This site has been archived for historical purposes. These pages are no longer being updated.

Chapter 5
Partners and Rivals During the Scientific Revolution

"I think the most immediate remedy would be to approach the Jesuit Fathers, as those whose knowledge is much above the common education of friars." (Letter of Galileo to Piero Dini)

The Reputation and Influence of Jesuit Scientists

How highly respected the faculty of the early Jesuit schools were is evident from the frequency with which their own works, as well as commentaries on their works appear in learned journals such as London's Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (TRS) and Paris' Journal des Sçavans. Their names appear frequently in the early histories of science and are listed in learned societies such as Academie Royale des Sciences. How seriously their opinions were taken is seen also in their engaging in many controversies with contemporary scientists. As in the case of other Jesuit college endeavors their contributions were minimized after the Suppression of the Society in 1773. The Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB) raises this problem regarding past careless historians, false accusations about Jesuit scientists and the fact that after the Suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773 the Jesuits had no forum to defend themselves and to justify their claims to their scientific discoveries. Konradin D'Occhieppo refers to this as "the public defamation of the Jesuits then in vogue" (DSB, 6, p. 234). He was narrating the case regarding Maximilian Hell, S.J., the Jesuit astronomer accused of falsifying his data and who was not cleared of this calumny for over a century. By the time the anti-Jesuit feelings had subsided, irreparable damage had been done. Today's appreciation of Jesuits and their Companions is evident in modern versions of encyclopedias and in the numerous books written about their lives, in particular the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB).

Conor Reilly, S.J. has collected the TRS references to works of these Jesuits and their colleagues teaching in the Jesuit schools. He includes some rather remarkable (though reluctant and grudging) testimony concerning their prominence in the sciences. For instance, an apology to the readers of the TRS periodical was deemed necessary for any communication with Jesuits or their institutions. In 1667 the TRS founder Henry Oldenburg wrote to the famous physicist Robert Boyle about these Papists, insinuating that even though their motives were based on financial gain, they could be of some use to the learned members of the Royal Society. His archaic language has a strange ring to it.

[Jesuits] whose goal . . . is to propagate their faith, and to greaten and enrich themselves by their craft; though I deny not but some of them are also ingenious and curious in the matters of a philosophical nature; these that are so, are, I doubt not, obliged to communicate them to heretics, except they were sure they would be well requited for it.
(Reilly, 1958, p. 339)

Many readers of the TRS seemed convinced that the Jesuits had vices of heroic proportions. A certain Mr. Beale would not be swayed from that conviction, and to emphasize this point he once wrote a letter flattering Robert Boyle for his positive influence on these impossible, obdurate men, the Jesuits.

I am confident that by your philosophy you have converted these very Jesuits to make some recompense for the destruction they have so long made of mankind, that by their universal commerce, incessant industry, and bottomless purses we may receive [from them] useful intelligence and experimental information from all parts of the world.
(Reilly, 1958, p. 340)

Commemorative stamps of Jesuit Lana Terzi's1670 treatise on manned flight.
Robert Hooke presented a model of Lana's airship to the Royal Society.

In spite of all these suspicions, the many publications from Jesuit schools were translated and presented to the Royal Society by famous scholars such as Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and Samuel Johnson.

Thomas Birch's History of the Royal Society gives interesting connections between Jesuits and the Royal Society and it is to the credit of the first secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, that, despite his undeniable personal prejudices, he included accounts of the theories and discoveries of a considerable number of Jesuits. Actually it would have required a special effort to neglect them, because at that time Jesuits and their lay colleagues were astonishing Europe with their geographical and intellectual discoveries. New lands were still being discovered, people were eager for information about them, and Jesuits were in the forefront of both the exploration and the articulate reporting of their findings. It was obvious that their world-wide organization of highly educated men would be in a very favorable position for sending back valuable information to Europe. Oldenburg was well aware of these possibilities and made many efforts to enlist Jesuits and their colleagues among his overseas correspondents.

Early Jesuit laboratory for constructing telescopes

Faculty at the Jesuit schools were known for their independence and creative innovations. They also were highly respected by other scientists. In fact it is a challenge for historians to find a single significant scientist of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who was not in some way involved with Jesuits and their colleagues: as students, as teachers, as relatives, as collaborators, as adversaries, as rivals or simply as personal friends. Part of the reason was the many Jesuit schools. A more significant cause, however, was the sizable network formed by those schools, which the Royal Society of London was forced to acknowledge. Furthermore, Jesuits had an uncanny facility to be able to gather scholars who were willing to collaborate with them. In a recent study of the development of science God and Nature (1986) David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers the authors notice Jesuit emphasis on collaboration as especially important.

The Jesuits had a particular zest for experimental science; they were interested in every newly discovered phenomenon, from electrostatic attraction to the barometer to the magic lantern, and Jesuits played a major role in discovering many new effects on their own, such as diffraction and electrical repulsion. A recent history of early electrical science awarded the Jesuit order the honor of being the single most important contributor to experimental physics in the seventeenth century. Such an accolade would only be strengthened by detailed studies of other sciences, such as optics, where virtually all the important treatises of the period were written by Jesuits. . . . More significant than their numbers or their inventiveness is the fact that many of the Jesuits had a keen sense of the value of precision in experimental science-a sense that was not widely echoed by many of their more illustrious contemporaries. (Lindberg, 1986, p. 154)

One of the outstanding astronomers of the seventeenth century, the Jesuit, John Baptist Riccioli, S.J. authored Almagestrum Novum Astronomicum (Bologna, 1651) which contains the first lunar map to name craters after people - scientists - instead of after abstract concepts such as Tranquillity. A replica of this famous pioneer map stands at the entrance to the Moon Exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution.

Pioneer 1651 lunar map of Jesuit, John Baptist Riccioli, S.J.
Now preserved at the entrance to the Smithsonian lunar exhbit.
35 lunar craters are named to honor 35 Jesuit scientists.

In an attempt to develop an accurate pendulum, Riccioli once persuaded nine of his fellow teachers to count 87,000 oscillations over the course of a day, enabling him to identify an error of three parts in a thousand. Lindberg was fascinated by this collaboration and observed that: "It is instructive to remember that it was [this Jesuit] Riccioli - not Galileo- who first accurately determined the rate of acceleration of a falling body." He describes more in detail the early collaborative efforts of Jesuits.

Another admirable feature of the Jesuit scientific enterprise was their appreciation of the value of collaboration. One might well argue that the Society of Jesus, rather than the Accademia del Cimento or the Royal Society, was the first true scientific society. [The Jesuit] Kircher, the impressario of Rome, was more than a match for Mersenne and Boulliau in Paris or Henry Oldenburg in London, in his ability to collect observations and objects from a worldwide network of informants. More important, Kircher published this information in massive encyclopedias, which together with similar efforts from Schott and Riccioli, were as vital as the early scientific journals in disseminating scientific information. If scientific collaboration was one of the outgrowths of the scientific revolution, the Jesuits deserve a large share of the credit. (Lindberg, p.155)

The "Kircher", whom Lindberg refers to was a seventeenth century Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher, S.J. In 1956 in a speech at Loyola University in Los Angeles during an anniversary celebration of motion pictures, Cecil B. DeMille spoke of him. "The real pioneer of the movies is a Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher, S.J. who invented the magic lantern in the seventeenth century. It is interesting to note that this same Fr. Kircher was the first European scholar to call attention to the importance of Egyptian hieroglyphics."

William Ashworth also speaks of the effort made in the Jesuit colleges at collaboration with other scientists and at the mutual support they provided for the sciences.

