Mandeville, LA – IT is most interesting to observe how the foundations of the present intellectual greatness of Europe were laid, and most wonderful to think that they were ever laid at all. Let us consider how wide and how high is the platform of our knowledge at this day, and what openings in every direction are in progress,—openings of such promise, that, unless some convulsion of society takes place, even what we have attained, will in future times be nothing better than a poor beginning; and then on the other hand, let us recollect that, seven centuries ago, putting aside revealed truths, Europe had little more than that poor knowledge, partial and uncertain, and at best only practical, which is conveyed to us by the senses. Even our first principles now are beyond the most daring conjectures then; and what has been said so touchingly of Christian ideas as compared with pagan, is true in its way and degree of the progress of secular knowledge also in the seven centuries I have named.
“What sages would have died to learn,
[Is] taught by cottage dames.”
Nor is this the only point in which the revelations of science may be compared to the supernatural revelations of Christianity. Though sacred truth was delivered once for all, and scientific discoveries are progressive, yet there is a great resemblance in the respective histories of Christianity and of Science. We are accustomed to point to the rise and spread of Christianity as a miraculous fact, and rightly so, on account of the weakness of its instruments, and the appalling weight and multiplicity of the obstacles which confronted it. To clear away those obstacles was to move mountains; yet this was done by a few poor, obscure, unbefriended men, and their poor, obscure, unbefriended followers. No social movement can come up to this marvel, which is singular and archetypical, certainly; it is a divine work, and we soon cease to admire it in order to adore. But there is more in it than its own greatness to contemplate; it is so great as to be prolific of greatness. Those whom it has created, its children who have become such by a supernatural power, have imitated, in their own acts, the dispensation which made them what they were; and, though they have not carried out works simply miraculous, yet they have done exploits sufficient to bespeak their own unearthly origin, and the new powers which had come into the world. The revival of letters by the energy of Christian ecclesiastics and laymen, when everything had to be done, reminds us of the birth of Christianity itself, as far as a work of man can resemble a work of God. – Blessed John Henry Newman, Historical Sketches, Volume 3, Section I, Chapter 14