draws various texts more or less conclusive to prove that comets
indicate evil and only evil; and he cites Luther's Advent sermon
to the effect that, though comets may arise in the course of
Nature, they are still signs of evil to mankind. In answer to
the theory of sundry naturalists that comets are made up of "a
certain fiery, warm, sulphurous, saltpetery, sticky fog," he
declaims: "Our sins, our sins: they are the fiery heated
vapours, the thick, sticky, sulphurous clouds which rise from the
earth toward heaven before God." Throughout the sermon Dieterich
pours contempt over all men who simply investigate comets as
natural objects, calls special attention to a comet then in the
heavens resembling a long broom or bundle of rods, and declares
that he and his hearers can only consider it rightly "when we see
standing before us our Lord God in heaven as an angry father with
a rod for his children." In answer to the question what comets
signify, he commits himself entirely to the idea that they
indicate the wrath of God, and therefore calamities of every
sort. Page after page is filled with the records of evils
following comets. Beginning with the creation of the world, he
insists that the first comet brought on the deluge of Noah, and
cites a mass of authorities, ranging from Moses and Isaiah to
Albert the Great and Melanchthon, in support of the view that
comets precede earthquakes, famines, wars, pestilences, and every
form of evil. He makes some parade of astronomical knowledge as
to the greatness of the sun and moon, but relapses soon into his
old line of argument. Imploring his audience not to be led away
from the well-established belief of Christendom and the
principles of their fathers, he comes back to his old assertion,
insists that "our sins are the inflammable material of which
comets are made," and winds up with a most earnest appeal to the
Almighty to spare his people.[110]

[110] For Deiterich, see Ulmische Cometen-Predigt, von dem
Cometen, so nechst abgewischen 1618 Jahrs im Wintermonat
erstenmahls in Schwaben sehen lassen, . . . gehalten zu Ulm . . .
durch Conrad Dieterich, Ulm, 1620. For a life of the author, see
article Dieterich in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. See also

Similar efforts from the pulpit were provoked by the great comet
of 1680. Typical among these was the effort in Switzerland of
Pastor Heinrich Erni, who, from the Cathedral of Zurich, sent a
circular letter to the clergy of that region showing the
connection of the eleventh and twelfth verses of the first
chapter of Jeremiah with the comet, giving notice that at his
suggestion the authorities had proclaimed a solemn fast, and
exhorting the clergy to preach earnestly on the subject of this

Nor were the interpreters of the comet's message content with
simple prose. At the appearance of the comet of 1618, Grasser
and Gross, pastors and doctors of theology at Basle, put forth a
collection of doggerel rhymes to fasten the orthodox theory into
the minds of school-children and peasants. One of these may be

"I am a Rod in God's right hand
threatening the German and foreign land."

Others for a similar purpose taught:

"Eight things there be a Comet brings,
When it on high doth horrid range:
Wind, Famine, Plague, and Death to Kings,
War, Earthquakes, Floods, and Direful Change."

Great ingenuity was shown in meeting the advance of science, in
the universities and schools, with new texts of Scripture; and
Stephen Spleiss, Rector of the Gymnasium at Schaffhausen, got
great credit by teaching that in the vision of Jeremiah the
"almond rod" was a tailed comet, and the "seething pot" a bearded

[111] For Erni, see Wolf, Gesch. d. Astronomie, p. 239. For
Grassner and Gross, see their Christenliches Bedenken . . . von
dem erschrockenlichen Cometen, etc., Zurich, 1664. For Spleiss,
see Beilauftiger Bericht von dem jetzigen Cometsternen, etc.,
schaffhausen, 1664.

It can be easily understood that such authoritative utterances as
that of Dieterich must have produced a great effect throughout
Protestant Christendom; and in due time we see their working in
New England. That same tendency to provincialism, which, save at
rare intervals, has been the bane of Massachusetts thought from
that day to this, appeared; and in 1664 we find Samuel Danforth
arguing from the Bible that "comets are portentous signals of
great and notable changes," and arguing from history that they
"have been many times heralds of wrath to a secure and impenitent
world." He cites especially the comet of 1652, which appeared
just before Mr. Cotton's sickness and disappeared after his
death. Morton also, in his Memorial recording the death of John
Putnam, alludes to the comet of 1662 as "a very signal testimony
that God had then removed a bright star and a shining light out
of the heaven of his Church here into celestial glory above."
Again he speaks of another comet, insisting that "it was no fiery
meteor caused by exhalation, but it was sent immediately by God
to awaken the secure world," and goes on to show how in that year
"it pleased God to smite the fruits of the earth--namely, the
wheat in special--with blasting and mildew, whereby much of it
was spoiled and became profitable for nothing, and much of it
worth little, being light and empty. This was looked upon by the
judicious and conscientious of the land as a speaking providence
against the unthankfulness of many,... as also against
voluptuousness and abuse of the good creatures of God by
licentiousness in drinking and fashions in apparel, for the
obtaining whereof a great part of the principal grain was
oftentimes unnecessarily expended."

But in 1680 a stronger than either of these seized upon the
doctrine and wielded it with power. Increase Mather, so open
always to ideas from Europe, and always so powerful for good or
evil in the cloonies, preached his sermon on "Heaven's Alarm to
the World,...wherein is shown that fearful sights and signs in
the heavens are the presages of great calamities at hand." The
texts were taken from the book of Revelation: "And the third
angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning,
as it were a lamp," and "Behold, the third woe cometh quickly."
In this, as in various other sermons, he supports the theological
cometary theory fully. He insists that "we are fallen into the
dregs of time," and that the day of judgment is evidently
approaching. He explains away the words of Jeremiah--"Be not
dismayed at signs in the heavens"--and shows that comets have
been forerunners of nearly every form of evil. Having done full
justice to evils thus presaged in scriptural times, he begins a
similar display in modern history by citing blazing stars which
foretold the invasions of Goths, Huns, Saracens, and Turks, and
warns gainsayers by citing the example of Vespasian, who, after
ridiculing a comet, soon died. The general shape and appearance
of comets, he thinks, betoken their purpose, and he cites
Tertullian to prove them "God's sharp razors on mankind, whereby
he doth poll, and his scythe whereby he doth shear down
multitudes of sinful creatures." At last, rising to a fearful
height, he declares: "For the Lord hath fired his beacon in the
heavens among the stars of God there; the fearful sight is not
yet out of sight. The warning piece of heaven is going off.
Now, then, if the Lord discharge his murdering pieces from on
high, and men be found in their sins unfit for death, their blood
shall be upon them." And again, in an agony of supplication, he
cries out: "Do we see the sword blazing over us? Let it put us
upon crying to God, that the judgment be diverted and not return
upon us again so speedily....Doth God threaten our very heavens?
O pray unto him, that he would not take away stars and send
comets to succeed them."[112]

[112] For Danforth, see his Astronomical Descritption of the Late
Comet or Blazing Star, Together with a Brief Theological
Application Thereof, 1664. For Morton, see his Memorial, pp.

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