Histographical Essay

The inventor of this instrument was Otto von Guericke (1602–86), who claimed that it could create a vacuum.But according to Aristotelian physics, a vacuum was impossible.

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As they were a very well-educated group involved with many of the intellectual trends of their day, one would expect that the Jesuits would have also been involved with new trends in science of the day, and such an assumption is correct.

However, it took a long time for the mainstream historiography of early modern science to begin to recognize the Jesuit contributions.

Though there were Protestants who criticized Copernicus, most notably Martin Luther, The Jesuits rejected the Copernican system and continued to foster Aristotelian philosophy; they stood by the Catholic Church in the Galileo affair; consequently, in this narrative, they were counted among the evil Catholics.

During the last several decades in particular, this narrative of revolution has been questioned.

The period in the history of science that concentrates on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has traditionally been called “the Scientific Revolution.” This narrative, which held sway for about two hundred years, maintained that it began with the proposal of a heliocentric universe by Copernicus, concentrating on those developments in astronomy and physics that confirmed his hypothesis, and ended with Isaac Newton (1642–1727) and his associates.

This was a story of great men of science who, rightly according to its adherents, rejected the Aristotelian physics and Ptolemaic astronomy that was impeding human understanding of the natural world.It had begun when historians of medieval science insisted that the term “medieval science” was no oxymoron and proved it was worthy of study: there were many important innovations in medieval science and technology and much continuity between the Middle Ages and later periods.As most of the intellectuals of the Middle Ages were Catholic clergy or educated by them, this also showed that the Catholic Church was not inherently against progress in science.Schott used the pump to experiment with atmospheric air and ignored the issue of the vacuum.This is another instance of Jesuits contributing to the advancement of science within their Aristotelian context.Several books have presented an overview of Jesuits and science. Agustín Udías wrote a survey of Jesuit contributions to science both before and after the suppression.Mordechai Feingold edited such a volume, and in his introduction he described the Jesuits as “savants” who “were quite open and adventurous in their discussions despite the suspicions that such exchanges, especially with ‘heretics’ could elicit.” He pointed out that Jesuit educators discussed much contemporary work that was at odds with their official position, such as Copernican astronomy, adding that “not a few Jesuits incorporated” the very controversial subject of atomism “into their lectures.” Feingold’s collection had essays on a wide-ranging number of topics: several on better known Jesuit scholars (Ugo Baldini on Christoph Clavius, Alfredo Dinis on Giambattista Riccioli, Paula Findlen on Athanasius Kircher); several on scientific controversies (Edward Grant on cosmology, William A. His chapters on pre-suppression work start with the establishment of mathematics in the Jesuit curriculum and end with the open acceptance of the Copernican system in the middle of the eighteenth century with attention to both Jesuits in Europe and the wider world.As Herbert Butterfield, whose is one of the most popular, readable versions of this narrative, wrote, it “overturned the authority in science not only of the middle ages but of the ancient world – since it ended not only in the eclipse of scholastic philosophy but in the destruction of Aristotelian physics – it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity.” Individuals and institutions that were seen as impeding the progress of science, especially through their adherence to Aristotelian principles, were dismissed as villains in this story.The Catholic Church was a blatantly evil institution because it not only opposed Copernican astronomy but persecuted Galileo for promoting it.One of the leading observers was Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625–1712), after whom NASA’s spacecraft mission to Saturn was named.Cassini was not a Jesuit, but he studied with them, and Heilbron made the case that he pursued his career in astronomy because of them.


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