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Western Culture, Christian Origins Of


I. Introduction – II. Origins and Propagation of the Judeo-Christian Revelation. 1. Historical Background. 2. Some results of the Christian Synthesis – III. Christian Ideas and Western Institutions. 1. The Development of Christian Ideas. 2. The Rise of Western Institutions– IV. Hospitals – V. Universities – VI. Mounts of Piety – VII. Scientific Method. 1. The Rise of the Scientific Method. 2. Christian Theology and the Rise of Science in The West. 3. Christianity and the Development of Sciences – Bibliography

I. Introduction

The expression “Western culture” encompasses a broad spectrum of cultural, scientific, technical, and spiritual developments that have emerged from the values of Greek and Roman civilization, greatly influenced by Christianity. Its historical roots can be traced back to the Near-Eastern and Mediterranean cultures, specifically the Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures. Geographically, Western culture primarily refers to Europe and countries that have a strong historical connection with Europe, as this culture has spread through immigration, colonization, and historical influence over the centuries.

The Judeo-Christian revelation had a profound impact on the development and identity of Western culture. According to Dawson "[Christianity] is the culture to which we all in some sense belong" (Dawson, 1950, 15). The influence of Western thought is evident in various domains such as art, literature, philosophy, science, religion, law, government, architecture, and political organization. What sets Western culture apart from other major civilizations throughout history is its foundation in a shared culture rather than environmental or ethnic homogeneity. This characteristic has endowed Western culture with a dynamic nature, allowing it to integrate new populations within its value framework and foster the global dissemination of institutions inspired by Christian ideas. Examples of such institutions include hospitals, universities, mounts of piety, and the rise of the scientific method

II. Origins and Propagation of the Judeo-Christian Revelation

1. Historical Background. The concept of a singular, personal, and creator God who historically reveals Himself to humanity emerged between the second millennium BC and the first century in the Syro-Mesopotamian society and Jewish spirituality (cf. Bucellati, 2023). It is possible observe the influence of the surrounding cultures of that time on the Old Testament, for example, by examining the first chapters of the Book of Genesis (cf. Blenkinsopp, 2011). The spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the first century resulted in the dissemination of Judeo-Christian Revelation across numerous cities in the Roman Empire. The network of synagogues served as a crucial foundation for Christian missionary work and expansion, especially after the Jewish diaspora which followed the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Christians initially operated within the shadow of synagogues, gradually penetrating all social strata. Interestingly, Christianity even made its way into regions where Christians faced persecution (cf. Di Berardino, 2016). The number of Christians, comprising both pagans and sympathizers, grew exponentially. Stark (1998) argues that Christianity ultimately prevailed over paganism due to the improved quality of life it offered its followers. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity was not a movement primarily driven by the lower classes and the oppressed; it gained traction among the upper and middle classes in urban areas and among Hellenized Jews. The propagation of Christianity experienced a significant surge when Constantine promulgated the Edict of Milan in 313, establishing religious freedom and imposing tolerance for Christianity throughout the empire.

The expansion of Greek and Hellenistic culture into surrounding civilizations yielded significant advancements in literature, philosophy, law, politics, science, and engineering within the Near-Eastern culture and the territories under Roman control. The philosophical ideas of Philo of Alexandria in the first century (cf. Mondin, 1998, p. 22), as well as the critical dialogue with earlier doctrines such as Stoicism and Epicureanism, played a significant role in shaping this cultural synthesis in the thought of the early Christian thinkers (cf. Kenny, 2006, pp. 96-115).

Beginning in the 4th century, this cultural synthesis, primarily guided by influential Church Fathers like Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (known as the Cappadocians), originated during the period of Roman occupation in the Jewish region, provided an ideal foundation for the geographical expansion of the early Christian movement throughout the territories that once comprised the Roman Empire (cf. Fousek et al., 2018). 

2. Some results of the Christian Synthesis. The Judeo-Christian synthesis, which spread throughout Hellenistic and Roman spheres of influence, yielded significant philosophical and religious outcomes, one of which was the notion of creation ex nihilo (from "nothing"). While the concept of creation existed in other religions, in the Judeo-Christian context, it asserts that humanity is created out of nothingness, serving as the pinnacle of creation, in the “image and likeness” of God (Gen 1:26). This grants mankind the capacity to comprehend the kosmos and nature (cf. Gen 1:28). From this idea, a scientific mindset can emerge, compatible with the sense of awe and wonder that characterizes Greek philosophy's origins.

