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Medieval and Seventeenth-Century Conceptions

of an Infinite Void Space beyond the Cosmos


Author(s): Edward Grant
Source: Isis, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Spring, 1969), pp. 39-60
Medieval and Seventeenth-
Century Conceptions of an
Infinite Void Space
beyond the Cosmos
By Edward Grant"
I
N THE LA TIN WEST medieval discussions of the vacuum are separable into
three quite distinct subtopics, all arising from Aristotle's intense attacks against
the possible existence of void in any manner or place. These are ( 1) the separate
void,
1
(2) the interparticulate void,
2
and (3) the extracosmic void. In this paper
only the third topic will be considered.
3
In the process of rejecting the existence of a plurality of worlds in De caelo,
Book I, Chapter 9, Aristotle sought to strengthen his position by declaring that
there can be "neither place, nor void, nor time, outside the heaven."
4
He had
earlier argued that no bodily mass could come into being beyond the heavens,
or outermost circumference of the universe, and from this inferred that neither
place nor vacuum could exist there, since "in every place a body can be present"
5
(no body, therefore no place) and since "void is said to be that in which the
presence of body, though not actual is possible"
6
(no possible body, therefore no
vacuum). And so it was that Aristotle set the stage in antiquity and the Middle
Ages for a question that would be frequently posed: If it were possible to push
a lance, or an arm, through the outermost celestial sphere, what would be the
disposition of such a body?
7
What lies beyond the cosmos? For Aristotle the
0
Indiana University. I wish to acknowledge
my gratitude to the National Science Founda-
tion, Division of Social Sciences, Program in
History and Philosophy of Science, for its
support of my researches into the role and
concept of void in medieval physics, of which
this paper forms a part. An abridged version
was first presented 28 Dec. 1967, in Toronto,
at the annual meeting of the History of Sci-
ence Society.
1 Aristotle's major assault against the sepa-
rate void appears in Physics IV, Chs. 6-8,
esp. 8.
z Among other places, see Physics IV, Ch. 9.
39
3 Topics (1) and ( 2), which are the focal
points of my current research, will be ex-
amined in future articles.
4 De caelo l.9.279a.12-13, 17-18.
5 Ibid., 13-14.
G This definition occurs at least twice in
substantially the same form; see De caelo
I.9.279a.14- 15 and Physics IV.7.214a.18-19.
7 According to Simplicius (Commentary
on the Physics 108a), this question had al-
ready been raised by Archytas of Tarentum
(first half of the 4th century n.c.). See Max
Jammer, Concepts of Space (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1954), pp. 7,
40
EDWARD GRANT
only intelligible response was-absolutely nothing, or mere privation; for many
others, including many later Aristotelians, the question would not resolve itself
so easily. It is the purpose of this paper to describe, summarize, and analyze some
of these responses and arguments. For convenience I have subdivided it into
two parts and a conclusion. Part I will be devoted primarily to medieval discus-
sions; Part II will include one major discussion from the sixteenth century and
the rest from the seventeenth century.
I
Perhaps the most important ancient response to this problem came from the
Stoics, who, while in agreement with Aristotle that ( 1) the cosmos itself was a
finite sphere without any vacua whatever (it was filled with pneuma) and that
( 2) all existent matter and reality were contained within it, nevertheless insisted
that beyond our finite world there exists an infinite three-dimensional void capable
of receiving matter and serving as its receptacle.
8
If an account by Cleomedes
is typical, their conception of vacuum was substantially the same as Aristotle's
most considered definition of it. Where Aristotle says that "void is said to be
that in which the presence of body, though not actual is possible,"
9
Cleomedes
asserts that "since this vacuum [or emptiness] receives bodies, so it is also some-
thing that is capable of receiving bodies. Therefore this something which is
capable of being filled by a body or to be abandoned by a body is a vacuum."
10
It follows that the infinite void serves as the receptacle of the finite cosmos. In-
deed, that seems to be its only function, since interaction between cosmos and
void is denied on grounds that the void has no properties of its own and can in
no way affect the material world, which constitutes a closed system that cannot
be dissipated into the void.
11
But granting that the world is surrounded by void,
10-11. In the discussions of this paper Aris-
totle's cosmology would most frequently pro-
voke the question.
s Aristotle himself seems to have suggested
that proponents of void might perhaps assume
a full cosmos surrounded by void. Thus he
says (Physics IV.6.213b.2-3) that "it might
perhaps be maintained that, though material
existence is continuous throughout the cosmos,
the void is something existing outside it." The
translation is that of P. H. Wicksteed and
F. M. Cornford in the Loeb Classical Library.
9 See above, n. 6.
10 On the Circular Motion of the Heavenly
Bodies (De motu circulari corporum caeles-
tium), Bk. I, Ch. 1. The Greek text was
published by H. Ziegler, Cleomedes De motu
circulari corpomm caelestitlm ( Leipzig :
Teubner, 1891 ) and translated into German
by Arthur Czwalina in Kleomedes Die Kreis-
bewegung der Gestirne in Ostwald's Klassilcer
der exakten (Leipzig : Engel-
mann, 1927) . The passage above appears on
p. 8 of the former and p. 3 of the latter vol-
ume. Cleomedes, who may have lived during
the 1st century A.D., wrote the above treatise
in defense of the Stoics.
11 "But, they argue, if a vacuum existed
outside the world, the world would move
away through this vacuum, while, on the
other hand, nothing would exist to keep it
together and support it. To this we answer
that it is impossible for the world to move
away through the void. The world strives
toward its own mid-point [or center} and
what lies under us has the same mid-point
toward which it strives" (Ziegler, p. 10;
Czwalina, p. 4). In the next paragraph Cleo-
medes responds to those who declare that the
world would be destroyed by moving through
this void. "To this we answer that the world
cannot experience such a fate, for it possesses
a force which keeps it together and preserves
it. And the vacuum surrounding the world
exercises no influence on the world" (Ziegler,
pp. 10, 12; Czwalina, p. 4). A few paragraphs
earlier (Ziegler, p. 8; Czwalina, p. 3) Cleo-
medes said of this void : "it is incorporeal
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
41
why, it was asked, must it be assumed infinite? In response it was argued that
because no body could exist beyond the physical world, no material substance
could limit the void; and since it was absurd to suppose that void could limit
void or that void should terminate at one point rather than another-a clear
violation of the principle of sufficient reason- the infinity of void space seemed
an irresistible conclusion.
12
No comprehensive account of the Stoic conception of vacuum was available
in the Latin Middle Ages. The little that was known was probably derived from
Simplicius, who, in his Commentary on Aristotle's De caelo, had occasion to dis-
cuss Aristotle's celebrated statement that there can exist "neither place, nor
void, nor time, outside the heaven." He informs us that:
. . . the Stoics, however, thinking that there is a vacuum beyond the sk)', prove
it by this kind of assumption: let it be assumed that someone standing motionless
at the extremity [of the world] extends his hand upward. Now if his hand does
exiend, they take it that there is something beyond the sky to which the hand
extends. But if the mm could not be exiended, then something will exist outside
that prevents the extension of the hand; but if he then stands at the extremity
of this [obstacle that prevents the extension of his hand] and extends his hand,
the same question as before [is asked], since something could be shown to exist
beyond that being.is
However meager this report of Stoic doctrine on the void, there is little doubt
that it came to be widely known, for hardly had William Moerbeke made it
available in Latin translation when Thomas Aquinas saw fit to discuss it in his
Expositio on De caelo,
14
to be followed by a number of fourteenth-century
and ungraspable; it has no form and is not
formable; it undergoes [i.e., endures or suf-
fers] nothing and it concerns nothing ; but
it is only capable of receiving a body."
