It is the 1st of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Having spent so much time reading biographies, I see certain patterns over and over. It is very typical to read of figures in the post-Classical period (think Medieval to the Present) whose parents want them to do become a priest, lawyer, etc… but they instead decide to become something else. This is often a standard bit of plot set up that leads to the intellectual crisis wherein their leadership helps transform popular opinion. I’m not saying this is not happening, but it is an interesting common trope in the history of people and ideas.
Today, I will be introducing you to Marin Marsenne whose life fits this pattern, but more interestingly, helped to transform how Christians would approach the natural world.
Marsenne was born in Northwestern France in 1588 to humble parents. He was able to attend school on account of a local Jesuit institution that took in poor children who showed an aptitude for studies. It may have been at this school that he would meet a young Rene Descartes who also attended the school and would become a lifelong friend of Marsenne.
Despite his father wanting him to enter the priesthood, Marin continued his studies at the College Royal in Paris and the Sorbonne. While attracted to natural philosophy, he also took theology courses and was attracted to the Minims- a small brotherhood of ascetic French monks. He would become a member of the Order and taught philosophy and theology to the younger monks. His production of philosophical and theological tracts was so valued the Order elected him Superior and allowed him to spend all of his time with his intellectual pursuits.
Marsenne trained at the Sorbonne under Thomists and thus he was initially very concerned with defending Aristotle. He wrote against Galileo and wrote extensively on apologetics. And then, in the 1620s, he started to question the role of the church in criticizing or banning certain intellectual pursuits. He would become a defender of Galileo and his old friend Descartes.
Marsenne would become known for his work on acoustics and prime numbers, but his most important role was as the “Secretary of All Europe”. Also known as the “Post Box” of all Europe, his extensive correspondence and meetings with Descartes, Gassendi, Pascal, Hobbes, Roberval, and a host of others that your high school teachers told you about. As the church continued to criticize Galileo and others Marsenne kept spreading their ideas amongst his network that spanned from Hungary to England. After his death letters in his room to over 70 correspondents were found.
His life is helpful in exploring and explaining the so-called divide between Christianity and science on the eve of the Enlightenment. The news of the day (and today) may have hyped the conflict, but many serious Christian scholars carried on without being hassled. And the work they were doing would help to spark the creation of the modern world.
Lastly, it’s helpful to look closer at his dates. Born in 1588 in France thus, amidst the French Wars of Religion. He died in 1648, the last year of the 30 Years War and the year that his friend Descartes published his Meditations and helped usher in the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, in traveling to meet his friend Descartes Marin Marsenne would fall ill and die on this, the 1st of September in 1648.
The last word for today comes from Matthew 8:
Now when Jesus had come down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with a skin disease came, kneeled before him, and said, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do want to. Become clean.” Instantly his skin disease was cleansed.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose father wanted him to become a marionette and instead he’s just a pastor, roaster, and sound engineer he is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who wants both of his sons to become philosopher priests, or wizards, or marionettes.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.