Nicholas of Cusa: a forerunner of the heliocentric system


nicholas of cusa

On 11 August 1464, Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464) passed away in Umbria, Italy.

A passage from James Hannam’s book “God’s Philosophers” (2009):

–’The most original thinker of the fifteenth century was Nicholas of Cusa (1400–64) from Germany. His interests included mathematics, philosophy and theology. For his education he travelled to the university of Padua, where he received a doctorate in law, before leading an eventful life mixed up in ecclesiastical politics. In 1448 he was made a cardinal. Despite his busy professional career, he still found time to write important books on theology and philosophy. While returning from Constantinople on church business he conceived “On Learned Ignorance”, the book that made him famous. The title suggests that that book was not meant to be taken seriously, but learned ignorance is actually a method of discovering truths about God based on accepting what we cannot know. Nicholas’s views are not always easy to comprehend but to us, they can seem quite inspired. He argued that in order to reflect God’s majesty, the universe he created would have to be limitless, if not quite infinite. He continues: ‘Therefore, the earth cannot be in the centre … and just as the earth is not at the centre of the universe, so the sphere of the fixed stars is not its outer border.’ He continues that the earth must also be moving although, and this comes straight from John Buridan, we do not notice because we are riding along with it. Most radically, he reduces the earth to just another star (albeit the most important one) and suggests that alien life forms could exist elsewhere in the universe. At the time, no one would have objected to this kind of speculation as long as it stayed hypothetical. As Nicholas could not prove anything, he simply postulated ideas to see what they looked like. He probably never dreamed that within two centuries of his death, his speculations would be found to have been uncannily accurate.’

Source: Hannam, James. “God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.” (London, UK: Icon Books Ltd, 2009)


Edith Stein on Theology, Philosophy and Natural Sciences


edith stein 03Edith Stein most likely died on 09 August 1942.  Stein was among the principle exponents of phenomenology and a pupil of Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler. Her journey as a philosopher was joined to that of a believer when she converted from Judaism, and then atheism, to faith in Christ. She later became a Carmelite nun and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Due to her Jewish background, during the Nazi persecutions she fled to Holland where she was captured in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz. She died that same year in a gas chamber. Pope John Paul II declared her a patron saint of Europe. Among her works are The Phenomenology of Husserl and the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (1929), Finite and Eternal Being: An Attempt to Ascend to the Meaning of Being (posthumously published in 1950), and The Science of the Cross (also posthumously published in 1950.

“Revelation does not, by any means, provide us with all the knowledge that we can and would like to assimilate; rather, it leaves us much latitude for rational inquiry. Yet we find here positive facts and norms resting on a firm foundation, and many errors in theory and practice could be averted if this scriptural source were thoroughly utilized. Rightly understood and employed, the theological and philosophical approaches are not in competition; rather, they complete and influence each other (Credo ut intelligam. Fides quaerens intellectum).

“The philosophizing mind is challenged to make the realities of faith as intelligible as possible. On the other hand , these realities protect the mind from error, and they answer certain questions concerning matters of faith which reason must leave undecided. This is true also of the positive sciences occupied with identifying natural data.” – Edith Stein (in: Essays On Woman (The Collected Works of Edith Stein Book 2) (English Edition))

Christians are Anti-Science? or: Jesuit Astronomers


35 moon craters

There are 35 moon craters (or even more!) that have been named to honor Jesuit scientists. These are the ones portrayed here on our blog:

We also provide information on two great companions of Matteo Ricci in the China mission, another Jesuit: Johann Adam Schall von Bell, SJ: Jesuit missionary who was appointed a Mandarin on the official Chinese calendar reform; and a convert to the Catholic faith: Xu “Paul” Guangqi: a governor, agricultural scientist and mathematician.

And there is more: a few days ago, we shared on facebook and twitter this image prepared by the Vatican Observatory astronomer Br. Bob Macke SJ on a selection of asteroids named for Jesuits:

The Vatican Observatory has a blog: and can be found on twitter under @VaticanObserv. 

