Von Töply begins with Paul III., who is known in history more especially for his issuance of the Bull founding the Jesuits. It might ordinarily be presumed by those who knew nothing of this Pope, that the Head of the Church, to whom is due an institution such as the Jesuits are supposed to be, would not be interested to the slightest degree in modern sciences, and would be one of the last ecclesiastical authorities from whom patronage of science could possibly be expected. It was he, however, who founded special departments for anatomy and botany and provided the funds for a salary for a prosector of anatomy at Rome.

After this practically every Pope in this century has some special benefaction for anatomy to his credit. Pope Paul IV. (1555-59) called Columbus to Rome and gave him every opportunity for the development of his original genius in anatomical research. Columbus had succeeded Vesalius at Padua and had been tempted from there to Pisa by the duke who wished to create in that city a university with the most prominent teachers in every department that there was in Italy, yet it was from this lucrative post that Pope Paul IV. succeeded in winning Columbus. Quite apart from what we know of Columbus’s career at Rome and his successful investigation on the cadaver of many anatomical problems, perhaps the best evidence of the friendly relations of the Popes to him and to his work is to be found in the fact that, first Columbus himself, and then after his death his sons, in issuing their father’s magnificent work De Re Anatomica, dedicated it to the successor of Pope Paul IV., the reigning Pope Pius IV. In the meantime Cardinal Della Rovere had brought Eustachius to Rome to succeed Columbus.

Under Sixtus V., who was Pope from 1585 to 1590, the distinguished writer on medicine, and especially on anatomy, Piccolomini, published his lectures on anatomy with a dedication to that Pope. It is well known that the relations between the professor of anatomy at the Papal Medical School and the Pope were very friendly. As was the case with regard to Colombo or Columbus, so also with Caesalpinus. Columbus was the first to describe the pulmonary circulation. Caesalpinus is generally claimed by the Italians to have made the discovery of the circulation of the blood throughout the body before Harvey. Columbus had been at Pisa and was tempted to come to Rome. Caesalpinus had also been at Pisa until Clement VIII. held out inducements that brought him to Rome. Clement is the last Pope of the century, but Von Töply mentions five Popes in the next century who were in intimate relations with distinguished investigators into medical subjects and whose names are in some way connected with some of the most noteworthy teaching and writing in medical matters during the seventeenth century.

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


How much was accomplished in applied science during the Middle Ages, that is, in those departments of science which are usually supposed to have been least cultivated, since educators are prone to ridicule the over-emphasis of speculation in education and the constant preoccupation of mind of the scholars of these generations with merely theoretic questions, may be appreciated from any history of the arts and architecture during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Some of the most difficult problems in mechanics as applied to the structural work of cathedrals, palaces, castles, fortresses, and bridges, were solved with a success that was only equaled by the audacity with which they were attempted. Men hesitated at nothing. There is no problem of mechanical engineering as applied to structural work which these men did not find an answer for in their wonderful buildings. This has been very well brought out by Prince Kropotkin in certain chapters of his book, Mutual Aid a Factor of Evolution, in which he treats of mutual aid in the medieval cities. He says:

“At the beginning of the eleventh century the towns of Europe were small clusters of miserable huts, adorned with but low clumsy churches, the builders of which hardly knew how to make an arch; the arts, mostly consisting of some weaving and forging, were in their infancy; learning was found in but a few monasteries. Three hundred and fifty years later, the very face of Europe had been changed. The land was dotted with rich cities, surrounded by immense thick walls which were embellished by towers and gates, each of them a work of art itself. The cathedrals, conceived in a grand style and profusely decorated, lifted their bell-towers to the skies, displaying a purity of form and a boldness of imagination which we now vainly strive to attain. The crafts and arts had risen to a degree of perfection which we can hardly boast of having superseded in many directions, if the inventive skill of the worker and the superior finish of his work be appreciated higher than rapidity of fabrication. The navies of the free cities furrowed in all directions the Northern Seas and the Southern Mediterranean; one effort more and they would cross the oceans. Over large tracts of land, well-being had taken the place of misery; learning had grown and spread; the methods of science had been elaborated; the basis of natural philosophy had been laid down; and the way had been paved for all the mechanical inventions of which our own times are so proud.”

The period for which Prince Kropotkin is thus enthusiastic in the matter of applied science, is all before the date usually given as the beginning of the Renaissance–the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The three centuries and a half from the beginning of the eleventh century represent just the time of the rise of scholasticism and the beginning of its decline. Few periods of history are so maligned as regards their intellectual feebleness, and in nothing is that quality supposed to be more marked than in applied science; yet here is what a special student of the time says of this very period in this particular department.

