THE SECRET CODE OF WAR BETWEEN RELIGION AND SCIENCE IN THE MIDDLE AGES
“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words.”
-William H. Gass
They have been special people, devoted to save the human beings, to save the world from the jaws of primitivism and the darkness of ignorance. They had their own rituals behind the unquestionable rules of the Church and those who played God on the Earth. They were alchemists, the defender of the common sense in the age when everything was against the common sense. The forgotten men and women of our civilization history that have changed the whole rhythm of the mankind’s progress, giving us hope that knowledge will be preserved and it will prevail.
The European alchemist underground in the Middle ages hasn’t been a new one because the experiments with the science have been made by ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, 2000 BC. It was written that Egyptian alchemists tried to make gold from lead by by painting lead by egg yolk. It doesn’t surprise that Greek word alchemy means The Egyptian Art. However, Greek philosophers later in 600 BC have been more thinkers and theoretically interested to explain the unseen laws of the world than to really make something and create. The Romans have been also on the philosophical level but the both have made the crucial fundamentals for the real empiric sciences that will have been used in the medieval times by the people who wanted more than just a theory.
The main problem for the development of the science was the fall of the Roman Empire and the coming of the famous Dark Ages. Finally the Church had found a way to destroy the teaching that could endanger it or to question its beliefs and unfortunately, the Roman brilliant package of discoveries have been delivered to the monks who decided what will keep and what will forever erase. On the other side of the world, the Islamic scholars have been followed the work of the Greeks and tried to keep going their basic theories and ideas. Some amazing Greek and Roman scientists and their thoughts have come to us because of the Muslim thinkers who have kept those books and saved them from total collapse in the medieval time. One of such discoveries that Arabs have preserved from losing is definitely the Roman art of glassblowing. But, the full exchange between West and Near East has been started after the era of Crusades so the first drops of progressed interpretations had fed the hungry European soul.
Before the glorious praise of science and the Renaissance that began around 1350, there was a time of failed scientific attempts, cursed philosophies, damned thoughts and burnt free minds. The age of real and brave scientists hidden under the cloak of alchemists, who were dreaming about the world that is not in the shadow of God’s executors. They have been those who healed people when priests gave up on them, those who managed to make life easier even when the Church promised the hell on the Earth in the name of God. The opponents, questioners, changers, the blood of the mankind’s journey into the light.
It is the fact that the Middle times have been the worst time for the humanity but at the same time, the beauty of the flowers planted in the darkness has been indescribable. Like it was impossible to stop the army of the brave thinkers to fight against the dominance of the Bible when they have been sure they have something more accurate to offer to the people, to the whole world. The alchemy was their united answer on the witch hunting, their secret language of creating the knowledge and passing it further.
The alchemists believed that everything is composed of the four elements:earth, air, fire and water.If you make the right combination of those substantial elements, you can change the form of those things and rule over them.They were talking about some kind of “transmutation”, that means that one substance can become another one. They hoped that through the right formula, they will be able to make gold from the lead, cure dangerous disease and prolong the short human life. It was enough for a Church to accuse them as devil-worshippers and enemies of the system based on the early cult that even Church people have never fully understood:“Alchemy in the Middle Ages was a mixture of science, philosophy and mysticism. Far from operating within the modern definition of a scientific discipline, medieval alchemists approached their craft with a holistic attitude; they believed that purity of mind, body and spirit was necessary to pursue the alchemical quest successfully.”
What was the main interest of the medieval alchemists ? All of them wanted to understand the cosmology because they doubted some Earth’s problems could be solved through the answers about the cosmos. The old idea about the “philosopher’s stone,” was a fuel for their research, hope that they will find that elixir of immortality and ancient letter of transmutation of things. They tried to define the unknown diseases and their indicators, using the tools of alchemy so the numerous army of fascinating healers in the Middle Ages who successfully cured people has a lot to do with an intensive work of alchemy in the background.Paracelsus is just one of them, botaniker and occultists that advanced the medicine based on his alchemist experiments. There were many contributions of the forgotten medieval wizards. They produced hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, potash and sodium carbonate and learnt how to recognize the arsenic, antimony, and bismuth. It is worth of mentioning that they invented laboratory devices and procedures that are still used nowadays. The alchemy as itself opened the fertile base for genesis of chemistry, biophysics and astronomy.
