Richard of Wallingford lived in the early 14th century. He was orphaned and went to live with the monks at St. Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire, England. The abbot must have noticed his good mind because he sent Richard to study at Oxford. Richard devoted himself to theology, math, and astronomy. He became abbot of St. Albans and was known for being strict and kind.
He was the first to introduce modern trigonometry to England in the papers that he wrote. Richard of Wallingford's signature achievement is the clock he built, which was the most advanced at that time. It showed the position of the sun, moon, stars, and tides.
Richard used the latest technology of his time and the most advanced astronomical knowledge, solving both practical and technological problems to design his clock. Some have suggested that it could be used as a planetarium by disconnecting the main drive. His escapement design is thought to be similar to a sketch found in Da Vinci's notebooks, but no where else. You can read more about the function of the clock here. Sadly, Richard wasn't able to complete his clock. He died of leprosy at the age of 44. It was completed 20 years after his death, but was destroyed during Henry VIII's reformation and dissolution of the abbey. His plans were discovered in the 1960s and replicas have been built.
Richard also invented an astronomical calculation device he called a equatorium that was able to predict eclipses.
Thomas Sydenham, born in 1624, was a Christian physician known as the father of English medicine. He is responsible for significant advancement in epidemiology. He advocated diagnosis by observing the advancement of symptoms. Of course, this is familiar and obvious to us today, but it was not the medical practice of the time. His observations during the Great Plague of London in the 17th century and subsequent smallpox epidemic led him to recommend more careful observation and distinction among diseases and more thorough testing of therapeutic cures before declaring them cures and using them on patients. The care and cure of the patient was always at the center of his method. He innovated the treatment of smallpox and malaria. Even though some of his suggestions were discounted in his lifetime, they influenced later generations of doctors. His book Observationes Medicae became a standard medical textbook for 200 years.
Sydenham's family had close ties with Cromwell in the English revolution, and Sydenham fought in the war, being left for dead in one battlefield.
His Christian convictions shaped his practice of medicine and motivated him to find better treatments to alleviate suffering. He wrote:
It becomes every man who purposes to give himself to the care of others, seriously to consider the four following things:
First, that he must one day give an account to the Supreme Judge of all the lives entrusted to his care.
Secondly, that all his skill, and knowledge, and energy as they have been given him by God, so they should be exercised for his glory, and the good of mankind, and not for mere gain or ambition.
Thirdly, and not more beautifully than truly, let him reflect that he has undertaken the care of no mean creature, for, in order that he may estimate the value, the greatness of the human race, the only begotten Son of God became himself a man, and thus ennobled it with his divine dignity, and far more than this, died to redeem it.
And fourthly, that the doctor being himself a mortal man, should be diligent and tender in relieving his suffering patients, inasmuch as he himself must one day be a like sufferer.
David Bentley Hart explains that the ethic of caring for the sick and needy, establishing hospitals and clinics, was unique historically in Christianity because of what the Bible taught. He writes in Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (p. 29-34):
Admittedly, the condition of lepers in medieval Western society – social and legal, to say nothing of medical – was anything but happy. But scholars less confident of their perspicacity than Le Goff would probably have paused, at least for a moment, to marvel at the very existence of lepers’ hospitals in an age when the fear of contamination was so great, and might have leadenly ascribed the location of these hospitals at the edges of towns to nothing more sinister than the exigencies of quarantine. They might even have noted the amazing willingness of Christian towns to tolerate the proximity (a mere “stone’s throw” away) of persons whom other societies would have banished far from all human habitation, and the willingness of monks, nuns, and even laity to minister to those persons’ needs. There was, after all, a long tradition of Christian monastic hospitals for the destitute and dying, going back to the days of Constantine and stretching from the Syrian and Byzantine East to the Western fringes of Christendom, a tradition that had no real precedent in pagan society…St. Ephraim the Syrian (A.D.C. 306-373), when the city of Edessa was ravaged by plague, established hospitals open to all who were afflicted. St. Basil the Great (A.D. 329-379) founded a hospital in Cappadocia with a ward set aside for the care of lepers, whom he did not disdain to nurse with his own hands. St. Benedict of Nursia (A.D.C. 480-c. 547) opened a free infirmary at Monte Cassino and made care of the sick a paramount duty of his monks. In Rome, the Christian noblewoman and scholar St. Fabiola (d. A.D.C. 