(Unless stated otherwise, the translations in
this article are my own.}
12 Ziegler, pp. 14, 16; Czwalina, pp. 5-6.
For further discussion of the Stoic doch"ine of
void see E. Brehier, La Theorie des incorpo-
rels dans l'ancien Sto1cisme (2nd ed., Paris :
J. Vrin, 1928}, pp. 46-52, and S. Sambursky,
Physics of the Stoics (London : Routledge &
Kegan Paul, 1959}, pp. 110- 114, 128, 143-
144.
ia Simplicii .. . commentaria in quatuor li-
bros de celo Aristotelis Guillermo Morbeto in-
terprete ( Venice, 1540}, fol. 44v, c.2. William
Moerbeke translated Simplicius' Commentary
on De caelo in 1271. For John Buridan's in-
teresting discussion of this very same problem,
see his Questiones super octo phisicorum libros
AristoteUs diligenter recognite et revise a ma-
gistro Johanne Dullaert de Gandavo (Paris,
1509), fol. 77v, c.l and my analysis of it in
"Jean Buridan : A Fourteenth Century Carte-
sian," Archives internationales d'histoire des
sciences, 1963, 16 : 251-255. The dilemma
posed by the Stoics was probably directed
against Aristotelians who, it was hoped, would
be compelled either to concede the existence
of void or concede that the plenistic world is
indefinitely extended. The remainder of Sim-
plicius' discussion centers on this argument
and the absurdities arising from attempts to
consider an extramundane void as either finite
or infinite.
14 In Aristotelis libros De caelo et mundo ;
De generatfone et corruptione ; M eteorologi-
corum Expositio cum t ~ u et recensione
leonina, ed. Raymundi M. Spiazzi, O.P.
( Marietti : Tamini, 1952}, pp. 102-103. In
considering Simplicius' report, Thomas. in-
sists that it would not do to reject the Stoic
belief in an exttamundane void by arguing-
as had Alexander of Aphrodisias-that no
hand or body could be extended beyond the
outermost celestial sphere because of the lat-
ter's impenetrability. Since no bodies could
penetrate beyond, then by Aristotle's defini-
tion no void could exist ("void is said to be
that in which the presence of body, though
not actual is possible"}. The proper response,
says Thomas, is to insist with Aristotle that
"it is the nature of all natural bodies to be
contained within the extreme circumference
of the heaven." Hence a body could not
42
EDWARD GRANT
authors.
15
But the Stoic conception of an infinite void had little appeal in the
Middle Ages perhaps because, lacking purpose or justification, it seemed a mere
privation made three dimensional.
Much more congenial to medieval Christian theology, as well as anti-Stoic in
conception, was a brief passage in the Latin Hermetic treatise called Asclepius.
16
Speaking to Asclepius, Hermes Trismegistus says:
But as to void, which most people think to be a great thing of great importance,
I hold that no such thing as void exists, or can have existed in the past, or ever
will exist. For all the several parts of the Kosmos are wholly filled with bodies
of various qualities and forms, each having its own shape and magnitude; and
thus the Kosmos as a whole is full and complete . . . . And the like holds good of
what is called 'the extramundane', if indeed any such thing exists; for I hold that
not even the region outside the Kosmos is void, seeing that it is filled with things
apprehensible by thought alone, that is, with things of like nature with its own
divine being .... 1
7
And so, Asclepius, you must not call anything void, without saying what the
thing in question is void of, as when you say that a thing is void of fire or water or
the like. For it is possible for a thing to be void of such things as these, and it may
consequently come to seem void; but the thing that seems void, however small it
be, cannot possibly be empty of spirit and of air.18
Although I am ignorant of the subsequent influence of this brief passage, its
potential impact in light of later medieval developments described below could
have been significant, for we have here an idea in harmony with Christian
possibly exist beyond the world and (Thomas
implies) void would be impossible. Only im-
mutable beings such as God and separate sub-
stances could exist beyond the heavens and
even these are not in any sense locatable in
places ( " .. . they are separated from all mag-
nitude and motion. Furthennore, such sub-
stances are said to be there ( ibi), that is,
outside the sky [or world] not as in a place,
but as things that are not contained or in-
cluded within containers of corporeal things. ;
but these things exceed all corporeal natures."
Ibid., p. 103) .
15 For example, John Buridan's discussion
mentioned above in n. 13 was probably occa-
sioned by knowledge of Simplicius' account,
as was a similar discussion by Nicole Oresme
in Bk. I, Ques. 19 of his Questio11es super de
celo (p. 281, lines 13-18 of Claudia Kren's
edition cited below in n. 40), and Richard
of Middleton in his Questions on the Four
Books of the Sentences (see Jammer, Concepts
of Space, p. 73).
16 The profound impact of the Hermetic
literature on Renaissance thinkers and Gior-
dano Bruno in particular is described by
Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the
Hermetic Tradition ( Chicago : Univ. Chicago
Press, 1964).
11 For although "Bruno would not have
found in the Hennetic writings the concep-
tion of an infinite universe and innumerable
worlds, the spiri t in which he fonnulates such
a conception is to be found in them" (ibid.,
p. 245) . Along with a brief passage from the
Corpus Hermeticum, Miss Yates. singles out
and quotes (ibid.) the last few lines of this
raragraph as potentially significant, for
'Bruno had but to add to this that there is
an infinite space outside the world and it
is full of divine beings and he would have his
extended Hermetic gnosis of the infinite and
the innumerable worlds." In similar fashion,
I shall claim below that this passage- and one
from St . Augustine--may have influenced
Thomas Bradwardine to arrive at his con-
cept of a Cod-filled infinite extramundane
void.
18 Walter Scott, ed. and trans., Hermetica,
the Ancient Greek and Lat-in Writings which
Contain Religious or Philosophic Teachings
Ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, 4 vols. (Ox-
ford: Clarendon Press, 1924- 1936) , Vol.
I, pp. 319-321. While the edition of As-
clepius by A. D. Nock and A.-J. Festugiere
in Vol. II of their Corpus Hermeticum (Paris :
Societe d'dition "Les Belles Lettres," 1945)
is better than Scott's, the latter's translation
seems to agree well even with their text.
CONCEP'I'IONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
43
theology, and one which by its implications was also subversive of Aristotelian
physics and cosmology (this despite an initial apparent consonance when Hermes
emphatically denies the actual existence of void both inside and outside the
cosmos). For Hermes declares that if void did exist beyond the cosmos, it would
be void of physical bodies only but never of spiritual substances "apprehensible
by thought alone." The concept of an extramundane space filled with spirit but
empty of matter would become a significant element in later discussions of
what, if anything, lay beyond the cosmos.
Indeed, this concept may have directly influenced St. Augustine, who, in The
City of God, quotes from a few chapters in the Latin Asdepius
1
9 and leaves
little doubt that he knew fiisthand the Latin version which was to be quite influen-
tial in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In Book XI, Chapter 5,
20
he takes issue,
it seems, with non-Christians who in agreement with Christians accepted God as
a spiritual being and the creator of all things. In the course of the discussion he
remarks approvingly that these men rightly hold that God, the divine substance,
cannot be limited but is "spiritually present everywhere." Hence, if there existed
infinite spaces beyond this world, they would be committed to a belief in the
omnipresence of the divine substance in these infinite spaces, since no reason
would remain for confining God to our relatively small finite world. Fortunately,
says Augustine, they were not compelled to extend the presence of the Creator
beyond the cosmos, since "they maintain that there is but one world, of vast
material bulk, indeed, yet finite and in its own determinate position" and would
probably argue "that the thoughts of men are idle when they conceive infinite
places, since there is no place beside the world, ... "
Thus Augustine agrees with the author of the Asclepius that the world is finite
with nothing existing beyond, neither space nor void; but if something did
exist beyond, the divine spiritual substance would of necessity be omnipresent
in it. In the later Middle Ages a number of authors would conclude that something
did indeed exist beyond the cosmos. But while they might disagree with
Asclepius and Augustine on this point, they would accept their hypothetical con-
ditions about God's necessary omnipresence.