The Society of Jesus in the 17th century contained within its ranks an astonishing number of enthusiastic students of the natural world. Indeed, for the first sixty years of the century, the Jesuits were the only scientific society in existence anywhere. At a time when experimental science was decidedly unfashionable, Jesuits were charting sunspots, calibrating pendulums, timing the fall of weights off towers, and devising a variety of ingenious inventions. Indeed, in the fields of geometry, optics, magnetism, cartography, mechanics, and earth sciences, most of the principal authorities throughout the century were members of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits were a remarkably bold and imaginative scientific body. (Ashworth, 1986, p.5)

Athanasius Kircher's Tower of Babel and his magic lantern

Of course, it must be remembered that these individual endeavors to discover, utilize and promulgate science were backed by one organization, the Society of Jesus. It was done before the epoch of "grants in aid" and "foundation funding". At a time when Jesuits caught in England were hanged, drawn and quartered and Englishmen who harbored them were pressed to death, the famous physicist and Protestant member of the Royal Society of London, Robert Boyle once remarked - in rather archaic English:
Among the Jesuits you know that [Jesuit] Clavius and divers others have as prosperously addicted themselves to mathematics as divinity. And as to physics, not only [the Jesuits] Scheiner, Aquilonius, Kircher, Schottus, Zucchius and others, have very laudably cultivated the optical and some other parts of philosophy, and [also did] Ricciolus himself, the learned compiler of that voluminous and judicious work, the Almagestum Novum. (Birch, 1944, p.5

Marin Mersenne

(1588-1648) Collaboration was also a strength of the Jesuit school graduates. One of them was Marin Mersenne who was a most remarkable man. Long before the proliferation of scientific societies he had the vision to develop a community of scientists. Mersenne was one of the Jesuits' most distinguished graduates: he disappointed his teachers though, only because he did not become a Jesuit but rather became a monk of the Order of Minims in Paris. He had studied in the newly opened Jesuit college of La Flèche and later studied theology at the Sorbonne. The Minims recognized that he could best serve God through an apostolate of the intellect, so he made a careful selection of savants who periodically met at his Convent de l'Annonciade in Paris or corresponded with him from all over Europe and beyond. Not only Jesuit scientists would meet in his cell to discuss mathematics and science but people like Gassendi, Descartes, Hobbes, Fermat and both Pascals. In fact, if one were to look through the 12" by 8" twelve-volume work of his correspondence, which is his monumental contribution as an architect of the European scientific community, one would find letters to and from virtually every significant scientist of his time. Mersenne's role as secretary of the Republic of Scientific Letters, with a strong point of view of his own, became institutionalized in the Academia Parisiensis, which he organized in 1635.

René Descartes: two 1937 stamps -
commemorating his "discours". The upper stamp
has an error in the title.
On right is Descartes' "folium"

Ohm's Law V = I R:

George Ohm, André Ampère & Alessandro Volta

It is rather surprising to discover that the three men whose names are linked in this famous formula were connected to Jesuit schools. George Ohm got his start by teaching in a Jesuit school, André Ampère attended one of their schools and worked for displaced Jesuit alumni during the 1830 Terror in France, and Alessandro Volta had for a short time belonged to the Jesuit Order. The names of these three men are among the best known in the world, since they are commemorated somehow on almost every piece of electrical equipment, whether it be by their actual names or the symbols for their names: , V or A. In fact, considering the possible danger which can come from electrical circuits, one is highly motivated to understand and remember the meaning of their names. There is no need here to detail their impressive accomplishments but only to relate them to the Jesuit schools.

After Pope Clement XIV (Lorenzo Ganganelli) suppressed the Jesuits in 1773, much of the property of the Society's 740 schools was either stolen or made over into a state-controlled system. The Jesuit Society's extensive science laboratories and libraries were broken up and the books either burned, sold or snatched up by those who collaborated in the Suppression. Ever since then the Society's books have been appearing throughout the world in private collections of book harvesters or in the great libraries throughout the world such as the British Museum and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The scientific models, electrical machines, air pumps, devices to illustrate the principles of mechanics, hydraulics and optics, as well as, state of the art apparatus aroused the admiration (for Jesuit education) of the many European scientists who acquired them. In his history of Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries J. L. Heilbron enumerates various types of apparatus which thrifty Jesuit scientists had accumulated and were then inherited by successors to these Jesuits and their colleagues when the Jesuits were forced out of their own schools. The Suppression of the Jesuits occurred in 1773, but it came early in France - in 1761.
[Jesuit school] Navarre's [pieces of equipment] number 235 pieces. Many other former Jesuit colleges had important instruments, for instance, Dijon, Poitiers, Puy, Epinal [which had two electrical machines]. These items found their way into the institutions that divided up the educational empire of the Jesuits [in France] in the 1760s. (Heilbron, 1979, p. 10)

Many of the previously Jesuit schools were kept intact, however, along with their libraries and laboratories. The responsibility for running the schools was passed over to other religious orders. Often, the lay teachers who had worked alongside the Jesuits were allowed to continue teaching in these schools. As a matter of fact some Jesuits also were allowed to stay, once they were released from their religious vows and incardinated into a diocese as diocesan priests. So in a real sense the work of the Jesuit scientists and their Companions continued after 1773. The "father of modern mathematics", Everest Galois, was to attend one of these post-Suppression Jesuit schools (Louis Le Grande). Gaspar Monge (1746-1818), the originator of descriptive geometry also went to one of these schools, Collège de la Trinité in Lyon, during this forty-year period of the Suppression of the Jesuits in France; later Gaspar Monge became a teacher of physics at the Jesuit school. Among the beneficiaries of these schools with all their wonderful laboratories were some illustrious physicists renowned for their work in electricity.

George Simon Ohm and Gaspar Monge

George Ohm (1789-1854)

George Ohm was born in Munich of Protestant parents who made sure that he received a fine education so that by 1811 he had earned his doctorate at the University of Erlangen. He started as an auxiliary instructor of mathematics at the overcrowded Bamberg Oberprimarschule. Then in 1817 Ohm was offered a position as teacher of mathematics and physics at the Jesuit Gymnasium at Cologne. By then the Jesuits had been restored (from the Suppression imposed by Clement XIV) by Pope Pius VII and were back in the classrooms. There Ohm found motivation to excel in teaching as well as research because of the scholarly and friendly environment. He found the school infused with enthusiasm for learning and good teaching. This atmosphere, enhanced by the existence of a well-equipped physics laboratory, stimulated Ohm for the first time to apply himself to physics enthusiastically.

George Ohm was liked as a teacher and two of his students were the famous mathematicians Jacob Steiner and Gustav Dirichlet, who later succeeded the great Carl Friedrich Gauss at the University of Göttingen, and there Dirichlet taught another great mathematician Leopold Kronecker. Dirichlet was quite grateful for his Jesuit education especially at the hands of his Protestant teacher George Ohm who, he relates, "gave him a thorough grounding in physics".

George Ohm found that at this school he was able to perform as many experiments as he liked in the two fields that fascinated him, electricity and magnetism. Ohm's life is recorded in Pioneers of Electrical Communication by William Appleyard. He tells of Ohm's arrival at the Jesuit school in Cologne where he found friends, modern apparatus, a good library, and, above all, greater freedom, responsibility, and appreciation.

The physical apparatus at the Jesuit Gymnasium of Cologne enabled him to proceed with the investigation of the galvanic circuit. He applied himself with complete devotion to his duties. His influence and his teaching were now, as in his future career, inspiring. Years afterwards, one of his students wrote: "His nature and manner, his fresh healthy disposition, remain vividly impressed upon my soul; seldom do weeks, and even months go by, but I must think of them."

His zeal never flagged; he directed his students towards the object which his own genius sought. In April 1826, he realized, however, that if he could break away completely from the restraints of teaching, he could establish the truth concerning electrical circuits. So convinced was he of this that he requested the authorities to grant him leave of absence for a whole year, undisturbed. Leave was accorded in a most gracious and generous manner. (Appleyard, 1930, p. 190-191)

At Cologne, surrounded by a fine collection of scientific instruments which Jesuits had built up over the years, George Ohm became adept at constructing needed apparatus. Also within himself he developed the most important requisite of a good experimental scientist: a thorough understanding of the capabilities and limitations of his apparatus.

