Among the key elements that separate the scholastic understanding of nature from that of modern science, our history books routinely single out matter theory for its importance. The difference between the two views of nature lies in this: According to Aristotelian hylemorphism, natural substances are in the last analysis understood as composites of prime matter and of substantial forms, where the latter inhere in the former only transitorily. When, for example, the element water (which is characterized by cold and wet) loses its wetness and becomes instead hot, it simply transmutes into air. Elements as well as all higher substances are thus exclusively defined by their (transient) qualities. By contrast, the atomic and corpuscular models that have been developed from the late sixteenth century onward suggest something very different, namely the existence of immutable physical corpuscles the properties of which remain intact even when they enter into higher-order molecular structures.
Although the hylemorphic and the atomic understanding of matter are diametrically opposed to one another, it would be misleading to assume--as has sometimes been done--that there was a precise moment in the history of early modern science when a paradigm shift from the first model to the second occurred. (1) Three different reasons militate against such an assumption. First, the atomic theory never entirely replaced hylemorphism, some version of which survived in chemistry (and also in natural philosophy) until the end of the nineteenth century. (2) Second, beginning in fifteenth-century Italy there existed some currents within Aristotelianism itself which took chemical mixtures to possess a corpuscular structure and which therefore combined atomic and hylemorphic notions. (3) Finally, early modern atomic and corpuscular modeling was a phenomenon of such heterogeneity that it would be quite implausible to call it a paradigm. Giordano Bruno's ensouled monads, Rene Descartes' (divisible) particles of res extensa, Pierre Gassendi's (indivisible) atoms with their hooks and eyes, and the chemical atoms and corpuscles that were proposed in the period between Daniel Sennert and Robert Boyle have very little in common with one another.
Already Kurd Lasswitz, whose Geschichte der Atomistik of 1890 remains to this day the standard work on the topic, has drawn attention to the heterogeneity of the atomic revival and the motives that lay behind it. One of the figures that most puzzled him was a Dutch author by the name of David Gorlaeus (vulgo David van Goorle), of whose identity Lasswitz was completely in the dark. All he knew were the two posthumously published books by this author, the anti-Aristotelian Exercitationes philosophicae (1620) and the Idea physicae (1651). Both works contain a fully worked-out atomist doctrine, which according to Lasswitz's chronology makes Gorlaeus the earliest professing atomist after Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). What intrigued Lasswitz about Gorlaeus' atomism was that its foundations were metaphysical and quite unlike anything he had found in the writings of either Bruno or such other early modern atomists as Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Daniel Sennert (1572-1636), or Joachim Jungius (1587-1657). Unable to obtain any information about this author, Lasswitz made an appeal to future historians: "A monograph on Gorlaeus and on this important decade would be most desirable." (4)
Such a monograph has recently been published. (5) However, its findings render Gorlaeus (1591-1612) by no means a less mysterious figure, chiefly because it shows that this pioneering atomist was a theology student who died at age twenty-one. These findings obviously implode the distinction drawn by the historian of chemistry J.R. Partington between the philosophical "speculations" of Giordano Bruno and the "scientific" atomism of David Gorlaeus. (6) They also make it inevitable to look over the shoulders of this very young author so as to verify whether he was not simply following in the footsteps of a more mature thinker whose theory he copied. An enquiry into his intellectual background must begin with the University of Franeker, where Gorlaeus had been an undergraduate. When examining the ranks of his teachers, one will eventually encounter a very unusual teacher by the name of Henricus de Veno (fig. 1). As it turns out, this professor of ethics and physics not only supplied Gorlaeus with several notions that were crucial to the latter's work, but was a fascinating figure in his own right.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Today, de Veno is very much a forgotten figure, even among historians of Dutch philosophy and science, this lack of fortuna being due to the fact that he is not known to have published any works. However, a number of (hitherto unanalyzed) philosophical disputations which accompanied de Veno's lecture courses are extant in European libraries. They suggest that he was the least scholastic and most modern Dutch natural philosopher during the opening decade of the seventeenth century. His philosophical approach is at once theologically grounded and heavily indebted to Italian naturalism la Girolamo Cardano (1501-76) and Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558). Although his precocious student Gorlaeus was to exceed him in productivity, coherence, and intellectual force, de Veno's unorthodox views were a necessary precondition for Gorlaeus' metaphysics and physics.
If one adds to his unusual doctrines the equally unusual fact that, before becoming a professor at Franeker, de Veno spent more than a year in the Roman prison of the Inquisition, there seem to exist sufficient reasons for erecting for this forgotten character a small monument in the form of a monograph. For the historian of Dutch intellectual history, much about de Veno is noteworthy with respect to the debate over the admissibility of a libertas prophetandi and philosophandi, which erupted in the Dutch Provinces in the very years in which de Veno was teaching at Franeker. For the historian of philosophy and of science, he is furthermore interesting as one of the first institutional non-Aristotelians, without whom the breakaway from Aristotle and the development of the new sciences would not have been possible.