In the fourteenth century Thomas Bradwardine, whose arguments for the
existence of an infinite extramundane void we shall now consider, was familiar
not only with The City of God, but also with Ascle7Jius, the Hermetic text just
mentioned (be cites it under the title De aetern-0 verbo),
21
and the influential
1.9 See Nock and Festugiere, Corpus Her-
meticum, pp. 264- 266.
20 The title of this chapter is : "We ought
not to think of infinite extents of times (de
infinitis temporum spatiis) before the world,
nor of infinite extents of places (de infinitis
locorum spati.is) beyond [or outside] the
world, since just as there are no times before
the [creation of the] world so there are no
places beyond it. " My translation is from
Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticomm Latino-
rum, Vol. 40 (Vienna, 1889), p. 517. The
translations from this chapter in the remainder
of this paragraph are by Marcus Dods, The
City of God by Saint Augustine, 2 vols. (New
York: Hafner, 1948; 6.rst published Edin-
burgh : T. & T. Clark, 1872), pp. 441-442.
21 See Nock and Festugiere, Corpus Her-
met-icum, pp. 273-274. Bradwardine cites the
De aeterno verbo in his De causa Dei contra
Pelagium, which we shall discuss below. For
a list of other medieval authors who cited
or used Asclepius, see ibid., pp. 267-273; to
their list may be added Nicole Oresme, De
44 EDWARD GRANT
pseudo-Hermetic treatise The Book of the XXIV Philosophers ( Liber XXIV
philosophorum) composed around 1200 A.D.
22
Bradwardine's lengthy discussion appears in Book I, Chapter 5 of his De causa
Dei contra Pelagium,
23
a chapter bearing the title "That God is not mutable in
any way" and from which Bradwardine immediately elicits five corollaries, three
of which ( 1, 2, and 5) seem to reflect the earlier discussions of Hermes Tris-
megistus and Augustine cited above:
1. First, that, essentially and in presence, God is necessarily everywhere in the
world and all its parts;
2. And also beyond the real world in a place or imaginary fofinite void.
2
4
3. And so truly can he be called immense and unlimited.
4. And so a reply seems to emerge to the old question of the gentiles and heretics
-"where is your God? And where was God before the [creation of the] world?"
5. And it also seems obvious that a void can exist without body, but in no
manner can it exist without God.25
Following a demonstration of the first corollary that God is necessarily every-
where inside the world,
26
Bradwardine presents a demonstration of the second
corollary that God is everywhere outside the finite cosmos. Let A be the imaginary
place of this worlcl and Ban in1aginary, and quite distinct, place outside the world;
assume, furthermore, that God moves the world from A to B-or re-creates it in
comme-ns-urabilitate vel incommemurabilitate
motuum celi, who, in Part III of that treatise,
cites from the Asclepius three times. See my
forthcoming edition and translation of this
treatise (in press, Univ. Wisconsin Press).
22 The modem Latin edition of this treatise
is cited below in n. 35. As part of the neo-
Platonic and neo-Pythagorean-and there-
fore non-Aristotelian- tradition, Hermetic and
pseudo-Hermetic literature played a significant
role in the history of medieval and Renais-
sance thought, exerting a profound influence
on such figures as Nicholas of Cusa, Marsilio
Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno,
and numerous others who found attractive
and compelling their mystical and cryptic
utterances about Cod, spirit, and cosmos.
23 Written perhaps in 1344, it was pub-
lished by Henry Savile in London, 1618,
under the title : Thomae Bradwardini Archi-
episcopi olim Cantuariensis De causa Dei
Contra Pelagium et de virtute causarum libri
tres ... opera et studio Henrici Savilii . ...
In a manner similar to Spinoza's Ethics, Brad-
wardine uses a quasi-mathematical form an-
nouncing propositions and deriving numerous
corollaries therefrom. Except where it seems
especially desirable, I shall conserve space by
giving only my English translations. The
interested reader may consult a recent reprint
of this edition, or read A. Koyres important
article "Le vi de et I' espace infini au XIV
0
siecle," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et lit-
teraire du moyen-ltge, 1949, 24 : 45- 91, which
includes the relevant Latin text with French
translation.
24 This, of course, marks a radical depar-
ture from Asclepfos and Augustine, for here
Bradwardine declares the existence of an
imaginary infinite extramundane void.
25 It is in this filth corollary that we can
detect the possible direct influence of Ascle-
pius, for, as we recall, its author insisted that
if void existed, it would of necessity be filled
with spirit. Here is the Latin text for these
corollaries (De causa Dei, p. 177):
1. Prima, quod Deus essentialiter et prae-
sentia!Her necessario est ubique in mundo,
et in eius partibus universis;
2. Verum etiam extra mundum in situ seu
vacuo imaginario infinito.
3. Unde et immensus et incircumscriptus
veraciter dici potest.
4. Unde et videtur patere responsio ad
Centilium et Haereticorum veteres quaes-
tiones. Ubi est Deus tuus? et ubi Deus
fuerat ante mundum?
5. Unde et similiter clare patet, quod
vacuum a corpore potest esse, vacuum vero
a Deo nequaquam.
26 This argument (De causa Dei, p. 177)
is far from obvious and will be omitted since
its substantive content is not relevant to what
follows. It is sufficient to know that Brad-
wardine assumed that Cod's omnipresence
within the world was demonstrated.
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
45
B-and the world is now in place B.
27
Consequently, God must be in B, since
it was earlier shown that God is everywhere inside the cosmos. Therefore when
the world was moved to place B either God was there before or not. If He was in
B before, and assuming that B represents any place beyond the world, it would
follow that God is everywhere beyond the cosmos and Bradwardine would have
made his point. If He was not in B, then we must ask what was there before the
creation of the world? The answer, says Bradwardine, is the place of the
world, a place whose size and location were freely determined by God and of
which God could have made as many as He pleased.
28
But what properties or
characteristics would such a place have? It could have "no positive nature, for
27 In arguing that God could move the
world from A to B or re-create it in B, Brad-
wardine attacks the Aristotelians who denied
that the world could be moved and who
thereby placed limits upon God's absolute
power. As I shall argue below, it is significant
that in his attack Bradwardine appeals to one
of 219 articles condemned in 1277 by Etienne
(Stephen) Tempier, the Bishop of Paris. (This
was article 49 ; later in the same section he re-
fers to another, probably 52; see below, n. 29.
The complete list of condemned articles was
published by H. Denifle and A. Chatelain,
Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, Vol. I,
1889, pp. 543-555.) Many of these articles
were condemned solely because they repre-
sented attempts by Aristotelian philosophers to
limit the absolute power of God to do as He
pleased-e.g., to make as many worlds as He
pleased, as many voids as He pleased, and to
place or create the world where He pleased.
It is obvious, in the passage cited below and
throughout his discussion, that Bradwardine
believed that God possesses absolute power to
do as He pleases notwithstanding efforts to
limit that power in accordance with Aristotle's
metaphysical and scientific "demonstrations."