His desire for a leave of absence came from the conviction that if he had the leisure to experiment and the solitude to think, he could produce a desperately sought-after law of electrical circuits. He went to Berlin to live with his brother and, undisturbed, succeeded in finally formulating what he had been working on at the Jesuit school in Cologne and which is now known as Ohm's law V= IR. It took a long time for his law to be recognized but finally in 1841 he received a medal from the Royal Society of London for his research. This was good news for George Ohm but bad news for the Jesuit school in Cologne where he had taught, because he never returned. The students would no longer have access to his wisdom and humor. His students recalled being thoroughly versed in mathematics and/or physics and just as thoroughly questioned: "Do you understand? Is it clear? Is it crystal clear?" Instead, in recognition of his discoveries he was appointed to a professorship at Munich. Not only Ohm's law connecting resistance, electromotive forces and current is named in his honor, but so is the unit of resistance - the Ohm.

André Marie Ampère

André Ampère (1789-1854)

Born in Lyon, André Ampère's early education was conducted in a deeply Catholic atmosphere which served him for his whole life. He was a child prodigy who was sadly deprived of opportunities since his childhood occurred during the French Revolution and its terrible aftermath. His education was eclectic and much of it on his own initiative. When he discovered that the works of Euler and Bernouli were in Latin, he quickly taught himself the language so that he could learn more applications of calculus. It is said that his memory was prodigious and his perceptive faculties were astonishing.

In 1800 Ampère was convinced by the famous mathematician, Joseph LaLande to go to LaLande's alma mater in Lyon which had been a Jesuit school before the Suppression of the Jesuit Order. Some Jesuits remained teaching at their schools after joining the diocesan clergy. The école Centrale had been well established at Bourg-en-Bresse since the fourteenth century, and later was named for the great astronomer Joseph LaLande who graduated while it was the Jesuit school in Lyon. It was here that Ampère made some of his important discoveries concerning electricity. The history of the school is described by Appleyard.

There was a communal school at Bourg as long ago as 1391. In 1572 it was enlarged and the lay personnel was increased. Ecclesiastical troubles followed, which brought the Jesuits to Bourg in 1614. A chair of philosophy was founded there in 1661, and it became, in 1744, a center of intellectual life, inspired by the astronomer LaLande. (Appleyard, 1930, p. 36)

After the death of his young wife and through the intervention of LaLande, Ampère was appointed professor of mathematics and mechanics at the école Polytechnique in Paris. Ampère joined Cauchy in the Association pour la Protection de la Religion Catholique, whose aim was "to unite the efforts of all persons of good will in order to defend the Catholic religion". This group sponsored schooling for the displaced students who had been attending the Jesuit schools and whom the French government abandoned after it closed the Jesuit schools and expelled the Jesuits during the Terror in 1830. Ampère, called the founder of electromagnetism, was the first to derive electricity measuring techniques. His name of course is commemorated in the unit of electrical current the ampere.

Alessandro Volta demonstrating his voltaic pile

Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)

Alessandro Volta made the first electric battery ("voltaic pile") by piling zinc and copper plates between cloths soaked in salt water so they are called voltaic cells. The father of Alessandro Volta had been a Jesuit for eleven years and Alessandro himself entered a Jesuit seminary for a short time. He interacted with Jesuit scientists for the rest of his life. He was a strong theoretician and claimed that some of his ideas on electricity were inspired by the Croatian Jesuit scientist Roger Boscovich (1711-1787). Alessandro was the first to make quantitative measurements on the potentials of charged bodies. After him is named the unit of electromotive force, the volt.

Alessandro Volta, his elecroscope, and the Voltaic pile

Otto von Guericke (1602-1686) and Gaspar Schott, S.J. (1608-1666)

Otto von Guericke attended the University of Helmstedt, worked as an engineer during the Thirty Years' War, served as envoy for the changing occupation powers and eventually became the mayor of Magdeburg for thirty more years. He was known as a very colorful Burgomaster and he devoted his spare time to experimentation. He was especially fascinated with the nature of space. "Could empty space exist, and is heavenly space unbounded?" he wondered. He followed the most recent physics developments and this brought him in contact with the Jesuits, in particular with Gaspar Schott, S.J. Descartes' denial of a vacuum intrigued von Guericke so he went to work trying to evacuate the air from a well-caulked beer keg. After finally solving the sealing problem he discovered the compressibility of air and thus invented the air pump. The discovery of the elasticity of air represents the most important result of all his experiments.

The Jesuit Gaspar Schott, S.J., became a recorder for the busy Burgomaster, von Guericke, whose experiments he published. Schott added detailed accounts of von Guericke's experiments on vacuums as appendices to his own massive books such as Mechanica Hydraulio-pneumatica (Wurzburg, 1657). He published the earliest account of experiments concerning atmospheric pressure. As a result, Schott became the center of correspondence, since other scientists wrote to inform him of their own inventions and discoveries. Schott exchanged letters with von Guericke, suggesting new problems, and then he would publish the results of von Guericke's investigations and experiments.

Gaspar Schott, S.J. also corresponded with both Constantin Huygens and his son Christian Huygens. Schott was the first to make Boyle's investigations on the air pump widely known in Germany. Even though Schott personally held the Aristotelian abhorrence of a vacuum, he was open to new experimental information and rendered great service to fellow German scientists by encouraging experimentation.

Jesuit Gaspar Schott's illustration of von Guericke's air pump

Like Marin Mersenne mentioned previously, Schott spread news of new investigations, observations and discoveries; he suggested fresh problems and encouraged controversies until a resolution was found. It was Schott's publication of von Guericke's research that stimulated Huygens and Boyle as well as others to extend the experiments and thus to improve the vacuum pump. The Dictionary of Scientific Biography [DSB] reports on the work done between these two colorful scientists, von Guericke and Schott, concerning the very dramatic experiment requiring 16 horses to pull apart a pair of 22 inch evacuated hemispheres in order to demonstrate a brand new concept - atmospheric pressure. The sly Burgomaster used two opposing teams of eight horses which was more dramatic than the required one team moving while the opposite hemisphere was fastened to a sturdy tree.

The most famous of Guericke's public experiments is the one of the Magdeburg hemispheres, in which he placed together two copper hemispheres, milled so that the edges fit together snugly. He then evacuated the air from the resulting sphere and showed that a most heavy weight could not pull them apart. Contrary to legend, the demonstration was performed with a team of horses for the first time in Magdeburg in 1657 (not Regensburg in 1654) and repeated at court in Berlin in 1663. Guericke also made other, less dramatic, public demonstrations of the effectiveness of air pressure on several occasions in Regensburg; these Regensburg experiments were reported by Gaspar Schott in Mechanica hydraulico-pneumatica (1657) and Technica curiosa (1664), and were supplemented by information that von Guericke communicated by letter. (DSB, 5 , p. 575)

Gaspar Schott's and Von Guericke's experiment at Magdeburg

Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647)

Evangelista Torricelli attended the Jesuit school at Faenza in Italy. In June 1644 he wrote two letters to a former Jesuit teacher, Michael Ricci, S.J., to describe his successful experiment with a 76-cm column of mercury which proved that vacuum exists. It was the first man-made vacuum; he went on to create the first barometer. The experimental models called "Cartesian devils" were invented by Torricelli, not by Descartes. When Pascal tried to take credit for Torricelli's experiments, Jesuit scientists corrected Pascal, an action which endeared them to Torricelli forever and precipitated a stormy relationship between Pascal and the Jesuits.

Torricelli served as the secretary for Galileo during the last three months of his life and found himself in bitter arguments more than once. His only book was Opera geometrica (1644), and he communicated to Marin Mersenne his greatest discoveries, all the time depending on Mersenne to relay them to other scientists.

Even though Torricelli is remembered for his discoveries in physics, he spent all his life doing mathematics. He had worked out twenty different ways to find the area of a parabola. In modern terms his process of dealing with the generalized hyperbola is an integral in Cartesian coordinates which is replaced by an integral in cylindrical coordinates. Cavalieri, Barrow and other pioneers of the calculus made use of the works of Torricelli.

The barometer, Torricelli and Athanasius Kircher, S.J.

Bernini's baby elephant in Rome, mounted by the
Minervan obelisk which Jesuit Kircher deciphered.