399) established the first publish hospital in Western Europe and – despite her wealth and position – often ventured out into the streets personally to seek out those who needed care. St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407), while patriarch of Constantinople, used his influence to fund several such institutions in the city; and in the diakoniai of Constantinople, for centuries, many rich members of the laity labored to care for the poor and ill, bathing the sick, ministering to their needs, assisting them with alms. During the Middle Ages, the Benedictines alone were responsible for more than two thousand hospitals in Western Europe. The twelfth century was particularly remarkable in this regard, especially wherever the Knights of St. John – the Hospitallers – were active. At Montpellier in 1145, for example, the great Hospital of the Holy Spirit was founded, soon becoming a center of medical training and, in 1221, of Montpellier’s faculty of medicine. And, in addition to medical care, these hospitals provided food for the hungry, care for widows and orphans, and distributed alms to all who came in need.…
The ethical presuppositions intrinsic to modernity, for instance, are palliated fragments and haunting echoes of Christian moral theology. Even the most ardent secularists among us generally cling to notions of human rights, economic and social justice, providence for the indigent, legal equality, or basic human dignity that pre-Christian Western culture would have found not so much foolish as unintelligible. It is simply the case that we distant children of the pagans would not be able to believe any of these things – they would never have occurred to us – had our ancestors not once believed that God is love, that charity is the foundation of all virtues, that all of us are equal before the eyes of God, that to fail to feed the hungry or care for the suffering is to sin against Christ, and that Christ laid down his life for the least of his brethren.
Ancient societies and religion were not known for their care for the sick and dying. Christians who often risked their lives to care even for non-Christians represented a radical difference in the values taught by the Bible than anything else known at that time.
It was common in ancient societies, including Rome, which saw the inception and rise of Christianity, to abandon the sick and dying. Roman religion did not teach followers to care for the helpless.
Destitute families lacking any resources to help sometimes even abandoned the chronically ill to die. In Rome, sick or elderly slaves were routinely left to waste away on Tiber Island. Unwanted children were often left to die of exposure. If a father decided that the family couldn’t afford to feed another child, that child would be abandoned on the steps of a temple or in the public square. Almost without exception defective newborns were exposed in this way. (Christian History magazine)
In ancient Greek religion, the god Asclepius was sought for healing, but there was no ethic of caring for the sick and dying that this god encouraged.
Against this backdrop, Christianity was a distinct contrast. The Bible teaches the intrinsic value of every human being, and this is what motivated early Christians to begin caring for their ailing. Church leaders followed the biblical admonition to visit the sick. Congregations and communities set up formal practices for care. And as this became common among Christians, they were challenged to care for non-Christians, as well.
In the third century AD, an epidemic swept across Northern Africa, Italy, and the western empire. As many as 5000 people a day were dying in Rome. The sick were abandoned in the streets and the dead left unburied. In Carthage, the Christians were blamed for the disease, and the emperor ordered Christians to sacrifice to their gods to end it. Carthage's bishop, Cyprian, encouraged Christians to care for the sick and dying. They buried the dead and risked getting sick by taking in the sick. This was repeated other times in the early centuries of the church during epidemics. Christians introduced a new concern and standard of care for sick people.
Rodney Stark, author ofThe Rise of Christianity, argues that some of the marked growth of the church in the early centuries can be attributed to care and compassion Christians showed for the sick. He tracks increased conversion rates during three plagues: the Antonine plague (2nd c.), the Cyprian plague (3rd c.), and the Justinian plague (6th c.). Christians demonstrated their love for God and biblical values, and they offered a very attractive witness.
Their example has been followed through the history of the Christian church. Catholic orders were devoted to care. Mennonites in Holland and Quakers in England formed societies to improve health care. Modern medical missionaries carry on in this mission today.
Today, we take for granted the responsibility to care for the sick regardless of religious convictions. It was Christians practicing what the Bible taught them that began caring for those in need.
You remember William Penn from history class. He was granted the colony of Pennsylvania by the king in payment for debts owed his father. Penn was a Quaker who converted to Christianity in his early 20s. Penn adhered to the biblical values of human equality and intrinsic value and dignity. These later influenced the governmental framework he proposed for Pennsylvania.