Some of those who follow the Philosopher
[i.e., Aristotle] in Bk. I of On the Heavens
reply to this. They assume that every local
motion is necessarily upward, downward,
or circular-Le., away from the center [of
the world], toward the center, or around
the center. But they say that if this motion
[from A to B] were assumed, it could not
be any one of the ways just mentioned. For
this reason, they say that it is impossible
for the world to be moved. But these [fol-
lowers of Aristotle] seriously diminish and
mutilate the divine-indeed omnipotent-
power. For, in the beginning, God could
have created this world in B. Why, then,
is He unable to put it in B now? Further-
more, He can now create another world in
B. Why, then, is He unable to put this
world in B? This reply [that the world can-
not be moved] is condemned by Stephen,
bishop of Paris, in these words : "That God
cannot move the heavens with rectilinear
motion. The reason is that a void would re-
main." But this response does not avoid the
difficulty. For it could be assumed that
without [resort to] local motion, God could
create another world in B and annihilate the
world in A. [On this assumption], the diffi-
culty returns. (De causa Dei, p. 177.)
Bradwardine's point is that whether the world
is moved by God from place A to place B by
local motion-and this is denied by Aristote-
lians-or by its annihilation in A and re-crea-
tion in B, the same problem arises : Was God
in place B before the creation of the world?
28 In establishing this, Bradwardine attacks
Christian Aristotelians who, while admitting
that the world was created in a place (Aris-
totle denied that the world was in a place)
nevertheless sought, under the influence of
Aristotle, to place limits upon God's power.
For they say that
God, for all his omnipotence could not have
made the world greater or smaller in any-
thing, which would very much restrict and
confine his omnipotence. For they must say
that God necessarily makes the world in
place A, and that place A, and no other,
existed before there was a world. But why
this place, and no other? Why was the world
just this size and no greater or smaller? For,
indeed, either this [i.e., the size of the
world] was fixed by God, or by itself and
not by God. If by God, then, in virtue of
his infinite power, He could make a place
greater and greater ; and [He could] make
another place, and yet another place, with-
out end. If, however, the size is determined
by the world itself-and not by God-what
power determines this? What is the reason
for it? What nature has fixed the world at
this [particular size], and inviolately de-
termined the limit beyond which it cannot
pass.? (De causa Dei, p. 177.)
46
EDWARD GRANT
otherwise there would be some positive nature which is not God, nor from
God, .. . Such a nature would be coeternal with God, something no Christian
can accept."
29
Nor could Bradwardine accept an alternative argument that "prior to the
creation of the world, there was an imaginary void place unoccupied by any
body."
3
For without qualification such a void place would also be coeternal with
God if interpreted as mere emptiness devoid of matter and God. Bradwardine
concludes that God Himself occupied this void place which in and of itself
could have had no positive nature. But God is not confined to the place where he
created the world, since "it is more perfect to be everywhere in some place, and
simultaneously in many places, than in a unique place only; . . ."
31
From all this,
Bradwardine concludes that "God is, therefore, necessarily, eternally, infinitely
everywhere in an imaginary infinite place, and so truly omnipresent, ... "
32
But
although God is infinitely everywhere, He can be called an infinite magnitude
only in a metaphysical and improper sense,
For He is infinitely extended without extension and dimension. For truly, the whole
of an infinite magnitude and imaginary extension, and any part of it, coexist
fully and simultaneously, for which reason He can be called immense, since He
is unmeasured ; nor is He measmable by any measw-e; and He is unlimited because
nothing surrounds Him fully as a limit; nor, indeed, can He be limited by any.
thing, but [rather] He limits, contains and surrounds all things. 33
29 Ibid. Bradwardine goes on to cite another
article condemned in 1277 (probably article
52), one held by Aristotelians, which declared
that there are many eternal things and not
even Cod could destroy them. If this were so,
Bradwardine observes, God would be deprived
of omnipotence. But "the argument of these
[Aristotelians] tells against them. For if, ac-
cording to the assumption of the Philosopher
and his followers, there could be no void, nor
any imaginary place not filled with body,
[then] the world is eternal, which is heretical,
and which these people [themselves] deny"
(ibid., p. 178 )-no doubt because they were
themselves Christian Aristotelians.
so". . . ante creationem ipsius [i.e., the
world] erat situs eius imaginarius vacuus nee
corpore occupatus" (ibid., p. 178). This asser-
tion follows immediately after the Aristotelian
argument quoted in n. 29.
a1 Ibid.
32 "Est ergo Deus necessa1io, aeternaliter
infinite ubique in situ imaginario infinito, unde
et veraciter omnipraesens . . .'' (ibid., pp.
178- 179) .
A brief summary of Bradwardine's approach
may be useful at this point. Since the world is
not eternal, Bradwarcline assumes that a place
for it must have existed prior to its creation.
Indeed, an infinite number of such places must
have existed, since God could have created the
world anywhere He pleased. Now presumably
Bradwardine did not wish to adopt the
theologically troublesome position that God
created the place of the world prior to the
creation of the world itself, for this would
somehow detract from the uniqueness of the
creation of our cosmos and make it seem a
second effort. Nor, indeed, would he wish
to fall victim to the charge that this infinity
of places was coetemal with and independent
of God. To avoid these major difficulties, Brad-
wardine argued that Cod himself had always
occupied the infinite number of possible
empty places in which He could have created
the world. And so it was unnecessary to in-
voke a special creation for these places in
which the world could have been created, as
it was also unnecessary to confer upon them
a separate and coetemal existence with God.
SS Ibid., p. 179:
Est enim inextensibiliter et indimensionaliter
infinite extensus. lnfinitae namque magni-
tudini et extensioni imaginariae et cuillbet
parti eius totus simul plenarie coexistit,
quare et similiter dici potest immensus,
enim non mensus; nee mensurabilis ulla
mensnra ; et incircumscri ptus qui a non cir-
cumscribitur ab aliquo ipsum plenarie cir-
cundante, nee sic potest ab aliquo circum-
scribe sed ipse omnia circumscribit, continet,
et circundat.
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
47
In support of these remarks, Bradwardine cites definitions 2, 18, and 10 (in this
order)
34
from The Book of the XXIV Philosophers,
35
which I render as follows:
2. God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference
nowhere.36
18. God is a sphere that has as many circumferences as points.
10. God is that whose power is not numbered, whose being is not enclosed, [and]
whose goodness is not limited.
And so it was that by uniting Christian and Hermetic (including pseudo-
Hermetic) elements-the doctrine of the world's creation in time and God's
absolute power
37
from the former, and the notion that places devoid of matter
must necessarily be filled with spirit3
8
and the conception of God's infinite
ubiquity in the form of an infinite sphere from the latter-Bradwardine con-
structed and formulated a Christian response to Aristotle's denial of void beyond
the cosmos and concluded that "by means of His absolute power God could
make a void anywhere He wishes inside or outside of the world. Truly even now
there is in fact an imaginary void place outside of the world, which I say is
void of any body and of everything other than God .. . . " 39
To supplement Bradwardine's lengthy treatment, let us now summarize the
views of another major fourteenth-century figure, Nicole Oresme, whose brief
discussions appear in two commentaries on Aristotle's De caelo, the first in
Latin
40
probably written early in his career, say in the late 1340's or early 1350's,
the second in French (Le Livre du ciel et du monde)
41
and completed in 1377,
as far as is known his last extant work.
3
4
Ibid.
35 The Latin text was published by Clemens
Baeumker, "Das pseudo-hermetische 'Buch
der vierundzwanzig Meister' ( Liber XXIV
philosophorum )" in Beitriige zur Geschichte
der Philosophie des Mittelalters, 1927, Band
XXV, Heft 1/2, pp. 194- 214. The definitions
appear on pp. 208, 210, and 212.