Christoph Scheiner SJ – Sunspots and the Human Eye

Christoph Scheiner

Christoph Scheiner SJ (1537-1650)

Christoph Scheiner SJ (25 July 1573 – 18 June 1650) was a Jesuit priest, physicist and astronomer. He was born in Markt Wald bei Mindelheim, belonging at that time to the House Habsburg. He entered the Jesuit Order in Landsberg am Lech on 26 October 1595. He spent the years 1598–1609 in Ingolstadt studying philosophy (metaphysics and mathematics) and theology. Already in 1603, Scheiner invented the pantograph, an instrument designed to reproduce drawings on a different scale. It consists of four hinged rods in the form of a parallelogram with hinge points varying according to the scale of reproduction. It is equipped with a fixed center and two points: a dry one that follows the outline of the original design, and the other writer who tracks the reproduction in an enlarged or reduced form.  Due to this invention, he rapidly gained celebrity status.

On 18 April 1609, Scheiner received priestly ordination. In 1610, he was appointed professor of mathematics in Ingolstadt. of Ingolstadt, teaching mathematics (physics and astronomy) and Hebrew. He lectured on sun dials, practical geometry, astronomy, optics, and the telescope.

Scheiner is today considered as a co-discoverer of the sun spots, together with Galileo Galilei, Thomas Harriot and Johann Fabricius. Together with his student Johann Baptist Cysat, he could observe the sunspots from the tower of the Holy Cross Church  in Ingolstadt in March and October 1611, and originally described them as satellites since he the Aristotelian notion was that the sun is perfect and pure. He communicated this in three letters first to the banker and scholar Mark Welser who printed them and brought them to the attention of the Accademia dei Lincei and ultimately to Galilei. Galilei had independently observed the sunspots starting in May 1611 and published his findings in 1612 through the Lincean Academy. Galileo could show that the sunspots were at or near the surface of the sun, a view that Scheiner opposed for several years but finally adopted.  Scheiner and Galilei engaged in scientific discourse fiercely debating (1) the priority in the observation, (2) its application to Tycho Brahe’s modified geocentric model versus the heliocentric view and (3) the nature of the sunspots. Scheiner and Galilei remained divided and the pride of both even aggravated the tone in these discussions.  It is not known what Scheiner really thought, but one fact stands clear: maybe only in obedience to his superiors in the Jesuit order or following his own conviction, he defended the Tychonic geocentric model during the remainder of his life. In the following years, Scheiner and his students made extensive observations on the sunspots that were finally published in Scheiner’s  ‘Rosa Ursini sive Sol‘ in 1630. Contrary to the prevalent view at that time that the sun is solid, he expressed his revolutionary opinion – based on his observations – that the Sun might be fluid.

Christoph Scheiner solar spots 1

Composite of Scheiner’s Sunspot Observations of 1612 (taken from van Helden A.)

Christoph Scheiner also made an important contribution on the theory of vision. In 1583, the physician Felix Platter (1536-1614) was the first to suggest that the structure responsible for sensitivity to light was the optic nerve (seen today’s knowledge this is wrong) and the retina (correct). Kepler proposed that the image (he called it “Pictura”) was instead formed on the retina at the back of the eye; this however implicated that the picture was inverted (upside down) and reversed (right and left flipped). In 1604, Kepler rightly assumed that the fact that we see an upright picture is not a question on optics or anatomy but happens in the brain.

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Georges Lemaitre – the Big Bang Cosmology and its metaphysical implications (II)


This is the second of two part. You can read the first part here.

Lemaitre‘s Cosmology and Stephen Gould’s NOMA

NOMA stands for Non-Overlapping Magisteria, meaning that science and religion simply should not or do not overlap. Therefore, there is only one responsible level of explanation at a given time, either the scientific one, for example, when it comes to evolution, fossils, molecular genetics, or the religious one, which helps to understand what the meaning of life is, whether there is a soul, and Heaven. (This is of course simplistic). NOMA can be criticized, just because there are overlaps, especially when it comes to us humans: just that he can think about abstract concepts such as NOMA suggests that there is something that exceeds the purely materialistic sphere of science. While Christians complain that NOMA gives science too much competence (“it is always religion that has to give way”), Atheists see in NOMA a cheap excuse to introduce a bit of religion through the back door.

While NOMA wants to achieve a mere juxtaposition, that is not one of Lemaitre’s goals. He is concerned with the clear separation of the categories “physics” (meaning all scientifically detectable things) and “meta-physics”, and both categories (or levels) must not be blurred or mixed. He is firmly anchored in the Thomistic viewpoint, which distinguishes between the first cause (God) and the second causes (the creatures in the broadest sense), which act according to their inherent (and ultimately God-given) qualities and possibilities.

