Kepler's Tubingen: Stimulus to a Theological Mathematics

Article excerpt

Kepler's Tubingen: Stimulus to a Theological Mathematics. By Charlotte Methuen. [St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History.] (Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate. 1998. Pp. xii, 280. $76.95.)

In the biography of the German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a gap has long existed in a knowledge of his education at the University of Tubingen. Charlotte Methuen illuminates the principal responses within the university to the natural sciences. A fuller understanding of their place and role at Tubingen in the second half of the sixteenth century requires, she writes, interdisciplinary studies, drawing upon at least the history of science, church history, and the history of education. Such work can provide a better grasp of the complex relations between science and theology, as well as the role of the culture in shaping, guiding, or impeding the growth of scientific knowledge. Unlike Peter Dear, Allen Debus, Paolo Mancosu, and Robert Westman, who begin their interdisciplinary research with the history of science, Charlotte Methuen commences her investigation of the intellectual context of the sciences in church history.

In a skillful study of primary sources and leading secondary authors, including Friedrich Seek, Methuen examines the Stift, theological scholarship system, at Tubingen when Kepler was a student. She analyzes trends in the teaching of logic, theology, Aristotelian natural philosophy, and astronomy. A Lutheran university, Tubingen was strongly influenced by Martin Luther's approach to nature and his disciple Philip Melanchthon's educational reforms. Luther viewed nature as a second, limited book (fiber naturae) important to recognizing God as creator, but the first and higher book was the Scriptures (fiber scripturae). Melanchthon's Loci communes had students study languages, logic, ethics, rhetoric, mathematics, and Aristotelian natural philosophy. Both men required textual exegesis to establish the accuracy of texts. Unusual was Melanchthon's emphasis on mathematics for its utility and the power of its proofs. Since it plumbed the vestigia Dei in the cosmos, astronomy was his chief mathematical science. Melanchthon also accepted Ptolemy's astrology as a good source for a knowledge of God.

Among the Tubingen faculty, Methuen identifies many who encouraged greater study of mathematics. …