Christianity encompasses distinctive concepts such as the incarnation and the resurrection of bodies at the end of times, which were also shared by certain Jewish movements. Moreover, Christian thinkers built upon Greek and Latin foundations to develop the notion of person (cf Mondin, 1998, p. 9). From the Christian understanding of personality and a personal God (hypostasis), other Christian concepts were derived. A cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian concept of Revelation lies in the reworking of the Greek notion of reason (logos), which signifies the divine intention behind Creation, discernible to human beings through their intellectual faculties. An essential element in the development of modern science is the opening of human reason to transcendence. Belief in the Christian God is not opposed to reason but rather enables its fullest potential, aligning with God's original plan for creation and humanity. These ideas laid the foundation for a Christian interpretation of philosophy and theology, consequently fostering the emergence of Christian humanism. Furthermore, the medieval developments of these ideas served as the bedrock for the advent of the scientific method and the development of modern science in sixteenth-century Europe.

III. Christian Ideas and Western Institutions

The philosophical and theological ideas that emerged during the early centuries of Christianity not only endured the Hellenistic and Roman empires but also served as a fertile foundation for the development of distinctively Western concepts. These ideas have transcended geographical boundaries, contributing to the establishment or resurgence of institutions that have profoundly influenced the growth and prosperity of human society. The influence of Christianity on Western institutions can be observed across various fields, encompassing law, politics, economics, and technology. Although Christianity did not create exclusive "Christian" versions of these disciplines (such as Christian medicine, law, economics, biology, etc.), it did establish fundamental concepts and principles that continue to shape Western institutions to this day. Consequently, a culture of innovation and progress has thrived, leaving a lasting impact on today’s world.

1. The Development of Christian Ideas and Western Civilization. Christianity has played a significant role in shaping today's Western civilization by introducing key ideas. These include a vision of the human person as a subject of freedom, whose inherent dignity is rooted in their common relationship with God. Regardless of social status, such as being free, enslaved, rich, or poor, all individuals share this fundamental bond.

Another crucial concept is the development of a philosophical-theological doctrine of natural law, notably articulated by thinkers like Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, Christianity has progressively emphasized the importance of recognizing and defending the "human rights" of all individuals. The idea of individual rights and freedoms, which holds central importance in many Western democracies, finds its roots in Christian theology, particularly the belief in the equality of all human beings in the eyes of God.

Christianity has also demonstrated a profound concern for the well-being of the human person, evident through the establishment of hospital sand other socio-economic initiatives aimed at safeguarding the vulnerable. Additionally, Christianity recognizes the notion that human beings can give glory to God through the expressions of art and culture. Examples include Dante's Divine Comedy and numerous other religious literary works, the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the founding of universities, and the artistic patronage supported by Catholicism during the Renaissance.

Moreover, Christianity has fostered the pursuit of knowledge about nature and its phenomena, driven by the conviction that studying creation enables a deeper understanding of the Creator. The concept of human reason is intertwined with the biblical concept of "logos." This understanding of reason enables humanity to comprehend the entire universe, forming the basis of “rationalism”. The roots of rationalism trace back to Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and it continued to develop throughout the Middle Ages (with figures such as Robert Grosseteste, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, and Nicole d'Oresme) and the Renaissance (with figures like Cusa and Copernicus). This culminated in the formalization of the scientific method by Galileo Galilei in 1632, which, in turn, paved the way for the scientific revolution beginning with Copernicus' publication of "Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" in 1543 and Isaac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" in 1687. 

These ideas and their historical impact have been extensively studied and discussed by scholars like Grant (1998, 2004).

2. The Rise of Western Institutions. Christianity has had a profound influence on various institutions in the Western world, with many of them owing their origins or revival to Christian ideas. These include the notion of human dignity and the foundational concepts of freedom, equality, and brotherhood that underpin the constitutions of numerous modern democracies. For example, hospitals, universities, and Mounts of Piety are among the institutions that have been deeply influenced by Christian ideas.

Hospitals, as we recognize them today, owe their existence largely to the Christian tradition. The emphasis on charity and caring for the sick and needy within Christianity fostered a culture of compassion and service, which ultimately led to the establishment of hospitals and other charitable institutions. Initially, hospitals were closely associated with religious orders and staffed by monks or nuns dedicated to providing care for the sick and vulnerable.

