This is indeed a very curious state of affairs in history. First, it is solemnly declared, that certain bulls and Papal documents were directed deliberately against the sciences of anatomy and chemistry by the Head of the Church, who wished to prevent the development of these sciences lest they should lessen his power over his people. Then, when it is shown that the documents in question have no such tenor, but are simple Papal regulations for the prevention of abuses which had arisen, and that they actually did accomplish much good for generations for which they were issued, the reply is not an acknowledgement of error, but an insistence on the previous declaration, somewhat in this form: “Well, the Popes may not have intended it, but these sciences, as a consequence of their decrees, did not develop, and the Popes must be considered as to blame for that.” Then, instead of showing that these sciences did not develop, this part is assumed and the whole case is supposed to be proved. Could anything well be more preposterous. And this is history!…

Since, however, an aspersion has been cast upon the progress of chemistry during the Middle Ages, and since it will surely be thought by many people that, if chemistry did not happen to interest mankind at that time, it must have been because the Pope was opposed to it (for such seems to be the curious chain of reasoning of certain scholars), it has seemed well to review briefly the story of chemistry during the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. More will be said about it in the chapter on Science at the Medieval Universities, and here the only idea is to bring out the fact that men were interested in what we now call chemical problems; that whatever interest they had was absolutely unhampered by ecclesiastical opposition; that indeed the very men who did the best work in this line, and their work is by no means without significance in the history of science, were all clergymen; and that most of them were in high favor with the Popes, and some of them have since received the honor of being canonized as saints.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)


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