Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Did the Medievals Think of the Earth as "Most Central" or as Lowest?

C. S. Lewis in his The Discarded Image (see below), cites one Chalcidius as saying that the Earth was put into the centre of the Universe so that angels could have something to dance around. But apart from that, there is a clear tradition of calling Earth "low".


2. On the first day Ge 1:1-5 of the world, on Sunday, October 23rd, God created the highest heaven and the angels. When he finished, as it were, the roof of this building, he started with the foundation of this wonderful fabric of the world. He fashioned this lower most globe, consisting of the deep and of the earth. Therefore all the choir of angels sang together and magnified his name. Job 38:7 When the earth was without form and void and darkness covered the face of the deep, God created light on the very middle of the first day. God divided this from the darkness and called the one "day" and the other "night".

The Annals of the Old Testament
from the Beginning of the World

The First Age of the World

la AM, 710 JP, 4004 BC

St Thomas:

I answer that, Even as in bodies there is gravity or levity whereby they are borne to their own place which is the end of their movement, so in souls there is merit or demerit whereby they reach their reward or punishment, which are the ends of their deeds. Wherefore just as a body is conveyed at once to its place, by its gravity or levity, unless there be an obstacle, so too the soul, the bonds of the flesh being broken, whereby it was detained in the state of the way, receives at once its reward or punishment, unless there be an obstacle. Thus sometimes venial sin, though needing first of all to be cleansed, is an obstacle to the receiving of the reward; the result being that the reward is delayed. And since a place is assigned to souls in keeping with their reward or punishment, as soon as the soul is set free from the body it is either plunged into hell or soars to heaven, unless it be held back by some debt, for which its flight must needs be delayed until the soul is first of all cleansed. This truth is attested by the manifest authority of the canonical Scriptures and the doctrine of the holy Fathers; wherefore the contrary must be judged heretical as stated in Dial. iv, 25, and in De Eccl. Dogm. xlvi.

Summa Theologiae, Question 69. Matters concerning the resurrection, and first of the place where souls are after death
Article 2. Whether souls are conveyed to heaven or hell immediately after death?
Corpus of article.

Note that earth and water are heavy and drawn to Earth / to its centre, and likewise sinful souls are heavy.


While the Mind was thus uttering his plaint and singing this song, Philosophy (that is to say, Reason) watching him with a cheerful eye, in no wise cast down for his melancholy, and she said unto him, 'No sooner did I see thee lamenting thus and sorrowing than I perceived that thou hadst departed from thy native home--that is to say, from my teachings. Thou didst depart from it when thou didst forsake thy firm belief, and bethink thee that Fate ruled this world at her own pleasure, respectless of God's will or leave, or of the deeds of man. I knew that thou hadst departed therefrom, but how far I knew not, until thou thyself didst make all clear to me in thy song of sorrow. But though thou hast indeed wandered farther than ever, yet art thou not utterly banished from thine home, though far astray. No one else hath led thee into error; 'twas thyself alone, by thine own heedlessness; nor would any man be led to expect this of thee if thou wouldst but remember thy birth and citizenship as the world goes, or again, according to the spirit, of what fellowship thou wast in mind and understanding; for thou art one of the righteous and upright in purpose, that are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. From hence, that is, from his righteous purpose, no man is ever banished save he himself so chooseth. Wheresoever he be, he hath that ever with him, and having it he is with his own kin and his own fellow-citizens in his own hand, being in the company of the righteous. Whosoever then is worthy to be in their service hath perfect freedom.

'Nor do I shun this lowly and this foul dwelling, if only I find thee wise, nor do I care for walls wrought of gold, as I care for a righteous will in thee. What I seek here is not books, but that which understands books, to wit, thy mind. Very rightly didst thou lament the injustice of Fate, both in the exalted power of the unrighteous and in mine own dishonour and neglect, and in the licence of the wicked as regards the prosperity of this world. But as both thine indignation and thy grief have made thee so desponding, I may not answer thee till the time be come. For whatsoever man shall begin untimely hath no perfect ending.

The Consolation of Philosophy
translated by Walter John Sedgefield ch. V

Note that Philosophy or Reason (i e what Boethius really thought about things when thinking undisturbed, as opposed to his violent queries while in prison calls the abode of Boethius "lowly" and "foul". Perhaps the prison cell was indeed foul, I prefer to think not so, but "lowly" conveys that he is thinking from the perspective of a celestial being finding such and such remarks to be made about a place on ... Earth.


I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see
Lucifer in the same way I had left him;
And I beheld him upward hold his legs.

And if I then became disquieted,
Let stolid people think who do not see
What the point is beyond which I had passed.

