II. THEOLOGICAL EFFORTS TO CRUSH THE SCIENTIFIC VIEW.
Out of this belief was developed a great series of efforts to maintain the theological view of comets, and to put down forever the scientific view. These efforts may be divided into two classes: those directed toward learned men and scholars, through the universities, and those directed toward the people at large, through the pulpits. As to the first of these, that learned men and scholars might be kept in the paths of "sacred science" and "sound learning," especial pains was taken to keep all knowledge of the scientific view of comets as far as possible from students in the universities. Even to the end of the seventeenth century the oath generally required of professors of astronomy over a large part of Europe prevented their teaching that comets are heavenly bodies obedient to law. Efforts just as earnest were made to fasten into students' minds the theological theory. Two or three examples out of many may serve as types. First of these may be named the teaching of Jacob Heerbrand, professor at the University of Tubingen, who in 1577 illustrated the moral value of comets by comparing the Almighty sending a comet, to the judge laying the executioner's sword on the table between himself and the criminal in a court of justice; and, again, to the father or schoolmaster displaying the rod before naughty children. A little later we have another churchman of great importance in that region, Schickhart, head pastor and superintendent at Goppingen, preaching and publishing a comet sermon, in which he denounces those who stare at such warnings of God without heeding them, and compares them to "calves gaping at a new barn door." Still later, at the end of the seventeenth century, we find Conrad Dieterich, director of studies at the University of Marburg, denouncing all scientific investigation of comets as impious, and insisting that they are only to be regarded as "signs and wonders."
The results of this ecclesiastical pressure upon science in the universities were painfully shown during generation after generation, as regards both professors and students; and examples may be given typical of its effects upon each of these two classes.
The first of these is the case of Michael Maestlin. He was by birth a Swabian Protestant, was educated at Tubingen as a pupil of Apian, and, after a period of travel, was settled as deacon in the little parish of Backnang, when the comet of 1577 gave him an occasion to apply his astronomical studies. His minute and accurate observation of it is to this day one of the wonders of science. It seems almost impossible that so much could be accomplished by the naked eye. His observations agreed with those of Tycho Brahe, and won for Maestlin the professorship of astronomy in the University of Heidelberg. No man had so clearly proved the supralunar position of a comet, or shown so conclusively that its motion was not erratic, but regular. The young astronomer, though Apian's pupil, was an avowed Copernican and the destined master and friend of Kepler. Yet, in the treatise embodying his observations, he felt it necessary to save his reputation for orthodoxy by calling the comet a "new and horrible prodigy," and by giving a chapter of "conjectures on the signification of the present comet," in which he proves from history that this variety of comet betokens peace, but peace purchased by a bloody victory. That he really believed in this theological theory seems impossible; the very fact that his observations had settled the supralunar character and regular motion of comets proves this. It was a humiliation only to be compared to that of Osiander when he wrote his grovelling preface to the great book of Copernicus. Maestlin had his reward: when, a few years, later his old teacher, Apian, was driven from his chair at Tubingen for refusing to sign the _Lutheran Concord-Book_, Maestlin was elected to his place.
Not less striking was the effect of this theological pressure upon the minds of students. Noteworthy as an example of this is the book of the Leipsic lawyer, Buttner. From no less than eighty-six biblical texts he proves the Almighty's purpose of using the heavenly bodies for the instruction of men as to future events, and then proceeds to frame exhaustive tables, from which, the time and place of the comet's first appearance being known, its signification can be deduced. This manual he gave forth as a triumph of religious science, under the name of the _Comet Hour-Book_.
The same devotion to the portent theory is found in the universities of Protestant Holland. Striking is it to see in the sixteenth century, after Tycho Brahe's discovery, the Dutch theologian, Gerard Vossius, Professor of Theology and Eloquence at Leyden, lending his great weight to the superstition. "The history of all times," he says, "shows comets to be the messengers of misfortune. It does not follow that they are endowed with intelligence, but that there is a deity who makes use of them to call the human race to repentance." Though familiar with the works of Tycho Brahe, he finds it "hard to believe" that all comets are ethereal, and adduces several historical examples of sublunary ones.
Nor was this attempt to hold back university teaching to the old view of comets confined to Protestants. The Roman Church was, if possible, more strenuous in the same effort. A few examples will serve as types, representing the orthodox teaching at the great centres of Catholic theology.
