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Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Date Posted:


Fr Athanasius Kircher SJ, Genius or Wizard?

Dr Clive Gillis

Readers who have chuckled over the exploits of Jesuit Father Brune and the Vatican time machine (BCN 19 September) might be interested to discover how this heady mixture of sophisticated science and black arts rose within the Society of Jesus.  They will discover that one of the principle pioneers of this deadly brew is enjoying a revival both within main stream science and false religion.

Our study takes us back to the hey day of the Counter Reformation.  The scientific discoveries of the Jesuits in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as concerning the earth and the visible heavens, seemed endless.  Their deadly but effective educational system ensured for them a steady supply of Europe’s finest minds.  The Jesuits even attracted the children of Protestant parents, thus further advancing the fame of their institutions.

Black arts of Babylon

Many of the Jesuits scientific discoveries were genuine and have stood the test of time.  But they also provided a cloak of respectability under which the black arts of Babylon were injected.  When the Apostle John saw the Scarlet Whore in the Book of Revelation he was filled with admiration despite the fact that she was dripping with blood.  This is a spiritual mystery.

Even in the “secret histories” of the Jesuits, Fr Athanasius Kircher does not get much of a mention.  He was a “flamboyant … cheerfully imperturbable character” who, un-Jesuit like, pursued his own interests, which the Society of Jesus allowed him to do for reasons which will become apparent.

Kircher was born on the saint’s day of his namesake Athanasius, the sainted opponent of Arius.  He was given this name by devout Romanist parents living in the heartlands of the German Counter Reformation, which had been newly wrested from the Lutherans.  Three surviving brothers of five all went into religious orders without question.

Young Athanasius attended a Jesuit school of which many remain in Eastern Europe to this day.  He studied mathematics and was imbued with Jesuit “piety and religion”.  This placed him at the disposal of his Jesuit masters.  His biographers paint a picture of a lively and impulsive lad beaten into submission by the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum or education system.

He had a vascular condition which resulted in ulceration of his extremities because of his love of skating on the local frozen lakes and rivers.  It is probably what is called Raynaud’s Disease today.  As a result his walking was painful and he feared rejection by his Jesuit schoolmasters.

A lying wonder

To avoid such shame he went to spend a night in prayer before a miracle working statue of the Virgin Mary at Paderborn.  He recalls, “With tempestuous prayers I begged our great Mother to behold the affliction of her suffering child.  Wonderful to relate, I soon experienced within me a feeling that my prayer had been heard, for I was filled with unbelievable prayer consolation.  Wonderful to relate … No longer did I doubt that I would be cured … I slept with a deep sleep … in the morning I found both my legs completely cured”.  That this lying wonder undergirded his whole life and handicapped a brilliant scientific mind is born out by his funding a pilgrim shrine to the Virgin in Rome in his old age.

The Thirty Years War, that great Counter Reformation struggle, impinged on the life of the young Jesuit just after completing his novitiate and taking his first vows.  By pretending to be stupid, the young novice had managed bravely to resist the stultifying effects of the cultish, Jesuit control of free thought.  Suddenly in 1621, one of the Lutheran princes, Duke Christian of Brunswick, was found to be approaching with a large army.  Brunswick’s Protestant zeal and his distress over the ruin of Luther’s Reformation garden – as Protestant Europe was poetically called – may be judged by his reputation amongst the Romanists.  This good man was hailed as, “the supreme hater of Jesuits,” qualified only for his office by his dislike of Rome.  The Jesuits later concocted a massive historical lie concerning Brunswick’s supposed, abominable outrages, just as they did with Cromwell in Ireland.  Even a Jesuit has had to admit in our day that “modern historians dispute” this story.  Brunswick called himself the “Friend of God and Enemy of Priests”.

Acting dumb

The College was surrounded on the 23rd January 1622.  The Father Provincial and some students were seized, but Athanasius escaped and fled to Cologne.  Athanasius went through a variety of Jesuit Colleges.  He still kept his mind from Jesuit brain-washing by acting dumb.  However his exceptional intellect had eventually to emerge.  He concedes, “people could not understand how I … who seemed so backward … could know so many things which scarcely … the most erudite masters could grasp”.  By the age of 23 he had a brilliant grasp of western and eastern languages, mathematics and physical sciences.  His masters squandered his talent in novelties such as firework displays for the theatre to lure the aristocracy into their grip.  One cannot but think of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who had to endure similar treatment.

Athanasius could not be kept back by the Jesuits.  He began to move into areas of science which were developing at the time, such as magnetism and astronomy.  His psychic interests were also developing, as when he had a premonition of a further Protestant onslaught, which in the event was led by Swede Gustavus Adolphus.  He knew this leader also “showed no mercy to Jesuits” and Athanasius fled from Luther’s old haunt of Mainz to the South of France.

