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Chapter Eight The New Sciences, Religion, and the Struggle over Aristotle In a 1647 treatise addressed to Mersenne, a Capuchin monk from Warsaw named Valeriano Magni stated, “Atheism [atheismus] is such a crime that no other one equally touches the anger of God. Atheism is such an evil that there is nothing more dangerous to the human race.”1 Despite writing this sentence before the Peace of Westphalia, when Catholics and Protestants still waged war against each other throughout much of Europe, Magni did not equate atheism with Protestantism. Rather, this “tyrant,” who was “more pernicious than any other heresiarch” from any other time or place, was praised “by pagans, by Christians, by Catholics, by heretics.”2 This “tyrant” was Aristotle. Calling the short treatise On the Atheism of Aristotle, Magni wrote, “Aristotle ushers in atheism with arguments such that more effective ones are inconceivable .”3 These arguments maintain the world is eternal and uncreated, “ruled by the fatal necessity of the motions of the heaven;” remove God as an efficient cause; and attempt to establish the mortality of the rational soul.4 Labeling Aristotle an “infidel” because he eliminated creating and ruling the world from God’s duties, Magni referred to unnamed “atheists supported by the authority and doctrine of Aristotle” and to “the blameworthy Stagirite atheism.” He also described others of “twisting [Aristotle] to the dogmas of the faith,” implying that attempts to reconcile Aristotle with Christianity, such as Thomas’s, deliberately misread Aristotle’s writings.5 Calling him a tyrant suggested that Aristotle usurped the freedom to devise alternative philosophies. Magni’s polemic lacked the detailed historical analysis of Jean de Launoy’s, Pierre Gassendi’s, and Tommaso Campanella’s works, yet shared their conclusions . Magni’s other interests recall Campanella’s assertion that as a result of 146 subv erting aristotle Aristotle’s “greatest impiety . . . it is permissible to forge a new philosophy.”6 In addition to detailing Aristotle’s supposed atheism, Magni argued that the conceptual foundations of traditional natural philosophy were incorrect. For example, he argued that the belief in four material elements was wrong because experiential evidence showed water to be incorruptible and therefore not capable of transforming into air or earth.7 Magni also tried to prove experimentally that vacuums exist in nature through demonstrations that were so similar to Evangelista Torricelli’s that they garnered accusations of plagiarism.8 Whether or not he knew of those experiments, Magni’s experimentalism coincided with his view of Aristotle’s impiety: both provided sufficient reasons for rejecting Aristotelianism. Magni was by no means the first to cite Aristotle’s impiety as a justification for innovations in natural philosophy or logic. In the sixteenth century both Petrus Ramus and Bernardino Telesio cited Aristotle’s impiety as a motivation for their works, and, in the early part of the seventeenth century, Gassendi and Campanella did the same. Magni’s condemnation of Aristotle for atheism indicates the continuation of this strategy among proponents of new or alternative philosophies during the seventeenth century. Throughout the 1600s, universities and ecclesiastical authorities out of fear of heresy condemned teaching novel natural philosophies. The counterattacks provoked by these bans emphasized the supposed impiety or atheism of Aristotle , subverting past fusions of Aristotelian concepts and Christian dogma. They argued that using the philosophy of a pagan of dubious moral character led to gravely mistaken conclusions about God, creation, and the human soul. These assaults on Aristotle emerged not just among Polish clergymen, such as Magni, but primarily in France, the Netherlands, England, and, to a lesser extent, Italy. A number of thinkers contended Cartesianism or atomism was more compatible with Christianity than were Aristotle, Pomponazzi, or Averroes. Histories of Aristotelianism provided proof for their arguments. England and Anti-Aristotelianism The relative weakness of early Renaissance English universities coupled with the absence of Jesuit schools made Aristotelianism far weaker in England than in much of continental Europe.9 Nevertheless, versions of Aristotelianism influenced by humanism took root in Oxford during the last decades of the sixteenth century. Giordano Bruno sneered at Oxonian professors for being pedants obsessed with grammar and ignorant of the medieval traditions of metaphysics that had once flourished there.10 Whether or not Bruno’s characterizations were accurate , in 1586, Oxford, in accordance with humanist-influenced versions of Aristo- The New Sciences, Religion, and the Struggle ov er Aristotle 147 telianism, enacted a decree that required literal expositions of Aristotle, thereby reducing the likelihood of public lectures that deviated from...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781421413174
Related ISBN
9781421413167
MARC Record
OCLC
872114661
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Language
English
Open Access
No
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