[T]he arguments advanced to show the opposition of the Catholic Church to science are founded on actual ignorance of the history of science or misunderstandings of particular incidents of that history. Not only was there no policy of opposition to science, but on the contrary encouragement of interest in scientific subjects, patronage of scientific workers and even definite endowment of scientific research by the ecclesiastical authorities. The tradition of Church opposition to science is founded especially on lack of knowledge of what was done for science in the medieval period and a misunderstanding of the medieval universities. This tradition owed its origin partly to the Renaissance, which, having rediscovered Greek, despised whatever Western Europe had accomplished during the preceding centuries and spoke of all that was done as Gothic, as if only worthy of barbarous Gothic ancestors.
Another large factor, however, in the creation of this tradition and one which meant more for us here in America than the Renaissance, was the religious revolt of the sixteenth century in Germany which has been called the Reformation. The reformers made it a point to minimize, if not actually to misrepresent, what had been accomplished under the old Church regime, and this Protestant tradition lived on here in America with much more vitality even than in Europe.
The consequence was the bringing up of a series of generations, who, if not actually believing as so many absurdly did, that the Pope of Rome was the Scarlet Woman and the Church the Babylon of the Apocalypse, were quite sure at least that no good could possibly have come out of the Nazareth of pre-Reformation times. It is only in recent years that we have come to recognize that all the talk about the Dark Ages is, as John Fiske said, simply due to ignorance of the time and its accomplishment. The later medieval period might well be called the “Bright Ages” for its art and architecture, its magnificent literature, its interest in education and in scholarship, its development of democracy and its formulation of the great laws and constitutions by which the rights of men were guaranteed in practically every country in Europe. Just as soon as this true state of affairs with regard to the medieval period is recognized, then all question of any policy of Church opposition to education and science disappears.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)