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How Pope Sylvester II brought knowledge from Muslim Spain into Christian Europe

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  • How Pope Sylvester II brought knowledge from Muslim Spain into Christian Europe

    An insight into the middle ages, a time which some folks mistake as being entirely known as the "Dark ages".

    A thousand years ago, the pope studied the stars and found God in numbers. Mathematics ranked among the highest forms of worship, for God had created the world, as the Book of Wisdom said (chapter 11, verse 21), according to number, measure, and weight. Our modern tension between faith and science did not exist.

    Pope Sylvester II (999-1003) was known as "the Scientist Pope." Born Gerbert of Aurillac, he rose from peasant beginnings to the pinnacle of the Christian church "on account of his incomparable scientific knowledge" -- not in spite of it. Such is the testimony of men who knew him and wrote during, or right after, his lifetime. They call him "acutely intelligent" and "deeply learned in the study of the liberal arts." He was the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day.

    ....

    When Gerbert showed an aptitude for mathematics, his abbot sent him south to Spain. He spent three years near Barcelona, whose Christian count had signed a treaty with the Muslim caliph of Cordoba in 940. For more than 35 years, the Muslim and Christian kingdoms of Spain were at peace. Trade and scientific exchanges flourished.

    Islamic Spain was an extraordinarily tolerant culture in which learning was prized. The Royal Library in Cordoba, just west of the Great Mosque, contained 40,000 books. (By comparison, the greatest Christian library in Europe held only 690.) Many of the caliph's books came from Baghdad, known for its House of Wisdom, where for 200 years works of mathematics, astronomy, physics and medicine had been translated from Greek, Persian and Hindu and further developed by Islamic scholars.



    During Gerbert's lifetime, the first of these science books were translated from Arabic into Latin through the combined efforts of Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars. Many of the translators were churchmen, and some became Gerbert's lifelong friends.

    Gerbert was a professor at the cathedral school in Reims, France, for most of his career. He is the first Christian known to teach math using the nine Arabic numerals and zero -- although he called them Hindu numerals, as did his Arabic sources. Using these new numerals, Gerbert devised an abacus, or counting board, that mimics the algorithms we use today for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. It has been called the first computer. In a chronology of computer history, Gerbert's abacus is one of only four innovations mentioned between 3000 B.C. and the invention of the slide rule in 1622.

    .....
    In the popular mind today, the Dark Ages are wrongly considered a time of superstition and hysteria, when the Christian church suppressed all scientific investigation.

    Just the opposite is true. A thousand years ago, Christian monks were busily collecting, translating and investigating the scientific wisdom compiled by their Islamic neighbors. Science transcended faith and faith encompassed science.


    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-..._b_790366.html

    Men like Pope Sylvester II, otherwise known as the Scientist Pope, would bring great benefit to Christians around the world.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Taieb el-Okbi View Post
    An insight into the middle ages, a time which some folks mistake as being entirely known as the "Dark ages".

    A thousand years ago, the pope studied the stars and found God in numbers. Mathematics ranked among the highest forms of worship, for God had created the world, as the Book of Wisdom said (chapter 11, verse 21), according to number, measure, and weight. Our modern tension between faith and science did not exist.

    Pope Sylvester II (999-1003) was known as "the Scientist Pope." Born Gerbert of Aurillac, he rose from peasant beginnings to the pinnacle of the Christian church "on account of his incomparable scientific knowledge" -- not in spite of it. Such is the testimony of men who knew him and wrote during, or right after, his lifetime. They call him "acutely intelligent" and "deeply learned in the study of the liberal arts." He was the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day.

    ....

    When Gerbert showed an aptitude for mathematics, his abbot sent him south to Spain. He spent three years near Barcelona, whose Christian count had signed a treaty with the Muslim caliph of Cordoba in 940. For more than 35 years, the Muslim and Christian kingdoms of Spain were at peace. Trade and scientific exchanges flourished.

