Technology has now reached such dizzying heights that it attempts to give us here and now the Empyrean that Galileo's telescope neglected to find. How has it worked? Perhaps that should be the subject of another discussion. All the same, it is interesting to note that modern science is still attempting to explain the mysteries of the universe that in the medieval world were simply accepted on faith as part of the Faith revealed by God. Today, that God is dead (as Nietzsche tells us), and we are left creating new myths of Supermen, whom we adore in droves at the cinemas every year. What does it all mean?
These are interesting points for speculation.
If we look at the reaction to Galileo's article in the Starry Messenger in 1610, we find both approval and condemnation. The Carmelite Foscarini, for example, was in favor of pursuing Galileo's discoveries. The Holy Office, however, condemned the Copernican model as "false and absurd, formally heretical and contrary to Scripture." (Spielvogel 329). Because of the official condemnation, new scientific inquiries, stifled now in Italy, had to be initiated by other Europeans, such as Isaac Newton.
However, if Italy turned away from the Heavens, it turned toward Man. Andreas Vesalius was a Belgian who studied medicine at the University of Padua, where he later became a professor of surgery. Thanks to the artistic strengths of the Italian Renaissance, Vesalius was able to produce a book that dispelled many of the errors expounded by the hitherto authority on anatomy, the ancient Greek physician Galen.
And thanks to Johannes Gutenberg's printing press out of Germany, books could be printed and sold all over Europe, which made it impossible for the Church to quarantine anyone's ideas for very long -- especially those of Copernicus and Galileo.
An example of just how popular the printing press had become by the early 1600s can be found in Cervantes' masterpiece of literature Don Quixote. In the second part of the novel, Quixote finds himself at a printing press which is publishing the exploits of the infamous knight before they have even happened. Quixote is highly perturbed to find himself the victim of such an abuse of printing power. and, sure enough, copies of a false Quixote begin circulating all over Spain to the agitation of the hero.
Despite what cannot be mistaken as anything but a warning by Cervantes, the power of the printing press was unstoppable -- and has only been surpassed by the power of telecommunications today, most notably by the Internet. What would Quixote have to say about the phenomenon of Twitter, I wonder?
Nonetheless, the Italian Renaissance was not strictly concerned with what went on in the Heavens and what went on inside Man. It was also concerned with how man dealt with his fellow man -- especially in war. Some of the greatest architects of fortified dwellings were Renaissance Italians. For example, the famed four hundred-year-old Bassein Fort built under the watchful eye of the colonizing Portuguese on the outskirts of modern-day Mumbai in India, had an Italian as its architect (Parker 13). The design of its bastions helped the fort to withstand several enemy attacks. Only the capitulation of governments allowed the churches and sanctuaries inside to be raided and destroyed. The walls of the amazing fort still stand firm today.
As our century has shown, war is big business. The science of technology in the Italian Renaissance surely helped assist this business. However, such assistance is only one aspect of the Italian Renaissance that helped shaped the coming centuries. Perhaps what is most significant remains that invention of the "Father of Astronomy" Galileo, whose pointing of a Flemish-design magnifying glass at the sky served to reshape man's sense of place and self, especially with regard to God and the universe. Galileo excited an interest in an alternative way of thinking -- in an alternative model of our world. This alternative model opened the doors to an alternative way of living.
But what have been the effects?
If Ben Stein is to be believed, the current academic world is just as inimical to the idea of medieval scholastics as medieval scholastics, with its geocentric vision, was inimical to heliocentrism and the reduction of God's Divine Word. In his 2008 film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Stein gives us a number of examples of professors who were marginalized in academia precisely for asserting a hierarchical, mythical vision of the universe in which a Creator plays a role. Is this ironic? Or simply a matter of course?
Solange Hertz says of heliocentrism that it warped the philosophical viewpoint of man. It made man a random being on a random rock in an utterly random and accidental universe. It also, she explains, disconnected his reason from his senses. For example, whereas in a geocentric model, any man can look up and see the sun moving across the sky as though circling the earth; in a heliocentric model, man must dissociate what he sees with what he "knows" -- that the sun is not moving, but rather the earth. In terms of philosophy, this dislocation of the senses from reality played a major role in the ideas of French philosopher Rene Descartes and German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant virtually asked the question, "How can you know what is real?" And the answer seemed to be, "You can't."
Perhaps it is for reasons such as these that Edward Albee's 2001 play the Goat, or Who is Sylvia? was subtitled: Notes toward the definition of a tragedy. Perhaps it is an attempt to reach back to the Philosopher so elevated by Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, a voluminous book that attempted to define so much. Perhaps it is an attempt to recognize that which we lack in America today: adequate definition (as opposed to politically correct sentiment). After all, the ancient Greeks had no problem defining the tragic genre in their golden age of theater. Shakespeare at the end of the medieval world and the beginning of the modern age re-defined it just as answers about everything were being called into question. Four hundred years later, Albee seems to feel the absence of anything absolute -- and seems to present in his play the need to find it.
Then again, is Albee of any consequence? More people have logged more hours on YouTube than on any of Albee's plays -- or so I presume.
Interestingly enough, if pop culture is any frame of reference, a recent episode of the animated cartoon for adults South Park showed a futuristic society that had utterly replaced the authority of God with the authority of Science, to such an extent that when anyone wished to curse he or she exclaimed: "Science damn you!" No two guys are better at digging up controversy than Parker and Stone. Perhaps the controversy that made Robert Bellarmine write to Antonio Foscarini in 1615 is not so dead after all.
Albee, Edward. The Goat. Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 2003. Edward Albee's play connects only peripherally to the subject of science in the Italian Renaissance. But what is at its core is strikingly similar to what seems to be at the core of the debate between modern science and old religion: definition. In the play, the main character tries to re-define love to include acts of bestiality. This does not go over well with his wife. Battle ensues. Through the consequent eruption, some revealing ideas are expressed pertaining to reason and a sort of primordial sense of right and wrong.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican
Province. Thomas Aquinas. Christian Classics Ethereal Library,1998. Web. 22
Feb 2011. . This site gives Aquinas in full. Much time can be spent on the many details of the Summa, but for a cursory glance of his teachings, a smaller, portable volume would be helpful. For quick access to certain points, however, this web edition is perfect.
Hertz, Solange. Beyond Politics. Veritas Press, 1995. Solange Hertz asserts some startling and counter-culture ideas: namely, that Scripture cannot be refuted; that Galileo's model is useless; that even NASA navigates according to a geocentric model. The book tends to veer toward a total denunciation of modern life, from the use of electricity to the popes of recent times. An interesting read for gaining a different but adamant perspective.
Laux, John. Church History. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1933. Print. Laux gives a compact, chronological history of the Roman Church, including all its controversial figures, friends and foes. It is useful for understanding medieval ideas leading up to the Renaissance.
Parker, Geoffrey. The Military Revolution: Military innovation and the rise of the West:
1500 -- 1800. Cambridge University Press, 1988. This detailed expose of the origins and history of fort architecture contains maps and much otherwise useful information, and sheds light on the craft of Italian architecture as…