Likewise, universities have deep roots in the Christian tradition. The Church founded the earliest universities during the Middle Ages, primarily with the intention of providing formal education to clergy and religious leaders. Although universities have since expanded their scope to encompass a broader range of subjects and students, they have always maintained a connection to their Christian origins.

The Mounts of Piety, or "monti di pietà," offer another example of institutions influenced by Christian ideas. Originating in 15th-century Italy, these charitable organizations were established to provide low-interest loans to the impoverished. Often affiliated with the Catholic Church, the Mounts of Piety were inspired by the Christian principles of charity and compassion towards the needy.

These examples represent just a fraction of the wide-ranging influence Christianity has exerted on the development of contemporary Western institutions. The Christian emphasis on compassion, charity, and service has cultivated a culture that values the well-being of all members of society. Consequently, it has contributed to the establishment of institutions that embody and uphold these values, such as healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and initiatives addressing economic welfare (cf. Bruni and Zamagni, 2004).

IV. Hospitals

While the provision of medical care is not exclusive to Christianity, the Christian faith brought a unique and revolutionary approach to nursing during its early development. Ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Persia, Greece, and Rome had already established institutions offering medical services dating back to 4000 BC. The ancient Greek physician Hyppocrates (460-375 BC.), regarded as the father of medicine, introduced the concept of medical science practiced not only with technical expertise but also with ethical standards. The Romans had also established hospitals, known as "valetudinari," for treating sick and wounded soldiers by the first century BC. (cf. Risse, 1999).

However, the limitations of ancient medical practices became evident when it came to treating those affected by epidemics or living in impoverished conditions that compromised their hygiene. These circumstances led to significant health consequences for both individuals and the general public. Large-scale migrations from rural to urban areas, wars, and other factors resulting in population density increase created ideal conditions for the spread of infectious diseases, famines, and high mortality rates. Some regions, like the Byzantine Empire, even experienced severe population decimations.

The Christian innovation lay in the introduction of institutions that provided not only physical care but also holistic care for the sick and injured. This approach, encompassing nursing, represented a significant departure from previous medical practices. Christianity emphasized the importance of caring for the whole person, addressing their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs. It marked a shift from purely technical medical treatments to a more comprehensive approach that embraced compassion, empathy, and the alleviation of suffering.

In the fourth century, hospitals emerged in the East as organized forms of assistance for the poor and the sick, with the state gradually taking charge (cf. Wilken, 2012). The first hospital, founded around 370 in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), coincided with Basil of Caesarea's tenure as bishop. Sozomen (400-450), a Roman lawyer and historian of the Christian Church, was the first to mention the existence and operation of the "Basiliade," a renowned ptochotropheium stablished by Bishop Basil of Caesarea (cf. Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica, 6, p. 34). Drawing upon his medical knowledge acquired during his time in Athens and his familiarity with the assistance systems utilized by Eastern monastic communities, Basil embarked on an ambitious project. He aimed to establish an institution that would care for the sick and needy, equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment, experienced medical staff, accommodations for the elderly and infirm, a hostel for travelers, a hospice for lepers expelled from the city, a church, and a monastery. The complex provided various facilities such as kitchens, refectories, bathrooms, warehouses, and stables, and Gregory of Nazianzus, a close friend of Basil, described it as a veritable "citadel" (fortress).

Patients would stay in the facility until their treatment was complete, receiving shelter, beds, food, and personal care from the staff. Basil utilized the resources of the Church and his own family to establish this facility. According to the historian Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Emperor Valens recognized the project's merit and provided excellent land on the outskirts of Caesarea for its realization. Why did the state show interest in such a project? Since the time of Constantine, churches and ecclesiastical lands were exempt from taxes, and to justify this exemption, the focus was placed on the social services offered by the Church to the community. In the case of this complex, it was the care of the poor. Basil convinced the provincial governor by highlighting the employment opportunities for doctors, nurses, assistants, maintenance personnel, reception staff for pilgrims and patients, and the management of stables and horses for travelers within the "citadel of the sick." The facility also included a house of prayer and a residence for the bishop and clergy.

The exemption was granted, and Basil's project came to fruition, taking the name "Basiliades." Thus, the first hospital in history was born, distinguished by its status as a public institution rather than a private ecclesiastical one, where the realms of the Church and secular society converged, intertwining faith and medical science. Notably, contemporary historian Robert Louis Wilken (2012) highlights that when Western monasteries in the early Middle Ages established medical facilities, it was said that they had been built "according to Eastern customs." This marked the beginning of hospital-based healthcare in the West.

