It would be hardly just to dismiss the struggle for geographical truth without referring to one passage more in the history of the Protestant Church, for it shows clearly the difficulties in the way of the simplest statement of geographical truth which conflicted with the words of the sacred books.

In the year 1553 Michael Servetus was on trial for his life at Geneva on the charge of Arianism. Servetus had rendered many services to scientific truth, and one of these was an edition of Ptolemy's _Geography_, in which Judea was spoken of, not as "a land flowing with milk and honey," but, in strict accordance with the truth, as, in the main, meagre, barren, and inhospitable. In his trial this simple statement of geographical fact was used against him by his arch-enemy John Calvin with fearful power. In vain did Servetus plead that he had simply drawn the words from a previous edition of Ptolemy; in vain did he declare that this statement was a simple geographical truth of which there were ample proofs: it was answered that such language "necessarily inculpated Moses, and grievously outraged the Holy Ghost."[113]

In summing up the action of the Church upon geography, we must say, then, that the dogmas developed in strict adherence to Scripture and the conceptions held in the Church during many centuries "always, every where, and by all," were, on the whole, steadily hostile to truth; but it is only just to make a distinction here between the religious and the theological spirit. To the religious spirit are largely due several of the noblest among the great voyages of discovery. A deep longing to extend the realms of Christianity influenced the minds of Prince John of Portugal, in his great series of efforts along the African coast; of Vasco da Gama, in his circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope; of Magellan, in his voyage around the world; and doubtless found a place among the more worldly motives of Columbus.[113b]

Thus, in this field, from the supremacy accorded to theology, we find resulting that tendency to dogmatism which has shown itself in all ages the deadly foe not only of scientific inquiry but of the higher religious spirit itself, while from the love of truth for truth's sake, which has been the inspiration of all fruitful work in science, nothing but advantage has ever resulted to religion.


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The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.