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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/746

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

divine purpose in Nature, which went on developing from the fourth century to the nineteenth—from St. Basil to St. Isidore of Seville, from Isidore to Vincent de Beauvais, and from Vincent to Archdeacon Paley and the Bridgewater Treatises.

Like all else in the middle ages this sacred science was developed purely by theological methods. Neglecting the wonders which the dissection of the commonest animals would have afforded them, these naturalists attempted to throw light into Nature by ingenious use of scriptural texts, by research among the lives of the saints, and by the plentiful application of metaphysics. Hence even such strong men as St. Isidore of Seville treasured up accounts of the unicorn and dragons mentioned in the Scriptures and of the phoenix and basilisk in profane writings. Hence such contributions to knowledge as that the basilisk kills serpents by his breath and men by his glance, that the lion when pursued effaces his tracks with the end of his tail, that the pelican nourishes her young with her own blood, that serpents lay aside their venom before drinking, that the salamander quenches fire, that the hyena can talk with shepherds, that certain birds are born of the fruit of a certain tree when it happens to fall into the water, with other masses of science equally valuable.

As to the method of bringing science to bear on Scripture, the Physiologus gives an example in illustrating the passage in the book of Job which speaks of the old lion perishing for lack of prey. Out of the attempt to explain an unusual Hebrew word in the text there came a curious development of error, until we find fully evolved an account of the ant-lion, which, it gives us to understand, was the lion mentioned by Job, and it says: "As to the ant-lion, his father hath the shape of a lion, his mother that of an ant; the father liveth upon flesh and the mother upon herbs; these bring forth the ant-lion, a compound of both and in part like to either; for his fore part is like that of a lion and his hind part like that of an ant. Being thus composed, he is neither able to eat flesh like his father nor herbs like his mother, and so he perisheth."

The same sort of science flourished in the Bestiaries, which were used everywhere and especially in the pulpits for the edification of the faithful. In all of these, as in that compiled early in the thirteenth century by an ecclesiastic, William of Normandy, we have this lesson, borrowed from the Physiologus: "The lioness giveth birth to cubs which remain three days without life. Then cometh the lion, breatheth upon them, and bringeth them to life. . . . Thus it is that Jesus Christ during three days was deprived of life, but God the Father raised him gloriously."

Pious use was constantly made of this science, especially by