One of these is seen in Spain. The eminent jurist Torreblanca was recognised as a controlling authority in all the universities of Spain, and from these he swayed in the seventeenth century the thought of Catholic Europe, especially as to witchcraft and the occult powers in Nature. He lays down the old cometary superstition as one of the foundations of orthodox teaching: Begging the question, after the fashion of his time, he argues that comets can not be stars, because new stars always betoken good, while comets betoken evil.
The same teaching was given in the Catholic universities of the Netherlands. Fromundus, at Louvain, the enemy of Galileo, steadily continued his crusade against all cometary heresy.
But a still more striking case is seen in Italy. The reverend Father Augustin de Angelis, rector of the Clementine College at Rome, as late as 1673, after the new cometary theory had been placed beyond reasonable doubt, and even while Newton was working out its final demonstration, published a third edition of his _Lectures on Meteorology_. It was dedicated to the Cardinal of Hesse, and bore the express sanction of the Master of the Sacred Palace at Rome and of the head of the religious order to which De Angelis belonged. This work deserves careful analysis, not only as representing the highest and most approved university teaching of the time at the centre of Roman Catholic Christendom, but still more because it represents that attempt to make a compromise between theology and science, or rather the attempt to confiscate science to the uses of theology, which we so constantly find whenever the triumph of science in any field has become inevitable.
As to the scientific element in this compromise, De Angelis holds, in his general introduction regarding meteorology, that the main material cause of comets is "exhalation," and says, "If this exhalation is thick and sticky, it blazes into a comet." And again he returns to the same view, saying that "one form of exhalation is dense, hence easily inflammable and long retentive of fire, from which sort are especially generated comets." But it is in his third lecture that he takes up comets specially, and his discussion of them is extended through the fourth, fifth, and sixth lectures. Having given in detail the opinions of various theologians and philosophers, he declares his own in the form of two conclusions. The first of these is that "comets are not heavenly bodies, but originate in the earth's atmosphere below the moon; for everything heavenly is eternal and incorruptible, but comets have a beginning and ending--_ergo_, comets can not be heavenly bodies." This, we may observe, is levelled at the observations and reasonings of Tycho Brahe and Kepler, and is a very good illustration of the scholastic and mediaeval method--the method which blots out an ascertained fact by means of a metaphysical formula. His second conclusion is that "comets are of elemental and sublunary nature; for they are an exhalation hot and dry, fatty and well condensed, inflammable and kindled in the uppermost regions of the air." He then goes on to answer sundry objections to this mixture of metaphysics and science, and among other things declares that "the fatty, sticky material of a comet may be kindled from sparks falling from fiery heavenly bodies or from a thunderholt"; and, again, that the thick, fatty, sticky quality of the comet holds its tail in shape, and that, so far are comets from having their paths beyond the, moon's orbit, as Tycho Brahe and Kepler thought, he himself in 1618 saw "a bearded comet so near the summit of Vesuvius that it almost seemed to touch it." As to sorts and qualities of comets, he accepts Aristotle's view, and divides them into bearded and tailed. He goes on into long disquisitions upon their colours, forms, and motions. Under this latter head he again plunges deep into a sea of metaphysical considerations, and does not reappear until he brings up his compromise in the opinion that their movement is as yet uncertain and not understood, but that, if we must account definitely for it, we must say that it is effected by angels especially assigned to this service by Divine Providence. But, while proposing this compromise between science and theology as to the origin and movement of comets, he will hear to none as regards their mission as "signs and wonders" and presages of evil. He draws up a careful table of these evils, arranging them in the following order. Drought, wind, earthquake, tempest, famine, pestilence, war, and, to clinch the matter, declares that the comet observed by him in 1618 brought not only war, famine, pestilence, and earthquake, but also a general volcanic eruption, "which would have destroyed Naples, had not the blood of the invincible martyr Januarius withstood it."
It will be observed, even from this sketch, that, while the learned Father Augustin thus comes infallibly to the mediaeval conclusion, he does so very largely by scientific and essentially modern processes, giving unwonted prominence to observation, and at times twisting scientific observation into the strand with his metaphysics. The observations and methods of his science are sometimes shrewd, sometimes comical. Good examples of the latter sort are such as his observing that the comet stood very near the summit of Vesuvius, and his reasoning that its tail was kept in place by its stickiness. But observations and reasonings of this sort are always the first homage paid by theology to science as the end of their struggle approaches.
