Science and Orthodox Christianity
Table of Contents and Abstracts, Almagest 8-2, November 2017
Following the expansion during the last three decades of “Science-Religion” studies, the last ten years have seen an effort to develop this field as far as it concerns Orthodox Christianity, an area which was neglected and even ignored by the community of historians of science.
In order to not repeat clichés or preconceived ideas about the relationships between science and Orthodox Christianity, access to the sources is needed. To implement part of this goal, an interdisciplinary team was organised in 2012 at the Institute of Historical Research / National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, Greece. The aim of the team was to gather Greek language sources about the subject and offer relevant metadata in English.
As in the case of Western Christianity, much of the contemporary literature about the relationships between Eastern Christianity and science is produced by writers belonging to the religious and/or political sphere. Therefore, in these works apologetic and polemical views prevail. Historiographical notions about complexity and reading the texts in context are not the rule for most of the writers. Offering the sources to researchers and to the interested public is but one step. To situate these sources in their historical context and relate them to their philological and philosophical tradition is the next one.
The Narses (Nature and Religion in Southeastern European Space) project (http://narses.hpdst.gr/ , funded by the Greek National Strategic Reference Framework Programme), tried to fulfil part of these two steps by developing a database of the Greek sources and by commenting on them in relevant articles, books, conferences and workshops. The SOW (Science and Orthodoxy around the World) project (http://project-sow.org/ , funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation) is expanding the research by developing a database of all languages used by Orthodox Christianity, by encouraging relevant publications, by organising conferences and other events in order to discuss the attitudes of Orthodox Christianity towards science today, and by promoting an interdisciplinary approach to the subject. Science and religion studies is a field where historians of science, philosophers, theologians, scientists and thinkers can and must meet.
The present thematic issue of Almagest presents some historical aspects of the relations between science and religion focusing on Orthodox Christianity. An introductory article by John Hedley Brooke and Ronald L. Numbers is exploring what happens when we try to incorporate the disparate religious traditions of the world into some kind of coherent narrative about science and religion. Anne Laurence Caudano’s article presents an intriguing anonymous cosmographical work that appears in a range of Byzantine and Slavic manuscripts dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. This brief text departs from other Byzantine scholarly works published at the time by upholding, rather curiously, that the earth has the shape of an egg. Michael H. Shank presents unknown aspects of the conflict between Cardinal Bessarion, a former Greek Orthodox metropolitan, and George of Trebizond. This conflict involved Ptolemy’s Almagest and shaped the history of astronomy through the writings and career of Regiomontanus. M. Shank argues that these conflicts mixed powerfully with geopolitics and religion. Flora Vafea deals with art, science and religion by presenting the astronomical instruments in Saint Catherine’s iconography at the Holy Monastery of Sinai.Tomislav Petković presents the role that the notion and epistemological interpretation of God played in Roger Joseph Bošković's work and thinking on natural philosophy. Due to his origin, Bošković is a pretty rare example of a Jesuit having been influenced by Eastern Christianity. This thematic issue concludes with an article by Kostas Tampakis dealing with the seminal influence of the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox tradition on the Greek State, from its foundation to the beginning of World War II.
These articles are the reworked versions of papers presented at the International Conference “Science and Religion” organised September 3-5, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The other papers of the Conference are open access publications on the web available at the following page:
John Hedley Brooke and Ronald L. Numbers
Into all the world: Expanding the history of science and religion beyond the Abrahamic faiths
This essay explores what happens when we try to incorporate the disparate religions traditions of the world into some kind of coherent narrative about science and religion. Unfortunately, there is no simple pattern, in part because notions of “science” and “religion” vary so much from culture to culture. Indeed, as the cultural historian David Livingstone once suggested, a precoccupation with how the relations between science and religion have been constructed in different societies might betray “a local Western perspective that is imperiously imposed on the rest of the world”. What we do know is that within one and the same religious tradition (whether Abrahamic or non-Abrahamic) there can be resources both for the encouragement and obstruction of the sciences.
