|Plato debates Aristotle (right) in Raphael's |
The School of Athens (1509-1510) Source: Photopin
When people learn that the Medieval period is my favourite period in history I can usually tell what they’re thinking without them even saying it. Why would anybody want to study a period that was so intellectually and culturally stagnant? Unfortunately the popular image of the Middle Ages is often filled with misconceptions (which is actually what makes it so interesting to study). This post is the first in an irregular series in which I will examine popular misconceptions about the Middle Ages and try to shed light on reality.
The Myth: Pope John XXI (1215-1277) condemned the laws of physics as heresy.
Popularised by: Stephen Hawking in his documentary, Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?
The Story Goes: “Back in 1277, Pope John XXI felt so threatened by the idea of [unbreakable] laws of nature that he decreed them a heresy. Unfortunately that did nothing to change the law governing gravity. A few months later the palace roof collapsed and fell on the Pope’s head.”
Much of the documentary’s first half goes to great pains to emphasise the superiority of science over religion and superstition. This story serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when you allow “superstition” to govern your life instead of embracing science. That silly pope!
It’s also largely a distortion of the actual story.