    Islamic Spain was an extraordinarily tolerant culture in which learning was prized. The Royal Library in Cordoba, just west of the Great Mosque, contained 40,000 books. (By comparison, the greatest Christian library in Europe held only 690.) Many of the caliph's books came from Baghdad, known for its House of Wisdom, where for 200 years works of mathematics, astronomy, physics and medicine had been translated from Greek, Persian and Hindu and further developed by Islamic scholars.



    During Gerbert's lifetime, the first of these science books were translated from Arabic into Latin through the combined efforts of Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars. Many of the translators were churchmen, and some became Gerbert's lifelong friends.

    Gerbert was a professor at the cathedral school in Reims, France, for most of his career. He is the first Christian known to teach math using the nine Arabic numerals and zero -- although he called them Hindu numerals, as did his Arabic sources. Using these new numerals, Gerbert devised an abacus, or counting board, that mimics the algorithms we use today for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. It has been called the first computer. In a chronology of computer history, Gerbert's abacus is one of only four innovations mentioned between 3000 B.C. and the invention of the slide rule in 1622.

    .....
    In the popular mind today, the Dark Ages are wrongly considered a time of superstition and hysteria, when the Christian church suppressed all scientific investigation.

    Just the opposite is true. A thousand years ago, Christian monks were busily collecting, translating and investigating the scientific wisdom compiled by their Islamic neighbors. Science transcended faith and faith encompassed science.


    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-..._b_790366.html

    Men like Pope Sylvester II, otherwise known as the Scientist Pope, would bring great benefit to Christians around the world.
    Until the religious of all faiths realised that the enquiring mind would be the eventual undoing of their superstitions and thus their source of wealth.
    Then the books were squirreled away and denied to would be scholars for centuries,any original thoughts or ideas were ruthlessly stamped out and there was very strong resistance bordering on the desperate to the translation of the Bible-gods word-into a language understandable to anybody other than the clergy and royalty.
    Resistance that actually led to the splitting of the religion itself.
    And so it came to pass!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by flash View Post
      Until the religious of all faiths realised that the enquiring mind would be the eventual undoing of their superstitions and thus their source of wealth.
      Then the books were squirreled away and denied to would be scholars for centuries,any original thoughts or ideas were ruthlessly stamped out and there was very strong resistance bordering on the desperate to the translation of the Bible-gods word-into a language understandable to anybody other than the clergy and royalty.
      Resistance that actually led to the splitting of the religion itself.
      And so it came to pass!
      Although there was resistance to translation the greatest fear was the spread of literacy. If the majority could not read it didn't matter what language the scriptures were written in. Moreover the literate minority (mainly the clergy of various faiths) had a monopoly of the law as they were the only ones who could read (and indeed write) it. A good proportion of Royalty were also functionally illiterate.
      BTW its worth noting that a good deal of the science the Islamic world boasted about originally came from pre conquest India.
      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by MarkV View Post
        Although there was resistance to translation the greatest fear was the spread of literacy. If the majority could not read it didn't matter what language the scriptures were written in. Moreover the literate minority (mainly the clergy of various faiths) had a monopoly of the law as they were the only ones who could read (and indeed write) it. A good proportion of Royalty were also functionally illiterate.
        BTW its worth noting that a good deal of the science the Islamic world boasted about originally came from pre conquest India.
        All very true but ancient Arabia did have some great thinkers too , they are distinguished in that they achieved this despite islam not thanks to it.
        They also had the good sense to preserve a great deal of works undertaken by Greek scholars and improve on them where they could.
        We should not forget that we have an Arabic numbering system to this day,again this is in spite of religion and certainly not because of it.

        I sometimes wonder what stage of scientific enlightenment mankind would be at if not for the chains and shackles imposed by man made religion and its deleterious effects on research throughout recorded history.

