Another weapon was also used upon the battle-fields of science in that time with much effect. The Arabs had made many noble discoveries in science, and Averroes had, in the opinion of many, divided the honors with St. Thomas Aquinas; these facts gave the new missile—it was the epithet "Mohammedan"—this too was flung with effect at Bacon.
The attack now began to take its final shape. The two great religious orders, Franciscan and Dominican, then in all the vigor of their youth, vied with each other in fighting the new thought in chemistry and physics. St. Dominic solemnly condemned research by experiment and observation; the general of the Franciscan order took similar ground. In 1243 the Dominicans interdicted every member of their order from the study of medicine and natural philosophy, and in 1287 this interdiction was extended to the study of chemistry.
In 1278 the authorities of the Franciscan order, assembled at Paris, solemnly condemned Bacon's teaching, and the general of the Franciscans, Jerome d'Ascoli, afterward Pope, threw him into prison, where he remained for fourteen years. Though Pope Clement VI had protected him, Popes Nicholas III and IV, by virtue of their infallibility, decided that he was too dangerous to be at large, and he was only released at the age of eighty, but a year or two before death placed him beyond the reach of his enemies. How deeply the struggle had racked his mind may be gathered from that last affecting declaration of his, "Would that I had not given myself so much trouble for the love of science!"
The attempt has been made by sundry champions of the Church to show that some of Bacons utterances against ecclesiastical and other corruptions in his time were the main cause of the severity which the Church authorities exercised against him. This helps the Church but little, even if it be well based, but it is not well based. That some of his utterances of this sort made him enemies is doubtless true, but the charges on which St. Bonaventura silenced him, and Jerome of Ascoli imprisoned him, and successive popes kept him in prison for fourteen years, were "dangerous novelties" and suspected sorcery.
Sad is it to think of what this great man might have given to the world had ecclesiasticism allowed the gift. He held the key of treasures which would have freed mankind from ages of error and misery. With his discoveries as a basis, with his method as a guide, what might not the world have gained! Nor was the wrong done to that age alone; it was done to this age also. The nineteenth century was robbed at the same time with the thirteenth. But for that interference with science the nineteenth century would be enjoying discoveries which will not be reached