Catholics & Science #1: Hermann of Reichenau (1013–1054)

Catholics & Science #1: Hermann of Reichenau (1013–1054) October 21, 2015



Medieval image of Hermann of Reichenau [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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The following is yet more compelling evidence of the inveterate, relentless warfare between Catholic theology and science (and all reason whatever) during the “Dark Ages”: that dreadful period of time from benevolent Nero till the “enlightened” anti-Catholic revolutionaries in France in the late 18th century. These were the kind, loving, magnificently “secular” folks who heroically saved the world from the horrors of the father of chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier.

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Blessed Hermann of Reichenau (1013–1054), a Benedictine monk, wrote several works on geometry and arithmetic, and also astronomical treatises (including instructions for the construction of an astrolabe, at the time a very novel device in Western Europe).  Recent scholarship indicates that Hermann possibly had either amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or spinal muscular atrophyAs a result, he had great difficulty moving and could hardly speak In this sense, he was sort of the Stephen Hawking of his time (Hawking also suffers from ALS and cannot speak). Despite these disabilities he was a key figure in the transmission of Arabic mathematics, astronomy and scientific instruments from Arabic sources into central Europe.

He was among the earliest Christian scholars to estimate the circumference of the earth with Eratosthenes’ method (this presupposed a spherical earth, which Eratosthenes accepted). He was literate in several languages, including ArabicGreek and Latin. He built musical and astronomical instruments and was also a famed religious poet. When he went blind in later life, he began writing hymns, the best known of which is Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen). [source: Wikipedia bio]

He introduced into central Europe (from Arabic Spain) the astrolabe, the portable sundial and a quadrant with a cursor.

“Another interesting piece of work by Hermann is on lunar months. Around 1040 he wrote Epistola de quantitate mensis lunaris which addressed the problem of the lengths of the lunar month. It was known that the moon and the sun essentially returned to the same position after a cycle of 19 years. . . . Hermann was exactly right.” [source:  article by J J O’Connor and E F Robertson, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland]


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