The institution of hospitals experienced significant development during the medieval and Renaissance periods, not only in Italy but also throughout Europe. Several noteworthy examples include the founding of the first monastic hospital in Montecassino by St. Benedict around the end of the sixth century (circa 543), followed by Bishop Visigoto Masona's establishment of the xenodochium in Merida, Spain, in 580, which served as a model for many others across Europe (France and England). Additionally, the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, founded in 1288, stands as the oldest active hospital. In the Middle Ages, the concept of a hospital encompassed hospitality for pilgrims, dispensaries for the poor, clinics and surgeries for the wounded, and homes for the blind, lame, elderly, and mentally ill. Monastic hospitals, in particular, provided not only medical treatment but also spiritual care (cf. Chilliers, L., & Retief, G. 2000, 2005).

The hospital model was later exported to the Americas in the sixteenth century. The Hospital San Nicolás de Bari, founded in Santo Domingo in 1503, marked the first hospital in the Americas and included an attached church. In North America, the Immaculate Conception Hospital in Mexico City (1524) became the first hospital, followed by Catholic-founded hospitals in Quebec starting in 1640 (Montreal, 1644; the founder, noblewoman and nurse Jean Mance, recruited three sisters from the religious hospital order of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1657). The United States saw the establishment of its first hospital, primarily for soldiers, on Manhattan Island in 1663. During this time, hospitals and almshouses often overlapped and did not provide continuous medical care. The modern concept of comprehensive healthcare services did not yet exist, and hospitals were generally avoided by the public, as they were seen as places for those awaiting death and often had a dismal reputation. Those who could afford it sought treatment at home or in private clinics.

In sixteenth-century Europe, the reform of the hospital institution was associated with religious figures like St. John of God, Camillo de Lellis, and furthered by Vincenzo de’ Paoli. In the eighteenth century, Abbot Charles-Michel de l’Épée developed sign language and an educational method for the deaf, laying the foundation for institutions for the deaf that would be managed by the Catholic Church until the twentieth century. Giuseppe Cottolengo established the Little House of Divine Providence and its connected congregations in the nineteenth century. 

Even in more recent times, Christian charity has played a role, with Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) pioneering the modern nursing profession. Nightingale introduced the scientific method and statistical analysis, while also proposing efficient organization for field hospitals. The first shelter for AIDS patients was founded in New York in 1982 by Mother Teresa's sisters, who selflessly accompanied those afflicted by the disease in their final moments when no one else was willing to risk infection. Recovery communities for drug addicts, often initiated by priests or laypeople driven by religious convictions, have also been established. Examples like the Cottolenghi of San Giuseppe Cottolengo and Don Orione demonstrate a willingness to care for those with serious and chronic conditions that state hospitals may be unable to accommodate.

V. Universities

The first universities in Western Europe emerged in the 12th-13th centuries (cf. Colish 1997; cf. Haskins 1923, 1957; cf. Stark 2016), originating from the Christian tradition of higher education during the Medieval period (cf. Rüegg 1992, 1996; cf. Verger 2007, p. 257).

Among the factors contributing to the revival of learning were the Lateran Council III (1175), which mandated the establishment of a theological "chair" in each cathedral church, with a teacher responsible for offering free instruction to clergy and laypeople, and the Lateran Council IV (1215). These events led to the formalization of centers of higher education, somewhat resembling previous experiences in the Islamic world, yet distinct in their international character and guiding principles. The universities often emerged as extensions of existing cathedral schools of theology (such as in Paris), but primarily served as meeting places for students and teachers who lacked dedicated facilities or permanent structures. Their common mission was centered on study, research, the pursuit of truth, and the unity of knowledge (cf. “University,”

The first universities were established in Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. These institutions evolved from well-organized schools that later gained recognition of their autonomy and the authority to confer the academic title of "doctor" from papal or imperial sources. Around the 13th century, the informal gatherings between teachers and students gradually acquired a juridical framework as Studium, fostered by associations (universitates) of teachers (as seen in Paris) or students (as in Bologna). These associations, bringing together students from various European countries, had to navigate interactions with local municipal, imperial, and ecclesiastical authorities, ultimately attaining independent statutes and juridical autonomy. The universitates established their own legal and jurisdictional frameworks.