Equally striking is an example seen a little later in another part of Europe; and it is the more noteworthy because Halley and Newton had already fully established the modern scientific theory. Just at the close of the seventeenth century the Jesuit Reinzer, professor at Linz, put forth his _Meteorologia Philosophico-Politica_, in which all natural phenomena received both a physical and a moral interpretation. It was profusely and elaborately illustrated, and on account of its instructive contents was in 1712 translated into German for the unlearned reader. The comet receives, of course, great attention. "It appears," says Reinzer, "only then in the heavens when the latter punish the earth, and through it [the comet] not only predict but bring to pass all sorts of calamity.... And, to that end, its tail serves for a rod, its hair for weapons and arrows, its light for a threat, and its heat for a sign of anger and vengeance." Its warnings are threefold: (1) "Comets, generated in the air, betoken _naturally_ drought, wind, earthquake, famine, and pestilence." (2) "Comets can indirectly, in view of their material, betoken wars, tumults, and the death of princes; for, being hot and dry, they bring the moistnesses [_Feuchtigkeiten_] in the human body to an extraordinary heat and dryness, increasing the gall; and, since the emotions depend on the temperament and condition of the body, men are through this change driven to violent deeds, quarrels, disputes, and finally to arms: especially is this the result with princes, who are more delicate and also more arrogant than other men, and whose moistnesses are more liable to inflammation of this sort, inasmuch as they live in luxury and seldom restrain themselves from those things which in such a dry state of the heavens are especially injurious." (3) "All comets, whatever prophetic significance they may have naturally in and of themselves, are yet principally, according to the Divine pleasure, heralds of the death of great princes, of war, and of other such great calamities; and this is known and proved, first of all, from the words of Christ himself: `Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.'"
While such pains was taken to keep the more highly educated classes in the "paths of scriptural science and sound learning; at the universities, equal efforts were made to preserve the cometary orthodoxy of the people at large by means of the pulpits. Out of the mass of sermons for this purpose which were widely circulated I will select just two as typical, and they are worthy of careful study as showing some special dangers of applying theological methods to scientific facts. In the second half of the sixteenth century the recognised capital of orthodox Lutheranism was Magdeburg, and in the region tributary to this metropolis no Church official held a more prominent station than the "Superintendent," or Lutheran bishop, of the neighbouring Altmark. It was this dignitary, Andreas Celichius by name, who at Magdeburg, in 1578, gave to the press his _Theological Reminder of the New Comet_. After deprecating as blasphemous the attempt of Aristotle to explain the phenomenon otherwise than as a supernatural warning from God to sinful man, he assures his hearers that "whoever would know the comet's real source and nature must not merely gape and stare at the scientific theory that it is an earthy, greasy, tough, and sticky vapour and mist, rising into the upper air and set ablaze by the celestial heat." Far more important for them is it to know what this vaponr is. It is really, in the opinion of Celichius, nothing more or less than "the thick smoke of human sins, rising every day, every hour, every moment, full of stench and horror, before the face of God, and becoming gradually so thick as to form a comet, with curled and plaited tresses, which at last is kindled by the hot and fiery anger of the Supreme Heavenly Judge." He adds that it is probably only through the prayers and tears of Christ that this blazing monument of human depravity becomes visible to mortals. In support of this theory, he urges the "coming up before God" of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and of Nineveh, and especially the words of the prophet regarding Babylon, "Her stench and rottenness is come up before me." That the anger of God can produce the conflagration without any intervention of Nature is proved from the Psalms, "He sendeth out his word and melteth them." From the position of the comet, its course, and the direction of its tail he augurs especially the near approach of the judgment day, though it may also betoken, as usual, famine, pestilence, and war. "Yet even in these days," he mourns, "there are people reckless and giddy enough to pay no heed to such celestial warnings, and these even cite in their own defence the injunction of Jeremiah not to fear signs in the heavens." This idea he explodes, and shows that good and orthodox Christians, while not superstitious like the heathen, know well "that God is not bound to his creation and the ordinary course of Nature, but must often, especially in these last dregs of the world, resort to irregular means to display his anger at human guilt."
