Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Amos Funkenstein

Download Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Amos Funkenstein

Post on 15-Jan-2017




0 download


  • Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Amos FunkensteinReview by: Carlos M. N. EireThe Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 1988), pp. 270-271Published by: The Sixteenth Century JournalStable URL: .Accessed: 17/06/2014 14:24

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


    The Sixteenth Century Journal is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to TheSixteenth Century Journal.

    This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 14:24:31 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • 270 The Sixteenth CenturyJournal

    provide the first truly modern bureaucracy. There may be another way out. It may be true that no one until the eighteenth century complained about a patrimonialism which prevented the patricians from regarding their jobs as public trusts and that no one criticized an urbanocentric policy which discouraged agricultural innovation and inhibited exploitation of evolving independent territorial industries and markets increasingly similar to those in the countryside of nearby Lombardy described by D. Sella. Nevertheless, what little is known about public opinion in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seems to suggest that it was not just a passive spectator. If support for Medici government was freely given in return for apparent interest in administrative improvement, then the origins of Medici proto-bureaucracy may owe as much to mentalite's as to patrician self-preservation. Furthermore, Litchfield gives little evidence of the government's success at the level of the execution of policy. J. C. Wacquet has hinted that Lorraine projects may have been as muddled in practice as Medici ones were and that both reflected the impediments to execution encountered by all Early Modern administration. If so, the same sociological rule that Litchfield uses to explain the constancy of the patriciate's committment to government may explain the abruptness of its conversion to apathy upon its replacement there by Lorrainers and new men: perhaps it simply felt that its permanence was no longer in question.

    Brendan Dooley Venice, Italy

    Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century. Amos Funkenstein. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986. 435 pp. $47.50. The central question this very learned interpretative essay seeks to answer is how

    theology and science could have briefly merged into one idiom among a select group of European intellectuals in the seventeenth century. Relying primarily on the works of Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Hobbes, and Vico, the author of this book argues that a "secular theology" of sorts arose after the sixteenth century. This particular type of religious thinking is understood as "secular" in two ways. First, in the sense that it was a theology formulated by laymen for laymen, rather than one controlled by clerics; second-and perhaps more important-in the sense that it sought to explain the intelligibility of the created natural world, rather than to speculate on the mys- teries of the supernatural order.

    Funkenstein builds a deceptively simple structure for this exploration into the realm of pure ideas. In seeking to explain how theology might have evolved from a supernaturally-oriented enterprise in medieval times to a worldly concern in the early modern age, Funkenstein focuses attention on changes that took place in the meaning and usage of three divine attributes between the middle ages and the eighteenth century. The three attributes discussed at length are the omnipresence, omnipotence, and providence of God. Each of these ideas, Funkenstein claims, serve as convenient models for describing the way in which theological thinking changed in relation to other disciplines, most notably physics, history, and political theory.

    Though the overarching structure of this book is elegantly simple, suggesting, as it were, a well-ordered building complex composed of three interconnected struc- tures, the realm one encounters once one enters into this edifice is far from simple,

    This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 14:24:31 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • Book Reviews 271

    almost labyrinthine. This is not a work to be recommended to those who dislike intellectual history, and which might indeed give pause to its staunchest supporters: it makes for difficult reading not only because it deals with some of the most abstract and intractable questions in Western thought, but also because of the way in which the development of these ideas is traced.

    The world pictured here is one in which ideas seem to pre-exist and in which thinkers either react to ideas or are dominated by them. For instance, it is possible to come upon Descartes and Leibniz speaking "the language of medieval theology" in spite of themselves (123), much as innnocent Americans who utter foreign phrases without knowing what they mean; or to find Vico selecting various components of ontology from different philosophical systems to use in the writing of history (282), much as Japanese engineers who collect electronic components from different parts of the world to use in the assembling of gadgets. Funkenstein's erudition, though unquestioningly impressive, at times impedes the narrative flow, especially when relatively minor arguments are pursued, or when major arguments are minutely dissected, or when ideas are laboriously traced back to their ealiest appearance in antiquity. (A more appropriate title for this book would be "Theology and the Scientific Imagination from Ancient Times to the Eighteenth Century.")

