Kepler's Tübingen: Stimulus to a Theological Mathematics

By MacLean, Shona | The Seventeenth Century, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Kepler's Tübingen: Stimulus to a Theological Mathematics


MacLean, Shona, The Seventeenth Century


Charlotte Methuen, Kepler's Tübingen: Stimulus to a Theological Mathematics, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1998, pp xi + 280, £45, ISBN 1859283519

The subject-matter of this work is the search for truth conducted by scientists and theologians in Germany in the later sixteenth century. The truth they sought was an understanding of God's purpose as revealed in his creation of the universe. Methuen argues strongly from the beginning that to view the history of science and the history of theology as separate disciplines with reference to the sixteenth century is essentially anachronistic. Throughout the book, she demonstrates that mathematics, and particularly astronomy, came increasingly to be viewed as adjuncts to theology in the central endeavour to understand God's creation.

This is not in fact a study of Kepler at all, but of the influences which may have shaped the ideas of those who taught him, and of the work of those individuals themselves. Through analysis of a vast corpus of writings, Methuen examines attitudes to philosophy, and the role of philosophy, most especially mathematics and astronomy, in establishing a theological understanding of the universe. She examines the development of the idea of nature as a text which could be interpreted to reveal God's design, and the consequent emergence of the need for a methodology through which this text could be interpreted. This need in itself led to an assessment of the nature of authority, and a questioning of whether the authority of the ancients was tenable in the face of what was actually observed in the heavens. While this work is not an introduction to Kepler's thought in itself, Methuen's treatment of these issues provides a context in which Kepler's work and his place in the history of science can be better understood.

Certain chapters of this book could stand very well on their own: for instance, the discussion of the educational system put in place by the Dukes of Württemberg as part of the process of state building is not only useful as a contribution to the history of education, but also as an illustration of the process of confessionalisation at work. …

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