John Marcus Marci (1595 - 1667)

John Marcus Marci of Kronland (Bohemia) attended the Jesuit college in Jindrichuv Hradec (Czechoslovakia). He was taught by Jesuits Gregory St. Vincent, S.J., and Athanasius Kircher, S.J., for whom he had immense respect. He found a manuscript which no one could read and brought it to Kircher because of Kircher's work on universal languages saying: ". . . for such Sphinxes as these obey no one but their master, Kircher." It is now called the Voynich "cipher" Manuscript, probably about five-hundred years old, a scientific text (mostly biology) in an unidentified language called "the most mysterious manuscript in the world." Written by hand in an unknown alphabet on vellum, it has 102 leaves including 8 folding leaves with about 400 botanical and 33 astrological subjects in five colors. Some of the plants have been identified as peculiar to America, so the earliest date would be the time of Columbus. To this day no one has been able to decipher it! The present name of the manuscript "Voynich" is the name of the buyer who was willing to pay $160,000 "for a book no one could read." It once belonged to Athanasius Kircher and for centuries had been on display in his museum, The Kircher Museum in Rome.

Kircher's interest in interpreting the obelisks led him to such a thorough study of the subject that princes, popes and cardinals appointed him to decipher various obelisks. It was not until the discovery of the Rosetta stone in 1799 that anyone else had any success. In fact it was because of Kircher's work that scientists knew what to look for when interpreting the Rosetta stone. He has been called the real founder of Egyptology and is said to be the first to have discovered the phonetic value of an Egyptian hieroglyph. Already mentioned is the famous Minervan obelisk excavated in 1665, which stands in front of the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva resting on the back of a baby elephant by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680).

Pope Alexander VII requested Kircher to interpret the inscription. Both Bernini, the supreme artist and the Jesuit Kircher, the supreme Egyptologist supervised its erection and dedication to Divine Wisdom, as represented by Isis, Minerva and the Virgin Mary.

John Marcus Marci of Kronland as he has been known in history, specialized in embryology and taught for 30 years at the University of Prague; he spent his whole academic life trying to prevent the Jesuits, who ran part of the university, from taking control of the medical school. He and his fellow faculty members were a thorn in the side of the Jesuits, but shortly before he died he joined the Jesuit Order. His anti-Jesuit supporters were crushed and they referred to his entrance into the Society of Jesus as a betrayal of them as an admission of a failed life. The faculty at the Jesuit institution saw it differently - merely as a case of the dictum: "if you can't beat them, join them".

Jesuit vs. Non-Jesuit Scientific Confrontations

Robert Boyle vs. Francis Line, S.J.

The opinions of the scientists from the Jesuit colleges were such that fellow scientists were convinced that these opinions had to be challenged; so revered was the status of faculty in the Jesuit schools. One such instance was a philosophical dispute over the nature of a vacuum. The question became relevant after the publication of von Guericke's experiment by the Jesuit Schott. Robert Boyle's explanation differed from the Jesuit physicist Francis Line, S.J. As it turned out, both Boyle and Line were wrong. The course of the argument, however, forced each one to fine tune the language they were using.

Robert Boyle

Boyle published his work using the sweeping title: Defense of the doctrine touching the spring and weight of air . . . against the objections of Franciscus Linus,S.J. wherewith the objector's funicular hypothesis is also examined. Boyle's "spring of air" theory is no more acceptable today than is Line's "funiculus"; it was attractive then only because it was the less absurd of the two explanations.

Boyle apologized for the controversy but was convinced to publish it by his friends. Also since Line's theory was held by most Jesuits, Boyle felt he had to answer it. All this had the effect of changing the Jesuit Line's position and forcing Boyle himself to sharpen his language. In the course of the debate, Boyle showed his esteem not only for the Jesuit Francis Line, but for Line's colleagues "who with much civility wrote against them, never being the least bit antagonistic." Then, he quoted St. Augustine's words against an adversary, displaying rare humor between an English Protestant and a Jesuit.

In mala causa non possunt aliter, at malam causam quis eos coegit habere? (They cannot change a hopeless case, but who asked them to defend this hopeless case in the first place?)

Franz Anton Mesmer and Maximilian Hell (1720-1792)

Maximilian Hell, S.J.

Mesmer was born in Iznang, Germany, and attended the Jesuit University of Dillingen. His doctoral thesis, concerning animal magnetism, was inspired by the Jesuit Maximilian Hell; magnets were applied to his patients in the treatment of disease with remarkable results. Hell's experiments in magnetism applied to medicine involved uncharted ground, but by assuming unconventional premises Hell started something quite remarkable. Using lodestone he devised an arrangement of magnetic plates for the lessening of pain from diseases such as rheumatism from which he himself suffered. He met with considerable success in relieving the pain. His magnetic medicine attracted the attention of young Mesmer, who disregarded the magnets and developed a different, but even more peculiar theory of healing based on circulating cosmic fluids in the body. The hypothesis of both men were found to be groundless but eventually investigators of these phenomena made "mesmerism", or hypnotism, an accepted medical practice.

Mathematicians and Astronomers

Because of remarkable early successes, Jesuits were asked to open many schools throughout Europe. The norms for granting degrees, as well as, the types of subjects to be taught varied from place to place, so it was evident that some standard process was needed. After years of discussion and experimentation a proposed plan called the Ratio Studiorum emerged and was promulgated in 1599 by the Jesuit General Acquaviva. Mathematics would be a regular part of the curriculum in all Jesuit schools. While individual private schools already taught mathematics, this Jesuit Ratio was the first to impose a mathematics requirement for a complete educational system. Mathematics at that time came to include all kinds of applications: dyalling, gnomonics, geometrical optics, map-making, stereometry, plane and spherical trigonometry.

Christopher Clavius, S.J.

In later years many superiors, Robert Bellarmine among them, wrote letters urging care in the teaching of mathematics and the training of mathematics teachers. In his time Christopher Clavius, S.J., called "The Euclid of the Sixteenth Century", had the following observations to make about the training of mathematics teachers and the formation of a Mathematics Society more than three centuries before the birth of the American Mathematical Society.

To the end that mathematical studies be held in higher esteem . . . the mathematics teacher should run public disputations. Many a professor of philosophy has made no end of mistakes because of his ignorance of mathematics. That the Society may be able always to have capable teachers of mathematics, a number of men should be organized into a private academy for the study of all branches of mathematics. Otherwise it doesn't seem possible for these studies to survive, much less advance. (Phillips, 1941, p. 203)

A special school for advanced mathematics was started in 1611 at Antwerp by François d'Aguilon, S.J. and produced many Jesuit mathematicians. This demonstrated how serious the Jesuits were about mathematics. Other European Jesuits also developed similar mathematical schools which flourished for generations.

The effective influence of the mathematics faculty in Jesuit schools on the growth of mathematics should be evident from their original thinking, inventions, innovations, publications, teaching, correspondence and their determination to disseminate scientific concepts accurately. Their evaluation by their peers and later by professionals makes it even more evident. While there is no such thing as Jesuit science, it is certain that the sciences so familiar today would have a different form and encompass far less if these mathematicians had never existed. George Sarton spoke of the Jesuit mathematicians of these early centuries: "One cannot talk about mathematics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries without seeing a Jesuit at every corner". Some of the prominent mathematicians who were influenced by and who influenced the Jesuit mathematicians are impressive.

Galileo's experiment on acceleration due to gravity
(having been influenced by the studies of the Jesuit Niccolo Cabeo)

Kircher's presentation of the six possible world systems

Galileo Galilei 1564 -1642);

A celebrated visitor to the Jesuit Roman College was Galileo Galilei. His friendship with Jesuits started in 1587, when at the age of 23, he met the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius, and this friendship continued for the rest of his life. He once wrote responding to Clavius' approval of one of his theories. "Your Reverence's letter . . . has lifted me from my illness, since it has brought me the acquisition of so good a witness to the truth of my observations."

