Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A History of Science, Magic, and Belief: From Medieval to Early Modern Europe

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A History of Science, Magic, and Belief: From Medieval to Early Modern Europe

Article excerpt

A History of Science, Magic, and Belief: From Medieval to Early Modern Europe. By Steven P. Marrone. (New York: Palgrave. 2015. Pp. xvi, 317. $34.00 paperback. ISBN 978-1-137-02978-2.)

Steven Marrone begins this useful survey by declaring that the early-modern "witchcraze" and scientific revolution "both arose from a single process of broad change sweeping Europe" (p. viii). While general readers, at whom Marrone is in part aiming, might be shocked to find witchcraft related to science in any way, experts in these fields will be interested in the nature of the connections he draws.

First, Marrone frames the connection of magic to both science and religion through the anthropological theories of James Frazer and Bronislaw Malinowski. He then begins his historical survey by moving quickly from antiquity, when some forms of magic were taken seriously as learned scientia, into the early Christian era, when church fathers resolutely linked magic to demon-worship and therefore to false religion. Throughout the early Middle Ages, however, Christian elites did not respond to magic's diabolical evil so much as they disdained common magical practices intellectually. This changed in the twelfth century, when the idea of magic as a viable form of scientia re-emerged in medieval Europe. At the same time, however, the Church also developed a judicial apparatus to control popular beliefs and practices more stringently. Initially these mechanisms focused on heresy, but they would eventually be turned against magic.

After a brief moment of intellectual respectability, magic was resoundingly recondemned as evil and demonic by most major Scholastic authorities. Their thought informed the stereotype of the diabolical witch that emerged in the earlyfifteenth century. Ironically, there was at that time another brief surge in intellectually serious and respectable magic among Renaissance neo-Platonists. This too, however, never became widely accepted, and the next major intellectual change to affect magic was the advent of mechanical philosophy, which undermined the world of active spiritual and occult forces on which magical thinking depended, leading ultimately to modern science and Weberian "disenchantment. …

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