Cosmography, asceticism and female patronage in Late Byzantine and Slavic Miscellanies
An intriguing anonymous cosmographical work appears in a range of Byzantine and Slavic manuscripts dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. This brief text – from three to eight folios depending on the codex – departs from other Byzantine scholarly works published at the time by upholding, rather curiously among other things, that the earth was oval, in the shape of an egg. Judging by the number of manuscripts – more than forty manuscripts for the Byzantine and Slavic world together – this cosmography was popular. The manuscript tradition is rather complex, however. Several versions of the text circulated and appear in a variety of manuscript contexts, from astronomical to ascetic compilations. Two of these ascetic codices will be the primary focus of this analysis: the Byzantine codex Scorialensis Φ III–11 (14th century) and the Serbian Miscellany of Gorica, or Goricki Zbornik (1441/1442). These manuscripts have been selected for several reasons. Firstly, the presence of a cosmographical text in an ascetic compilation illuminates quite well the place of elementary scientific knowledge in an Orthodox context. Secondly, each of these codices belonged to the aristocratic abbesses of a Byzantine and a Serbian convent: the Scorialensis belonged to Princess Irene-Eulogia Choumnaina (1291–d. c. 1355), patron of the Philantropos Soter monastery in Constantinople, and the Zbornik to the Nemanjid princess Jelena Balšić (d. 1443), who founded the Church of the Holy Mother of God on Gorica Island. Therefore, these codices are also remarkable illustrations of the kind of scientific knowledge available to nuns in Orthodox convents. Yet, what may originally appear as a strong commonality between two manuscripts should not lead us astray. Not only do these codices reproduce two different versions of the cosmography, but these versions also appear in very different contexts in the manuscripts, and thereby fulfill different objectives. While the cosmographical text contributed to medical knowledge in Irene’s codex; in Jelena’s case, the same cosmography belonged to a spiritual journey. Hence, and thirdly, these manuscripts are also good examples of the versatility of a text that was adopted for, and adaptable to, different didactic purposes.
Michael H. Shank
The Almagest, politics, and apocalypticism in the conflict between George of Trebizond and Cardinal Bessarion
In the mid-15th c., the conflict between Cardinal Bessarion, former Greek orthodox metropolitan, and the Cretan-born George of Trebizond is best known for its philosophical dimensions. Crucially, however, it also involved serious tensions associated with Ptolemy’s Almagest that shaped the history of astronomy through the writings and career of Regiomontanus. These conflicts eventually mixed powerfully with geopolitics and religion. In two letters to Mehmed II, George of Trebizond used his commentary on and translation of the Almagest to entice the Conqueror to convert to Christianity, take Rome, become the World Emperor, and thus hasten the end of time. The reactions of Bessarion and his circle to the letters in turn extended the controversy over the Almagest. This chapter concludes by arguing that the condemnation of George of Trebizond’s views and letters is the context of the scene on the left side of Piero della Francesca’s “Flagellation of Christ.”
The astronomical instruments in Saint Catherine’s iconography at the Holy Monastery of Sinai
The aim of this paper is to highlight the scientific instruments depicted in the icons of St. Catherine at the Holy Monastery of Sinai. St. Catherine, who became a martyr at the beginning of the 4th c., was of aristocratic decent and well educated. In the iconography up to 16th c., she is depicted standing and dressed with imperial garments, holding a cross in her hand. The Cretan school of iconography inaugurated a new model; the earliest known icon is that of the iconostasis of the Katholikon by Jeremiah Palladas (1612), where St. Catherine is depicted sitting, wearing a Venetian dress and surrounded by the wheel of her martyrdom and several symbols of wisdom, among them a fine elaborated astronomical instrument.
This instrument is composed of two different elements: a celestial globe and a system of nested spheres according to the Ptolemaic model of the world.
The celestial globe is close to that described by Geminos (~1st c. BC) and Leontius (7th c. AD). The equator, the tropics, the arctic and antarctic circles, and the zodiac divided into zodiacal signs are depicted in detail. The celestial sphere rests on a stand with a meridian and a horizontal ring.
The system of the concentric nested spheres has the Earth in the centre followed by the spheres of Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and that of the fixed stars.