36 Bradwardine's version agrees with
Baeumker's text. This famous definition was
apparently formulated by the anonymous
author of this treatise. It also in8uenced Cusa,
Ficino, Bruno, and Fludd (see Yates, Gior-
dano Bruno, p. 247 and n. 2) and an anony-
mous Coimbra commentator (see col. 515 of
the edition cited below in n. 55) .
37 The role of God's absolute power will be
discussed at the conclusion of Part I.
38 It should be emphasized that although
Bradwardine did not cite Asclepius (or De
aeterno verbo, as he called it) in this chap-
ter, he does cite it a number of times else-
where in the De causa Dei, and it seems
likely that trus idea was derived from that
treatise or from Augustine's City of Cod, Bk.
XI, Ch. 5 (see above )- and perhaps, as seems
plausible, from both.
39 " ... quin Deus posset de omni potentia
sua absoluta facere vacuum ubi vellet in
mundo vel extra ; quin etiam nunc de facto
sit situs imaginarius vacuus extra mundum,
vacuus in quam a corpore et a quolibet alio
praeter Deum .... " De causa Dei, p. 180.
40 This has been edited and translated by
Claudia Kren, The Questiones super De celo
of Nicole Oresme (Ph.D. Dissertation, Univer-
sity of Wisconsin, 1965) and will be cited as
Oresme, De caelo. My quotations from this
work are from Kren's translation.
41 My translations below were made origi-
nally from the edition by A. D. Menut and A.
J. Denomy, Maistre Nicole Oresme : Le Livre
du ciel et du monde in Mediaeval Studies
(New York), 1941-1943, Vols. 3-5. Recently,
a revised edition with English translation has
appeared : Nicole Oresme Le Livre du ciel et
du monde edited by Menut and Denomy,
translated with an introduction by Menut
( Madison : Univ. Wisconsin Press, 1968) . Al-
though I have retained my own translations,
textual references will be made to the new
edition in which the passages quoted here are
unaltered. To my knowledge, only Pierre
Duhem has quoted and discussed the passages
on infinite void space in Oresme's Du ciel et
du monde. See Duhem's Le Systeme du
48
EDWARD GRANT
In the Latin Questions on De caelo, Book I, Question 19, Oresme inquires
"whether there may be or could be something outside the heaven."
42
In the
course of a lengthy response, Oresme remarks that in one sense a vacuum re-
quires the notion of a space into which a body can potentially move. "But," he
says, "according to faith there is no space outside the heaven but one can con-
cede that outside the heaven there may be a vacuum because God can create a
body or a place there. Therefore, if it is asked what is that vacuum outside the
heaven, one should reply that it is nothing but God Himself, Who is His own
indivisible immensity and His own eternity as a whole and all at once."
43
If now
God were to place another world in this infinite void, Oresme emphasizes that
"He [God] would be in that [world] and He would not need to acquire a new
place nor would He be changed. Thus more properly one may say that the world
is in Him than the contrary."
44
Years later, when considering the possibility of a plurality of worlds in his
French commentary, Oresme declared that the "human understanding consents
naturally that beyond the heavens and world, which is not infinite, there is some
space, whatever it may be; and one could not readily conceive the contrary."
45
He repeated the substance of his earlier discussion, declaring that this void space
"is infinite and indivisible, and is the immensity of God, and is God Himself,
just as the duration of God, called eternity, is infinite and indivisible, and is God
Himself, ... "
46
Moreover, this space is incorporeal and without extension.
47
It is
monde, lOvols. (Paris: Hermann, 1913-1959),
Vol. V, p. 232; Vol. VII, pp. 297-302; and
Vol. VIII, pp. 58-59.
42 Ores.me, De caelo, p. 280.
43 Ibid., p. 288.
44 Ibid., p. 294. I have added the bracketed
words. Like Bradwardine, Oresme insists that
God "is everywhere in the world and out-
side" (ibid).
45 "Je respon, et me semble premierement,
que entendement humain aussi comme na-
turelment se consent que hors le ciel et hors le
monde qui n' est pas infiny est aucune espace
quelle que elle soit, et ne puet bonnement
concevoir le contraire." Oresme : Du ciel et
du monde, Bk. I, Ch. 24, p. 176.
46 "Item ceste espasse dessus dicte est in-
finie et indivisible et est le immensite de Dieu
et est Dieu mei:smes, aussi comme la duracion
de Dieu appellee eternite est infinie et indivisi-
ble et Dieu meisme. . . ." Ibid. Oresme here
identifies the infinite extramundane void with
God Himself. In this he differs from Brad-
wardine.
47 Despite a lack of explicitness, and even
some ambiguity, it seems. that Oresme would
have denied physical extension to the exba-
mundane void. He explains that "God by His
infinite magnitude (without quantity and ab-
solutely indivisible), called immensity is
necessarily wholly in every extension or space
or place which is or which could be imagined"
( " ... semblablement Dieu par sa grandeur
infinie sanz quantite et simplement indivisible
appellee immensite est de necessite tout en
toute extension ou espace ou lieu qui est ou
qui peut esbe ymagine." Ibid., p. 278). Thus
it would seem that God, though dimensionless,
would be in every physically extended space.
From this it might be supposed that Oresme
would have argued that the infinite void be-
yond the cosmos, which is also occupied by
God, would also be a physically extended
space, differing not all in this regard from any
finite physical space occupied by God. This
seems unlikely, however, for, as we have seen,
Oresme identified the extramundane void with
God Himself, who is without extension ( " ...
His eternity is without succession and His
immensity without extension . . ." [". . . son
eternite est sanz succession et son immensite
sanz extension .... " Ibid., p. 272]; hence
this particular space would also be extension-
less. Nowhere does Oresme identify "God
Himself" with actual physical or dimensional
spaces, but rests. content to say only that God
is in them because He is everywhere. It would
appear that Oresme's identification of God
with an infinite void beyond the cosmos con-
ferred upon the latter a transcendent and non-
dimensional character. It should be mentioned,
however, that in Bk. IV, Ch. 11 (ibid., p.
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
49
therefore imperceptible and not properly comprehensible except by reason. And
perhaps-though he makes no mention of this-it is "imaginary"; for since it is
imperceptible, whatever little understanding of it we may have results from
our reason alone.
Although Oresme readily conceded that by virtue of His absolute power, God
could, if He wished, create a plurality of worlds in this infinite void, he concurred
with Aristotle that there is only one world which contains all the matter in exis-
tence. But despite its lack of extension and matter, this infinite extramundane
void was invoked by Oresme as a hypothetical backdrop for an absolute motion
bearing no relationship to any other. Such an absolute motion would result if
God chose to move our finite cosmos with a rectilinear motion through this
infinite void,
4
8 an illustration that Samuel Clarke found useful in countering
Leibniz's relational concept of space.
4
9
The seemingly novel and unusual arguments advanced by Bradwardine and
Oresme may have served as the source and basis of similar discussions of this
725), Oresme declares that one of three ways
bodies might exist in the final resurrection is
in a space that is now absolutely void so that
they would not be contained or surrounded
by anything since "it is a place imagined void
and infinite--i.e. the immensity of Cod and
Cod Himself, as we declared at the end of the
twenty-fourth chapter of the first book. And
perhaps this is what Job understood when he
said of Cod: 'He stretcheth out the north
over the empty place.' " ( ". . . une est que
I' espace ou ii seront soit main tenant simple-
ment wide, et quant ii y seront que ii n'i ait
autre corps que !es contienne, mais est un lieu
ymagine vieu et infini-ce est le immensite
de Dieu et Dieu meisme, si comme ii fu de-
clare en la fin du xxiiiie chapitre du premier.
