The Bible
and the
Emergence of Modern
Science
Peter Harrison
The Bible and the Emergence of Modern
Science
Allegory and the ‘Two Books’
Allegory in Practice
Reforming the Reading of Scripture
Reinterpreting the Book of Nature
For the invisible things of
him from the creation of the
world are clearly seen,
being understood by the
things that are made.
Romans 1:20
I think that He who made all
things in wisdom so created all
the species of visible things
upon the earth, that He placed
in some of them some teaching
and knowledge of things
invisible and heavenly,
whereby the human mind might
mount to spiritual
understanding and seek the
grounds of things in heaven.
Origen (c185-c254)
Commentary on the Song of
Songs
What man of intelligence will
believe that the first and the
second and third day and
the evening and the morning
existed without the sun and
moon and stars….
One must therefore record
the meaning of the sacred
writings in a three-fold
way….
Origen (c185-c254)
Augustine
(354-430)
Levels of Interpretation
Literal
Allegorical
OBJECT
WORD
OBJECT
OBJECT
OBJECT
Levels of Interpretation
Literal
Allegorical
OBJECT
WORD
OBJECT
OBJECT
OBJECT
‘Book of Scripture’
‘Book of
Nature’
Literal
Allegorical
OBJECT
WORD
OBJECT
OBJECT
OBJECT
‘The author of Holy Writ is God, in
whose power it is to signify His
meaning, not by words only … but
also by things themselves….
The multiplicity of these senses does
not produce equivocation or any other
kind of multiplicity, seeing that these
senses are not multiplied because
one word signifies several things, but
because the things signified by the
words can be themselves types of
other things.’
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a. 1, 10
For the whole sensible world is like a
kind of book written by the finger of
God—that is, created by divine
power—and each particular creature is
somewhat like a figure, not invented
by human decision, but instituted by
the divine will to manifest the invisible
things of God’s wisdom.
Hugh of St Victor (d.1142)
De tribus diebus
‘The creature of the world is
like a book in which the
creative Trinity is reflected,
represented, and written’.
Bonaventure, Breviloquium
II.12.
Bonaventure
(1217-74)
The Bible and the Emergence of Modern
Science
Allegory and the ‘Two Books’
Allegory in Practice
Reforming the Reading of Scripture
Reinterpreting the Book of Nature
The Quadriga: Four-fold interpretation
Literal Sense - historical or grammatical meaning
Tropological Sense - the moral application of the narrative
Anagogical Sense - the spiritual or theological meaning
Allegorical Sense - the meaning of the objects referred to by the literal
words
The Quadriga: Four-fold interpretation
Literal Sense - historical or grammatical meaning
Tropological Sense - the moral application of the narrative
Anagogical Sense - the spiritual or theological meaning
Allegorical Sense - the meaning of the objects referred to by the literal
words
Medieval Bestiary
Adoro Te Devote
Pie Pellicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda Tuo sanguine
Loving Pelican, Oh Jesus Lord
Unclean am I but cleanse me in Thy blood.
Thomas Aquinas
Literal
Allegorical
OBJECT
WORD
OBJECT
OBJECT
OBJECT
Literal
Allegorical
OBJECT
Christ
WORD
‘Pelican’
OBJECT
Pelican
OBJECT
Egypt
OBJECT
The World
The Bible and the Emergence of Modern
Science
Allegory and the ‘Two Books’
Allegory in Practice
Reforming the Reading of Scripture
Reinterpreting the Book of Nature
‘[The literal sense] is the
highest, best, strongest, in
short the whole substance,
nature and foundation of
the holy scripture.’
Luther, Answer to the
Hyperchristian Book, Works 39,
177.
Scripture, they say, is fertile
and thus bears multiple
meanings…
But I deny that its fertility
consists in the various
meanings which anyone may
fasten to it at his pleasure. Let
us know, then, that the true
meaning of Scripture is the
natural and simple one….
John Calvin, Commentaries on the
Pauline Epistles.
Book of Scripture
Literal
Book of Nature
Allegorical
OBJECT
WORD
OBJECT
OBJECT
OBJECT
Book of Scripture
Literal
Book of Nature
Allegorical
?
OBJECT
WORD
OBJECT
OBJECT
OBJECT
‘Scripture without
any glosses is the
sun and the whole
light from which all
teachers receive
their light, and not
vice versa.’
Luther, Answer to a
Hyperchristian Book.
Glossa ordinaria
(Venice, 1484)
The Bible and the Emergence of Modern
Science
Allegory and the ‘Two Books’
Allegory in Practice
Reforming the Reading of Scripture
Reinterpreting the Book of Nature
‘[There are] two books or
volumes to study, if we will be
secured from error; first the
scriptures, revealing the will of
God, and then the creatures
expressing his power; whereof
the latter is a key unto the
former.’
Francis Bacon
(1561-1626)
Advancement of Learning
I.vi.16.
‘Philosophy is written in this grand
book, the universe, which stands
continually open to our gaze. But
the book cannot be understood
unless one first learns to
comprehend the language and read
the letters in which it is composed.
It is written in the language of
mathematics, and its characters are
triangles, circles, and other
geometrical figures without which it
is humanly impossible to
understand a single word of it.’
Galileo Galilei
The Assayer
Robert Boyle (16271691)
Usefulness of Natural
Philosophy
‘… for as (such is God’s
condescension to human
weakness) most of the texts, to
whose exposition physiology is
necessary, may be explicated by
the knowledge of the external, or at
least more easily observed qualities
of the creatures; so, there are
divers not to be fully understood
without the assistance of more
penetrating indagations of the
abstrusities of nature, and the more
unobvious properties of things, an
intelligent and philosophical
peruser will readily discern.’
‘[We have] wholly omitted what
we find in other authors
concerning homonymous and
synonymous words, or the
divers names of birds,
hieroglyphics, emblems,
morals, fables, presages, or
ought else pertaining to
divinity, ethics, grammar, or
any sort of humane learning.’
John Ray (1627-1705)
Ray and Willughby, Ornithology
(1678)
‘Necessary for all divines
and students because the
story of every beast is
amplified with narrations out
of scriptures, fathers,
phylosophers, physicians,
and poets: wherein are
declared divers
hyeroglyphicks, emblems,
epigrams, and other good
histories.
Edward Topsell (1607, 1653).
‘Lamia’
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.
John Keats (1795-1821)
Lamia
from Topsell, Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes (1607)
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