Some incorrectly claim Galileo was a Jesuit. He was not, but in 1589 he did go away to become a monk entering the monastery of Santa Maria in Vallombrosa (Italy) as a novice, against his father's will: and within the year his father took him out of the monastery. In 1611 the Jesuits of the Roman College honored him even though he had been embroiled in a dispute with Jesuit Christopher Scheiner concerning the discovery of sunspots. Later he demolished Scheiner's idea that sunspots were tiny planets around the sun. In his writings he attributed his interest in falling bodies to a "certain Jesuit father, Niccolo Cabeo, S.J." Cabeo was the scientist who in 1641 described a type of wireless telegraph, with the admonition that it would be impossible to realize in practice The Dominican scholar William Wallace, O.P., in his book Galileo's Early Notebooks (Notre Dame, 1977), has demonstrated by using the internal evidence of terminology, word order and symbols, that much of Galileo's teachings came from nine Jesuit scientists teaching at the Roman College, thus corroborating the research of other scholars such as A. C. Crombie and Adriano Carigo. After studying Galileo's manuscripts for fifteen years, Wallace found that Galileo's notebooks show considerable evidence of duplicating the notes of these nine teachers. Practically all of the material derives from textbooks and lecture notes which were being used by the Jesuits at the Roman College. References to these notes are available in collections like Sommervogel's Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jesus.

Evidence of their strong mutual friendship is the fact that it was to Jesuit scientists that Galileo was attracted in his early years. In 1588 this unknown young scientist wrote to Clavius asking about a center-of-gravity demonstration and expressed great admiration for Clavius. From the remarks in this letter, as well as in later letters, his esteem for Jesuits is quite evident.

I prefer Your Reverend Lordship's (Clavius) judgment to that of any other. If you are silent, I shall be silent, too: if not, I shall turn to another demonstration. . . . I know that with friends of truth like Your Reverend Lordship one may and ought to speak freely. Excuse my delight in dealing with you, and continue to grant me your grace, for which I supplicate you in every instance. Also gain for me the grace of the other, Father Christopher (Grienberger), your disciple, whose reputation for mathematical ability has aroused my highest admiration. (D'Elia, 1960, p. 8)

It was the Jesuit Honoré Fabri who first explained Galileo's experiment demonstrating equal time for falling bodies. Fabri taught Galileo's support of the theory about the motion of the earth around the sun, but his lessons came at an awkward time. Apparently only criticism of Galileo was expected from Fabri since he belonged to the Holy Office. His statement brought Fabri 50 days in prison under Pope Alexander VII; he was released only by the intervention of King Leopold II who needed him in the classroom. Still Fabri put a chapter in his Dialogi physici (1665) entitled "de motu terrae" (concerning the earth's motion).

The heliocentric world system was not widely accepted until 1760, after Copernicus' De revolutionibus had been removed from the Index (1757) due to the intervention of the Jesuit Roger Boscovich, who finally convinced Pope Benedict XIV that the earlier prohibition was an absurdity, and that perhaps removal came a century-and-a-half too late.

Roger Boscovich, S.J.

In a 1994 article in the periodical Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Mario Biagioli has a different way of viewing the Galileo vs. Catholic (and in particular Jesuit) dispute. It is forgotten that the Catholic church takes the full blame for objecting to the heliocentric theory, thus insinuating that other religious leaders of the time were more enlightened. Kepler found it quite the contrary because he felt he received much more abuse from his Protestant pastors than Galileo ever did from his Catholic hierarchy. Biagioli quotes two recent books on the subject, one by the same William Wallace mentioned above and another by the historian, Ugo Baldini. Wallace argues that Galileo was more Aristotelian than usually believed. More precisely, what Galileo shared with the Aristotelians was not their cosmology or their views on the causes of motion, but rather selected elements of their philosophical system (such as their theory of demonstration) and that he borrowed these elements not from traditional commentators but from Jesuit natural philosophers.

Baldini's outlook might also be formed by a reaction to the frequent misrepresentation of the Jesuits as the 'bad guys' who created so much grief for Galileo - a view that used to characterize much of Galileo's studies. In fact, his focus is not so much on Galileo and the Jesuits, but on the Jesuits' 'scientific mentality' as this was constructed through education practices and institutional dynamics like the tensions between them and the philosophers and theologians. (Biagioli, 1992, pp. 638, 643)

Blaming the Jesuits for Galileo's plight is no longer a tenable position among scholars and Biagioli's point of view is substantiated in a recent study concerning the relations Galileo had with the Catholic Church and in particular with the Jesuits. The author, Annibale Fantoli responded to a request of Pope John Paul II requesting scholars to "study the Galileo case, recognize the wrongs committed and dispel the mistrust that still opposes a fruitful concord between science and faith." In the course of this very frank evaluation (translated from the Italian by George Coyne, S.J.) Fantoli puts the work of the Jesuits in clearer perspective than previous authors. Among his many observations, Fantoli explains the Jesuit quandary.

[The Jesuit astronomers were convinced] that the Aristotelian Ptolemaic system could not be upheld, they would have provisionally adopted the cosmological views of Tycho Brahe, who avoided problems with Scripture. [The Jesuits] were not prepared to give up this make-shift position until truly conclusive proofs in favor of Copernicanism at the level of science were forthcoming. On the other hand, Galileo was not prepared to give such proofs. The Jesuits, therefore, like true scientists, would have felt it necessary to stay silent. . . . [Also it is] necessary to rethink the power to influence events which is customarily attributed to the Jesuits. In fact, I believe that some of the biographers of Galileo tend to attribute to the members of the Society of Jesus in general and to the astronomers of the Roman College in particular, an ability to influence the decisions of the Church of that time which is quite exaggerated. (Fantoli, 1994, p. 213)

A reminder of the tragedy in the Galileo case and Galileo's desire not to have the pope embarrass his own church is given in the title page of Fantoli's book as the author quotes Galileo in a letter to Dini on 23 March 1615: "I have no other aim but the honor of the Holy Church and do not direct my small labors to any other goal.

Johannes Kepler

Galileo's famous contemporary, Kepler, was from the time of his first visit to Rome, even more closely associated with the Jesuits than Galileo himself, both as a scientist and as a friend of the Order. For several years the members of the Order looked forward to the "conversion" of this great Protestant scholar.

The works of Johannes Kepler have been collected into eighteen huge volumes and published by Max Caspar. Among the curious items is one concerning Thomas Lydiat, the rector of Oxford, who, with obvious scorn, called Kepler's chronology of the life of Jesus Christ "that of the Jesuits". Kepler, smarting from the intended insult, wrote a criticism of Lydiat's book. (This occurred during the terrible English persecution of Catholics and in particular of the Jesuits.) "Judging by the way Jesuits are treated in England, it must be a great crime to hold Jesuit doctrine; but if Lydiat has no more serious charge against the Jesuits than that they approve the Keplerian chronology, by that very charge the conduct of his country stands condemned."

Johannes Kepler and the monument to him in his home town of Weil

Kepler had a long friendship with Jesuits even though he found himself in controversy with them. For example, strong criticism concerning Kepler's lack of mathematical rigor in using infinitesmals came from the Jesuit mathematician, Paul Guldin, S.J. In fact, Guldin was quite devoted to Kepler's studies and to his well-being. An edict had been issued that all non-Catholics had to move out of Linz; so when Kepler refused to capitulate and become a Catholic, he was exiled from Linz and had to move to Graz, thus cutting him off from Prague. In 1626 he had been thinking about becoming a Catholic, but the more he learned of the Catholic Hierarchy the less inclined he was to convert to Catholicism.

