Acta Historica Leopoldina 29 (1999
Ancient Greek philosophers were the first to postulate the possibility of explaining nature in theoretical terms and to initiate attempts at this. With the rise of monotheistic religions of revelation claiming supremacy over human reason and envisaging a new world to come, studies of the natural order of the transient world were widely considered undesirable. Later, in the Middle Ages, the desire for human understanding of nature in terms of reason was revived. This article is concerned with the fundamental reversal of attitudes, from "undesirable" to "desirable", that eventually led into the foundations of modern science. One of the earliest, most ingenious and most interesting personalities involved was Eriugena, a theologian at the Court of Charles the Bald in the 9th century. Though understanding what we call nature is only one of the several aspects of his philosophical work, his line of thought implies a turn into a pro-scientific direction: the natural order is to be understood in abstract terms of "primordial causes"; understanding nature is considered to be the will of God; man encompasses the whole of creation in a physical as well as a mental sense. Basically similar ideas on the reconciliation of scientific rationality and monotheistic religions of revelation were conceived, independently and nearly simultaneously, by the Arab philosopher al-Kindi in Bagdad. Eriugena was more outspoken in his claim that reason is superior to authority. This claim is implicit in the thought of Nicholas of Cusa with his emphasis on human mental creativity as the image of God's creativity; and it is the keynote of Galileo's "Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina" some 800 years later, the manifesto expressing basic attitudes of modern science.