In the thirteenth century, the Studium of Paris primarily focused on theology, while Oxford emphasized logic and science. Bologna, on the other hand, added the study of medicine, liberal arts, and theology to its curriculum, alongside Roman and canon law. Rome witnessed the establishment of the Studium Urbis in 1303 by Boniface VIII, marking the original nucleus of the present-day University "La Sapienza." Following the suppression of the Papal States, it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Like Bologna, the Studium Urbis offered courses in theology, literature, civil and canon law, medicine, and surgery.

Within the studia generalia, the medieval understanding of knowledge unity assigned theology a privileged but not dominant role. By the end of the fourteenth century, out of approximately fifty universities, slightly over half possessed a Faculty of Theology. According to historian Brad Gregory, the process of cultural secularization in the sixteenth century led to an increasing specialization of knowledge, the diminishing presence of theology in university classrooms, and its subsequent marginalization within theological institutes and pontifical universities (for an overview on universities during the Renaissance and Reformation, cf. Grendler 2004). Consequently, the gap between secular culture and theological knowledge widened, and knowledge became more fragmented (cf. Gregory 2012). In Italy, the suppression of theology chairs from state universities occurred in 1873, and to this day, theology is not taught in state universities. For a history of universities and their evolution from the Medieval to contemporary times, with extensive references, see Scott (2006).

VI. Mounts of Piety

Money lending existed long before the advent of Christianity and was not solely a Christian innovation. Archaeological evidence from the Near East, including Persia, Assyria, India, and Sumeria, demonstrates the presence of early lending practices in ancient civilizations long before the birth of Christ. The ancient Greeks and Romans also engaged in lending activities. 

Christian views on lending were shaped by moral restrictions that regulated the application of interest rates on loans. Since the Church deemed lending at interest immoral, it granted authorization for private credit to be managed by other social components, often Jewish entrepreneurs (cf. Le Goff, 1988). However, these loans carried high interest rates, ranging from 20% to 30%, making them inaccessible and highly risky for many. 

These limitations meant that only those with substantial wealth could thrive in a society where even basic living required significant economic risk for individuals and families. During medieval times, access to credit was not safeguarded as it is in contemporary capitalist societies, as there was no widely accessible regulated credit system. Those without significant liquidity faced two options: struggling day-to-day or, in unfavorable circumstances, risking bankruptcy, poverty, or falling prey to usurers. Thus, a solution was needed based on the Christian principle of charity to assist the less fortunate and provide an alternative to the socially unacceptable and expensive Jewish banking system sarcastically depicted in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" in the late 1500s.

The establishment of the Mounts of Piety (known as "Monti di Pietà" in Italian) stemmed from Franciscan preaching in the fifteenth century as a Christian solution to the problem. It aimed to offer a loan to the "less poor," individuals who were on the verge of subsistence, secured by a modest pledge, as a substitute for traditional alms (cf. Long, 1839). This approach allowed the less fortunate to return to work and repay the loan without falling into destitution. Fifteenth-century preachers, like Bernardino da Feltre, began advocating for the collection of funds from citizens and authorities to establish a pool of resources (referred to as the "Monte") for the disbursement of small loans (cf. Bruni and Zamagni, 2004). The pledged object had to hold a value of at least one third of the borrowed sum. Initially, the interest charged was zero, aligning with the Gospel principle of "lend, expecting nothing in return" (Lk 6:35). However, an interest rate of approximately 5% was eventually implemented to mitigate the risk of insolvency and support the self-financing of the Monte, enabling expanded relief possibilities. Repayment periods usually lasted one year, and failure to repay within the agreed time led to the auction of the pledged property.

Furthermore, the Mounts of Piety set itself apart from other credit options by its selective approach towards clients and its commitment to solidarity (cf. Pullan, 2005). Loans could be denied if the applicant did not genuinely require them or if doubts arose regarding their intention to utilize the funds. Additionally, those who made contributions to the Mount did so with the understanding that the funds would be utilized for purposes of solidarity (cf. Menning, 1993). The first Monte di Pietà was established in Perugia in 1462, but a similar idea is believed to have been proposed in Ascoli Piceno in 1458, coinciding with the suppression of private banks. By 1515, there were already 135 Monti di Pietà in operation, and by 1562, the number had grown to over 200, spanning central and northern Italy. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, over 700 Monti were operational in Italy. Today, these institutions continue to operate under the name "monti di credito su pegno" (pawnshops), following their merger with banking foundations and joint-stock companies that operate in the credit sector.

