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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/450

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the ancient world could be entirely smothered neither by eloquence nor logic, and St. Augustine himself began an effort to evolve from these germs a growth in science which should be "sacred" and "safe." With this intent he prepared his great commentary on the work of creation, as given in Genesis, beside touching upon the subject in other writings. Once engaged in this work, he gave himself to it more earnestly than any other of the earlier fathers ever did; but his vast powers of research and thought were not directed to actual observation or reasoning upon observation; the key-note of his whole method is seen in his famous phrase, "Nothing is to be accepted save on the authority of Scripture, since greater is that authority than all the powers of the human mind."[1] All his thought was given to studying the letter of the sacred text, and to the application of it by methods purely theological.

Among the many questions he then raised and discussed may be mentioned such as these: "What caused the creation of the stars on the fourth day?" "Were beasts of prey and venomous animals created before or after the fall of Adam? If before, how can their creation be reconciled with God's goodness; if afterward, how can their creation be reconciled to the letter of God's word?" "Why were only beasts and birds brought before Adam to be named, and not fishes and marine animals?" "Why did the Creator not say, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' to plants as well as to animals?"[2]

As to the creation of animals, Augustine curiously anticipates the Darwinian theory in his statement that birds take their origin in water. As to land animals, he holds that insects were not created "actually" during the six days, but only "potentially and virtually" so, since they sprang afterward from carrion.

Such was the contribution of the greatest of the Latin Fathers to the scientific knowledge of the world, after a most thorough study of the biblical text, and a most profound application of theological reasoning. The results of this contribution were most important. In this, as in so many other fields, Augustine gave direction to the main current of thought in Western Europe, Catholic and Protestant, for nearly thirteen centuries.

In the ages that succeeded, the vast majority of prominent scholars followed him implicitly. Even so strong a man as Pope Gregory the Great yielded to his influence, and such leaders of thought as St. Isidore, in the seventh century, and the venerable Bede, in the eighth, planting themselves upon Augustine's premises, only ventured timidly to extend their conclusions upon lines he had laid down.

In his great work on "Etymologies," Isidore took up Augustine's attempt to bring the creation of insects into satisfactory relations with the book of Genesis, and, adopting the theory of the ancient philoso-

  1. For citations and authorities on this point, see my chapter on "Meteorology."
  2. See Augustine, "De Genesi," ii, 13, iii, 13, 15, et seq., ix, 12, et seq.