Jesuit Contribution to Science: A History

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Jesuit Contribution to Science: A History | Agustín Udías

Jesuit Contribution to Science: A History

Agustín Udías


April 2020


xi, 277 pages


This book presents a comprehensive history of the many contributions the Jesuits made to science from their founding to the present. It also links the Jesuits dedication to science with their specific spirituality which tries to find God in all things. The book begins with Christopher Clavius, professor of mathematics in the Roman College between 1567 and 1595, the initiator of this tradition. It covers Jesuits scientific contributions in mathematics, astronomy, physics and cartography up until the suppression of the order by the Pope in 1773. Next, the book details the scientific work the Jesuits pursued after their restoration in 1814. It examines the establishment of a network of observatories throughout the world; details contributions made to the study of tropical hurricanes, earthquakes and terrestrial magnetism and examines such important figures as Angelo Secchi, Stephen J. Perry, James B. Macelwane and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. From their founding to the present, Jesuits have trodden an uncommon path to the frontiers where the Christian message is not yet known. Jesuits’ work in science is also an interesting chapter in the general problem of the relation between science and religion. This book provides readers with a complete portrait of the Jesuit scientific tradition. Its engaging story will appeal to those with an interest in the history of science, the history of the relations between science and religion and the history of Jesuits.

Agustín Udías, born in Santander, Spain in 1935. A priest of the Society of Jesus, obtained in 1964 his Ph. D. degree in geophysics from Saint Louis University and in 1971 the degree of Doctor en Ciencias Físicas from Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He has done research and teaching at the University of California, Berkeley; the Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main and at the Universidad de Barcelona. Since 1977 was Professor of Geophysics and from 2005 is Professor Emeritus at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He is member of the Academia Europeae (European Academy) and corresponding member of the Real Academia de Historia (Royal academy of History (Spain)) and Academia de Ciencias y Artes de Barcelona (Academy of sciences and Arts of Barcelona). Author of Principles of Seismology (Cambridge University Press, 1999), Searching the Heavens and the Earth: The history of Jesuit Observatories (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 2003), Historia de la Física. De Arquímedes a Einstein (Síntesis, Madrid, 2004), Ciencia y religión: Dos visiones del mundo (Sal Terrae, Santander 2010) and with J. Mezcua of Fundamentos de Geofísica (1 ed. Alhambra, 1985, 2. Ed. Alianza, Madrid, 1997) with E. Buforn and C. Pro. Solved problems of geophysics (Cambridge University Press, 2012). He has published a large number of articles in international journals on the topics of earthquake source mechanism, seismicity and seismotectonics of the Mediterranean region, on science and religion, on Teilhard de Chardin and the history of Jesuits in science.


1. Clavius and Mathematics in the Collegio Romano
1.1 Mathematics in the First Jesuit Colleges
1.2 Christopher Clavius, the Beginning of a Tradition
1.3 Clavius and Mathematics in the Ratio studiorum
1.4 The Debate About the Certainty of Mathematics
1.5 Disciples and Successors
1.6 The Jesuits and Galileo

2. Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics in Colleges and Observatories
2.1 From the Geometry of Euclid to the Integral Calculus
2.2 The First Astronomical Observatories
2.3 Acceptance of the Heliocentric System
2.4 The Transits of Venus
2.5 Mathematical and Experimental Physics
2.6 Optics and Magnetism
2.7 Introduction of Modern Physics

3. Kircher and Boscovich, Two Leading Figures
3.1 Athanasius Kircher, His Work and Museum
3.2 The Cosmic Force of Magnetism
3.3 The Mysteries of the Geocosmos
3.4 Light, Sound and a Journey Through the Cosmos
3.5 Roger Boscovich and Modern Science
3.6 A Dynamic Atomic Theory
3.7 Mathematics, Astronomy, Optics and Geodesy

4. Jesuit Astronomers in China and India
4.1 Matteo Ricci, from Macerata to Beijing
4.2 The Reform of the Calendar
4.3 Johann Schall and Ferdinad Verbiest
4.4 Jesuit Directors of the Imperial Observatory
4.5 The French Mission
4.6 The French Expedition to Siam
4.7 Jesuit Astronomers in India
4.8 Scientifi c Exchange Between West and East

5. Naturalists, Geographers and Explorers
5.1 Acosta and the Nature of American Lands
5.2 Jesuit Naturalists of the New World and Asia
5.3 The Interest for Geography
5.4 The Maps of Far-Off Lands
5.5 Entering Unknown Lands
5.6 Exploring the New Lands of America

6. The New Observatories
6.1 A New Beginning
6.2 Returning to Astronomy
6.3 Observatories in Mission Lands
6.4 Observatories in Central and South America
6.5 The Vatican Observatory
6.6 The Earth’s Magnetism

7. Meteorology. Tropical Hurricanes
7.1 Pioneers and First Observations
7.2 Meteorology in Modern Observatories
7.3 Caribbean Hurricanes
7.4 Typhoons and Cyclones in the Philippines
7.5 Cyclones in the China Sea and the Indian Ocean

8. Earthquakes and Seismology
8.1 Early Jesuit Studies of Earthquakes
8.2 Seismological Stations in Europe
8.3 Seismology in North America. Jesuit Seismological Association
8.4 Seismology in Central and South America
8.5 Seismological Stations in Asia, Africa and Oceania
8.6 The Study of Microseisms
8.7 Jesuits and Seismological Organizations

9. Four Great Modern Scientists
9.1 Angelo Secchi, Pioneer of Astrophysics
9.2 Solar and Stellar Physics
9.3 Unifi cation of Physical Forces
9.4 Stephen J. Perry, Astronomer and Geophysicist
9.5 Perry’s Scientifi c Expeditions
9.6 James B. Macelwane, a Great Seismologist
9.7 Macelwane, Professor and Educator
9.8 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Geologist, Philosopher and Mystic
9.9 From “Cosmogenesis” to “Christogenesis”

10. The Sciences in Colleges and Universities
10.1 In the Training of Jesuits
10.2 Science Departments in Universities
10.3 Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
10.4 The New Naturalists and Biologists
10.5 Jesuit Scientists in Other Institutions
10.6 Modern Jesuits and Science

11 Epilogue: The Jesuit Scientific Tradition
11.1 Science and Spirituality
11.2 Testimony from Jesuit Scientists
11.3 The Practice of Scientific Research and Jesuit Life

Appendix 1: List of Jesuit Scientists
Appendix 2: Jesuit Scientists in Gillespie’s Dictionary


“This excellent book by Udias (Complutense Univ. of Madrid, Spain) provides a comprehensive survey of Jesuit science from the beginning of the Society of Jesus in 1540 to the present. … The book concludes with long lists of Jesuit scientists organized by disciplines and a comprehensive bibliography. … Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic, professional, and general library collections.”
P. Grendler, Choice, Vol. 52 (11), July, 2015


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