Because of his dissent from the Church of England, Penn was imprisoned in the Tower of London for his outspoken religious beliefs. Penn was close friends with George Fox, who founded Quakerism. By rejecting the church's authority over congregations, "Fox not only extended the Protestant Reformation more radically, but he helped extend the most important principle of modern political history – the rights of the individual – upon which modern democracies were later founded. Penn traveled frequently with Fox, through Europe and England. He also wrote a comprehensive, detailed explanation of Quakerism along with a testimony to the character of George Fox, in his introduction to the autobiographical Journal of George Fox. In effect, Penn became the first theologian, theorist, and legal defender of Quakerism, providing its written doctrine and helping to establish its public standing."
Penn's father banished him from his household for his religious beliefs. On his deathbed, Penn's father expressed his respect for his son's religious convictions and courage. He entreated the Duke of York, the future King of England, to protect his son.
Penn and other Quakers purchased land in America that became New Jersey. He encouraged a mass migration of Quakers to escape persecution and pursue practicing their religious freedom in peace. The King later granted Pennsylvania to Penn. "On March 4, 1681, the King signed the charter and the following day Penn jubilantly wrote, 'It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.'"
Penn proposed a framework for the government of his colony that included some landmark features that influenced the U.S. Constitution a century later. He limited his own power under the legal framework. And he provided for amendments to allow the constitution to be changed over time. Other rights that were unique at the time:
the assembly could bring a request of impeachment of the governor before the council for its trial
unconstitutional laws should be invalidated, although it did not specifically grant courts the power to declare their unconstitutionality
capital punishment to be applied to a strictly limited scope of criminal offenses only, including murder and treason
freedom of worship in the colony was to be absolute
Penn vowed that he would not oppress the native population or the immigrants of Pennsylvania for his own benefit. He later attracted other persecuted religious groups from Europe to immigrate making Pennsylvania a place of religious toleration.
Penn insisted that the Quaker schools be open to everyone, so the colony had a high literacy rate. Philadelphia became a center for science and medicine. The Quakers improved treatment of the mentally ill. Prisons were places of reform where the inmates were treated better than was common at the time.
On November 28, 1984, President Reason on an Act of Congress declared William Penn to be an honorary citizen of the United States. He had favored unifying the American colonies.
Probably like most people, I wasn't interested in history when I was a child. My interest began as an adult. But there is one historical fact that has stuck with me since childhood, but not because of my history textbooks. The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 AD at Runnymede. That fact has stuck in my mind because of an episode of My Favorite Martian – Tim and Martin accidentally ended up witnessing the signing of the great document because they dialed the year rather than the time in their time machine.
The Magna Carta is foundational human rights document because it was the first in history that imposed on the sovereign to respect the rights of citizens and limit the ruler's arbitrary will. It covered the rights of noblemen, not all citizens – but it was a beginning. It is the cornerstone that most modern constitutions are built on. It influenced the U.S. Constitution. The first clause of the Magna Carta protects the freedom of the church, and one of the key people responsible for the document and its signing was the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Stephen Langton was born in the 1150s and probably grew up aware of the conflict over religious freedom between Thomas Beckett and Henry II. These events may have planted ideas that influenced him later in his career. Langton became a priest, studied, and later lectured and wrote on theology in Paris from 1181 to 1206. He would have seen Notre Dame being built. He wrote commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, and is most likely the person who determined the chapter markers in the Bibles we use today.
He was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury in 1207 and returned to England in the middle of strife between King John and the English barons. He told the barons of a document he learned about in Paris signed by Henry I in 1031 that the king agreed to recognize certain liberties of the barons. With this precedent in mind, he and the barons drafted the document that would become the Magna Carta. After the rebels took London in 1215, John signed the Magna Carta and Langton's is the first signature of the witnesses. By this time, Langton was actually siding with the king and used his influence to get John to agree. He continued to act as a mediator finding peaceful ways to resolve disputes and protect the rights the king had agreed to honor. He later authored constitutions that became the basis of ecclesiastical law that have been used for centuries.
Langton died in 1228 and was buried at Canterbury Cathedral.
Gallaudet University, the first university in the United States focusing on educating deaf people, was named in honor of the founder's father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.