DE VENO'S EARLY LIFE
Henricus de Veno (who also wrote his name as de Veen and Van der Veen) was born in the Frisian capital Leeuwarden around 1574. (7) He was the second son of Jantje Gerrits Mamminga and of Laurens de Veno, who was secretary of Leeuwarden's city council and town magistrate. Henricus' three brothers were to obtain influential positions in the army, trade, and at the courts, while his sister married Johannes Rhala, the receptor of religious properties in Frisia (ontvanger van de geestelijke goederen). (8)
After having finished the Gymnasium at Leeuwarden, de Veno enrolled at the University of Franeker on 13 May 1591. The university register (Album studiosorum) lists him during the rectorate of Alardus Auletius (1544-1606) as a student of "philosophy, languages, and theology." (9) The University of Franeker, founded in 1585 as the Dutch Republic's second university (after Leiden, 1575), was at that point only six years old and still an extremely small institution with an uncertain future. De Veno was in fact only the 130th student since its foundation, and the rolls mention a total of eighteen students for the calendar year 1591.
What makes that small Franeker institution interesting for the intellectual historian is the fact that, in contrast with the other Dutch universities, its statutes did not prescribe the teaching of Aristotelian philosophy. (10) The only non-negotiable requirement for its teachers was that they regard themselves as an integral part of the Reformed Church and did not violate its doctrines. Indeed, Franeker's first professors of theology made sure everyone understood the link between theology and the rest of the sciences. In Frisia, the Reformation had gained the upper hand as recently as 1580, and the foundation of the university was intended to provide an intellectual Calvinist elite for the province. Philosophy, which was viewed as subordinate to theology, was expected to give a hand in this enterprise, but divergent views soon developed as to how this should best be done. Rivalling proposals as to how to reconcile philosophy with Calvinist theology were made, and not all of them relied on the Aristotelian corpus. In fact, the Ramist logician Frederic Stellingwerff (d. 1623) spoke in 1610 of Aristotle as of "that pope of nebulous opinions." (11) Nevertheless, outspoken anti-Aristotelianism was not the rule. Lollius Adama (1544-1609), with whom de Veno studied natural philosophy, was still proud of following in the "footsteps of the Preceptor" Aristotle, although he concomitantly displayed a certain weakness for the logic of Ramus (1515-72). (12)
As Vriemoet, the eighteenth-century biographer of the Franeker professors, tells us, de Veno did not content himself with what the little regional university could offer, but "aspired to universal erudition." (13) How exactly he went about obtaining this goal was, however, unclear to Vriemoet, as to all later historians. From the sources we know that on 18 August 1593, de Veno was awarded a master's degree in philosophy at Leiden, where he publicly defended both Theses logicae de categoriis and Theses physicae de principiis under professor Antonius Trutius, one of those early Dutch professors "whose names are not found in the history books." Both sets of theses are inconspicuous and unsurprising in their contents. They have, in fact, even been cited to illustrate the "dogmatism" and the textual Aristotelian teaching at Leiden in the first years after its foundation in 1575. (14)
In 1596, de Veno reappeared in Franeker as a theology student and on 22 May defended a disputation under Professor Henricus Antonii Nerdenus (1546-1614), which was published under the title Disputatio theologica de usuris. At that time, de Veno simply signed as "magister," that is, with the title he had acquired three years before in Leiden. (15) But, instead of finishing his theology degree, de Veno embarked on a peregrinatio academica. Usually, such tours took Frisian students to leading Protestant universities such as Heidelberg, Marburg, Basel, or Geneva, where they would try to obtain their higher degrees. (16) When de Veno returned to Frisia in early 1599, he claimed to have done just that, to be in possession of doctorates in the disciplines of law, medicine, and philosophy, and to be also an expert theologian, albeit without the doctor's hat in that discipline. He would sign with his three titles and did not prevent students from calling him "thrice great" for this triple qualification. (17) Oddly enough, none of his colleagues seems to have doubted his claims, although the chroniclers of Franeker University were unable to specify the places where he had obtained his sundry qualifications. (18)
However, on the basis of recently found evidence, it appears that de Veno's "universal" qualification was, at least partly, a sham. The first piece of evidence is an entry in the register of the Faculty of Theology of Basel University of November 1598 (fig. 2), which states:
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Henricus of Veno, Frisian. Declares that after becoming doctor of law in France, he furthermore wished to finish his study of theology. He was detained for an entire year in Rome in the prison of the Inquisition. (19)
In late 1598, then, de Veno had still not completed his theological studies, but claimed to possess at least a doctorate in law. When and where he obtained this degree is unclear. However, de Veno was from a family of lawyers, practiced law for two years after returning to Frisia in 1599, and identified himself as a "doctor of law" already to the Roman inquisitors. So we must not dismiss the idea that he had done sufficient coursework for a doctorate in law, either between 1593 and 1596, when he resurfaced at Franeker, or after his theological disputation of 1596.