        Witness the opposition to the genome project in modern times if you think good sense has fully and finally prevailed within the human race.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by flash View Post
          All very true but ancient Arabia did have some great thinkers too , they are distinguished in that they achieved this despite islam not thanks to it.
          They also had the good sense to preserve a great deal of works undertaken by Greek scholars and improve on them where they could.
          We should not forget that we have an Arabic numbering system to this day,again this is in spite of religion and certainly not because of it.

          I sometimes wonder what stage of scientific enlightenment mankind would be at if not for the chains and shackles imposed by man made religion and its deleterious effects on research throughout recorded history.

          Witness the opposition to the genome project in modern times if you think good sense has fully and finally prevailed within the human race.
          The 'Arabic' numbering system came from India
          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by MarkV View Post
            The 'Arabic' numbering system came from India
            The system was brought back to the Middle-East by Persian and Arab scholars. However the modern numbers used today are from the contribution of the Arabs.

            The correct term is "Hindu-Arabic numbering system".
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            • #7
              Originally posted by flash View Post
              Until the religious of all faiths realised that the enquiring mind would be the eventual undoing of their superstitions and thus their source of wealth.
              Then the books were squirreled away and denied to would be scholars for centuries,any original thoughts or ideas were ruthlessly stamped out and there was very strong resistance bordering on the desperate to the translation of the Bible-gods word-into a language understandable to anybody other than the clergy and royalty.
              Resistance that actually led to the splitting of the religion itself.
              And so it came to pass!


              During the so called Dark ages one could find educated people from both Christendom as well as the Arab/Muslim empires. Its not just men like Pope Sylvester II , Maimonides, Avicenna, but also Christian Kings such as Alfonso X of Castile. Alfonso X employed Jews, Muslims and Christians in his royal court.

              Comment


              • #8
                What is clear is that with the departure of Rome from Western Europe, technology in those areas lagged behind the Near, the Middle and the Far East.

                When in the West we were learning that boiling bandages in thyme (a natural antiseptic) could reduce the chance of infection, the Muslim world was producing a book (by Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi I believe) on Pediatric medicine, they were that far technologically advanced. It was only with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that some Italian states, and later, the rest of W Europe became more enlightened, ie the Renaissance.

                However, it does not necessarily follow that technology and civilised behaviour are completely linked. With Rome gone, it is clear that order imposed by a centralised government was reduced. However, it also meant the end of some barbaric practices, such as gladiatorial games.
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
                  What is clear is that with the departure of Rome from Western Europe, technology in those areas lagged behind the Near, the Middle and the Far East.

                  When in the West we were learning that boiling bandages in thyme (a natural antiseptic) could reduce the chance of infection, the Muslim world was producing a book (by Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi I believe) on Pediatric medicine, they were that far technologically advanced. It was only with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that some Italian states, and later, the rest of W Europe became more enlightened, ie the Renaissance.

                  However, it does not necessarily follow that technology and civilised behaviour are completely linked. With Rome gone, it is clear that order imposed by a centralised government was reduced. However, it also meant the end of some barbaric practices, such as gladiatorial games.
                  Rather an old fashioned view. Modern studies indicate that Europe did not collapse into barbarism during the dark ages. Rather there were periods of serious unrest 'political' turmoil etc and some serious climatic setbacks (which didn't help) but that for example arts in various forms still flourished. One only has to look at some of the Anglo Saxon gold, silver and jewel work. Architectural techniques continued to develop culminating in the vast medieval cathedrals. The visual arts and sculpture continued in the West whereas it was increasingly formalised and stultified by Islamic dogma in the East. Music also continued to develop in Europe. An enormous fund of knowledge concerning herbs and their medicinal properties was built up by some monastic orders (but unfortunately tended to remain locked in their libraries) but at least there were libraries. The West developed glass working. The 'dark' ages were not really that dark.
                  Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                  Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
                    What is clear is that with the departure of Rome from Western Europe, technology in those areas lagged behind the Near, the Middle and the Far East.

                    When in the West we were learning that boiling bandages in thyme (a natural antiseptic) could reduce the chance of infection, the Muslim world was producing a book (by Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi I believe) on Pediatric medicine, they were that far technologically advanced. It was only with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that some Italian states, and later, the rest of W Europe became more enlightened, ie the Renaissance.

