Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.
The popes can rightly be seen as the founders of the modern western world. The popes provided for an explosion in the advancement of the sciences and humanities never before seen. When we examine the Catholic clergy only, we see the following:
When examining the history of science between 900 BC and 1800 AD, we are amazed to find that five percent of history’s greatest mathematicians are recognized as Jesuit priests—this is particularly impressive when you consider that the Jesuit order did not exist until the fifteenth century. Thirty-five craters on the moon are named after Jesuit scientists.
The popes guided the work of the monks. The monks and their monasteries were responsible for fostering a common language, for protecting, copying, and preserving ancient texts, for developing and elevating astronomy, music, arithmetic, geometry, logic, grammar, and rhetoric to heights never before achieved. They developed a common script with letters, punctuation, spaces, and paragraphs. Through Cathedral Schools they preserved and reproduced for all generations the works of the writers of antiquity. They were the creators and distributers of comprehensive encyclopedias of knowledge.
With over 37,000 monasteries, the monks, known as the agriculturists of Europe, saved and perfected the art of agriculture and laid the foundation for industry. They transformed much of Europe, such as modern day Germany, from a forest into a country. The monks introduced crops, developed new production methods (such as complicated irrigation systems), raised better producing bees, developed salmon fisheries, and engineered better fruits and vegetables.
The monks became the great technical advisors to the west, and became rightly so the fathers of what would eventually become the Industrial Revolution. They were the leading iron producers, and the leading miners of salt, lead, iron, and marble. They were among the first to use the byproducts of their iron production as fertilizer for crops.
The popes invented the university system for those who desired an education, whether wealthy or poor. All were offered an education, if they so desired one—inventing the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Master’s. The Catholic Church has founded 1,358 universities! Pope Innocent VII is known as the father of nascent humanism and the Renaissance.
Despite the sad Galileo incident, the popes have done more than any organization in the history of the world for the advancement of science. Roger Bacon, a Franciscan, and Bishop Grosseteste are often referred to as the forerunners of the modern scientific method. The priest Georges Joseph Edouard Lemaitre is the originator of the theory of the “Big Bang.” He is the first to derive what is known as the Hubble constant. The priest Giambattista Riccioli laid the foundation and principles that would be responsible for all of modern astronomy. The priest Roger Boscovich is often referred to as the father and forerunner of atomic physics, the father of modern atomism. The priest Athanasius Kircher was a master chemist who debunked alchemy and astrology and laid the foundation of Egyptology. Kircher made the interpreting of the Rosetta stone possible. The priest Nicolas Zucchi invented the reflecting telescope. Jean Buridan, the Catholic professor at the Sorbonne, laid the foundation for much of Newton’s work, particularly his first law. The priest Nicolaus Steno is acknowledged as a pioneer in modern geology and is considered the father of stratigraphy. The monk Gregor Mendel became the father of genetics and the laws of inheritance. The priest Pierre Telhard de Chardin was part of the team that discovered Peking man.
The popes inspired further revolutions:
Antoine Laurent Lavoisier is associated with the revolution in chemistry, Erwin Schrodinger with wave mechanics, Blaise Pascal for his theory of probability and the mechanical adding machine, Enrico Fermi with atomic physics, and Marcello Malpighi with microscopic anatomy.
The Catholic Church as guided by the popes is rightly acknowledged as the father of modern science.
The foundations of modern civil law are often attributed to the monk Gratian in his Concordance of Discordant Canons (ca. 1140). Western civilization owes its sense of international law and civil law to the Church’s legacy. The priest Francisco de Vitoria is often referred to as the father of modern international law. Vitoria would be responsible for laying down what we now call the law of nations, laws among nations in peacetime and war. Jacques Maritain’s emphasis on the natural law and natural rights would form the core philosophy of the United Nations’ Universal Declarations of Human Rights.
Way before Adam Smith, the foundations for modern economic systems or what has become known as scientific economics were laid down by the Catholic Church. Abbot Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, the abbot Robert Jacques Turgot, and Francois Quesnay are often referred to as the founders of the economic sciences. Nicolas Oresme is considered the founding father of monetary economics; he would lay the foundation for what would evolve into Gershan’s law. Cardinal Cajetan would become known as the founder of the expectation theory in economics. Pierre de Jean Olivi would become known as the founder of the value theory of economics. The abbot Ferdinando Galiani would be instrumental in laying the foundations for the idea that utility and scarcity are determinants to price.
The popes invented the hospital—the modern system where institutions of care are staffed by doctors and nurses. Doctors diagnosed illnesses and prescribed remedies. By the fourth century every major city in Europe had a hospital. One-fourth of healthcare in the world is run by the Catholic Church.
And contrary to popular opinion, the Church and the popes would elevate the status of women to levels unheard of. It is the Church that gave women equal protection and status in marriage—holding men equally responsible and punishable for adultery and fornication. Women became the founders and abbesses of self-governing religious orders and communities. Pope Benedict XIV promoted the first two women professors in Western history to professorships: the physicist Laura Bassi and the mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Women religious built and ran their own schools, convents, colleges, hospitals, hospices, and orphanages. The American Church, in all its dimensions, is the product of religious women! The Church has produced more famous women than any other institution. The list of canonized women saints alone—at least 5,000--is a mark of this truth.
The Church is made up of humans, not walking gods. The Church has a long legacy of evil. But the fact remains: No group or institution in world history has done more for the advancement of human beings in the west than Catholic Christianity under its popes!