The Jesuit Paradox: Intellectual Authority, Political Power, and the Marginalization of Astrology in Early Modern Portugal

In: Early Science and Medicine
Luís Miguel Carolino ISCTE – Lisbon University Institute, CIES – IUL

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This paper focuses on an apparent paradox. In the early decades of the eighteenth century, Jesuit professors of mathematics at the College of Santo Antão in Lisbon delivered entire courses of astrology while astrological almanacs testified to the fact that astrology had ceased to appeal to large sectors of Portuguese society. This case thus challenges the traditional perception that early modern scholars increasingly dissociated themselves from astrology whereas it still continued to play a major role in common people’s lives and beliefs. Furthermore, this also contradicts the view according to which the Counter-Reformation played a crucial role in the marginalization of astrology. This paper argues that Portuguese Jesuits followed a flexible interpretation of Thomas Aquinas regarding the extent of celestial influence and perceived astrology as compatible with Aristotelianism. It understands the downfall of astrology within the context of political centralization that characterized the reign of Pedro II.

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