Medieval viewpoint

It’s a mistake to think, since they thought the sun and planets revolved around the earth, therefore medieval men were egocentric fools. It’s not so much they thought the earth was at the center, but that they thought it was at the bottom.

UPDATE 25 August 2011:

“What we call gravitation–for the medievals ‘kindly enclyning’–was a matter of common knowledge. Vincent of Beauvais expounds it by asking what would happen if there were a hole bored through the globe of Earth so that there was a free passage from the one sky to the other, and someone dropped a stone down it. He answers that it would come to rest at the centre.” — C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, Flat-earthers, and ‘kindly enclyning’

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3 thoughts on “Medieval viewpoint

  1. Pingback: From my diary at Roger Pearse

  2. Interesting! I had always wondered what people who believed in Aristotlean physics would think about the center of the earth.

    There is a very common trope among people who despise religion about how the Christian world view was torn by a series of scientific discoveries that gradually removed man from the center of the universe and made the earth just one small planet revolving around an insignificant star in an inconsequential galaxy (I assume you were alluding to this trope in your post). What I’ve never seen is any support for the claim that Christians ever complained about these advances based on this supposed demeaning of man. In fact, I’ve never seen any indication that Christians ever had any problem with any of these advances other than the helio-centric solar system. I suspect that the trope is entirely made up.

    • Yes, that’s exactly the trope I had in mind.

      And of course it was Christians making the discoveries, disagreeing with other Christians about them, and being supported and opposed by more and less Christian politicians and church officials – with even the least devout of those steeped in the medieval view of the heavens and the earth.

      Also common today among people who despise religion is a kind of retroactive baptism: ‘Galileo was a Scientist, one of us, not like those obscurantist priests and theocratic Calvinists.’ That projects today’s categories and controversies back on to people to whom they didn’t apply.

      C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature is a good short introduction to the medieval world-view, and of course there’s Dante, especially Purgatory and Paradise which I think too many people skip. As I remember, the astronomical flourishes in the Purgatorio are pretty subtle and detailed. I needed the footnotes and an astronomy text to understand what he was saying.

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