The other typical case occurred in the following century and in another part of Germany. Conrad Dieterich was, during the first half of the seventeenth century, a Lutheran ecclesiastic of the highest authority. His ability as a theologian had made him Archdeacon of Marburg, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Studies at the University of Giessen, and "Superintendent," or Lutheran bishop, in southwestern Germany. In the year 162O, on the second Sunday in Advent, in the great Cathedral of Ulm, he developed the orthodox doctrine of comets in a sermon, taking up the questions: 1. What are comets? 2. What do they indicate? 3. What have we to do with their significance? This sermon marks an epoch. Delivered in that stronghold of German Protestantism and by a prelate of the highest standing, it was immediately printed, prefaced by three laudatory poems from different men of note, and sent forth to drive back the scientific, or, as it was called, the "godless," view of comets. The preface shows that Dieterich was sincerely alarmed by the tendency to regard comets as natural appearances. His text was taken from the twenty-fifth verse of the twenty-first chapter of St. Luke: "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring." As to what comets are, he cites a multitude of philosophers, and, finding that they differ among themselves, he uses a form of argument not uncommon from that day to this, declaring that this difference of opinion proves that there is no solution of the problem save in revelation, and insisting that comets are "signs especially sent by the Almighty to warn the earth." An additional proof of this he finds in the forms of comets. One, he says, took the form of a trumpet; another, of a spear; another of a goat; another, of a torch; another, of a sword; another, of an arrow; another, of a sabre; still another, of a bare arm. From these forms of comets he infers that we may divine their purpose. As to their creation, he quotes John of Damascus and other early Church authorities in behalf of the idea that each comet is a star newly created at the Divine command, out of nothing, and that it indicates the wrath of God. As to their purpose, having quoted largely from the Bible and from Luther, he winds up by insisting that, as God can make nothing in vain, comets must have some distinct object; then, from Isaiah and Joel among the prophets, from Matthew, Mark, and Luke among the evangelists, from Origen and John Chrysostom among the fathers, from Luther and Melanchthon among the Reformers, he draws various texts more or less conclusive to prove that comets indicate evil and only evil; and he cites Luther's Advent sermon to the effect that, though comets may arise in the course of Nature, they are still signs of evil to mankind. In answer to the theory of sundry naturalists that comets are made up of "a certain fiery, warm, sulphurous, saltpetery, sticky fog," he declaims: "Our sins, our sins: they are the fiery heated vapours, the thick, sticky, sulphurous clouds which rise from the earth toward heaven before God." Throughout the sermon Dieterich pours contempt over all men who simply investigate comets as natural objects, calls special attention to a comet then in the heavens resembling a long broom or bundle of rods, and declares that he and his hearers can only consider it rightly "when we see standing before us our Lord God in heaven as an angry father with a rod for his children." In answer to the question what comets signify, he commits himself entirely to the idea that they indicate the wrath of God, and therefore calamities of every sort. Page after page is filled with the records of evils following comets. Beginning with the creation of the world, he insists that the first comet brought on the deluge of Noah, and cites a mass of authorities, ranging from Moses and Isaiah to Albert the Great and Melanchthon, in support of the view that comets precede earthquakes, famines, wars, pestilences, and every form of evil. He makes some parade of astronomical knowledge as to the greatness of the sun and moon, but relapses soon into his old line of argument. Imploring his audience not to be led away from the well-established belief of Christendom and the principles of their fathers, he comes back to his old assertion, insists that "our sins are the inflammable material of which comets are made," and winds up with a most earnest appeal to the Almighty to spare his people.
Similar efforts from the pulpit were provoked by the great comet of 1680. Typical among these was the effort in Switzerland of Pastor Heinrich Erni, who, from the Cathedral of Zurich, sent a circular letter to the clergy of that region showing the connection of the eleventh and twelfth verses of the first chapter of Jeremiah with the comet, giving notice that at his suggestion the authorities had proclaimed a solemn fast, and exhorting the clergy to preach earnestly on the subject of this warning.
Nor were the interpreters of the comet's message content with simple prose. At the appearance of the comet of 1618, Grasser and Gross, pastors and doctors of theology at Basle, put forth a collection of doggerel rhymes to fasten the orthodox theory into the minds of school-children and peasants. One of these may be translated:
"I am a Rod in God's right hand threatening the German and foreign land."
Others for a similar purpose taught:
"Eight things there be a Comet brings, When it on high doth horrid range: Wind, Famine, Plague, and Death to Kings, War, Earthquakes, Floods, and Direful Change."
Great ingenuity was shown in meeting the advance of science, in the universities and schools, with new texts of Scripture; and Stephen Spleiss, Rector of the Gymnasium at Schaffhausen, got great credit by teaching that in the vision of Jeremiah the "almond rod" was a tailed comet, and the "seething pot" a bearded one.
