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Francis Line, S.J.
(1595 - 1654)
the hunted clock maker



Line's intriguing sun-dial set up
in the court of his English preditors


A brief truce between an English king and Francis Line, S.J. who was the best dial maker of the kingdom


Unlike the Christian pessimist, Blaise Pascal who abandoned science because he found it incompatible with his theology, Jesuit scientists treated science as a window of God's grandeur and used its appeal in their apostolic endeavors. Science and mathematics maintained a place of honor in the curriculum established for Jesuit seminarians in the Roman College. Jesuit educators knew that "many a professor of philosophy has made no end of mistakes because of his ignorance of mathematics". In 1611 a school in Antwerp specializing exclusively in mathematics was established for young Jesuits skilled in the sciences. As a result, scientific inquiry of a high order flourished in the early Society.

During their first century the Jesuits were the only scientific society in existence anywhere. Their astonishing scientific experiments and publications contributed significantly to the growth of science but also proved suasive in establishing rapport with intellectuals otherwise hostile to Jesuits. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (PTRS) apologized to suspicious readers for its numerous articles by and about Jesuit scientists "whose goal it is to propagate their faith...but their plentiful correspondence from all parts of the world, their numerous excellent and useful observations on nature ... make some recompense for the destruction they have so long made of mankind." Unrepentant for said "destruction" these free spirits executed their remarkably bold and imaginative scientific innovations.

One such free spirit was the English Jesuit Francis Line (d. 1675) who entered the Jesuits the year that Robert Southwell was hanged, drawn and quartered, and in a time when those who harbored Jesuits in Merry England were crushed to death. To gladden their beleaguered fellow Catholics, exiled Jesuits returned to England on any pretext and occasionally their capricious persecutors even requested their assistance.

In 1669 King Charles II felt he needed a spectacular sundial for his garden in Whitehall. Francis Line, renowned dial maker and professor of physics in Liege, was chosen for the job. Some sort of gentleman's truce was arranged, Line came to Whitehall and built a elaborate dial modeled after his famous sundial at Liege. It was an immediate and immense success, and consisted of a series of glass spheres floating freely in fluid inside larger glass spheres. Because this fascinating sundial had interesting demonstration possibilities - even for inquisitors, a friend of Galileo requested Line to bring one to Rome to help Galileo defend the heliocentric theory. Although Line was willing, Galileo was not.

How seriously Line's scientific opinions were taken is clear from the passionate and immediate reactions of Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle to Line's objections to their positions on the nature of color and on the vacuum. In these disputes the Royal Academy decided against Line and in favor of Newton and Boyle, but Boyle acknowledged that these confrontations had the happy effect of forcing both Newton and Boyle to clarify imprecise language. When Francis Line persisted in his objections, Newton seriously considered taking up law as a less litigious enterprise.





Adventures of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

José de Acosta, S.J. - 1600: Pioneer of the Geophysical Sciences
François De Aguilon, S.J. - 1617: and his Six books on Optics
Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J. - 1787: and his atomic theory
Christopher Clavius, S.J. - 1612: and his Gregorian Calendar
Honoré Fabri, S.J. - 1688: and his post-calculus geometry
Francesco M. Grimaldi, S.J. - 1663: and his diffraction of light
Paul Guldin, S.J. - 1643: applications of Guldin's Rule
Maximilian Hell, S.J. - 1792: and his Mesmerizing encounters
Athanasius Kircher, S.J. - 1680: The Master of a Hundred Arts
Francesco Lana-Terzi, S.J. - 1687: The Father of Aeronautics
Francis Line, S.J. - 1654: the hunted and elusive clock maker
Juan Molina, S.J. - 1829: The First Scientist of Chile
Jerôme Nadal, S.J. -1580: perspective art and composition of place
Ignace Pardies, S.J. - 1673: and his influence on Newton
Andrea Pozzo, S.J. - 1709: and his perspective geometry
Vincent Riccati, S.J. - 1775: and his hyperbolic functions
Matteo Ricci, S.J. - 1610: who brought scientific innovations to China
John Baptist Riccioli, S.J. - 167I: and his long-lived selenograph
Girolamo Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his solution to Euclid's blemish
Theorems of Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his non Euclidean Geometry
Christopher Scheiner, S.J. - 1650: sunspots and his equatorial mount
Gaspar Schott, S.J. - 1666: and the experiment at Magdeburg
Angelo Secchi, S.J. - 1878: the Father of Astrophysics
Joseph Stepling, S.J. - 1650: symbolic logic and his research academy
André Tacquet, S.J. - 1660: and his treatment of infinitesimals
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S. J. - 1955: and The Phenomenon of man
Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. - 1688: an influential Jesuit scientist in China
Juan Bautista Villalpando, S.J. - 1608: and his version of Solomon's Temple
Gregory Saint Vincent, S.J. - 1667: and his polar coordinates
Nicolas Zucchi, S.J. - 1670: the renowned telescope maker

Influence of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

The 35 lunar craters named to honor Jesuit Scientists: their location and description
Post-Pombal Portugal opinion of Pre-Pombal Jesuit Scientists: a recent conference
Seismology, The Jesuit Science. a Jesuit history of geophysics

Another menu of Jesuit Interest

Jesuit history, tradition and spirituality

Visit the Jesuit Resource Page for even more links to things Jesuit.





Contact Information and Table of Contents for This Site
Mathematics Department
Fairfield University
Fairfield, CT 06430
email: macdonnell@fair1.fairfield.edu
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FAX 203-255-5947


These 13 polyhedra symbolize the 13 items of this page
which is maintained by Joseph MacDonnell, S.J.
They are the 13 Achimedean semiregular polyhedra.

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