2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)
Paper No. 35-9
Presentation Time: 4:10 PM-4:30 PM

NICHOLAS STENO'S (1638–86) WAY FROM EXPERIENCE TO FAITH

SOBIECH, Frank, Rotheweg 99, Paderborn 33102 Germany, franksobiech@web.de

The Danish anatomist, geologist, convert, and bishop Dr. Med. Nicholas Steno (1638-86) confessed in 1680 that in his youth he had been nearly seduced to 'atheism', doubting a personal God and preferring an impersonal 'fate'. Having surmounted that crisis, he got stuck in some kind of irresolute relationship with the Christian confessions, because he was fully occupied by his natural research. In the years after his final conversion to Catholicism in Florence in 1667, he was shaken more and more by an inner struggle whether he should give precedence to his geological studies or the pastoral care of souls. In 1675, Steno was ordained a Catholic priest; in 1677 he was ordained a bishop.

His heart-Cross-seal, which he himself had designed in the period shortly after his conversion, and which he used as both natural researcher and priest, lies at the center of his spirituality, which made great progress in the time after his decisive stay in the Netherlands in 1670. Steno describes the human body in its several limbs as an interpreter whose task it is to transform love received from God into its own human language - with the help of divine grace - so that for his part the human being will prepare for the corresponding love of God. In this way a circulation of divine love is constituted.

Steno always started from his own observations, either in nature or regarding the theological truths. When observing the geological structure of the Earth, he even concluded that the original sin of mankind might be involved, due to the existence of e. g. metallic veins not necessary for life on earth.

His aphorism, which is an expression of his marveling at the structure of nature, points to the metaphysical secret embedded in nature: "Beautiful is that which one sees, more beautiful that which one knows, but by far the most beautiful is that which one is ignorant of." Unfortunately Steno's early death prevented the fruition of his life work of mediation between natural science and theological-spiritual contemplation of the order of nature as the Enlightenment dawned in the second half of the 17th century.

2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)
General Information for this Meeting
Session No. 35
From the Scientific Revolution to the Enlightenment: Emergence of Modern Geology and Evolutionary Thought from the 16th–18th Century II
Pennsylvania Convention Center: 204 B
1:30 PM-5:30 PM, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 38, No. 7, p. 100

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