VII. Scientific Method

Contemporary science is the outcome of a gradual development that originated in the 13th century and reached a pivotal moment during the 16th century Scientific Revolution (cf. Lindberg, 1992; cf. Grant, 1996, 2004). This period in European history marked the establishment of the conceptual, methodological, and institutional foundations of modern science (cf. Henry, 2008, p.1). 

While science has its roots in Greek and Hellenistic philosophical traditions (cf. II.1), the shift towards a scientific mindset occurred within a Christian context, where prominent figures shared the belief in a rational universe shaped by a creative Intelligence. Furthermore, Christian theology's concept of creation fostered the idea of a nature that could be investigated through experimentation, no longer seen as divine. Several Christian ideas laid the groundwork for the emergence of the scientific method, including trust in the rationality of the cosmos and the governing logos, as well as the notion of universal, stable, and communicable laws of nature (cf. Jaki, 1978; cf. Cantore, 1985; cf. Hodgson, 2001).

According to Basalla (1967), science originated in the West and then spread throughout the world. However, the claim that modern science is solely a product of the West is not universally accepted, as some scholars argue for a global perspective on its origins (cf. Poskett, 2022; cf. Sivasundaram, 2010). They challenge the prevailing belief that the scientific revolution began in sixteenth-century Europe and assert that this assertion is based on a European analytical framework that gained widespread acceptance after World War I, primarily through the works of Butterfield and Koyré (Secord, 2023). This perspective overlooks the significant contribution of religious perspectives, particularly Christianity, to the development and diffusion of the scientific method. The recognition of this role becomes evident in the research of Elshakry (2007, 2010).

1. The Rise of the Scientific Method. The modern scientific method encompasses two fundamental components: the application of mathematical models to understand natural phenomena and the adoption of experimental procedures. These components reached their full maturity during the Scientific Revolution, but their origins can be traced back to the scholastic natural philosophy that preceded it. In medieval universities, there was a notable increase in the study of natural phenomena, accompanied by a growing emphasis on a quantitative approach that would eventually culminate in the modern period. Although the mathematical formalism introduced by figures like Galileo and Newton was not yet in use, their work laid the groundwork for the approach that would come to characterize scientific inquiry. The quantification of nature and the reproducibility of phenomena align closely with Christian theological principles, which uphold the notion of a rational universe created by the logos. Moreover, this principle of a rational and reproducible world stood in contrast to animist and pantheist perspectives, which were gradually discarded as superstition. While this transition was not immediate, it gradually liberated scientific research from a set of assumptions that would now be considered unscientific (cf. Gregory, 2012). The discovery of the medieval origins of the scientific method is a relatively recent development, stemming from the research conducted in the early twentieth century by the French scientist and philosopher Pierre Duhem (1861-1916). Duhem's investigations revealed a continuity between the methods employed in modern physics and those of late scholasticism (cf. Duhem, 1989). Specifically, the methodologies developed within the schools of the "Parisian physicists" and the "calculatores" of the Oxford school proved to be instrumental in subsequent scientific achievements.

2. Christian Theology and the Rise of Science in the West. Science, as we understand it today, began its development during the period known as the Scientific Revolution. This era, spanning from the publication of Nicholas Copernicus' "Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" in 1543 to Isaac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" in 1687, marked a significant shift in epistemological conceptions. It is important to note that the Scientific Revolution primarily unfolded within the cultural context of Christianity and did not emerge in earlier advanced civilizations (cf. Stark, 2016). While civilizations like Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China made notable advancements in mathematics and civil engineering, they did not formulate, for example, the fundamental equations governing the motion of bodies. One key distinction between these scientific cultures lay in their epistemological assumptions about scientific discovery. The Christian worldview provided a unified understanding of the universe that facilitated the mathematical reduction of phenomena, which became a defining feature of Western scientific thought. Prominent figures such as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton expressed this vision in their works. Central to their thinking was the belief in a universe created by God, characterized by precise mathematical proportions. According to Christian theology, human beings, though inferior to God, share in the mathematical ideas underlying the Creator's project of Creation (logos) as they are made in His image and likeness. Christian theology also affirms that the existence of natural laws and the comprehensibility of the universe through mathematics are part of God's revelation in nature. Research conducted in the Western world under these Christian presuppositions rejected pantheism and animism, instead initiating a quantitative investigation of nature supported by an experimental method that relied on mathematical precision and the reproducibility of phenomena (cf. Jaki, 1978).

