visit Jesuits and the Sciences 

              Introduction: Jesuits and the Sciences, 1540-1995


A remarkable characteristic of the Society of Jesus during the period of its
first founding (1540-1773) was the involvement of its members in the
sciences. The reasons for this interest in scientific study can be found in
the nature and mission of the order itself. Saint Ignatius Loyola considered
the acquisition of knowledge and the performance of mundane labor as
spiritually profitable tasks, and this fostered in the Society an
action-oriented, utilitarian mentality sympathetic to scientific study. In
addition, the role of the Society as the "schoolmasters of Europe" meant
that the pedagogically (and scientifically) useful principles of
rationality, method and efficiency were highly valued. The tight-knit
organization of the Society created among its members habits of cooperation
and communication, essential for the gathering and exchange of scientific
information. Finally, mission work in Asia and the Americas gave the Jesuits
opportunities and impetus to study and record the phenomena of these new


                     Jesuits and the Sciences, 1540-1620



Early Jesuit scientific investigations were for the most part conservatively
grounded in Aristotelian natural philosophy and the "classical" sciences of
geometry, astronomy, optics, statics and mechanics. Jesuit science during
the period 1580-1620 is characterized by commentaries on Aristotle, Euclid
and other ancient writers, and by the mathematical and astronomical works of
scientists such as Christoph Clavius. Works by Jesuits against magic,
demonology, alchemy and astrology are also common at this period, some
reflecting a belief in these practices, others written in an attempt by
members of the Society to differentiate superstition and pseudo-science from
true scientific investigation.


                        Christoph Clavius, 1538-1612

A professor at the Roman College, German-born mathematician Christoph
Clavius was known for his writings on arithmetic and algebra, and for his
work on Gregorian calendar reform. He was a friend of Galileo, but in this
commentary on medieval mathematician and astronomer Joannes de Sacro Bosco
Clavius condemns the Copernican theory of a sun-centered solar system as
both physcially impossible and as contrary to the Scripture.


Christophori Clavii Bambergensis ex Societate Iesu, In sphaeram loannis de
Sacro Bosco commentarius ... (Lyon, 1593)


Fabrica et vsus instrumenti ad horologiorum descriptionem peropportuni...
(Rome, 1586)

Works on measurement and instrumenation were another common feature of early
Jesuit science. Textbooks like this one by Clavius on sundials were
particularly popular, since the use of sundials and astrolabs was taught as
part of the science curriculum in many Jesuit colleges.


                  Giovanni Battista Mascolo, 1582 or 3-1656

Ioannis Baptistae Masculi Neapolitani e Societate Iesu De incendio Vesuuij
excitato xvij. kal. lanuar. anno trigesimo primo saeculi decimisptimi libri
X ... (Naples, 1633)

In this work Neapolitan Jesuit G. B. Mascolo records his observations of the
eruption of Mount Vesuvio in 1631. The illustrations record the appearance
of the volcano and the surrounding area before and after the eruption.


                     Martin Antoinem Del Rio, 1551-1608

In the early seventeenth century the modern distinction between science and
pseudo-science was not always made, even among the educated. Condemnations
of magic and astrology by Jesuit writers such as Del Rio and Nieremberg,
although generally written from a theological rather than a scientific point
of view, were instrumental in discrediting these practices.


Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex, quibus continetur accurata curiosarum
artium, & vanarum superstitionum confutatio, vtilis theologis,
iurisconsultis, medicis, philologis . . . (Mainz, 1612)


                     Jesuit college at Coimbra, Portugal

The science curriculum in Jesuit colleges was based primarily on the works
of Aristotle, Euclid, and the medieval mathematician Joannes de Sacro Bosco,
and the Jesuit professors often composed their own textbooks on these
authors. This handbook on Aristotle's and Parva naturalia is part of a
massive commentary on the works of Aristotle (known as the Cursus
Conimbricensus) published by the faculty of the Jesuit college at Coimbra,
Portugal during the last quarter of the sixteenth century.


Commentari Collegii Conimbricencis Societatis Iesu, in quatuor libros De
coelo, Meteorologicos & Parua naturalia, Aristotelis Stagiritae... Cologne,


                     Jesuits and the Sciences, 1620-1659



European scientific thought during the period 1620-1660 was dominated by the
revolutionary investigations of Galileo and others into the nature of the
solar system, and Jesuit writers such as Malapert, Grassi and Grandami
played no small part in the ensuing debate. As the chief proponents of
traditional Aristotelian cosmology, and hailed by many as the intellectual
champions of the Catholic Church, the philisophical and Scriptual arguments
of Jesuit writers against the Copernican theory of a sun-centered solar
system had influence.