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

It has come to be universally conceded in recent years that the Church was the great patron of art and of letters during these centuries. Without the inspiration of her teachings there would have been no sublime subjects for artists; without the lives of her saints there would have been much less opportunity for artistic expression; without the patronage of the cathedral builders, the high ecclesiastics, and above all the monastic orders, on whom, with so little reason, so much contempt has been heaped, there would have been none of that great art which developed during the centuries before what is called the Renaissance. In literature, everyone of the great national poems that lie at the basis of modern literature is shot through and through with sublime thoughts that owe their origin to the Church. We need only mention the Cid in Spain, the Arthur Legends in England, such works of the Meistersingers as Perceval and Arme Heinrich, the Golden Legend, the Romance of the Rose, and Dante,–all written during the thirteenth century alone, to illustrate Church influence in literature. This is, as we have said, admitted by all. It is supposed, however, that while the Church encouraged this side of human development, it effectually prevented the evolution of man’s scientific interests.

As a matter of fact, however, the Church did quite as much for science as for literature and art and charity, There has never been any question that under her fostering care philosophy developed in a very marvelous way. The scholastic philosophers are no longer held in the disrepute so ignorantly accorded them in the last century. It is recognized that scholastic philosophy represents a supremely great development of human thinking with regard to the relations of man to his Creator, to his fellow man, and to the universe. Even those who do not accept its conclusions now, if themselves educated men, no longer make little of those wonderful thinkers, but sympathize with their magnificent work. Only those who are ignorant of scholastic philosophy entirely, still continue to re-echo the expressions of critics whose opinions were founded on second-hand authorities and who confessedly had been unable to make anything out of the scholastics themselves. This field of philosophy was the real danger point for faith and the Church, yet its study was encouraged in every way, provided the philosophers kept within the bounds of their subject.

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

While the witch-trials were previously regarded as a legacy of the ‘Dark Ages’ from which Europe struggled to release itself over a long period, scholars today agree that on this point the Middle Ages were considerably more ‘enlightened’ than the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The witch-trials were a phenomenon of the Renaissance that did not culminate before c. 1600.

Gustav Henningsen, “Witchcraft in Denmark” (1982)

Indeed no firm references to the use of torture by the Inquisition are to be found in surviving documents through the end of the thirteenth century. Other, less drastic means, it appears, were employed to pressure witnesses to reveal what they knew: close imprisonment, chaining in small cells, restrictions on food. Physical torture seems not to have been part of the ordinary scene of the inquisitorial procedure in Languedoc at the height of the Inquisition.

Unfortunately, torture did continue as a legal method for obtaining evidence in secular courts all over Europe throughout the late Middle Ages and well into the High Renaissance, and beyond. England under the Tudors equated heresy with treason, and by order of the Privy Council the Jesuit Edmund Campion, among others, was tortured and eventually hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn Hill. The charge? He was a Catholic priest living in England. In time, torture was no longer employed in Europe, not because it came to be perceived as being inhumane (it had always been recognized as being a repulsive way of obtaining evidence), but because circumstantial evidence came to be accepted as sufficient proof to convict…With the emergence of the jury system the legal proofs which were required to be present in order to convict were done away with.

Albert Shannon, The Medieval Inquisition (1991)

Another matter is the spirit of the Reformation itself, which was only to a very limited extent in keeping with the spirit of humanism and the Renaissance. On the whole, as we have said before, it was a reaction against the spirit of the times; it was a rigoristic movement, and thus ” medieval” in the popular sense. Intelligent Catholics have always understood that the Reformation was a movement towards and for more religion rather than the opposite.

At the Diet of Nuremberg (1523) Pope Hadrian VI, through his Legate, made a moving declaration which squarely blamed the Church for the Reformation. Many Catholics – as, for instance, the late Mgr. Seipel, Chancellor of Austria, and Giovanni Papini – see not in the Middle Ages but in the Renaissance and the Baroque the great Catholic age. D. H. Lawrence was at least symbolically right when he wrote that the Pilgrim Fathers ran away from the new European liberty of the Renaissance. Of all early Reformers probably only Zwingli was a humanist, a humanitarian and a liberal; while Luther, no less than Calvin, preached a holy war against the “paganized” Catholic Church. Nothing could be more erroneous than to follow in the footsteps of nineteenth century liberal opinion and to see in Luther a herald of the Chromium Age, with “democracy,” civil liberties, bath tubs, refrigerators and the U.N. just around the corner.

