The 19th century saw the culmination of what we now call Classical physics and the high water mark of the mechanistic view of the universe. Clergy remained important contributors of science, even as the field (now called, for the first time, “science”) was becoming a viable way for laypeople to make a living. Two giants of this era were Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics (and a priest), and Angelo Secchi, the father of astrophysics (and also a priest).
- 5 pages
- Level: all audiences
This 1903 article in the magazine Popular Astronomy describes the Vatican Observatory after it had been re-established by Pope Leo XIII. Some photos are included in the article. The author, W. Alfred Parr, writes:
When towards the middle of the ninth century Pope Leo IV sought to stem the further ravages of the Saracen hordes by strengthening the defences of Rome and enclosing the Vatican hill with massive turreted walls, he could little imagine that these same walls, designed so well to bear the engines of war that were to dominate the country round, would, more than a thousand years later, be required by a successor and namesake to harbor a weapon of science of a potency little dreamt of in those days—a weapon whose range of power should penetrate to the confines of the unknown itself. For, after the conclusion of the International Photographic Conference on the charting of the heavens, held in Paris in 1889, it was on one of the strongest of the towers forming part of the ancient Leonine wall that the late Pontiff, Leo XIII, decided to erect the newly-ordered astrographic telescope which was to enable the Vatican Observatory, until that time somewhat meagrely equipped, to worthily enter the lists with the seventeen other observatories to whom the work of the chart had been allotted.
- Article (PDF)
- 12 pages
- Level: university
Fr. George V. Coyne, S. J., Director of the Vatican Observatory from 1978 to 2006, presents four case histories which indicate that the relationship between religion and science has, in the course of three centuries, passed from one of conflict to one of compatible openness and dialogue, to show that the natural sciences have played a significant role in helping to establish the kind of dialogue that is absolutely necessary for the enrichment of the multifaceted aspects of human culture, whether traditional or modern. He argues that the approach of science to religion in each of these periods can be characterized respectively as: (l) temptress, (2) antagonist, (3) enlightened teacher, (4) partner in dialogue.
- Book (and book excerpt)
- 448 pages (excerpt is 3200 words)
- Level: high school and above
Nicolás Patricio Esteban Wiseman was Cardinal and first Archbishop of Westminster upon the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales in 1850. His discussions of religion and science in the early nineteenth century became well-known.
Click here for an excerpt selected by the Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science (Inters.org), which is edited by the Advanced School for Interdisciplinary Research, operating at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, and directed by Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti. In this excerpt Wiseman defends Rome as a center of learning and writes of various early figures in the church who promoted the study of mathematics or the natural world, including Clement of Alexandria:
Clement of Alexandria … devoted several chapters of his learned Stromata to the vindication of his favorite studies. He observes very justly, that “varied and abundant learning recommends him who proposes the great dogmas of faith, to the credit of his hearers, inspiring his disciples with admiration, and drawing them towards the truth which is in like manner the opinion of Cicero, when he says, “magna est enim vis ad persuadendum scientiae.” Clement then illustrates his argument by many quotations from the Holy Scriptures, and from profane authors. I will read you one remarkable passage.
“Some persons, having a high opinion of their good dispositions, will not apply to philosophy or dialectics, nor even to natural philosophy, but wish to possess faith alone and unadorned: as reasonably as though they expected to gather grapes from a vine which they have left uncultivated. Our Lord is called, allegorically, a vine, from which we gather fruit, by a careful cultivation, according to the eternal Word. We must prune, and dig, and bind, and perform all other necessary labor. And, as in agriculture and in medicine, he is considered the best educated who has applied to the greatest variety of sciences, useful for tilling or for curing, so must we consider him most properly educated, who makes all things bear upon the truth; who from geometry, and music, and grammar and philosophy itself, gathers whatever is useful for the defence of faith. But the champion who has not trained himself well, will surely be despised.”
These words, I must own, afford me no small encouragement. For if, instead of geometry and music we say geology, and ethnography, and history, we may consider ourselves as having, in this passage, a formal confirmation of the views which we have taken in these Lectures, and an approbation of the principles on which they have been conducted.
- 4 pages
- Level: all audiences
Obituary in Popular Astronomy (1927) for astronomer William F. Rigge, S. J., notable for its discussion of how Rigge was able to use his knowledge of astronomy to provide evidence that exonerated a man who had been accused of planting a bomb. The author if the obituary was James McCabe, S. J.
Click here for additional information on William F. Rigge, S. J., from Creighton University.