The Jesuit Guldin was concerned about Kepler's financial predicament as well as his inability to study the skies since he did not own a telescope. Another Jesuit Nicolas Zucchi was well known as a telescope maker; at the urging of Guldin, Zucchi brought a telescope to Kepler. Kepler, like a child with a new toy, wrote to Guldin of his gratitude for the latter's concern and kindness. It was one of many letters he would write to Guldin in his lifetime. One of the most touching letters was the dedication of his last book, The Dream by Johannes Kepler, the late imperial mathematician, a posthumous work on lunar astronomy (1634), published by his son after he died. In this work Kepler tells of his discoveries concerning the surface of the moon and describes an imagined trip there as well as how it might be inhabited. At the end of the book he publishes a long letter of gratitude which he sent to Guldin. In part it reads:

To the very reverend Father Paul Guldin, priest of the Society of Jesus, venerable and learned man, beloved patron. There is hardly anyone at this time with whom I would rather discuss matters of astronomy than with you. Even more of a pleasure to me, therefore, was the greeting from your reverence which was delivered to me by members of your order who are here. Fr. Zucchi could not have entrusted this most remarkable gift - I speak of the telescope - to anyone whose effort in this connection pleases me more than yours. Since you are the first to tell me that this jewel is to become my property, I think you should receive from me the first literary fruit of the joy that I gained from trial of this gift [the telescope]. (Kepler, 1634, p.165)

Matteo Ricci, S.J., a missionary to China:
The Jesuits in China were frequent correspondents
with Newton, Galileo and Leibniz.
On the right is Isaac Newton.

The Jesuits in China had much more success in dealing with Kepler than they had with Galileo as they attempted to keep abreast of astronomical developments. The Protestant Kepler wrote often in response to Jesuits' requests for information, and at the end of one letter expresses an ecumenical prayer for the conversion of the Chinese.

Quod ratum esse velit Is cui Pater aeternus gentes in haereditatem dedit, Christus Iesus, Deus et homo, Dominusque noster. Amen. ("May Jesus Christ, God and man, and our Lord, to Whom the Eternal Father gave the unbeliever as an inheritance, will it [the conversion of the Chinese] to be fulfilled. Amen.")

The close ties that existed between Kepler and the Jesuits is related by M. W. Burke-Gaffney, author of the book Kepler and the Jesuits.

Kepler became interested in stereometry when he went marketing with his wife. He watched a man gauging the contents of a barrel, and remarked that the method was not mathematically accurate. But nobody had ever worried much about the mathematics of a wine barrel. Kepler developed a speedy method based on Archimedes but it was not quite correct, as Father Guldin pointed out. Kepler had not a clear notion of an infinitesimal, but he sowed the seed of the notion. Indeed, his stereometry was a thought-provoking book. In endeavoring to improve upon this work, Father Guldin propounded two theorems, which were known as Guldin's theorems. (Burke-Gaffney, 1944, p. 122)

Another author who emphasizes this strong bond of cooperation between Kepler and the Jesuits is Fülöp-Miller who wrote a history of the Jesuits. He notes that unlike the Jesuits both scientists, Kepler and Galileo, were unhampered by hierarchical authority.

Kepler kept up a regular and close correspondence with Jesuits Scheiner, Grienberger and numerous other Jesuit scholars; the missionaries of the order in China occasionally asked his advice in difficult mathematical problems; and Father Zucchi, the inventor of the reflecting telescope, presented him with the first telescope which Kepler could call his own. When at first he was unable to get his Almanac printed, the Jesuit college at Ingolstadt at once assumed responsibility for the publication of this book. Moreover, the fathers came to his assistance in material difficulties. When in I600 Kepler was banished from Graz, Father Decker interceded on his behalf, Father Lang obtained permission for him to take up residence in Munich, and Father Guldin provided him with financial assistance and secured him introductions to influential people.

[Guldin] endeavored to convince the scholar [Kepler] that the Reformation was a mistake, and that the Catholic faith was the only true one. How presumptuous, said Guldin, was it to assume that a handful of novelty-seekers should suddenly claim to know better than all the early fathers, martyrs, bishops, monks, universities, and synods of the Church! "Forgive the frankness," wrote Guldin in conclusion, "with which I tell you all this; I have painstakingly tried not to use a single word which might in the least offend you.

Thus, despite all their good-will and understanding, and no matter how good a Catholic Galileo might be, or how good a Protestant Kepler, neither one of them, in his experiments, observations and theories, concerned himself at all with the question whether his conclusions accorded with the theological convictions of his Church. In the eyes of the Jesuits, on the other hand, ecclesiastical authority constituted an insurmountable limit. (Fülöp-Miller, 1930, pp. 400-403)

Augustin-Louis Cauchy (1789-1857)

The terms of Pope Clement XIV's decree to suppress the Jesuit Society mentioned no accusation against the Jesuits and more important, was deliberately vague, requiring promulgation by the secular ruler. As a result not all governments suppressed the Jesuits and in Russia Catherine the Great allowed the Jesuits to continue. They continued their educational works there. In 1814 Pope Pius VII revoked the edict of Suppression and restored the Jesuit Order to its original status in the church. During the intervening years many men had died, but the memory of their educational enterprises had not, so the new Society was flooded with requests to take over colleges, some of which they had run 41 years previously. In France alone 86 schools were offered to the Jesuits. One of them was their school in Lyons and one of their pupils was Augustin-Louis Cauchy. France, however, was still politically unstable and the Jesuits would be expelled more than once again.

école Polytechnicians during
the Terror of 1830 (Belhoste)

Cauchy was a very faithful member of the Sodality of The Virgin Mary, a religious and charitable organization which the Jesuits ran. Taking full advantage of the new political climate it prospered under the protection of the authorities. Little by little, the Congregation, as the Sodality was called, increased its activities and spheres of operation through its affiliate specialized organizations established to take care of charitable practices such as visiting hospitals, visiting prisons, and instructing young people in their catechism. Cauchy as a member of the Sodality was said to have "been absorbed from 'dawn to dusk' with charitable works."

As their Sodality grew the Jesuits were able to expand their activities, so that the 476 Jesuits who lived in France in 1826 exerted more influence than would ever have been possible without the 1200 members of their Sodality. Gradually many occupied leading positions in society but they were unable to prevent the fanatically anti-clerical Gallican party from causing the dispersal again of the Jesuits from France. Cauchy and 44 others founded the Association for the protection of the Catholic religion. The aim of this organization was "to unite the efforts of all persons of good will to defend the Catholic religion". In support of the expelled Jesuits, his friend André Marie Ampère joined the cause and helped Cauchy sponsor classes for the benefit of students who had been attending the Jesuit schools which were closed in 1830.

After the July Revolution of 1830 which brought new terror and new religious persecutions, Cauchy refused to take the required oath of allegiance. The consequence of this was that he would lose both of his chairs in mathematics at the école Polytechnique and at the Collège de France. So he left Paris for Fribourg where he lived temporarily with the Jesuits, and then went to Turin where he was helped by the Jesuits to find work in the Académie Helvétique project which was an educational program to assist students in obtaining their higher degrees. The arrival of this exiled French scientist was quite important for the progress of the sciences in Turin. There he had the complete support of the Jesuits who in turn had significant influence. The King of Sardinia established a chair in physics for Cauchy at the Academy of Sciences of Turin. Meanwhile France was still being consumed by chaos.

Eventually after a break of eight years French politics quieted down and Cauchy returned to France, but his closeness to the Jesuits hampered his professorial advancement. He once said that "the Jesuits are hated and persecuted because of their virtue." Belhoste testifies to the prejudice against him because of this loyalty to the Jesuits, by relating an incident shortly after Cauchy made clear his support of the beleaguered Jesuits of France. Cauchy's unfair treatment profoundly upset another great mathematician, Joseph Liouville. Belhoste tells how the enemies of the Jesuits demanded that the government expel them, while their defenders mobilized. One such was Cauchy who participated in a public relations campaign using a pamphlet listing the main arguments that were likely to appeal to men of science: the general spirit of sacrifice that motivated the religious orders, the Jesuits civilizing mission in Paraguay, the role that their colleges and students had played in the development of science, the value of Jesuit scholars, and the blindness of their enemies.

Augustin-Louis Cauchy and Joseph Liouville

On June 11, 1843, the assembly of the professors of the College de France met, with three candidates to be considered for the vacant chair in mathematics: Libri, Cauchy, and Liouville. That Cauchy would win the election seemed a foregone conclusion, because not only had several voting scholars assured him of their support, but Liouville had also declared in his letter of candidacy that should the assembly of professors choose Cauchy, he would be the 'first to applaud that choice'. Liouville, himself a very able mathematician, was disposed to defer to Cauchy, whose merits he acknowledged. Libri had already given clear and certain proof of incompetence as a mathematician when he had replaced Lacroix. Moreover, certain persons - the historian Michelet, in particular - were already aware of Libri's embezzlements.