It can be easily understood that such authoritative utterances as that of Dieterich must have produced a great effect throughout Protestant Christendom; and in due time we see their working in New England. That same tendency to provincialism, which, save at rare intervals, has been the bane of Massachusetts thought from that day to this, appeared; and in 1664 we find Samuel Danforth arguing from the Bible that "comets are portentous signals of great and notable changes," and arguing from history that they "have been many times heralds of wrath to a secure and impenitent world." He cites especially the comet of 1652, which appeared just before Mr. Cotton's sickness and disappeared after his death. Morton also, in his _Memorial_ recording the death of John Putnam, alludes to the comet of 1662 as "a very signal testimony that God had then removed a bright star and a shining light out of the heaven of his Church here into celestial glory above." Again he speaks of another comet, insisting that "it was no fiery meteor caused by exhalation, but it was sent immediately by God to awaken the secure world," and goes on to show how in that year "it pleased God to smite the fruits of the earth--namely, the wheat in special--with blasting and mildew, whereby much of it was spoiled and became profitable for nothing, and much of it worth little, being light and empty. This was looked upon by the judicious and conscientious of the land as a speaking providence against the unthankfulness of many,... as also against voluptuousness and abuse of the good creatures of God by licentiousness in drinking and fashions in apparel, for the obtaining whereof a great part of the principal grain was oftentimes unnecessarily expended."
But in 1680 a stronger than either of these seized upon the doctrine and wielded it with power. Increase Mather, so open always to ideas from Europe, and always so powerful for good or evil in the colonies, preached his sermon on "Heaven's Alarm to the World,... wherein is shown that fearful sights and signs in the heavens are the presages of great calamities at hand." The texts were taken from the book of Revelation: "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning, as it were a lamp," and "Behold, the third woe cometh quickly." In this, as in various other sermons, he supports the theological cometary theory fully. He insists that "we are fallen into the dregs of time," and that the day of judgment is evidently approaching. He explains away the words of Jeremiah--"Be not dismayed at signs in the heavens"--and shows that comets have been forerunners of nearly every form of evil. Having done full justice to evils thus presaged in scriptural times, he begins a similar display in modern history by citing blazing stars which foretold the invasions of Goths, Huns, Saracens, and Turks, and warns gainsayers by citing the example of Vespasian, who, after ridiculing a comet, soon died. The general shape and appearance of comets, he thinks, betoken their purpose, and he cites Tertullian to prove them "God's sharp razors on mankind, whereby he doth poll, and his scythe whereby he doth shear down multitudes of sinful creatures." At last, rising to a fearful height, he declares: "For the Lord hath fired his beacon in the heavens among the stars of God there; the fearful sight is not yet out of sight. The warning piece of heaven is going off. Now, then, if the Lord discharge his murdering pieces from on high, and men be found in their sins unfit for death, their blood shall be upon them." And again, in an agony of supplication, he cries out: "Do we see the sword blazing over us? Let it put us upon crying to God, that the judgment be diverted and not return upon us again so speedily.... Doth God threaten our very heavens? O pray unto him, that he would not take away stars and send comets to succeed them."
Two years later, in August, 1682, he followed this with another sermon on "The Latter Sign," "wherein is showed that the voice of God in signal providences, especially when repeated and iterated, ought to be hearkened unto." Here, too, of course, the comet comes in for a large share of attention. But his tone is less sure: even in the midst of all his arguments appears an evident misgiving. The thoughts of Newton in science and Bayle in philosophy were evidently tending to accomplish the prophecy of Seneca. Mather's alarm at this is clear. His natural tendency is to uphold the idea that a comet is simply a fire-ball flung from the hand of an avenging God at a guilty world, but he evidently feels obliged to yield something to the scientific spirit; hence, in the _Discourse concerning Comets_, published in 1683, he declares: "There are those who think that, inasmuch as comets may be supposed to proceed from natural causes, there is no speaking voice of Heaven in them beyond what is to be said of all other works of God. But certain it is that many things which may happen according to the course of Nature are portentous signs of Divine anger and prognostics of great evils hastening upon the world." He then notices the eclipse of August, 1672, and adds: "That year the college was eclipsed by the death of the learned president there, worthy Mr. Chauncey and two colonies--namely, Massachusetts and Plymouth--by the death of two governors, who died within a twelvemonth after.... Shall, then, such mighty works of God as comets are be insignificant things?"
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