Other detailed celestial globes are drawn in icons by Ioannis Cornaros in 1780. The tradition of drawing astronomical instruments near St. Catherine is found not only in numerous icons, but also in copper engravings and embroideries, stored in the Monastery.
R. J. Bošković as European Scientist and Theologian at Work on the Bridges between “Science & Religion”: Essay on Bošković’s top concept and epistemological interpretation of God
The notion and epistemological interpretation of God played a quintessential role in Bošković's work and thinking on natural philosophy (Roger Joseph Boscovich, Dubrovnik, 18 May 1711 – Milano, 13 February 1787). On the spiritual bridges between contemporary science and religion, this is astonishingly still a fundamental as well as an ultimate question. Bošković had perceived the question to be the most difficult challenge and he added theology in the form of an Appendix relating to metaphysics under the title The Mind and God (Anima & Deo) to his life's work: A Theory of Natural Philosophy. He considered the notion of God and proofs of the existence of God from the contingency of the world. This means existence which does not have a genuine cause and its own necessity according to the medieval latin contingentia (germ. Kontingenz) as a result of both the concept of chance (Zufall) and possibility (Möglichkeit) in theology that provides a cosmological foundation of God’s existence that emerges just from the world. In Christian metaphysics the non–contingent being is God himself. Bošković was also acting on such a thought horizon. He asked about the order of infinity: what number of combinations are related to the constitution and aim of the Universe? He answered mathematically: to the highest order, with respect to infinity of the kind to which belongs the infinity of any straight line which can be extended infinitely in both directions. Bošković considered the existence of the human determining will against that of a Supreme Founder. Man determines within the limits of human knowledge (the laws of Nature), whereas God (Infinite Founder of Nature) overcomes all the rest which is undetermined – uncertain. Bošković, here, had rejected Leibniz’s line of thinking because the idea of the best (pre-established harmony) of all possible worlds suffers a mathematical objection: amongst the possible there is no last term. A totality of all possible worlds can be comprehended and wisely overwhelmed merely by the Naturae Auctor, by his unique creation of the real world. Therefore, it cannot be argued as to argument against him whether he could or not make the world better. Or, perhaps, whether or not he already, did! According to Bošković, the idea that the Universe was produced by fortuitous chance or some necessity of fate were just empty phrases. In the arrangement of Nature, the Divine Founder of Nature has shown such great foresight and beneficence, but why didn’t he present himself to us through a revelation? However, if this had taken place done – Bošković concluded, it would not be a part of natural philosophy, as it would exceeding the basis of his capital Theory of Natural Philosophy. On the bridges between science and religion, Bošković had rejected the feign hypothesis, like Newton before him, particularly the view on the twofold truth: something may be true in philosophy of nature, but false in theology or vice versa. Boscovichianism, in this respect, has fortunately remained super partes in his own work. The addenda provide a selection and comments of the notions and expressions (names) of God in Newton’s Principia as well as in Boscovich’s Theory in a coherent way, by accounting for the interaction of contemporary science and religion.
Orthodoxy and science in the Greek State (1830-1939)
Scholarship on science and religion is almost as old as modern historiography itself, being both products of the 19th century. Seventy years separate J. W. Draper’s History of the conflict between science and religion (1895) and A. D. White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), from Von Ranke’s Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514, first published in 1824. It is thus perhaps fitting that the 19th century has prominently featured in historical scholarship on science and religion. It was after all, the century of Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel and Thomas Huxley, not to mention the devoutly Christian Michael Faraday and James Maxwell. And yet, as in most other periods and places, historical scholarship on the relationship between science and Eastern Orthodox Christianity during the 19th century is painfully scarce. This paper aims to describe the findings of project NARSES, inaugurated in 2012 to address exactly this question, as they apply to the first century of the Greek state‘s existence, from 1832 to 1939. After a brief introduction to scientific practice and the Greek Orthodox Church during this period, the article focuses firstly at the agents of public discourse concerning science and Orthodox Christianity during the first century of the Greek state. It then discusses the various points of contact, either polemical, friendly or asymptotic, between science and Orthodoxy during the same period. Finally, the article discusses some possible ways the findings of project NARSES interact with current historiographic considerations.