500 585 158
History of Science and Technology I
David Lindberg, “The Medieval Church Encounters the Classical Tradition:”
Revolves around Saint Augustine, Roger Bacon, and the Handmaiden Metaphor
Many people believe that European history known as the middle Ages - medieval period
(450 -1450) was a time of superstition, barbarism and ignorance Dark Ages.
Ills present in the dark ages that threatened literacy, learning and science blame laid on
o Alleged to have placed religious authority above personal experience and rational
o Extinguished intellectual activity that survived barbarian invasions of late antiquity
(transition between Classical Ages and Middle Ages)
Similar to late antiquity, early Middle ages saw a great deal of political and social turmoil
Literacy and learning state of decline in early period. However *accurate account* reveals
that learning grew from small beginnings to become a thriving body in later Middle Ages
o Important scientific achievements emerged during this time
Church maintained a relationship with natural sciences (adversaries, allies never
Classical Tradition philosophy, ideas etc.
o Gave rise to suspicion, hostility…ecclesiastical condemnation?
o Critical reflection about the nature of the world was tolerated and encouraged
o In order to understand the world, medieval scholars employed resources such as
inherited scientific ideas, personal observation, rational inference and religious
tradition more integrity
Two figures that have contributed mightily to the image of Middle Ages (medieval encounter
s vs. r):
o Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 -450)
Did more to determine medieval Christian attitudes towards pagan science Mohamed Dada
500 585 158
o Roger Bacon (ca. 1220 – ca. 1202)
Known for rejection of authority and his campaign on behalf of mathematical
and what he called “experimental” science.
Patristic Period – an era during which Christian doctrine were arranged into a systematic
code by a series of church councils and fathers (more specifically those that were
From closing decades of patristic period to first 75 years of middle ages what we now
regard as science were present: languages for describing nature, methods for exploring it,
factual and theoretical claims that emerged from such explorations (previous
philosophers), and criteria for judging truth for such claims.
Theology and religion participants in the investigation of truths of our natural world.
Patristic and medieval efforts referred to as “natural science” ancestors of modern scientific
Augustine and Bacon encountered natural sciences as elements of classical tradition.
o Included a variety of accumulated information ranging from teachings of Ancient
Greece, poetry, drama, history, political theory, theology.
o Also included rules of effective reasoning and arguments.
o Classical tradition devoted to nature included writings from famous philosophers.
o Range of topics (mathematics – medicine)
These were pagan writings outside the Christian domain.
Sometimes inconsistent with Christian doctrine (pg. 27)
As Rome extended its power, broad cultural contact between Greece and Romans (more
info on page) introduced a thinner version of classical tradition into Roman education.
o Romans limited to pieces of classical tradition that had been explain.
Early Church and the Classical Tradition:
Tertullian highly educated critic of classical tradition
o Extreme end of a broad spectrum of patristic opinion
o Christian religion as the fulfillment of Greek rationality Mohamed Dada
500 585 158
Classical tradition (pagan origin) clashed with Christian doctrine on fundamental issues,
including nature and identity of divine being, problem of good and evil, relationship
between creator and creation and sources of religious authority.
Many had been educated in the classical tradition before converting to Christianity and
had required habits of rational inquiry.
Many church fathers expressed limited approval of classical tradition
Augustine and the Natural Sciences:
Church father who most influentially defined the proper attitude of medieval Christians
toward pagan learning.
A convert to Christianity; bishop of Hippo in N. Africa
Prolific writer on books on theological and philosophical topics many suggest negative
attitude towards pagan learning.
Expresses astounding regret for the effort he devoted in mastering liberal arts (logic,
geometry, arithmetic etc.).
Opposed false or heretical reasoning; skeptical of any large-scale investments in the
Rational activity properly grounded in a “life of faith”
Anything that challenged Christian teachings that were in the classical tradition were
detested and dismissed; claimed as false reasoning.
o Augustine “directed to ‘ward’ objects having negligible religious reference”
Augustine placed low priority on rational and empirical investigation of our material world
Augustine cautioned should not be alarmed if Christians are ignorant of the natural
knowledge contained in the classical tradition.