Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Faith and Science are not irreconcilable still

"Scholarship supported science in this world where faith and science were not yet seen as two, irreconcilable cultures."

If one searches the web for information on Pope Saint Nicholas--who began what is today the magnificent Library of the Vatican--one may come across this very illuminating statement by the curators of a special exhibit of Library of Congress in 1993: Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture.

Of course, we know faith and science will never become irreconcilable, and yet this truth is so hidden in contemporary culture that one rejoices in a statement that acknowledges their "reconciled" existence even if five centuries in the past. The website of the exhibit is worth visiting and the fact that it happened over ten years ago is of little relevance. Visit it and enjoy the many photographs of the holdings with their fascinating descriptions, all part of a collection of renaissance manuscripts like no other in the world.

From the preface of the exhibit's companion volume:

The Library of Congress's curatorial team learned new and surprising things in the process of selecting the two hundred manuscripts, rare books, maps, and fine prints for display. Certain schools of western historiography have depicted the papacy as fighting a long rearguard action against the rise of modernization and enlightenment. Our curators discovered quite a different reality. They were impressed by the level and depth of papal sponsorship of the life of the mind throughout the Renaissance--especially the birth of Near and Far Eastern studies and the rise of modern science and classical studies. Beyond the well-known story of papal patronage of the arts remains another untold story of great historical interest.
From the Mathematics's section:
Until recently, historians of the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries treated it as a kind of rebellion against the authority of ancient books and humanist scholarship. In fact, however, it began with the revival of several tremendously important and formidably difficult works of Greek science. The mathematics and astronomy of the Greeks had been known in medieval western Europe only through often imperfect translations, some of them made from Arabic intermediary texts rather than the Greek originals. The papal curia became a center for the recovery of the original Greek manuscripts, often very old and remarkably elegant, and the production of new translations of these works. Ptolemy's "Geography"--the book which inspired Columbus to attempt his voyage, and remains the model of all systematic atlases--was dedicated to Popes Gregory XII and Alexander V by its first translator, the apostolic secretary Jacopo Angeli. Illustrated texts of this elegant atlas found readers everywhere in Europe. Nicholas V supported translations of the greatest of Greek mathematicians, Archimedes, and the greatest of Greek astronomers, Ptolemy. Cardinal Bessarion collected a vast range of Greek texts (which eventually wound up in Venice, as the nucleus of another great Renaissance library). A scholar whom he helped in many ways, Joannes Regiomontanus, became the first western European in centuries really to master Ptolemy's astronomy, which had been preserved and improved in the Islamic world. His work done in and for the curia laid the essential foundations on which Copernicus and other innovators built a new astronomy in the sixteenth century, using the Greek texts as their basic source of data and methods. Scholarship supported science in this world where faith and science were not yet seen as two, irreconcilable cultures.

About the picture:
Ptolemy, Handy Tables In Greek: Parchment, Ninth century. Ptolemy's Handy Tables,Handy Tables allow the calculation of solar, lunar, and planetary positions and eclipses of the sun and moon far more rapidly than the tables included in the Almagest. This early and elegant uncial manuscript is well-known for its illumination, which appears to descend from a prototype in late antiquity as can clearly be seen in this map of the constellations, drawn elegantly in white against the dark blue of the night sky, showing the northern part of the zodiac.

(Cross-post with Ana Braga-Henebry's Journal)