                    However, it does not necessarily follow that technology and civilised behaviour are completely linked. With Rome gone, it is clear that order imposed by a centralised government was reduced. However, it also meant the end of some barbaric practices, such as gladiatorial games.
                    Ah yes, gladiatorial games were replaced by things like the Inquisition. I would opine that when it comes to "barbaric practices" the struggle between the Christian polities of southern Europe and the Ottoman Empire could be as barbaric as anything the Romans ever experienced or thought of for that matter; the Siege of Malta is a perfect example.
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bass_Man86 View Post
                      Ah yes, gladiatorial games were replaced by things like the Inquisition.
                      No gladiatorial games were replaced by various forms of armed combat 'sports' including jousting and mellees plus trial by combat. The use of torture by the inquisition didn't start until 1250 and the infamous Spanish Inquisition (who no one ever expects) was not created until 1480
                      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MarkV View Post
                        The use of torture by the inquisition didn't start until 1250 and the infamous Spanish Inquisition (who no one ever expects) was not created until 1480
                        It also wasn't nearly as widespread or even fully religiously based as popular perception holds. Most populat notions of the Spanish Inquisition trace back to protestant historians and writers from several centuries later with a political agenda in their own time. The inquisition in Spain was run by the crown more than the papcy and was largely a political tool to consolidate control of the Iberian peninsula towards the end of and following the Reconquista. Spanish Inquisitorial courts were arguably some of the most consistent and fair in Europe at the time. While they utilized brutal methods to be sure these were far from unusual for the era and the structured legal system of the inquisition was actually a considerable step up for the accused compared to the often arbitrary kangaroo courts and lynch mobs of secular authorities in Europe. Ironically they were also among the first to denounce witch hunting. All things considered its more accurate to look at them as Ferdinand and Isabella's secret police than as some sort of Vatican genocide attempt, as most people believe.
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                        • #13
                          It was the the Papal Inquisition re established in 1542 as part of the Counter Reformation that was far worse than the Spanish one.
                          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by frisco17 View Post
                            It also wasn't nearly as widespread or even fully religiously based as popular perception holds. Most populat notions of the Spanish Inquisition trace back to protestant historians and writers from several centuries later with a political agenda in their own time. The inquisition in Spain was run by the crown more than the papcy and was largely a political tool to consolidate control of the Iberian peninsula towards the end of and following the Reconquista. Spanish Inquisitorial courts were arguably some of the most consistent and fair in Europe at the time. While they utilized brutal methods to be sure these were far from unusual for the era and the structured legal system of the inquisition was actually a considerable step up for the accused compared to the often arbitrary kangaroo courts and lynch mobs of secular authorities in Europe. Ironically they were also among the first to denounce witch hunting. All things considered its more accurate to look at them as Ferdinand and Isabella's secret police than as some sort of Vatican genocide attempt, as most people believe.
                            Indeed, the Inquisition did have a positive impact on legal practices as it was extremely concerned with due process. However, my larger point is that we cannot somehow pretend that the ancients, this case the Romans, were somehow barbaric compared to whoever. Is watching people getting devoured by lions in an arena really all that different from watching t-rex snacking on a lawyer as in the original Jurassic Park?
                            Give me a fast ship and the wind at my back for I intend to sail in harms way! (John Paul Jones)

                            Initiated Chief Petty Officer
                            Hard core! Old School! Deal with it!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bass_Man86 View Post
                              Indeed, the Inquisition did have a positive impact on legal practices as it was extremely concerned with due process. However, my larger point is that we cannot somehow pretend that the ancients, this case the Romans, were somehow barbaric compared to whoever. Is watching people getting devoured by lions in an arena really all that different from watching t-rex snacking on a lawyer as in the original Jurassic Park?
                              Well yes one was real the other fictional
                              Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                              Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                              Comment

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