Et peust estre que ce entendoit Job quant ii
dist de Dieu: Qui extendi t aquilonem super
vacuum." Ibid., p. 724). How this example
and that of the motion of the cosmos through
the same infinite void (see the next para-
graph) bear on the question of its dimen-
sionality is a puzzle. Despite these difficulties,
I feel some degree of confidence that if pressed
Oresme would have declared it without exten-
sion or dimension.
48 Ibid., pp. 368-370 ( Duhem quotes the
French text in Le Systeme, Vol. VII, p. 300) :
But perhaps someone will say that to move
with respect to place is to change one's posi-
tion in relation to some other body which
may, or may not, be in motion itself. Yet,
I say that this is not valid, primarily because
there is an imagined infinite and immobile
space outside the world, as was stated at the
end of the twenty-fourth chapter of the
first book, and it is possible without contra-
diction, that the whole world could be
moved in that space with a rectilinear mo-
tion. To say the contrary is an article con-
demned at Paris. Now assuming such a mo-
tion, there would be no other bOdy to which
the world could be related with respect to
place, and the description given above
would be invalid.
The article condemned at Paris in 1277, and
converted here into an illustrat.ion of absolute
motion, is number 49 (see above, n. 27). In
his Questions on the Physics, Bk. III, Ques. 7,
Marsilius of Inghen, a 14th-century nominal-
ist, also employs this illustration and mentions
an infinite space beyond the heavens. See
M. Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the
Middle Ages (Madison: Univ. Wisconsin Press,
1959), p. 623.
4
9 In par. 4 of his Third Reply to Leibniz
in 1716, Clarke argued for Newtonian abso-
lute space by noting that "if space was
nothing but the order of things coexisting [as
Leibniz maintained) ; it would follow, that
if God should remove the whole material
world entire, with any swiftness whatsoever ;
yet it would still always continue in the same
place" (The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence,
ed. H. C. Alexander, New York : Philosophical
Libra1y, 1956, p. 32; the bracketed qualifica-
tion is mine). Thus if space is merely a rela-
tionship between coexistent things-as Leibniz
held-and God moved the world taken as a
single thing, the world could not be said to
have undergone any motion, since there would
be no other existent thing to which it could
be related. For Clarke, as for Oresme, the
hypothetical conditions described above would
indeed produce a motion-an absolute motion.
50
EDWARD GRANT
problem in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
50
Rather then elaborate more of
these, however, I propose to examine a significant question. Why did Brad-
wardine, Oresme, and perhaps others see fit to adopt a position that had been
rejected by Augustine and Aquinas, and, to my knowledge, all others prior to the
fourteenth century? In the absence of direct and obvious evidence, my response
must be tentative and suggestive. But it would appear that a reasonable ex-
planation could be formulated in terms of the tremendous consequences that
flowed from the condemnation of 219 articles by the Bishop of Paris in 1277.
51
Almost all are agreed that this massive condemnation must be interpreted as
a major assault upon Christian Aristotelians at the University of Paris who, in
employing Aristotelian metaphysical principles and determinism in their many
physical and theological demonstrations, had placed serious limitations on God's
absolute power.
52
They had argued, for example, that God could not create more
than one world, that He could not move the world and leave behind a void,
that He was unable to create an accident without a subject, that He could not
perform the absolutely impossible in nature,5a and so on. The Condemnations of
1277 represent the theological reaction against the deterministic Christian Aris-
totelianism that had developed soon after the reception of Aristotle's natural
books in the late twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. Not long after 1277 theo-
logians used philosophical argument to restrict the domain of certain and demon-
strable knowledge and came to emphasize God's absolute power to act as He
pleased in a manner that was largely unfathomable and utterly unpredictable.
50 For example, the discussions of John
Buridan (see above, n. 15), Marsili us of
Inghen ( n. 48), John Major (Le Traite 'De
L'lnfin( de Jean Mair, ed. and trans. Hubert
Elie, Paris : J. Vrin, 1938, p. 94), and Christo-
pher Clavius (In Sphaeram ]oannis de Sacro
Bosco Commentarfus, Rome, 1570, Bk. I, at
the very end of the section De ordine sphaera-
rum caelestium). According to Duhem ( Le
Systeme, Vol. V, pp. 231-232 ), Hasdai Crescas
( 1340-1410), a Spanish Jew, also identified
an infinite extramundane void with God's im-
mensity, thereby influencing Spinoza, who
ascribed to God the attribute of extension. In
this, says Duhcm, he was but echoing Orcsme.
But Harry Wolfson ( Crescas' Critique of
Aristotle, Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Univ.
Press, 1929, p. 123) denies such an identifica-
tion, claiming that Crescas' God is transcen-
dent. In arguing against Aristotle, however,
Crescas did propose the existence of an infinite
extramundane void. The issue is not unambig-
uous, and it hardly seems farfetched to sup-
pose that perhaps Crescas and Spinoza were
influenced ultimately by the medieval views
formulated in the 14th century and thus far
best represented by Bradwardine and Oresme.
There were also theological arguments deny-
ing an extramundane infinite void in which
God is omnipresent. Thus Duns Scotus and
his followers insisted that God's presence in
a place was not a necessary prerequisite for
His acting in that place. God's will, not His
omnipresence, was taken as the basis of His
actions, so that it was assumed that He could
act on and in a place remote from His pres-
ence. With "action at a distance" as God's
modus operandi, Scotus denied the necessity
of God's presence in the empty place where
He came to create the world and, a fortiori,
denied the necessity of God's omnipresence in
an infinite void space. For Scotus' argument
see the Questio Unica in Bk. I, Distinction 37
in his Questions on the Sentences in Joannis
Duns Scoti ... opera omnia editio nooa juxta
editionem W addingi XII tomos continentem
. .. , Vol. X (Paris : Vives edition, 1893),
p. 597, col. 2.
51 They are conveniently published in the
Chartularium (seen. 27).
GZ See Julius Weinberg, A Short flistory of
Medieval Philosophy ( Princeton : Princeton
Univ. Press, 1964), pp. 171-172, 238; also my
article "Late Medieval Thought, Copernicus,
and the Scientific Revolution," Journal of the
History of Ideas, 1962, 23: 199- 207.
53 Articles 34, 49, 141, and 147 of the Con-
demnations.
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID 51
The outcome was fourteenth-century nominalism and the concept of a God free
to act independently of and even contrarily to Aristotelian metaphysics and
natural philosophy.
It is against this intellectual background that our question can be quite
plausibly answered. After the Condemnations it would have seemed absurd to
some that the omnipresence of an infinite and all powerful God should extend
no further than the finite cosmos of His own making simply because Aristotle
, had denied that anything at all could exist beyond the world. But Aristotle's
demonstration of this had involved just the sort of appeal that had fallen under a
theological and philosophical cloud in the fourteenth century. To the extent that
it had theological application or impact, it was truly suspect. The spirit of 1277
is embodied in article 49 of the Condemnations, which reads: "That God could
not move the heavens [i.e., the world] "'ith rectilinear motion; and the reason is
that a vacuum would remain." Thus to deny that God could move the world
with a rectilinear motion, despite the vacuum left behind, was to risk excom-
munication. It is significant, therefore, that both Bradwardine and Oresme cited
this very article in their arguments in behalf of an infinite extrarnundane void.
54
Perhaps as they considered the full implication of that article they were led to
the conclusion that if God did move the world in a straight line, not only would
the place left behind be void, but so also would the successive places occupied
by the world, all of which must necessarily exist outside of the world. If, then,
void exists beyond the cosmos, would it not be reasonable to suppose, as St.
