Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/617

This page has been validated.
599
SPIRITUAL PIRATES.

"SPIRITUAL PIRATES."
By S. H. HAYWOOD.

PIO NONO has recently given to the world his infallible opinion concerning Tyndall and other modern scientists. To his apprehension they are "spiritual pirates, seeking to destroy the souls of men," and he undoubtedly has great faith in that high legal authority which says, "Pirates all nations are to prosecute."

From the Catholic stand-point the figure has a special significance. These fearless scholars have embarked upon the high-seas of scientific thought and research. Truth is the prize for which they seek. For its sake they are willing to float a flag which is always regarded as hostile by those who choose to remain forever anchored in the harbors of tradition and superstition. Along their track many a bright beacon has already been set, which marks the spot where some precious fragment has been redeemed and where some error has found its grave. But never has a ray of their light reached us without a struggle with the powers of darkness. Over all these highways of national and international thought the pope would gladly hold supreme jurisdiction. Free thought and free inquiry in almost any direction are fatal to some vital principle of Roman Catholicism. To match metaphors with his Holiness, they are spiritual sappers and miners, whose strokes tell fearfully among the foundation-stones of the Vatican.

We must concede consistency, at least, to this position of the Catholic Church. The genius of its religion is authority, and are not its subjects likely to lie stiller in the dark than when it is light about them? It is interesting and significant to notice how little its attitude toward theological or scientific inquiry has changed within the last three hundred years. Spencer in his philosophy of evolution, Darwin in his theory of natural selection, Tyndall in recasting the definitions of matter, are denounced in the spirit, and almost in the diction, of the sixteenth century. And how did it fare with Louis Agassiz, teacher, when he first ventured to assert the diverse origin of the human race? Some of us can remember. The overt acts of persecution which followed and tortured Galileo, Vesalius, and Giordano Bruno, are at present prudentially suppressed; but the spirit of the inquisitor still pursues the scientist into his laboratory or observatory, and insists that he bring thence nothing that does not harmonize with the creeds of to-day.

If the pope, Cardinal Cullen, the Dean of Manchester, and others under Catholic or High-Church influence and control, had gathered unto themselves all existing misapprehension, misrepresentation, and invective, in this direction, it were scarcely worth while to comment on a position so natural and a course so consistent with long-estab-