Here, freed at last from the Jesuit strait jacket, his worth was recognised by Nicholas Claude Fabri De Pieresc, a wealthy Counsellor of the Parliament at Aix and patron of the sciences.  So much so that when the Father General in Rome directed Athanasius to Vienna to replace no less a personage than Johann Kepler, Court mathematician to the Emperor, Pieresc intervened personally with Pope Urban VIII.


This was the first year of Galileo’s house arrest in Arcetri after his appearance before the Inquisition.  The Jesuits were trying to suppress the idea that the earth revolved around the sun, because it threatened their Aristotelian theory of transubstantiation.  Kepler had been in favour of Galileo, and the Society of Jesus urgently needed their own man on the spot in Rome.

Pieresc, along with most of Europe, knew that the Jesuits were to blame for Galileo’s seizure, and Kircher had confided in Pieresc that he knew Galileo was correct.  Pieresc, who was fascinated by the borderlands of science and spiritism, had his own agenda which involved Athanasius going to Rome to take up a post in the Jesuit Collegio Romano.  However the Jesuit General would not back down, and so Athanasius set sail from Marseilles for Genoa to get to Vienna overland.  But a series of shipwrecks saw him driven down via Corsica to Civita Vechia, Rome’s ancient port.  From there he easily covered the 40 miles to the Roman college.

Newton v. Aristotle

And here Athanasius Kircher remained for the rest of his life.   He soon filled the Chair of Mathematics at the college but was back under the stultifying intellectual restrictions of the Jesuits. A modern Jesuit writes, “Though Kircher was to devote almost half a century working as a scientist at the Roman college (neither he nor the College) was fated to play the great part one might have expected of it in the development of modern science.  It would stand … on the sidelines in spite of its many brilliant professors and its occasional contributions to new science.  The college was dedicated to the Aristotelian philosophy of the schoolmen, and would share in the eclipse of Aristotelianism as the day of experimental scientific method and the Newtonian age dawned”.  Never has the spirit of Jesuitry been better exposed by one of their own.  Amazingly, some of his jolly, showman-like nature endured despite the Jesuits, and once in Rome the Jesuit General felt Athanasius Kircher would go a long way to giving them a charismatic figure like Galileo.  The University of Chicago honoured him recently by holding an exhibition from the 1st February to the 7th April 2000 in the University library.  The catalogue was a limited edition of 1750 copies – and one new copy lies before the present writer.  Clearly the organisers did not believe that Kircher’s contributions to pure science were sufficient to interest many people.

And what contributions, from how many other Kirchers, have been lost to the world through the Jesuits?

The world within the College led Kircher to flit from subject to subject.  Professor Ingrid Rowland who wrote the catalogue for the Chicago exhibition, said, “He constructed mechanical devices of marvellous ingenuity (such as the magic lantern), conducted scientific experiments … devoted himself to knowing everything from the life of the tiniest worms to the outermost reaches of an infinite heaven”.

His amazing museum

He founded an amazing museum in the college, which was commandeered by the Italian state at the fall of Rome in 1870.

“The vast range of Kircher’s activities is conveyed in the engraved title page” from a 1678 work of the Very Celebrated Museum of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus where the great man stands as curator speaking to visitors.  The legend underneath says, “This workshop of Art and Nature, this treasury of the Mathematical disciplines, This epitome of practical philosophy, The Museum of Kircher …”.  One can see obelisks, statues, globes, skeletons, stuffed animals and scientific instruments stretching on ad infinitum.

Kircher wrote over 40 original scientific books.  Most of these were published in Holland or Germany to avoid brushes with the Inquisition.  He was trying to serve two masters, that is, scientific method and the Jesuit General. Unfortunately, one of his astronomical works, despite his deliberate vague use of words, seemed to indicate that the earth revolves around the sun.  This was picked up by his Superiors.  “He may reject the motion of the earth … and impugn it … but he does it so poorly … this cannot stand according to the doctrine of transubstantiation in the Eucharistic sacrament … Kircher’s teaching is clearly extremely dangerous to doctrine.”

Black arts

This was clearly unfulfilling for Fr Kircher and is probably the reason why he strayed into the parallel world of black arts and magic.  Here he was a true pioneer.

Here was a realm his Jesuit masters need know nothing of, as his enquiries could all be cloaked with science. Here at last he was a giant like Galileo.  Professor Rowland writes, “Galileo finally tired of this continuous dissimulation (seeming to write what was acceptable for the Inquisition yet inferring something else obvious to the enquiring mind) and paid the price with enforced silence.  Kircher by contrast, moved beyond hypothesis into the realm of outright fiction.”

His keenest student, Johann Stephan Kestler, described him as the, “great Kircher, the most miraculous mystagogue of nature, the great magician”.  Just how the tragedy unfolds of the great mind of Fr Kircher descending into the realms of satanic darkness to become a forerunner of modern satanic religion under the corrupting influence of the Jesuit system, we shall see in the next article DV.

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