The Unmaking of the Medieval Christian Cosmos, 1500-1760: From Solid Heavens to Boundless Aether

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From the early Christian er and throuout the Middle Ages, theologians exerted considerable effort to achieve a synthesis bringing together Greek cosmology and the Creation story in Genesis. In the constuction of the medieval Empyrean, the dwelling place of the Blessed, Aristotle's philosophy proved of critical importance. From the renaissance on, largely in revolt against Aristotle, humanist Bible critics, protestant reformers and astronomers set themselves to challenge the medieval synthesis. Especially effective in the ensuing dismantlement, from the 16th to 18th centuries, was the pagan concept of infinite universe, resuscitated from Antiquity by the italian philosophers Bruno and Patrizi. Indirectly inspired by the latter, the doctrines of the French pre-Enlightenment thinkers Descartes and Gassendi spread throughout Latin Catholic Europe in spite of considerable resistance. By the middle of the 18th century the Roman ecclesiastical authorities were bought to ackowledge an end to the medieval cosmos, allowing its members to teach the theory of heliocentrism.
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Editorial Reviews

First describing the synthesis between Greek cosmology and the biblical creation story that theologians had cobbled together over the centuries, Randles (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris) then documents how it was dismantled during the Renaissance and replaced with the ancient pagan notion of an infinite universe. He characterizes the shift as the work of dissenters from Aristotle, humanist Bible critics, Protestant reformers, and astronomers. He also shows how their ideas spread through Catholic Europe to inspire indirectly Descartes and Gassendi, and how Catholic authorities surrendered by the middle of the 18th century and allowed heliocentrism to be taught. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781840146240
  • Publisher: Ashgate Publishing, Limited
  • Publication date: 5/1/1999
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.53 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
1 The medieval foundations of the Christian cosmos 1
2 Renaissance and Reformation challenges to the medieval cosmos and the response of the Counter-Reformation 32
3 The challenge of applied optics 58
4 The reception of new astronomical evidence 80
5 The challenge of infinity 106
6 The Empyrean in the late Renaissance and the Baroque age 133
7 The cosmos in university textbooks 151
8 The impact of Cartesianism and Copernicanism and the end of the medieval cosmos 183
Conclusion 219
Bibliography 224
Index 263
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