However that may be, the most startling aspect of the Basel entry is surely the assertion that our Calvinist theology student had wished to pursue his theological studies at the center of Catholicism, in Rome, and that he had been arrested and jailed by the Inquisition. This is all the more surprising, because studying at Rome was forbidden to Dutch students by the States-General. Nor do we know of any another Frisian Protestant who after the Reformation tried to study theology in Rome. (20) Yet, as it turns out, the Basel entry is correct. On the basis of the "Decrees of the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition," we may reconstruct the following chain of events. (21)
DE VENO'S TRIAL
On 3 June 1597, the Congregation of the Holy Office in Rome examined a confession that had presumably been made only a few days before by one Robert Brown, a twenty-two-year-old Scotsman from the Orkney Islands. The cardinals decided that Brown should abjure "ut formalis haereticus." This phrase implied that the crime of heresy had been proved. Brown was made to abjure and in so doing returned to the fold of the Catholic Church. During the same session, the cardinals decided that Henricus de Veno, who had been denounced by Brown and had subsequently been arrested, should remain in the prison of the Holy Office. (22)
We do not know what Robert Brown's motives for denouncing de Veno might have been, although some conjectures are more reasonable than others. First of all, the Inquisition usually pressed defendants to denounce their accomplices and offered a more moderate verdict in exchange for such information. It is also possible that Brown had offered hospitality to de Veno. Hosting heretics was by itself viewed as favoring heresy and was therefore liable to punishment. Under these circumstances, it was preferable to confess hospitality before being discovered. (23)
One month later, Brown's case was submitted to the pope, who asked the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), who had only recently begun to work for the Inquisition, (24) to check whether Brown could be confined to a monastery in Avignon. (25) In the following week, Brown obtained the pope's permission to leave the ecclesiastical territory. (26) Concerning de Veno, however, it was decided that he should be brought to trial for heresy. (27) In the autumn of 1597, de Veno confessed that he had embraced Calvinist heresies until the age of eighteen, but that he had relinquished his heretical views by the time he was twenty-three years of age. (28) Given that in the previous year de Veno had still studied theology at Franeker, it is likely that he tried to persuade the magistrates that between 1591, when he enrolled at Franeker, and 1596, when he left Frisia for hisperegrinatio, he had gradually lost his Calvinist faith, and that by the time he entered Italy he had formally converted to Catholicism.
However, this answer did not satisfy the cardinals, who regarded de Veno's statement as a partial confession. (29) In order to get to the bottom of the truth, they decided to have Dutch priests visit de Veno in prison. In March 1598, they also sent the well-known Flemish theologian and editor of patristic works, Gerard Vossius (1540-1609), (30) so as to bring de Veno to a full confession. (31) It seems that the visits of his fellow countrymen produced at least some of the desired results, because in June 1598 the cardinals reached the verdict that de Veno had to abjure as a "formal heretic," which meant, in this case too, that his heresy had been proven. (32) By abjuring, de Veno returned officially to the Catholic fold.
Surprisingly, however, de Veno was released from prison within less than a week. And as he was not yet allowed to leave Rome, he was even granted an allowance for his living expenses. (33) In September, finally, he was given permission to return to his native Frisia. (34)
Unfortunately, the extant documentation of de Veno's trial does not inform us about the reasons for his arrest. As always in such cases, the acts refer for this kind of information to the defendant's personal file. (35) All we know is that he was charged with and condemned for heresy, which in those days was regarded as a serious crime on a par with high treason ("crimen laesae maiestatis"). (36) The tribunal of the modern Roman Inquisition, which had been founded in 1542 by Pope Paul III with the bull Licet ab initio, did not proceed "ad instantiam partis, sed ex officio" (not at the request of a party, but ex officio), although their procedures were usually triggered by a charge --as in de Veno's case. Whenever the preliminary proceedings persuaded the Inquisition to set up a formal trial, the evidence was collected in a specific file. Unfortunately, most of these files have been lost in the years when the Archive of the Holy Office was in French captivity. (37) For our reconstruction of de Veno's trial we must therefore rely almost exclusively on the so-called Decreta, which report the decisions taken by the cardinals during their sessions and recorded by the notary. (38)
The Decreta confirm that de Veno's trial developed essentially along the lines of an ordinary inquisitorial trial. It was the task of the Holy Office to establish whether the crime of heresy was committed and, if such was the case, to proceed against the suspect. (39) In an inquisitorial trial, preliminary proceedings and investigations were assigned to the officials (ufficiali) of the court: that is, to the friars and priests who assisted the cardinals. The cardinals subsequently weighed the evidence, consulted the pope in demanding cases, and formulated the verdict and the sentence. In the 1590s, the Roman Inquisition generally met twice a week, on Tuesdays (feria …