Wonder is the desire for knowledge… Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote, I Have Sworn Upon the Altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man, and in spite of the fact that this is an oath registered in Heaven it is most often quoted as support of his anti-clerical views and his grim determination to suppress any clerical intervention in the affairs of the new Republic. Most of those who use, or are familiar with,  that quotation could not cite the lines that precede or follow it and have little or no knowledge of the struggle by the Anglican Episcopal church to gain a position of preference at that time – it is enough for them to use it as a flail against the authority of the Church.

Repcheck’s book follows the accepted cultural wisdom that it took the renaissance and the reformation for man to liberate himself from the ignorance that the Church kept him in for its own selfish purposes. It amazes me that books can be published with so little knowledge of science as to ignore Hipparchus or Ptolemy – or the fact that cathedrals had long been built as heliocentric observatories or that from the 11th century forward most of the technology developed in the West had its origins in Cistercian monasteries. Some of this is no doubt history written for a specific purpose – which is to say it is far less concerned with the TRUTH than in promoting its own truth.

Just as there are hierarchies of most things – something is good, better or best based on objective criteria – there is a hierarchy of knowledge. There is sapiential knowledge which is the study of what our ends should be – a study that leads to the TRUTH – and there is instrumental knowledge which tells us how to achieve given ends – everything from how to ties our shoes to how to send a rocket to the farthest reaches of space – studies that lead us to the truth. When we are told, ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free [John 8:32], the truth being referred to is the TRUTH.

In a culture that is bedazzled by the fruits of instrumental knowledge – the true fruits of the renaissance and the reformation – it is of no apparent consequence that any quest for sapiential knowledge has apparently been abandoned in the larger society and Galileo and Copernicus, Newton and Einstein, Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs become the intellectual models, prophets and philosophers of our brave new world. In stead of wonder, curiosity and inquiry we are left with skepticism for anything that is not TODAY and that has its costs. Religious freedom – the first freedom – founded in skepticism about man’s ability to discover the truth, including the truth about God, will first become relativism [Of what greater value is Christ than Mohammed or Bhudda?] and then, since no definitive statements can be made, religion will be found to have no value and be discarded, first as unnecessary and then as unproductive and finally as counterproductive. When we have no AUTHORITY superior to the state to define our freedom we will have no freedom!

The Church founded its conception of man’s freedom in the dignity that God has invested in each person as a creature made in His image. As they further developed their distinctive synthesis of faith and reason, the Church sought to avoid two sets of errors. They rejected any fideistic [the doctrine that knowledge depends on faith or revelation] conception of the faith and its moral teachings that rendered them unreasonable or irrational. Secondly they rejected skepticism – doubting man’s ability to discover the truth, including the truth about God – because the human intellect  is a divine faculty meant to be used to understand God and His creation and is capable of doing so. Only by restoring sapiential knowledge to its primacy can we restore the true harmony of knowledge and best ensure the pursuit of instrumental knowledge for the benefit of all of God’s creation.

Copernicus’ secret: how the scientific revolution began New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007 Jack Repcheck Astronomers Poland Biography, Copernicus, Nicolaus, 1473-1543 Hardcover. 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed. and printing. xvi, 239 p.: ill., maps; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 197-216) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Nicolaus Copernicus is credited with giving the world what is perceived to be perhaps the most important scientific insight of the modern age, the theory that the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. He was also the first to proclaim that the earth rotates on its axis once every twenty-four hours. His theory was truly radical: during his lifetime nearly everyone believed that a perfectly still earth rested in the middle of the cosmos, where all the heavenly bodies revolved around it.

One of the transcendent geniuses of the early Renaissance, Copernicus was also a flawed and conflicted person. A cleric who lived during the tumultuous years of the early Reformation, he may have been sympathetic to the teachings of the Lutherans. Although he had taken a vow of celibacy, he kept at least one mistress. Supremely confident intellectually, he hesitated to disseminate his work among other scholars. It fact, he kept his astronomical work a secret, revealing it to only a few intimates, and the manuscript containing his revolutionary theory, which he refined for at least twenty years, remained “hidden among my things.”

It is unlikely that Copernicus’ masterwork would ever have been published if not for a young mathematics professor named Georg Joachim Rheticus. He had heard of Copernicus’ ideas, and with his imagination on fire he journeyed hundreds of miles to a land where, as a Lutheran, he was forbidden to travel. Rheticus’ meeting with Copernicus in a small cathedral town in northern Poland proved to be one of the most important encounters in history.

Copernicus’ Secret recreates the life and world of the scientific genius whose work revolutionized astronomy and altered our understanding of our place in the world. It tells the surprising, little-known story behind the dawn of the scientific age.


Comments Off on Wonder is the desire for knowledge… Thomas Aquinas

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments are closed.