"Rise up," the Master said, "upon thy feet;
The way is long, and difficult the road,
And now the sun to middle-tierce returns."

It was not any palace corridor
There where we were, but dungeon natural,
With floor uneven and unease of light.

"Ere from the abyss I tear myself away,
My Master," said I when I had arisen,
"To draw me from an error speak a little;

Where is the ice? and how is this one fixed
Thus upside down? and how in such short time
From eve to morn has the sun made his transit?"

And he to me: "Thou still imaginest
Thou art beyond the centre, where I grasped
The hair of the fell worm, who mines the world.

That side thou wast, so long as I descended;
When round I turned me, thou didst pass the point
To which things heavy draw from every side,

And now beneath the hemisphere art come
Opposite that which overhangs the vast
Dry-land, and 'neath whose cope was put to death

The Man who without sin was born and lived.
Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere
Which makes the other face of the Judecca.

Here it is morn when it is evening there;
And he who with his hair a stairway made us
Still fixed remaineth as he was before.

Inferno, Canto XXXIV
translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

So, obviously, Dante thought Lucifer was in the bary-centre of the Earth.

The Discarded Image:

We have already seen that all below the Moon is mutable and contingent. We have also seen that each of the celestial spheres is guided by an Intelligence. Since Earth does not move and therefore needs no guidance, it was not generally felt that an Intelligence need be assigned to her. It was left, so far as I know, for Dante to make the brilliant suggestion that she has one after all and that this terrestrial Intelligence is none other than Fortune.

P. 139

This to answer a question like "if all planets have guiding spirits, is Satan that of Earth?" with a resounding no!

The implications of a spherical Earth were fully grasped. What we call gravitation-for the medievals ' kindly enclyning '-was a matter of common knowledge. Vincent of Beauvais expounds it by asking what would happen if there were a hole bored through the globe of Earth so that there was a free passage from the one sky to the other, and someone dropped a stone down it. He answers that it would come to rest at the centre. 1 Temperature and momentum, I understand, would lead to a different result in fact, but Vincent is clearly right in principle.

P. 141

This to answer the pretence that CSL wrote the work to denigrate Catholicism and the Medieval world - a little lower is where I got the reference to Dante from.

At Luna we cross in our descent the great frontier which I have so often had to mention; from aether to air, from ' heaven' to 'nature', from the realm of gods (or angels) to that of daemons, from the realm of necessity to that of contingence, from the incorruptible to the corruptible. Unless this ' great divide' is firmly fixed in our minds, every passage in Donne or Drayton or whom you will that mentions ' translunary' and ' sublunary' will lose its intended force. We shall take ' under the moon' as a vague synonym, like our ' under the sun', for ' everywhere', when in reality it is used with precision.

P. 108

Now we are getting at it. The superlunary realm is clearly nobler than the sublunary realm.

He cites Macrobius and Milton:

Thus, though civilisation in most parts of the Earth is always comparatively recent, the universe has always existed (n, x). If Macrobius describes its formation in terms which imply time, this must be taken merely as a convenience of discourse. Whatever was purest and most limpid (liquidissimum) rose to the highest place and was called aether. That which had less purity and some small degree of weight became air and sank to the second level. That which had still some fluidity but was gross (corpulentum) enough to offer tactual resistance, was gathered together into the stream of water. Finally, out of the whole tumult of matter all that was irreclaimable (vastum) was scraped off and cleansed from the (other) elements (ex defaecatis abrasum elementis), and sank down and settled at the lowest point, plunged in binding and unending cold (I, xxii). Earth is in fact the ' offscourings of creation' , the cosmic dust-bin. This passage may also throw light on one in Milton. In Paradise Lost, vn, the Son has just marked out the spherical area of the Universe with His golden compasses (225). Then the spirit of God

downward purg' d
The black tartareous cold infernal dregs. (237)

Verity takes this to mean that He expelled them from the spherical area, purging them ' down' into chaos, which in Milton, for certain purposes, has an absolute up and down. But ' down' might equally well mean towards the centre of the cosmic sphere, and ' dregs ' would exactly fit the conception of Macrobius.

PP. 62 f.

Macrobius was - unless CSL totally misunderstood the Middle Ages, which I don't think - very seminal for the Middle Ages. Milton (whom I admit to not having read) was, if not totally Medieval, at least largely so, and through poetical purpose more so and less Newtonian than he could have been if he had been in the business of Newton rather than that of Milton.

Note that the ONE voice here against Earth being all around the very bottom of the universe is Ussher who seems to be Flat Earth, thinking the central globe is a water globe with Earth being on one of its surfaces, like a plane - to him Hell was probably below the Earth plane.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
Vigil of St Bartholomew Apostle

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