Thomas was born in Philadelphia in 1787. His father was George Washington's secretary when he was president. The family moved to Connecticut, and Gallaudet earned his masters degree at Yale University. He pursued theological studies in preparation to being a pastor.
In 1814, Gallaudet met a little girl named Alice Cogswell. She was deaf and Gallaudet was motivated to figure out how to teach her since there were no schools for the deaf in the U.S. He eventually learned sign language in France and returned to found the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. Alice was one of the first students.
Gallaudet married one of the graduate of his school and they had eight children. The youngest, Edward Miner Gallaudet, established a national college for deaf students in Washington, D.C., receiving a charter from Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Another son, Thomas Gallaudet, became an Episcopal priest and also worked with deaf children.
William Wilberforce is well-known for his decades-long persistence getting legislation passed to outlaw the slave trade in the British Empire. He and a group of Christians called the Clapham Sect (because that is where they were from) were motivated by their Biblical belief in human value and the value of God's creation to pursue other ways of solving other social ills. Their campaigns were carried out through a variety of organizations and legislation that they backed. Their goal was to “eliminate public corruption and promote religion in the hearts of the people.... The movement emphasized the worth of the human soul and...the individual," and their goal was to spark evangelical revival.
In 1787, the Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue punished drunkenness, vulgarity, gambling, and immoral books.
The Philanthropic Society tried to prevent crime by trying to deal with the secondary causes. London's streets were filled with huge numbers of homeless children who committed crimes. One quarter of the unmarried women in London were prostitutes, many were underage.
The Climbing Boys Society worked to outlaw the practice of children who were sold or kidnapped and forced to work as chimney sweeps, treated as property.
The Society for the Discharge and Relief of Persons Imprisoned for Small Debt pursued prison reform. Early in the 19th century, 3/4 of prisoners were imprisoned for owing small amounts of money, and the conditions were horrible. The Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and The Reformation of Juvenile Offenders also attempted to improve these circumstances.
The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor helped correct the abuses of the workhouses. It also introduced policies to improve the economy, hoping to improve conditions for the poor.
Wilberforce and the Clapham group also promoted Sunday School as a way to teach children how to read, to educate them in order to improve their conditions, and so they could read the Bible and learn moral virtue that would serve them well in leading good lives.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals worked to pass legislation to end cruel practices and sports. One example was a "sport" called "bull baiting." A bull would be tethered with a long enough rope to give him free movement. Dogs, bred for fighting, would be unleashed on the bull, and the animals would fight, each tearing the other to pieces.
Wilberforce and the Clapham sect were Christians. They believed salvation was through Jesus and good works did not earn God's forgiveness. But they believed in common grace – that society should promote the common good by pursuing objective virtues and morality. Not only are these goods in themselves, they also promote the inherent dignity and value of God's creation.
You may be familiar with Wedgwood pottery. One of the most distinct of Josiah Wedgwood's designs is jasper ware – most commonly with blue or green glaze with classic figures applied in white. He was a well known potter in the 18th century, and was also an abolitionist and innovative business man.
He was born in England in 1730 to a family of potters. They were dissenters of the Church of England, and his biblical values ran deep.
He opened his own pottery and experiments with glazing techniques and colors that became famous. Wedgwood invented the pyrometer to control the temperature in the kilns to ensure consistent quality of his pottery. He introduced a production line in his factory. "He is credited with creating the first illustrated catalogues, employing the first modern traveling salesmen, and pioneering direct mail marketing. He offered money-back guarantees, free delivery, and self-service in his shops. He even set up 'buy one, get one free' sales for his products." As a result, he became a very successful businessman, and his pottery was purchased in the royal palaces of Europe, as well as middle class homes.
Because of his Christian convictions, Josiah Wedgwood had a high view of the intrinsic value of all human beings, and this led him to become involved in the abolition movement in England. He asked one of his designers to create an emblem for the movement. It was a kneeling slave with the caption, "Am I not a man and a brother?" The design became a wildly popular symbol of the abolition movement in England and even America. It could be seen on snuff boxes, pipes, cuff links, and women's jewelry. The jewelry gave women a rare opportunity to express their social and political views when that was very uncommon. Wedgwood helped promote the cause of abolition that led to the end of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807.