Augustine had argued in The City of God, that if God is omnipresent inside the
world, He would also be present in anything existing outside the world? But if it
is to contain an infinite God, would it not be appropriate and even necessary
that this extrarnundane void be infinite? Indeed, what arguments could be pro-
posed for assuming it finite? Where could it terminate? With the breakthrough
made, Bradwardine, or perhaps others before him, could then have formulated
the more elaborate and detailed justification which we find in De causa Dei.
Only further research can determine the soundness of this interpretation. But
it seems true to say that by the fourteenth century the God of Latin Christianity
had filtered through the outermost celestial sphere of the Aristotelian universe to
wholly occupy and constitute an infinite surrounding void.
II
The peculiarly medieval and anti-Aristotelian cosmological views just de-
scribed were destined to exert a significant impact on sixteenth- and seventeenth-
century authors, including Isaac Newton, who assigned to his absolute space
properties and attributes that bear the unmistakable influence of this extraor-
dinary and near-incomprehensible medieval doctrine. In what follows, a few
major problems will be kept at the forefront : ( 1) how the term "imaginary"
54 Sec above, notes 27 and 48. Thus even if
prior to the Condemnations of 1277 views
similar to Bradwardine's had been enunciated,
it is nevertheless obvious that article 49 played
a role in justifying the acceptance of an in-
finite extramundane void by Bradwardine and
Oresme.
52 EDWARD GRANT
was understood in the expression "imaginary infinite void space," ( 2) whether
or not it was three dimensional, and ( 3) how God was conceived to exist in this
infinite void.
In medieval discussions about an imaginary infinite extramundane void there
seems to have been little direct and explicit concern about the meaning of the
term "imaginary." Thus, as we described above, only indirectly did Oresme
suggest that infinite incorporeal space might be "imaginary" because it is not
perceptible to the senses and insofar as it is comprehended at all, it is by reason
alone. But in a sixteenth-century Jesuit scholastic commentary on Aristotle's
Physics, written in Coimbra, Portugal, the question is raised explicitly and a
very different interpretation given. The medieval problem of imaginary infinite
void space is considered at length in Book VIII, Chapter 10, Question II, where
it is asked "whether or not God exists beyond the sky [or celestial heavens] ."
55
In the course of formulating an affi rmative response the anonymous commentator
asks in Article IV "What is Imaginary Space?"56 At the outset he insists that
this imaginary space, both inside and outside the world, is not a true three-
dimensional entity.
57
Nor is it a mere object of the reason or intellect alone,
"since by means of this thing itself bodies are received within the world without
the action of the intellect; and they can [also] be received outside [or beyond]
the world if they were created there by God."
58
Since actual bodies are poten-
tially receivable into this space, its dimensions are surely not imaginary because
"they are fictions ( fictitiae) or depend solely on a mental conception, or are
thought to be beyond the understanding .. .. "r,
9
I t is rather because we imagine
the dimensions of this space "in a certain relationship corresponding to the real
and positive dimensions of bodies."
60
That is, although it is itself devoid of
quantitative dimension, its capacity to receive real three-dimensional bodies
confers upon it a correspondence to those three-dimensional bodies. Neverthe-
less, despite its correspondence "to the real and positive dimensions of bodies," it
is not itself a "real and positive being since besides God, no such thing could
exist from eternity."
61
In earlier articles of this same question our author argued
55 Commentariorum Collegii Conimbricensis
Societatis Iesu in octo libros Phy:ticomm Aris-
totelis Stagiritae. Prima Pars qui nunc primmn
Graeco Aristotelis contextu Latino e regione
res-pondenti aucti ob studiosomm Philosophiae
uwm in Germania sunt editi . . . (Cologne,
1602), col. 514.
56 "Quiclnam sit imaginarium spatium?"
Ibid., col. 518.
57 "Primum sit : hoc spatium non esse veram
quantitatem trina dimensione praeditam"
(ibid.). Perhaps of influence here was Aris-
totle's insistence in Physics IV, Ch. 8
( 216a.26- 216b.ll) that if void were a three-
dimensional entity and received a three-
dimensional material body, it would follow
that two equal dimensions would occupy the
same glace.
58 'Secundum est : spatium hoc non est ens
rationis cum ab eo re ipsa absque opera in-
tellectus intra mundum corpora recipiantur; et
extra mundum recipi queant si illic a Deo
creantur." Ibid., col. 519. Although Oresme
had argued that it was lu1own by the reason,
he also believed that it had objective reality.
~ "Quare eius dimensiones non iccirco
imaginariae dici consueverunt quod fictitiae
sint, aut a sola mentis notione pendeant, nee
extra intellectum dentur; .. . " Ibid.
60 This quotation follows immediately after
the passage in n. 59 : "sed quia imaginamur
illas in spatio proportione quadam respon-
dentes realibus ac positivis corporum dimen-
sionibus." Ibid. The italics are my own.
61 "Item nee esse ullum aliud reale ac posi-
tivum ens cum nihil tale praeter Deum ab
aetemo fuit.'' Ibid., col. 518. This is the posi-
tion which Bradwardine had adopted earlier.
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
53
that the world was created in a place that formed part of a preexistent uncreated
space.
62
And yet if this space were a positive thing it would have existed co-
etemally with God, a consequence repugnant to Christians. The dilemma is
resolved by denying reality and positiveness to this preexistent space, thus allow-
ing our commentator to conclude that "this space always existed and always
ought to be."
63
Moreover, he declares that "God is actually in this imaginary space, not as
in some real being but through his immensity, which, because the whole uni-
versality of the world cannot [accommodate it], must of necessity, also exist in
infinite spaces beyond the sky."
64
But how can God exist in something that is
not a real and positive being-that is, how can God be in nothing? The response
to this query is made by appeal to God's absolute power. Since by divine power
God could, if He wished, create a stone in this nothingness, it follows that He
Himself could also exist in this imaginary void space.
65
Indeed, God must exist
"beyond the sky because He cannot be excluded from any place, whether true
or imaginary."
66
Although a number of seventeenth-century authors would be concerned with
the very same problem, it is likely that few, if any, presented so detailed an
account as Otto von Guericke in his justly celebrated New Magdeburg Experi-
ments on Void Space.
61
Because of his familiarity with the Coimbra Scholastic
commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and De caelo and his acceptance of important
elements in their discussions on infinite void,
68
von Guericke can rightly be said
to have been influenced by the medieval tradition, even to the extent of pursuing
one aspect of tl1e earlier views to startling extremes.<m But he also departed sig-
nificantly from his predecessors and, as we shall see, despite a statement to the
contrary in which he seems to associate himself with the medieval tradition of
a dimensionless space, he conceived of extramundane void as a three-dimensional
entity.
As with his medieval predecessors, it is Aristotle's denial of void and any kind
of existence beyond the cosmos that provides the point of departure for von
62 As wilJ be seen below, Otto von Cuericke
shared this opinion.
63 " . . hoc vero spatium semper extiterit
semperque esse debeat." Conimbricensis, cols.
518-519.
64 "In hoc igitur imaginario spatio asseri-
mus actu esse Deum, non ut in aliquo ente
reali sed per suam immensitatem quam quia
tota mundi universitas capere non potest
necesse est etiam extra coelum in infinitis
spatiis existere." Ibid., col. 519.