Lemaitre sees both categories simultaneously present:

“Physics does not exclude Providence. Nothing happens without its order or permission, even if this gentle action is not miraculous. Evolution, whether of the universe or of the living world, could be made at random by quantum leaps or mutations. Nevertheless, this chance has, from a superior point of view, been directed towards a goal. For us Christians, it was oriented towards the appearance of life. In what was done, there was life, intelligence and life was light in man and finally in humanity by the incarnation of the Man-God: the true light that illuminated our darkness.

Chance does not exclude Providence. Perhaps chance provides the strokes mysteriously actuated by Providence.” [5]

God’s providential actions will not be rendered superfluous or non-existent due to scientific insights. But Providence remains often hidden to us, similarly as God Himself remains “a hidden God”

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself” (Is 45:15)

God is hidden behind and in His creation. He is a “hidden God”, transcending all our knowledge and cognition. “Truly, you are a God who hides himself“, as we read in Isaiah [Is 45:15].  We will find this term and concept often in Lemaitre’s writings. Already in 1931, Lemaitre writes:

“I think that everyone who believes in a supreme being supporting every being and every acting, believes also that God is essentially hidden and may be glad to see how present physics provides a veil hiding the creation”.

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Christopher Grienberger: a nearly unknown Austrian Jesuit and mathematician


“I have benefited, my Reader, from the mind and industry of the very learned and exceedingly modest man, Grienberger, who, while he would have discovered many marvellous things by himself, preferred to make himself serviceable to other people’s inventions and other people’s praises”. – Bettini, Apiaria Universae Philosophiae Mathematicae [1]

Christopher Grienberger (02 July 1561 – 11 March 1636) was an Austrian mathematician, astronomer, and Jesuit priest. He joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1580. Grienberger studied in Prague and Vienna and succeeded his tutor, Christopher Clavius, as a professor of mathematics at the Roman College. Grienberger gave lectures in astronomy in order to prepare fellow Jesuits for their missionary work in China (Johann Adam Schall von Bell, among others)

Grienberger_-_Catalogus_veteres_affixarum_longitudines,_ac_latitudines_conferens_cum_novis,_1612_-_167656He authored mathematical and astronomical works, among them a catalogue of the astronomical coordinates of the fixed stars known at the time (Catalogus veteres affixarum stellarum longitudines et latitudines cum novis stellis collatas continens, 1612). Grienberger sympathized with Galileo’s theory of motion but was told to defend the Aristotelian view by the Father General of the Jesuits, Claudio Aquaviva, as we read in the Biographical Encyclopedia from Astronomers:

A correspondent of Galilei, Grienberger was a strong supporter of the Copernican system and offers a good example of the dilemma of Jesuit scientists. He was convinced of the correctness of Galilei’s heliocentric teachings as well as the mistakes in Aristotle’s doctrines on motion. But because of the rigid decree of his Jesuit superior general, Claudius Aquaviva, obliging Jesuits to teach only Aristotelian physics, he was unable to openly teach the Copernican theory. He expressed disgust at the Church’s treatment of Galilei, but he also stated that if Galilei had heeded the advice of Jesuits and proposed his teachings as hypotheses, he could have written on any subject he wished, including the two motions of the Earth. [2]

[1] see Michael John Gorman, “Mathematics and Modesty in the Society of Jesus: the Problems of Christoph Grienberger (1561-1636)”
[2]  Joseph F. MacDonnell, “Grienberger, Christopher“, in: Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Editor-in-chief: Hockey, Thomas; Trimble, V., Williams, Th.R., Bracher, K., Jarrell, R., Marché, J.D., Ragep, F.J. (Eds.)), 2007

“If creation sings Your praises so will I” – Joel Houston on creation and evolution


Not all, but many, even those not pertaining to an Evangelical community, will be familiar with the Hillsong band and their founder Joel T. Houston from Sydney, Australia. A song that came out in 2017, has creation, evolution, our salvation and the praise and worship to Our Lord as topic. Based on a question on twitter, Joel T. Houston posted some excellent tweets that you may want to read, even if you are not so familiar with the “twitterverse”. 

First the song:


God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

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