3. Christianity and the Development of Science. The notion that Christianity hindered scientific progress originated during the Enlightenment period, characterized by deistic principles that involved the rejection of Christianity and revealed religions in general. Within this cultural context, the advancements made during the Scientific Revolution contributed to the belief that science and empirical knowledge were the only valid forms of knowledge. A mechanistic conception of nature emerged, often denying or relegating God to the role of an inactive architect. This devaluation of the religious dimension found resonance in positivism, whose proponents argued that adopting a genuine scientific mentality required distancing oneself from any religious perspective. Auguste Comte's Law of Three Stages serves as a well-known example of this viewpoint. According to the French philosopher, humanity progresses through three stages of development: the first is theological (or fictitious), followed by the metaphysical (abstract), and finally culminating in the scientific (positive), which is considered the sole source of true knowledge (cf. Martineau, 1853). 

Positivism can be seen as part of the various naturalistic philosophies that emerged in the nineteenth century, despite their diverse manifestations. Naturalism, on its turn, embraces the idea that nature is the inherent principle, encompassing everything from its beginning to its end, and thus excludes the existence of a transcendent Creator. Philosophical perspectives such as Schopenhauer's vitalism, Hegelian immanentism, and Marxist historical-dialectical materialism, while not specifically aimed at scientific knowledge, contributed to the notion of overcoming the Christian faith. They equated Christianity with a naive or superstitious worldview, labeling it as an obstacle to the attainment of true knowledge. Historical events such as the condemnation of Giordano Bruno and the Galileo affair, as well as the debates surrounding Darwin's theory, were interpreted in a way that reinforced this prejudice. It encouraged the belief that Christian thought, particularly the teachings of the Catholic Church, stood against the pursuit of truth.

Subsequent historiography has provided clarification. It revealed that Bruno held an animist view of the universe, which diverged from a scientific perspective. It also showed that Galileo, while having insightful intuitions, failed to scientifically prove the Copernican theory. Regarding Darwin, his theory does not inherently conflict with the idea of a Creator, and the primary opposition to his theory today comes from "creationist" conceptions that advocate for the immediate creation of all biological species. Such ideas are rejected by the major Christian denominations (cf. Stark, 2016).

There is a vast body of literature that examines the historical relationship between religion, particularly Christianity, and the sciences. In the book "Galileo Goes to Jail," Ronald Numbers (2010) brings together a group of esteemed scholars who address common misconceptions regarding the role of religion in scientific endeavors. Richard William Southern (1953), Stanley Jaki (1978), and David Lindberg (1992) have produced influential works on the development of science in the medieval world. Edward Grant (1996, 2004), James Hannam (2010), Rodney Stark (2016), and Seb Falk (2020) have written recent essays delving into the historical origins of modern science. These works contribute to a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between religion and science throughout history.

Documents of the Catholic Church related to the subject: 

Abbreviations and complete titles of the documents

Gaudium et spes, nn. 54-62; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis 15.03.1979, 12, 15-16; John Paul II, Address to UNESCO 02.06.1980;  John Paul II, Fides et ratio, nn. 36-42 and 72; Benedict XVI, Address at the Collège des Bernardins 12.09.2008.


Origins and Diffusion of Judeo-Christian Revelation: J. BLENKINSOPPCreation, Un-creation, Re-creation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11 (New York: T&T Clark, 2011); G. BUCELLATI"When on High the Heavens..." Mesopotamian and Biblical Spiritualities in Their Structural Contrast (Abingdon: Routledge, 2023); A. DI BERARDINO, "Modalità della diffusione del cristianesimo," in Geografia, diffusione e organizzazione cristiana nei primi secoli del cristianesimo. Discurso de ingreso en la Real Academia Europea de Doctores, Barcelona 2016, pp. 53-75; J. FOUSEKET al., "Spatial constraints on the diffusion of religious innovations: The case of early Christianity in the Roman Empire," in PLOS ONE 13 (2018), e0208744; D. MACCULLOCHA History of Christianity, The First Three Thousand Years (London: Penguin, 2010); G. O’COLLINS, M. FARRUGIACatholicism: The Story of Catholic Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); R. STARKThe Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); R.L. WILKENThe First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

Western Culture: Historical, Philosophical, and Literary Grounds: C. DAWSONThe Age of the Gods: A Study in the Origins of Culture in Prehistoric Europe and the Ancient East [1928] (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2012); C. DAWSON, "The Significance of the Western Development," in Religion and the Rise of the Western Culture (Gifford Lectures 1948-1949) (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1950), pp. 11-25; N. FRYEThe Great Code: The Bible and Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovicyi, 1982); A. KENNYA New History of Western Philosophy. Vol. 1: Ancient Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006, 2nded.); B. MONDINStoria della metafisica. Vol. 2: Dalla Patristica alla Scolastica (Bologna: ESD, 1998).