                        Christoph Scheiner, 1575-1650

Disquistiones mathematicae de controuersijs et nouitatibus astronomicis,
quas sub praesidio Christophori Scheiner, de [sic] Societate Iesu . . .
publice disputandas posuit, propugnauit. . . Ioannes Georgius Locher...
(Ingolstadt, 1614)

A comparison of various ancient and modern theories of the solar system,
with emphasis on the new and controversial ideas of post-medieval
astronomers. Although he refutes the Copernican system, Scheiner praises the
observations of Galileo. The work contains one of the first illustrations of
the telescope, and an early map of the moon, with topographical details.



                         Jacques Grandami, 1588-1672


Noua demonstratio immobilitatis terrae petita ex virtute magnetica, et
quaedam alia ad effectus & leges magneticas, vsumque longitudinum &
vniuersam geographiam spectantia, de nouo inuenta... (La Flêche, 1645)

In this attack on the copernican theory, Grandami uses his own theories
about terrestrial magnetism in an attempt to prove the immobility of the
earth. It was probably inspired by Galileo's Dialogo dei massimi sistemi,
which was published in 1632. The author taught literature, natural
philosophy and theology at various Jesuit colleges in France.


                          Jean Ciermans, 1602-1648


Disciplinae mathematicae traditae anno institutae Societatis Iesu
seculari... (Antwerp, 1650)

An outline and celebration of the twelve major mathematical disciplines,
with fanciful emblematic engravings illustrating the practice of geometry,
arithmetic, optics, astronomy, &c.


                         Charles Malapert, 1581-1630


Austriaca sidera heliocyclia astronomicis hypothesibus illigata... (Douai,

Malapert used his observations on the comets of 1618, as well as the
movement of the stars in the Southern sky to refute the hypotheses of
Galileo and Copernicus.




Jesuit scientific writing during the second half of the seventeenth century
was dominated by the work of Althanasius Kircher and his followers. Kircher
wrote on an astonishingly wide range of scientific subjects, including
medicine, acoustics, geology, astronomy and mathematics. Although Kircher's
philosophy--a blend of science and superstition combining empirical
observation with magical and religious elements--seems strange to modern
eyes, it was seriously noted and discussed by many eminent scientists of the
time, including Descartes, Boyle and Leibniz. Although not in the mainstream
of seventeenth-century scientific thought, the works of Kircher and his
Jesuit contemporaries typify the complexity and diversity of scientific
writing of the period.


                        Athanasius Kircher, 1602-1680


Iter exstaticum coeleste, quo mundi opificium, id est, coelestis expansi,
siderumque tam errantium, quám fixorum natura, vires, proprietates,
singulorumque composito et structura, ab infimo telluris globo, usque ad
ultima mundi confinia, per ficti raptus integumentum explorata, novâ
hypothesi exponitur ad veritatem, interlocutoribus Cosmiele et
Theodidacto... (Würzburg, 1660)

In this work Kircher uses the narrative device of a fantastic voyage through
space to discuss his theories of the solar system. Accompanied by the "music
of the spheres," the two protagonists (Theodidactus and Cosmiel) travel
through the void to other worlds, and converse with the intelligent life
forms they find there.


Athanasii Kircheri è Soc. Jesu Scrutinum physico-medicum contagiosae luis,
quae dicitur pestis... (Leipzig, 1659)

An investigation into the nature of bubonic plague, prompted by an outbreak
of the disease in Naples during 1656. After examining the blood and urine of
plague victims under a primitive microscope, Kircher hazarded a guess that a
living organism (contagium animatum) might play a role in plague infection,
but he stopped short of propounding an actual germ theory of disease.



                     Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, 1595-1658


Oculta filosofia de la sympatia, y antipatia de las cosas; artificio de la
naturaleza, y noticia natural del mundo; y segunda parte de la Curiosa
filosofia, contiene historias notables, auerguanse muchos secretos, y
problemas de la naturaleza... (Barcelona, 1645)

The second part of the author's Curiosa filosofia; part one was published in
1630. Nieremberg's writings on "occult philosophy" and aspects of natural
magic such as the sympathy and antipathy of objects were a major influence
on the thought of Athanasius Kircher.


                          Gaspar Schott, 1608-1666


Physica curiosa, sive Mirabilia naturae et artis libris XII. comprehensa...
(Würzburg, 1667)

Gaspar Schott taught moral theology, mathematics and natural philosophy at
Palermo, the Roman College, and Wurzburg. Schott was Kircher's assistant at
the Roman College, and this work on monsters and deformities reflects some
of Kircher's more bizarre ideas about zoology.



                       Francesco Lana Terzi, 1631-1687

La nave volante... (Italy? 1784?)

A reprint of chapter 6 ("Fabricare una nave, che camini sostenata sopra
l'aria a remi, & a veli") from the author's Prodromo overo Saggio di alcune
inventione nuove . . . (Brescia, 1670). Although the concept of Lana Terzi's
"ship carried on air" is based on a fundamental error in physics and is
completely impractical, it is nevertheless an interesting early attempt to
design a flying machine.



                      Ignace Gaston Pardies, 1636-1673

La statique ou La science des forces mouvantes. (Paris: Chez Sebast.
Mabre-Cramoisy, 1674)