There was something decidedly Islamic in original Protestantism, with its idea of an all-controlling hidden God and His infallible Prophet, its secularization of marriage, its puritanism and messianism. Even today some of the survivals of original (i.e., pre-liberal) Protestantism in remote parts of Scandinavia, Holland, Scotland and the United States have, at least culturally, more affinity with the Wahhãbïs than with the Catholics from which they stem. It must be borne in mind that not so much the authoritarian organization but the liberal theology of Catholicism was the target of the reformers.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time (1940)

For us in the twentieth century it is most difficult to appreciate the intellectual ferment and the flourishing culture that so characterized the brilliant thirteenth century. It was the age of the scintillating universities of Paris, Toulouse, Montpelier, Oxford, Cambridge, Salerno, Bologna, Salamanca; of scholastic philosophy and Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Roger Bacon; of epics and romances: the Nibelungenlied, the Cid, Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, the Romance of the Rose, the trouveres and the troubadours in Provence, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. It witnessed the flowering of a luminous spiritual growth: St. Francis of Assisi, O.F.M. (1181-1226) and St. Clare of the Second Order Franciscans (1193-1253); the theological giants but first saints: St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. (1225-1274), St. Albert the Great, O.P. (1206-1280), St. Bonaventure, O.F.M. (1221-1274); St. Louis IX, King of France (1214-1297) and St. Margaret, a peasant of Cortona, Italy (1247-1297); St. Dominic, O.P. (1170-1221) and St. Nicholas of Tolentine, O.S.A. (1245-1305); St. Clare of Montefalco, O.S.A. (1268-1308); St. Antony of Padua of Portugal (1195-1231) and St. Raymond of Pennafort, O.P. from Spain (1175-1275). The heavy Romanesque architecture had seen itself surpassed by the soaring Gothic Cathedrals of Chartres, St. Denis, Notre Dame, and Bourges whose stained glass windows have never been equaled. Bishops and kings, knights and peasants forever render homage to the heavenly court in the glorious rosettes and multi-colored windows of Sainte Chapelle and Chartres. The sonorous Gregorian Chant resounded from a thousand-choir stalls with the solemn Dies Irae and the triumphant Te Deum.

The world has rolled on to the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Age of Realism and the Commercial Revolution, down to our own day of high technology and nuclear power, instant communication and all pervasive administration – and sensitiveness to human rights.

It is only with a sustained effort that one can re-create the Weltanschauung of the Middle Ages at its height. Particularly is it demanding to realize that a previous culture quite as lustrous as our own viewed religion as an integral part of their civilization; that the thirteenth century represented only a milestone in the continuing evolution of institutions and law, neither retrogressing on the one hand, nor anticipating on the other the improvements achieved by later centuries. 

Albert Shannon, The Medieval Inquisition (1991)

Still, the fact remains that Protestantism is essentially medieval, or, if we prefer, post-medieval. This is documented by the fact that Protestantism clung to the Gothic style long after it had become obsolete in the Catholic world. Even today the Gothic style is prevalent among American churches and colleges with the Catholic minority “joining in.” Of course, it cannot be denied that Protestant “Medievalism” has been emptied of its soul through a relativizing and liberalizing process. Anybody visiting that Gothic skyscraper, the “Cathedral of Learning” of Pittsburgh University, will be struck by the sight of professors in medieval gowns and mortar boards teaching pragmatist and instrumentalist philosophy. Yet the facade remains and also many thought patterns. Thus the real year of the Reformation is not 1517, but 1511, when Martin Luther, the Augustinian friar on his mission in Rome, for the first time in his life was face to face with the Renaissance. Here was a man from the backwoods of Christendom aghast at the grandiose effort toward a synthesis between Christendom and the immortal and lasting values of antiquity. The annexationist character of Catholicism had been hidden to him and the fact that the synthesis became only perfect in the Baroque he could not guess. Yet what he disapproved of was the cultural aspect of the Renaissance which said “God and Man.” From a “circle” Catholic culture had turned to an elliptic form with two foci. After all, man was created in the image of God and his destiny was to become more god-like after death. There is a real process of theosis envisaged—as we find it, in a different form, also in Eastern theology. Hence the veneration of saints. But the Reformers replied to these efforts “Soli Deo Gloria!” and tried desperately to go back, back to the Middle Ages, back to some sort of imaginary catacomb Church, back to the Old Testament.

Unless we are able to picture Luther wandering around in Rome as a hill-billy preacher from the Alleghanies on Broadway in New York, we do not understand the initial spark which started the 16th-century wave of Reformers.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time (1940)