On the first ballot, with 24 voting professors present, Cauchy received 3 votes against 12 for Libri and 9 for Liouville; on the second ballot, Liouville received 12 votes with 11 for Libri and 1 for Cauchy; on the third ballot, Libri carried 13 votes as opposed to 10 for Liouville and 1 for Cauchy.

That the professors at the College had chosen Libri caused a scandal in the mathematics community. The following day, June 19, 1843, Liouville sent a letter to Letronne, the Administrator of the College de France, in which he resigned his position as an adjunct professor, declaring that he was "deeply humiliated as a man and as a mathematician by what took place yesterday at the College de France".
(Belhoste, 1991, pp. 184-187)
Finally, Cauchy resumed his chair at the Sorbonne and he retained this chair even when Napoleon III reestablished the oath in 1852. Napoleon had exempted Cauchy from taking the oath of allegiance that had caused him so much grief in the past. Many of Cauchy's biographies emphasize that he was a devout Catholic who took a leading part in Jesuit-sponsored charities such as the Society of Saint Regis, named after the Jesuit Saint John Francis Regis, S.J., who had done the same sort of charitable work in France two centuries earlier. This Society worked to obtain civil and religious marriages for couples who were living out of wedlock and to legitimize their children, and in this charitable work Cauchy sought the help of fellow mathematicians. Cauchy also supported works to benefit Jesuit schools in the Middle East. Once, he served as a social worker in the town of Sceaux and spent his entire salary for the poor of that town. He is said to have reassured the concerned mayor: "Do not worry, it is only my salary; it is not my money, it is the emperor's." [DSB]

Interaction Between Jesuits and Other Mathematicians/Astronomers

Some of the non-Jesuit scientists who were Jesuit trained in one or other of the more than 700 Jesuit schools were Bossut, Jean Cassini, Descartes, Fontenelle, Ghetaldi, Guyton, Lagny, Lalande, Marci, Mersenne, Montucla, van Roomen, Torricelli, Valerio, Vivani, Volta, and Zanotti. The contributions of these men to science as well as their relationship to the Society are all listed in the DSB. Below is a brief summary of their contributions and the names of the Jesuit schools they attended. This list, of course, does not include all scientists who were Jesuit educated.

Jean Dominique Cassini (d 1712) was trained at the Jesuit college in Genoa and is renowned for discovering four of Saturn's moon and the cleft between Saturn's outer rings. Jean introduced a class of curves, the Cassini ovals (of which the lemniscate is a special case). The ovals were first described in print by another Jesuit-trained mathematician, his son Jacques Cassini.

René Descartes (d1650) was one of the most celebrated Jesuit graduates and always had great praise for the Society. Of LaFlèche he said, "This is where was planted the first seeds of all my later accomplishments and for which I am eternally grateful to the Society of Jesus." He has been incorrectly listed by some historians as a Jesuit. He wasn't, of course, but he had a nephew Philip Descartes, S.J., who was a Jesuit mathematician. As a student at LaFlèche René Descartes was allowed to sleep late because of ill health; later he said that he found these morning hours the most productive of the day.

Joseph LaLande (d 1807) also attended the college at Lyon and wanted to join the Jesuits but was unable to do so because of parental objections. He was one of the most prominent mathematician-astronomers of the century. It was his work that paved the way for the solution of the three-body problem. He organized observations for two of those rare spectacular astronomical events, the transits of Venus across the sun in 1761 and 1769.

The Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar in 1581 and was the result of the work of a commission appointed by Pope Gregory XIII and led by Christopher Clavius. For centuries, it was known that Easter was being celebrated on the wrong day, and sometimes with an error of twenty-eight days. For about 800 years many scholars of the stature of Roger Bacon had failed to solve the problem of the incorrect calendar. Of the many attempts to solve the problem, some were more precise, but required a thorough knowledge of astronomy to compute a date. Kepler, defending Clavius' simple plan, said: "After all, Easter is a feast, not a planet!" Joseph Scaliger, author of a competing plan, took the rejection of his plan less than gracefully and referred to Clavius as nothing more than a "German fat-belly". Later in a better mood, Scaliger acknowledged his esteem for Clavius saying, "A censure from Clavius is more palatable than the praise of other men."

Implementation of the plan was not an immediate and universal success. It had a fate similar to the adoption of the metric system in America today. The populace was quite upset and windows were broken in the houses of the European Jesuits who were blamed for the change. The Orthodox Church saw it as a Roman intrusion (which it was), and Protestant countries were understandably reluctant to accept any decree from the Pope. England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, while Orthodox Russia would require the Bolshevik revolution to do so.

Gottfried Leibniz

Gottfried Leibniz

Many of the mathematicians at this time, though not trained by Jesuits, were familiar with their books. Leibniz was inspired and enlightened by them, as were Huygens, Barrow, Desargues, Gregory, Lambert, Mercator, Boyle, and Newton, by their own admission. After meeting in Rome with the Jesuits on their way to the Chinese mission, Leibniz started a correspondence with them and sent a suggestion for explaining the Holy Spirit as part of a Trinity to the mathematically minded Chinese. He suggested using the analog to the square root of minus one as a sort of intersection of number and non-number. Leibniz was inspired by the work of Athanasius Kircher, S.J. to attempt to find an alphabet of thought which would enable all to speak of the creation of knowledge. Leibniz also wrote to Bernoulli in 1703, attributing his original interest in mathematics to the writings of Jesuit mathematicians, C. Clavius, S.J., Gregory St. Vincent, S.J. and Paul Guldin, S.J.. There were many strong friendships between Jesuit and non-Jesuit mathematicians/astronomers. The son-in-law of Tycho Brahe once told Christopher Clavius, S.J. that he should write more often to Tycho and that he should not hesitate to ask for anything, because even though Tycho Brahe was not Catholic he was not a bigot and in fact liked Clavius.

Pierre de Fermat

A frequent correspondent of Jacques de Billy, S.J. was Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665: this affected the work of both mathematicians. Fermat has been referred to as "the prince of amateur mathematicians" and has been called by Laplace "the true inventor of the differential calculus". He was a devout Catholic; his son Jean was an archdeacon and his daughters Catherine and Louise were religious nuns. Fermat is best remembered for "Fermat's Last Theorem"

D'Alembert, the angry Encyclopedist, in spite of his hatred for the Jesuits, came to Jesuit Roger Boscovich, S.J.for help when he was deprived of a mathematics chair which he felt he deserved. The chair had been left vacant on the death of Clairaut and d'Alembert was told that his field of mathematics was not suitable. In desperation, in a frantic letter written in haste and filled with grammatical errors, he begs Boscovich to help him. In a translation of part of this letter he implores"I ask you reverend Father, for the love which you have for me, to take this news to all the intellectuals of Italy who hold me in esteem."

The Jesuit Ignace Pardies, S.J.made his most important scientific contribution, not in his writings, but in his correspondence. It is there that we find the objections that Pardies expressed to Newton concerning his theory of colors and the "experimentum crucis" - objections that enabled Newton to clarify certain difficult points. Pardies was a temperate and courteous critic of Newton. He was a vigorous intellect, as is evident from his pedagogical writings and his contacts with the pioneers of geometry.

In the collected works of Robert Boyle and Christian Huygens, and in the correspondence of Isaac Newton, the number of references to Jesuit mathematicians and astronomers is extensive. The same can be said about the writings of Descartes, Mersenne, Gassendi and many others. The Jesuit influence was due in large part to the peculiar position of the Jesuit Society in the field of higher education and to its policy of encouraging scholarship in mathematics among its members. Perhaps because this influence was mostly indirect, it has been ignored by many historians. But frequently Jesuits were able to approach both sides in a dispute and bring a nasty argument to a happy conclusion. Conor Reilly and the DSB illustrate this point.