Hospitals: L. CHILLIERS & G. RETIEF, "The evolution of hospitals from antiquity to the Renaissance," Acta Theologica Supplementum, 7 (2005), pp. 213-232; L. MCDONALD, "Florence Nightingale and the early origins of evidence-based nursing," Evidence Based Nursing, 4 (2001), pp. 68-69; R.L. WILKEN, "The Sick, the Aged, and the Poor: The Birth of Hospitals," in The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), pp. 155-162; G.RISSEMending bodies, saving souls: A history of hospitals (New York, NY: Oxford Press, 1999).

Universities: M. COLISHMedieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, pp.400–1400 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997); B.S. GREGORYThe Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), pp. 298-364; P.F. GRENDLER, "The Universities of the Renaissance and Reformation," Renaissance Quarterly 57 (2004), pp. 1-42; C.H. HASKINSThe Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927); C.H. HASKINSThe Rise of Universities (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1957); J. LE GOFFYour Money or Your Life: Economy and Religion in the Middle Ages (New York: Zone Books, 1988); W. RÜEGG,"Foreword. The University as a European Institution," in A History of the University in Europe. Vol. 1: Universities in the Middle Ages, ed. H. Ridder-Symoens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. xix-xx; W. RÜEGG, "Themes," in A History of the University in Europe: Vol. 2: Universities in Early Modern Europe(1500–1800), ed. H. Ridder-Symoens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 3–42; J.C. SCOTT, "The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformations," Journal of Higher Education 77 (2006), pp. 1–39; J. VERGER, "The Universities and Scholasticism," in The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume V: c. 1198–c. 1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Mounts of Piety: L. BRUNI, S. ZAMAGNIEconomia Civile: Efficienza, equità, felicità pubblica (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2004); G. LONG (ed.), "Mont de Piete'," in Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Vol. 15 (London: Charles Knight and Co., 1839), p. 351; C. BRESNAHAN MENNINGCharity and State in Late Renaissance Italy: The Monte di Pietà of Florence (New York: Cornell University Press, 1993); B.S. PULLAN, "Catholics, Protestants, and the Poor in Early Modern Europe," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 35 (2005), pp. 441–456.

Scientific Method and the Rise of Science in the West: G. BASALLA, "The Spread of Western Science," Science 156 (1967), pp. 611-622; E. CANTORE, "The Christic Origination of Science," Journal of the American Scientific Association 37 (1985), pp. 211-222; P.DUHEMTo Save the Phenomena. An Essay on the Idea of Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1969); M. ELSHAKRY, "The Gospel of Science and American Evangelism in Late Ottoman Beirut," Past & Present196 (2007), pp. 173-214; M. ELSHAKRY, "When Science Became Western. Historiographical Reflections," Isis 101 (2010), pp. 98-109; S. FALKThe Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2020); E. GRANTThe Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); E.GRANTScience and Religion, 400 B.C.- A.D. 1550 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004); J. HANNAMGod's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (London: Icon Books, 2010); J. HENRYThe Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science(New York: Palgrave, 2008 3rded.); P.E. HODGSON, "The Christian Origin of Science," Logos 4 (2001), pp. 138-159; S. JAKIThe Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978); D. LINDBERGThe Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992); H. MARTINEAUThe Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (London: J. Chapman, 1853); R. NUMBERSGalileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); J. POSKETTHorizons: A Global History of Science (New York: Viking, 2022); J.A. SECORD, "Inventing the Scientific Revolution," Isis 114 (2023), pp. 50-76; S. SIVASUNDARAM, "Sciences and the Global. On Methods, Questions, and Theory," Isis 101 (2010), pp. 146-158; R.W. SOUTHERNThe Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961); R. STARKFor the Glory Of God: How Monotheism Led To Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, And The End Of Slavery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); R. STARK, "Scientific Heresies," in Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-catholic History (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2016), Ch. 7.