Tag Archives: alchemists

Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Physicist and … Theologian?

28 Jan

20190126_113909In the latest edition of Premier’s Christianity magazine you will find my “Ten-Minute Guide to Isaac Newton”.

Why would Isaac Newton be featured in a series of short guides to figures in church history? Because he had some wacky, but sincerely held, theological views. Although he’s best known for dabbling in maths and physics (you may have heard of one or two of his wee laws of motion that revolutionised the science of the time), his real passions were biblical criticism (especially trying to construct a universal chronology of all human history after Noah’s flood) and alchemy.

While I was researching this article I also happened to be reading Somerset Maugham’s brilliant novel, The Magician. The result was that I quickly became deeply fascinated by the history of alchemy, to the extent that I want to write a book on it someday.

Apparently not everyone shares this fascination, because one of the boxes I had written to accompany the article, about alchemists who were also Christians (or Christianish, in Newton’s case) was cut in favour of some interesting Newton quotes. That’s not anything unusual. When a book is edited, you spent time going back and forth with your editor discussing and negotiating changes; when a magazine is edited, time pressure means that you only find out afterwards.

However, you lucky people who follow my blog can still enjoy the deleted box! Here is a rundown of some of famous Christians who also dedicated themselves to the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone.

morienusMorienus – Christian hermit who introduced alchemy to the Islamic world.

dunstanSt Dunstan – abbot of Glastonbury and later Archbishop of Canterbury. A work on how to produce the philosopher’s stone is attributed to him. [Although to be fair, it could all have been false accusations by his enemies. But he was awfully good at metalwork, which is associated with alchemy. Just sayin’.]

sylvester iiPope Sylvester II – French pope who was deeply interested in arts and sciences, including alchemy, and helped to introduce Arab knowledge to Europe.

albertus magnusAlbertus Magnus – Dominican monk who taught Thomas Aquinas and spent 20 years setting down in Latin the knowledge of every branch of learning that existed.

Each of these men is fascinating in his own right, and well worth looking up. Or if you’re feeling lazy you could just wait, possibly several years, until I write that book I mentioned. But don’t wait years to read the article on Newton – it’s only available this month, and if you’ve never subscribed to Christianity before, you can even get a free trial copy.

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