There were occasions when some of these Jesuits intervened at critical times. Pardies for instance, in a growing dispute between Newton and Christian Huygens. was able to bring an unseemly argument to an early conclusion. His correspondence reflected a vigorous intellect which forced Newton to clarify his thinking.

Christopher Clavius' correspondence was enormous, and some of it has been collected and preserved in the archives of the Gregorian University in Rome. Some light is thrown on the various personalities in the 291 letters of the collection. Tycho Brahe chided Clavius for not writing more often. The famous astronomer François Viete was concerned about Clavius' criticism because it got him into trouble with Rome. Encyclopedias speak of Viete as a Protestant, a Huguenot or an agnostic, even though he was baptized and died a Catholic. His letters to Clavius show him a serious practicing Catholic. Edward Phillips, S.J., has gathered together a commentary on this very interesting collection of letters to Clavius illustrating the far-reaching influence Clavius had.

Jesuit Francis Line's ingenious sundial
built at the request of King Charles II for his
garden at Whithall. (Described in the TRS)

Jesuit Francis Line, Galileo, Hooke, King Charles II

In the early seventeenth century building accurate (and imaginative) clocks was a valuable contribution of scientists. Some were better at "dyalling" as it was called than others. A rather celebrated case of "dyalling" is the water clock of the English Jesuit Francis Line, S.J., whose construction consisted of a glass sphere floating freely inside a larger glass sphere which was filled with fluid, making one complete revolution every 24 hours. The inner sphere rotated at a regular rate throughout the day in such a way that a little artificial fish, also floating in the fluid, pointed towards the hours of the day which were marked on a scale on the outer surface of the floating globe. After constructing one at Liege and keeping its workings secret, Line was asked by Nicholas Peiresc, a friend of Galileo, if he would bring it to Rome to help Galileo defend the heliocentric theory, because the unusual design was fascinating and had interesting demonstration possibilities, even for inquisitors. Although Line was willing, the unpredictable Galileo was not.

Later, Robert Hooke figured out how the mechanism worked and published it in the TRS. Line was referred to in the TRS as "Francis Line (alias Thomas Hall)" as if it were all one name. It was necessary for exiled English Jesuits to use aliases to protect their families from torture and prison. It also facilitated their moving in and out of England without being arrested. It was, after all, a time when those who harbored Jesuits in Merry England were pressed to death while the Jesuits themselves were hanged, drawn and quartered. In spite of all this, Jesuits desired to return on any pretext and sometimes their presence was even needed by the Loyalists.

In 1669 King Charles II felt he needed a sundial for his garden in Whitehall: it had to be the best dial possible, so Francis Line was chosen for the job. Some sort of gentleman's truce was arranged between the Jesuit prey and the English predator. Line built the dial himself, modeling it after the sundial he had built at Liege, and it was an immense success. Then he described it in Protestant England's very own periodical, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (TRS, 23, pp. 1416-1418). Later he published an illustrated book with the elaborate title:

An Explication of the Diall sett up in the King's Garden at London, an. 1669, by which besides the hours of all kinds diversely expressed, many things also belonging to Geography, Astrology and Astronomy are by the Sunne's shadow made known to the eye (Liege, 1673)



In these five chapters are found examples of lay and Jesuit collaboration in the fields of art, music, drama, mathematics and the sciences during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Examples, however, abound in other fields and other centuries. Today the members of the Vatican Observatory Research Group at the University of Arizona in Tucson collaborate with their fellow astronomers. The Clavius Group of lay and Jesuit mathematicians spend five weeks each year of community life researching mathematics. The Cosmos and Creation group of lay and Jesuit scientists meet every year at Loyola in Baltimore to discuss science and religion. Earlier in this century this collaboration was quite impressive in the burgeoning field of seismology partly because the Jesuit campuses offered a natural network of seismology stations to track earthquakes. That many members of the Eastern Section of the Seismological Society of America were Jesuits is evident from the large number of Roman Collars at the 1937 meeting held at St. Louis University.

Jesuit scholarly and educational works still attract energetic and talented women and men, and extraordinary collaboration of both women and men is still the hallmark of Jesuit schools. The Jesuit schools would have never survived four and a half centuries without these laity. These lay and Jesuit Companions attracted hundreds of thousands of bright students, men and women with very different personalities of awesome talent. In past centuries this select group included scientists such as Fontenelle, van Roomen, Torricelli, Valerio, Volta, Cassini, Fermat, Lalande, Mersenne; writers such as James Joyce, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Voltaire, Descartes; artists such as Rubens, van Dyke, Carissimi; dramatists such as Alfred Hitchcock, both Corneilles, Racine, Moliere and his friend Cyrano de Bergerac (who gave his name to Rostand's famous play). A similar catalogue could be made today of interesting people who have joined in the fun of Jesuit colleges and universities. As they say in the mathematics texts: "it is left as an exercise" for the reader to compose an up-to-date list of those alumnae and alumni who have been engaged in the challenging and exciting adventure known as Jesuit Education conducted by Companions of Jesuits.


Appleyard , Rollo Pioneers of Electrical Communication. New York: Books for Libraries, 1968

Ashworth, William B. Jesuit science in the age of Galileo. Kansas City: Lowell Press, 1986

Bacon, Francis The Advancement of Learning. ed. by Joseph Devey, New York: 1902

Belhoste, Bruno Augustin-Louis Cauchy. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1991

Biagioli, Mario Jesuit science between text&contexts. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. 1994, 25 #4,

Birch, Thomas History of the Royal Society. London: 1756

Birch, Thomas The works of the honorable Robert Boyle. 5 vols. London: 1744, 4

Boyer, Carl A history of mathematics. New York: Wiley, 1968

Burke-Gaffney, M. W. Kepler and the Jesuits. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1944

Child, J. M. The early mathematical manuscripts of Leibniz. Chicago: Open Court, 1920

D'Elia, Pasquale, S.J. Galileo in China. Cambridge: Harvard, 1960

de Morgan, A Contents of the Correspondence of the 17th and 18th century. London: Oxford, 1862

Fantoli, Annibale, Galileo For Copernicanism and For the Church. Trans. George Coyne, S.J. Rome: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 1994

Fülöp-Miller, René The Power and the Secret of the Jesuits. New York: Viking, 1930

Gillispie, Charles. C. ed., Dictionary of Scientific biography. 16 vols. New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1970

Godwin, Josceln Athanasius Kircher. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979

Heilbron, J. L. Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Berkeley: UCB Press, 1979

Linberg, David & Numbers, Ronald (Ed.) God and Nature. Berkeley: UCB Press, 1986

More, Louis Life and works of the honorable Robert Boyle. London: Oxford, 1944

O'Connell, Daniel "Jesuit men of science" in Studies in Irish literature and science. Dublin: 44 , 1955

Oldenburg, Henry ed. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. vols. 1-30. London: 1665-1715

Phillips, Edward "Correspondence of Father Christopher Clavius" in AHSI 8 1939

Reilly, Conor "A catalogue of Jesuitica in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London" in A.H.S.I. 27,1958

Reilly, Conor Francis Line, S.J., an exiled English Jesuit. Rome: I H S I, 1969

Riguard, S. ed.: Correspondence of Scientific Men of the

Seventeenth Century. 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1841.

Smith, Alan Science and Society. London: Harcourt, 1972

Sommervogel, Carolus Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jesus. 12 vols. Bruxelles: Societe Belge de Libraire, 1890-1960.

Struik, D. J. ed., A source book in mathematics, 1200-1800. New Jersey: Princeton, 1969

The Encyclopedia Britannica. 24 vols. Chicago: Benton, 1959

Wallace, William, O.P.: Galileo's early notebooks. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1977

Whyte, Lancelot Roger Joseph Boscovich, New York: Fordham, 1961

Wolf, A. A History of science, technology and philosophy in the 16th and 17th centuries. New York: Macmillan, 1959

Ziggelaar, August François d'Aguilon, S.J. (1567-1617) scientist and architect. Rome: Institutum Historicum, 1983

Return to Home Page