    Of the many specific arguments that could be challenged in this book, this reviewer will single out the two that seemed most questionable. One is Funkenstein's contention that "the Christian religion" explained the body of Christ as a "heavenly body"-"a body not unlike the body of Epicurus' gods" (45). Such a generalization betrays unfamiliarity with the way in which the early church dismissed the teachings of the docetists and the Apollinarians. The other argument pertains to the Reforma- tion (which, curiously enough, hardly receives attention). The little that Funkenstein says about the Reformation and its possible contribution to the intellectual develop- ment of the West might be challenged by many readers of this journal. Funkenstein argues that the Protestant understanding of the Middle Ages as a period of decay ultimately led to a "disdain of history" (272). As proof of this, he offers only one example: the work of the spiritualist Sebastian Franck! Though Franck serves admi- rably to prove his point, no mention is made of any of the other sixteenth century Protestants who viewed history in a much different light, such as Bullinger, Sleidan, Beza, and Foxe. This highly selective and seemingly arbitrary use of sources is symptomatic of a certain tendency in some kinds of intellectual history in general and in this book in particular, a tendency to place argumentation above proof, to construct abstract theories into which some of the facts can fit, rather than the other way around. Ironically, this is precisely the type of mindset that the "secular theologians" of the seventeenth century struggled to overcome.

    There is certainly much to be said for the argument that early modern science was not necessarily at odds with religion, and might have even owed much to it. Funkenstein has labored mightily in this book to show where the debts might lie, at least insofar as the ideals of scientific thinking are concerned, and no one can deny that it is an impressively learned work. Whether or not his conclusions become the basis for future debate on this subject remains to be seen. Some readers, no doubt, will be pleased by what this book has to say. Others, however, will probably find its elegant arguments as inaccessible as the ether in which they float.

    Carlos M. N. Eire University of Virginia

    This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 14:24:31 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    Article Contentsp. 270p. 271

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 1988), pp. 131-318Front Matter [pp. 156-222]From Moses to Adam: The Making of the Covenant of Works [pp. 131-155]Martin Bucer and the Problem of Tolerance [pp. 157-168]Two French Views of the Council of Trent [pp. 169-186]Praise and Advice: Rhetorical Approaches in More's Utopia and Machiavelli's the Prince [pp. 187-207]The Case of the Mysterious Coil of Rope: Street Life and Jewish Persona in Rome in the Middle of the Sixteenth Century [pp. 209-221]Religious Literature as an Offensive Weapon: Cipriano de Valera's Part in England's War with Spain [pp. 223-235]Book Notices [pp. 236-239]Book ReviewsReview: untitled [p. 240]Review: untitled [pp. 241-244]Review: untitled [pp. 244-246]Review: untitled [pp. 246-249]Review: untitled [p. 250]Review: untitled [pp. 251-253]Review: untitled [p. 254]Review: untitled [pp. 255-257]Review: untitled [pp. 257-258]Review: untitled [pp. 259-260]Review: untitled [pp. 261-262]Review: untitled [pp. 263-264]Review: untitled [pp. 264-265]Review: untitled [p. 266]Review: untitled [pp. 267-268]Review: untitled [pp. 269-270]Review: untitled [pp. 270-271]Review: untitled [p. 272]Review: untitled [pp. 273-274]Review: untitled [p. 274]Review: untitled [pp. 275-276]Review: untitled [p. 276]Review: untitled [pp. 277-278]Review: untitled [pp. 278-279]Review: untitled [p. 280]Review: untitled [pp. 281-282]Review: untitled [p. 282]Review: untitled [pp. 283-284]Review: untitled [p. 284]Review: untitled [pp. 285-286]Review: untitled [p. 286]Review: untitled [pp. 287-288]Review: untitled [pp. 288-289]Review: untitled [pp. 289-290]Review: untitled [p. 291]Review: untitled [p. 292]Review: untitled [pp. 293-294]Review: untitled [pp. 294-295]Review: untitled [pp. 296-297]Review: untitled [pp. 297-298]Review: untitled [pp. 299-300]Review: untitled [pp. 300-301]Review: untitled [pp. 301-302]Review: untitled [pp. 302-303]Review: untitled [pp. 304-305]Review: untitled [pp. 305-306]Review: untitled [pp. 306-307]Review: untitled [pp. 307-308]Review: untitled [pp. 308-309]Review: untitled [pp. 310-311]Review: untitled [pp. 311-312]Review: untitled [pp. 312-313]Review: untitled [pp. 314-315]Review: untitled [pp. 315-316]Review: untitled [pp. 316-318]

    Back Matter


View more >