Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/745

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Current legends, stories, and travelers' observations, poor as they were, tended powerfully to stimulate curiosity in this field.

Three centuries before the Christian era Aristotle had made the first really great attempt to satisfy this curiosity; he had begun a development of studies in natural history which remains one of the greatest achievements in the story of our race.

But the feeling which we have already seen so strong in the early Church—that all study of Nature was futile in view of the approaching end of the world, indicated so clearly in the New Testament and voiced so powerfully by Lactantius and St. Augustine—held back this current of thought for many centuries. Still, the better tendency in humanity continued to assert itself. There was indeed an influence coming from the Hebrew Scriptures themselves which wrought powerfully to this end. In spite of all that Lactantius or St. Augustine might say as to the futility of any study of Nature, the grand utterances in the Psalms regarding the beauties and wonders of creation, in all the glow of the truest poetry, ennobled the study even among those whom logic drew away from it.

But, as a matter of course, in the early Church and throughout the middle ages all such 'studies were cast in a theologic mold. Without some purpose of biblical illustration or spiritual edification they were considered futile; too much prying into the secrets of Nature was very generally held to be dangerous both to body and soul; only for showing forth God's glory and his purposes in the creation were such studies praiseworthy. The great work of Aristotle was under eclipse. The early Christian thinkers gave little attention to it, and that little was devoted to transforming it into something absolutely opposed to his whole spirit and method. In place of it they developed the Physiologus and the Bestiaries, in which scriptural statements, legends, and fanciful inventions were mingled with pious intent and with childlike simplicity.

In place of research came authority—the authority of the Scriptures as interpreted by the Physiologus and the Bestiaries—and these remained the principal source of thought on animated Nature for over a thousand years.

Occasionally, indeed, fear was shown among the rulers in the Church even of such poor prying into the creation as this, and in the fifth century a synod under Pope Gelasius administered a rebuke to the Physiologus; but the interest in Nature was too strong; the great work on Creation by St. Basil had drawn from the Physiologus precious illustrations of Holy Writ, and the strongest of the early popes, Gregory the Great, virtually sanctioned it.

Thus was developed a sacred science of creation and of the