The Alchemy was a nightmare for the Catholic Church, that controlled all channels of the knowledge exchange, being afraid that somehow the sheep will decide to become lions. At the time when alchemy has been hidden as the biggest sin ever, the Bible warned flock to not follow the Devil’s steps or will be condemned and brutally punished. The Church insisted to keep the public enemy because that was an old receipt to ensure the absolute power. From mystical dark streets of the Venice, via some french basements and german forgotten tunnels,to the english royal elite, the story about the magic of alchemy was transferred from one to another, from the teacher to his student, from the maestro to his apprentice.
That was not an easy job, to work in the alchemy field and to keep it secret when everyone could be a Church’s spy and when you and your research could be burnt on the public square, followed by the sick sadism of the crowd that has never anything understood.They developed their own language, system of classification that divides magic into two categories: light and dark, good and evil:“Of course, their system of ‘natural magic’ was the good sort, working solely with the magic that existed in all natural things. The other, evil, sort was sorcery, whose practitioners were accused of gaining power from the devil to aid their own ends. The famous natural magician and alchemist Giambattista della Porta wrote:There are two sorts of magic: the one is infamous, and unhappy, because it has to do with foul spirits, and consists of enchantments and wicked curiosity, and this is called sorcery, an art which all learned and good men detest… the other magick is natural, which all excellent wise men embrace, and worship with great applause.”
While the alchemists enjoyed the popularity under the Tudor reign in England, their colleagues in the continental Europe had fear for their own life. The Catholic Church has not wasted a time on convincing them to stop with alchemy, they would be condemned and punished. Many theologians have shown interest for alchemy and that was the reason for them to be expelled by the Church, if not worse.
Thomas Aquinas was the prominent Roman Catholic theologian, the Scholastic philosophy thinker,also known as Angelic Doctor and alchemist.He was searching for the unity of faith and pure intellect and his wide range of articles and his operative philosophy, the mixture of universalism as the opposition to nominalism and conceptualism:“More successfully than any other theologian or philosopher, Aquinas organized the knowledge of his time in the service of his faith. In his effort to reconcile faith with intellect, he created a philosophical synthesis of the works and teachings of Aristotle and other classic sages; of Augustine and other church fathers; of Averroes, Avicenna, and other Islamic scholars; of Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides and Solomon ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol; and of his predecessors in the Scholastic tradition. This synthesis he brought into line with the Bible and Roman Catholic doctrine” It was written that he was a friend with Albertus Magnus, known as Albert of Cologne or Doctor Universalis, the man who was one of the most prolific writers and researchers of the medieval times. Doctor Magnus was also an alchemist, very notable one, in spite of the fact that he was a bishop.That would probably designed the road for Angelic Doctor to digg the mysteries of the golden alchemy. It is interesting to see how the Church had a bit of understanding for its own scholars in alchemy only f they used alchemy for promotion of Christian teachings. Some did that very intelligent like Doctor Magnus,who managed to study and experiment through the recognition of traditional Christian viewpoints. In other words,he made a harmony between theology and pure science so everything he discovered and made, the Church adopted as its own success through the revelation:” He was canonized in 1931, and in 1941 he was declared the patron saint of all who cultivate the natural sciences by Pius XII.”
Nevertheless, some alchemists were deceivers and they cheated people and caused problems in the society and in that case, the church authorities had right to act against that fraud.That was exactly happened to Cajetani, an Italian alchemist, who defrauded so many people, he ended up by being hung.The problem was that under the accusations for heresy, always has been someone who doesn’t belong there and who was totally innocent and with the noble attributes. I would like to make clear that the Church hasn’t been negative towards alchemy that is not opposite to the Church’s teaching and for sure hasn’t burnt its own priests who were brilliant alchemists.. It was all about the final power. The religion didn’t want the science to breathe in the freedom into the scared and sacred community.
The Middle age was the the dark age for humanity and free spirit but the big period for stating the rule of Church and its own teaching. What I found very inspirative is the fact that the medieval times caused the boom of science in spite of prohibitions and limitations. There were so many amazing thinkers and researchers that have changed forever the path of our world. Some of them sacrificed their own life for the knowledge and some have done remarkable things staying in the shadow of the God. Because of all of them then, we are here now.