Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A vacuous legacy for theology

The notion of a vacuum (i.e. empty space) is an important concept in physics.

Today I learnt (from an article in the American Physical Society News) that the word vacuum first entered the English language in a theological treatise written by Thomas Cranmer in 1550.
Thus it is evident and plain, by the words of the Scripture, that after consecration remaineth bread and wine, and that the Papistical doctrine of Transubstantiation is directly contrary to God's word....
Natural reason abhorreth vacuum, that is to say, that there should be any empty place, wherein no substance should be. But if there remain no bread nor wine, the place where they were before, and where their accidents be, is filled with no substance, but remaineth vacuum, clean contrary to the order of nature.
"A Defence of the true and Catholick doctrine of the Sacrament of the body and blood of our Saviour Christ : with a confutation of Sundry errors concerning the same"

I think Cranmer's theology was correct. But, clearly his science was wrong. Physical vacuums can and do exist. Perhaps, another caution from history about the dangers of theologians and preachers pontificating about science (pun intended!).

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