During my stay at Kachel the Rev. Father Ryan, prior of the Dominicans, an Irish friar educated in France, invited me to dine at his Convent; and as I felt reluctant to accept the good man's offer, he begged earnestly that I would grant him that favour, as he wanted me to render him a service at the monastery. He had in his establishment two members of the order who had gone through their course of studies in Spain, and who presumptuously maintained, that the French knew nothing, while Spain was the cradle of true theology and sterling philosophy. Now he was glad to have met me to take part with him in vindicating the College studies of France, for he candidly confessed, he took pride in the country where he had been educated, and would be glad to humiliate the Salamanca students.39 I at once consented for the honour of my native land.
While at table these two Spanish Dominicans, full of the cant and prejudice of that country, had nothing in their vocabulary of more familiar use than the terms Lutheran, Huguenots,40 and French Blockheads. They would hardly let me swallow in quiet my Soupe a l'Iroise41 Irish mess of potage, but kept up a sort of rambling fire to annoy me: I begged they would let me dine in comfort, and when the repast had terminated, I took the liberty of putting a few questions in my turn, among others the following drawn from the Science of Theology, ( Tract. de Trinitate.)
To these questions I begged them to give a scientific and categorical answer. One of them attempted to reply, but soon got entangled in the meshes I had prepared for him; whereupon I observed that perhaps Theology was not the science in which he particularly excelled, as many and various are the gifts, and one hath prophecy, another the gift of tongues, &c. but perhaps the department of Philosophy was more familiar to him, and as there are four distinct parts, viz. Logic, Metaphysics, Ethics, and Physics, he would perhaps allow me to put a few quaeries drawn from the first part, Logic.
Here I found them as dumb-foundered as before; on which I remarked that Spanish logic was a capital contrivance, since by saying nothing they were sure not to lay themselves open to their adversary.
Passing to the second part, viz. Metaphysics, I asked them how they could prove the spirituality of the soul, the existence of angelic beings, and whether such were created before the world or after? If God has created the world from his knowledge, his knowledge being part of his essence is not the world part of the essence of the Godhead?
Is not chaos eternal as well as God?
Here the same system of obstinate taciturnity was persevered in by my Spanish opponents; so I proceeded, passing by the science of Ethics, where, on account of its facility, I supposed they might know something, to that of Physics.
I asked them to how many principles do you ascribe the composition of all natural things, and what are the single elements or component parts of the Universe. I do not mean to argue with you in the scholastic style so usual in Spain, where authorities and quotations are given for proofs, a system which is of no avail among men who reject your authorities and don't value your quotations; one good fair syllogism is worth a cart load of your Spanish rubbish,
p.21and to that system you must come if you wish to reason with rational people. I recollect arguing with one of your countrymen at the neighbouring town of Kalon on the question in physics, whether a body can be in two places at once, and this Doctor, who had imbibed the method of Spain, alleged as an example the real presence and the doctrine of transubstantiation, without observing that he brought forward a most inapposite case, since in these sacramental elements all physical laws are superseded, it being confessedly a miraculous and supernatural presence, not one according to the usual notions of things.
As for your collegiate course, you think you are adepts in physics, when you have employed seven or eight months in transcribing the lectures of your professors, who have themselves transcribed from those who went before them, and you are as far as ever from a knowledge of the essence of bodies, the nature of the animal or vegetable kingdom, of minerals, the causes of the tide's ebb and flow,of winds,plants, and trees, about which you are just as wise as Solomon, who knew merely enough to dispute about them. Astronomy, which is so important a branch of science, you are in the habit of discarding and denouncing; you even think it a profane and dangerous study, fit for the researches of visionary scatterbrains, and leading strait to witchcraft, whereas it is a principal source of information and utility, and leads us to the knowledge of the Creator, from the contemplation of his works, as St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans,
p.22(Rom. i. 20.) and as I am upon the subject, I will give you a few notions and volunteer a lecture for your instruction, for which you may thank this venerable prior Father Ryan, who knows all these matters as well as I do, having studied in France, and who is not the worse for not having graduated in Spain.
And first, Moses established in Genesis three elementsDarkness, the water, and the Spirit of Godwhich latter the Levant folk call Alla Rohh, the name which Mahomet gives Christ in the Alcoran.
Thales of Miletus maintained that there existed nothing in the commencement but water alone.
Anaximander, instead of one, holds an infinity of primeval elements: while Hermes, tris megistus pontiff, king and philosopher of Egypt, says that all originally consisted of salt, sulphur, and mercury, a hint which has been greedily caught up by the sad tribe of dabblers in alchemy, and seekers for the philosopher's stone.
Aristotle refers all to two thingsform, giving action; and matter, suffering the action aforesaid: and this is the veil by which the Stagyrite concealed from the crowd what he communicated to a chosen few.
Euclid gives you the point, the line, and the figure.
The Rabbis give1st, Godform; 2nd, matter; and 3rd, spirit.
Plato gives1st, God; 2nd, his ideas; and 3rd, matter. Anaximenes the air; Empedocles the alliance
p.23and the discord of the four elements, air, earth, water, fire. Zenocrates, 1st, God; 2nd, matter; 3rd, the elements. Ramus has it thuslst, power; 2nd, an object; 3rd, an act. Democritus gives the plenum and the vacuum. Parmenides hot and cold. Heraclitus, fire; and Pythagoras, number. Whereas Robert Flood, doctor of Oxford, gives you1st, the will of God; 2nd, light and darkness; 3rd, singraths and anagraths; 4th, condensation and rarefaction.
I spare you the rest, lest I should become tedious (!) but I have said enough to show you that, whoever wishes to pass for learned, must be versed in all these matters, and be able to reconcile all these jarring systems of philosophy.
So here, my Reverend Fathers, I leave you with a final observationthat life is short, and that the more we study, the more we are surprised at the extent of our own ignorance!43