65 " . . , we deny that Cod cannot be in
nothing- Le. in a space which is not a real
and positive being ; otherwise no stone could
exist beyond the world by [an act of] the
divine power." ( ". . . inficiamur non posse
Deum esse in nihilo, id est, in spatio quod ens
reale et positivum non est alioqui nee lapis
divina virtute extra coelum esse posset.")
Ibid.
66 "Est extra coelum quia a nullo seu vero
seu irnaginario loco excfudi potest." Ibid.
67 Experimenta nova [11t vocantur] Magde-
burgica de vacuo spatio (Amsterdam, 1672;
reprinted, Aalen: Otto Zeller, 1962).
GS At the end of Bk. II, Ch. 8 ( p. 65, col.
2), folJowing a lengthy presentation of his
own views on infinite imaginary space, von
Cuericke remarks that "the Coimbra ( Conim-
bricenses) discussions confirm all these things,
as can be seen [above] in [Bk. I], chapter
35."
69 Little or no attention has been paid to
this extraordinary aspect of von Guericke's in-
terest in void space. As will be seen, he had
a good grasp of the different historical inter-
pretations of this unusual problem.
54
EDWARD GRANT
Guericke's lengthy discussion.
70
After observing that the Coimbra commentators
on Aristotle's Physics and De caelo assumed an imaginary space or receptacle
beyond the cosmos that was capable of receiving bodies,
71
he distinguishes a
number of different interpretations that were held about the nature of imaginary
space. Some insist that it is nothing; others that it is empty of all reality; still
others that it is the negation of all being; and there are those who consider it a
mere fiction. There were also those who interpreted it as a possible location
for an infinite corporeal mass, while others understood it as God Himself .
72
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, the views of Descartes are quoted from the
Principles of Philosophy, Part 2, Number 21, in which, according to von Guericke,
Descartes argues that imaginary space is something real, namely an indefinitely
extended corporeal substance.
73
Launching into a presentation of his own opinions, von Guericke assumes a
finite world and raises the popular question of what lies beyond, offering sub-
stantially the same Stoic argument reported by Simplicius and cited frequently
in the Middle Ages.
74
He concludes that beyond the cosmos there exists a
10 Experimenta nova, Bk. I, Ch. 35, p. 51,
col. 1.
11 Ibid., p. 51, col. 1-p. 52, col. 1. He
quotes at some length from the commentary
on the Physics, repeating much of what has
been cited here in notes 57-66.
72 Here is von Cuericke' s report of descrip-
tions of and hostile reactions to a number of
different conceptions of "imaginary space"
(ibid., p. 52, cols. 1-2) :
Others say that imaginary space is
nothing other than nothing.
Others hold that it is empty of all reality.
Others proclaim that it is the negation of
all being.
Others respond (to these last three
descriptions as follows] :
( 1) as for its being "nothing," if it were
nothing, space could not be conceived, for
"nothing" could have neither extent, nor
width, nor length, nor depth. With respect
to (description] (2), they infer that if
imaginary space is space that is empty of
all reality and being, and since the same
thing is said of vacuum, therefore vacuum
or imaginary space are one and the same
thing. As for [description] ( 3 ), they reply
that if imaginary space is the negation of
every being, then it cannot be called
"space."
Furthermore, some desire that imaginary
space be merely something fictitious. From
this they conclude that before the creation
of the world there was no thinking (or con-
ceiving] intellect (and] therefore no imag-
inary space. And since God cannot be in
that which does not exist (as in chimeras),
but only in that which does exist, imaginary
space does not exist, according to their view.
Therefore, Cod is not in imaginary spaces.
Others understand imaginary space as
some merely possible, immense, corporeal
mass that is diffused everywhere into in-
finity; or (imaginary space isl a possible
location of such a corporeal mass (or quan-
tity].
Some say (as does Lessius in Bk. 2 of
De perfectione divino) : "imaginary space
is God himself, who, in accordance with
His immensity is necessarily everywhere, or
infinitely, diffused." For if someone could
transcend all the [celestial] heavens and
seek what is in the space which he forms in
his imagination, he would surely find Cod.
Some wholly reject imaginary space for
this reason: because what is conceived
only by our imagination or mind is not
something about a real thing. For example,
someone could conceive or imagine that
he has 1000 gold pieces, when, indeed, he
does not have a single one. Therefore, there
is no imaginary space.
In order to conserve bpace and include the
interesting and relevant portions of von
Guericke's arguments, I shall often present
only my own translation and omit the Latin
text.
73 Ibid., p. 52, col. 2.
74 Ibid., Bk. II, Ch. 6, p. 61, col. 2 :
Assuming, according to the more com-
mon opinion, that there is "nothing"
( nihil) beyond the world (taking "nothing"
in the Aristotelian sense), then if someone
should reach the last confines of the world,
he either could, or could not, extend his arm
beyond the last surface of the last heaven
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
55
special kind of infinite nothing filled with God and in which, barring obstructions,
inertial motions would ordinarily occur.
75
Adopting a position contrary to the anonymous Coimbra commentator, von
Guericke characterizes imaginary infinite space as a positive and real thing,
nothing less than true space.
76
Anticipating an objection that something imaginary
cannot also be a positive and real entity, he replies that
it is necessary that at least we imagine everything we never see and which is
beyond our grasp, as, for example, it is necessary that one who never sees Rome,
or a spirit, or an exotic animal, or some other thing, must imagine them; and
because no one can comprehend the infinite, it is grasped at least in some way, by
the imagination. Meanwhile, it does not follow that Rome, or spirit, or the infinite,
are not real ( verum) or positive things. 77
But is this real and positive God-filled imaginary space extensionless and dimen-
sionless, as conceived by medieval authors, or is it dimensional? Initially, in
Book II, Chapter 4, von Guericke seems to adopt the medieval position when he
declares that he is not considering space in the usual and common three-dimen-
sional manner, but rather as a universal container of all things "which is not to be
conceived according to quantity, or length, width, and depth."
78
This space is a
or hurl a spear and a stone into this noth-
ingness.
In the first case, if one could [do this],
there would be nothing to obstruct it and
so it would be true that "nothing" is there;
but nevertheless space is there (for if no
space were there, a stone could not be
projected beyond, nor an arm be extended
because it cannot be in something into
which it cannot be sent; nor could any-
thing be in it because what is not has
neither extent nor width, but is absolutely
incapable of receiving anything) and, con-
sequently, there would be something [out
there].
In the second case, if one could not
[do this], something must necessarily im-
pede [or obstruct] it, [since] one [body]
could not occupy the place of another.
Now what obstructs it will be, necessarily,
something hard or corporeal. Therefore,
something will exist outside the last bound-
ary [or terminus] of the world, since [mere]
"nothing" cannot obstruct. Nor can what
obstructs be called "non-being."
75 Ibid., p. 61, col. 2-p. 62, col. 1 :
Indeed, since it cannot be denied that the
Divine Essence, infinite [and] immense, is
beyond the world, then all the more reason
it is appropriate that it [i.e., the space be-
yond the world] is immense in extent,
width, depth, i.e., according to space or ex-
panse; but it is not to be considered an
absolutely infinite nothing (indeed accord-
ing to what will be said in the following
chapters, we know that it is not [an infinite
nothing]).
It follows, moreover, that unless the
spear or stone were impeded by another
body, it could be projected beyond and
such a projection ( jactus) could be con-
tinued into infinity.
76 He tells us "that the nothing ( nihil) be-
yond the world and space ( spatium) are one
and the same; and so-called imaginary space
is true space, for imaginary space (in the
common opinion of philosophers) i& nothing
and nothing is space, and the space which
they call imaginary is true space ( spatium
verum). Nor can it be objected that what-
ever is imaginary is not a positive and real
thing even if it is not always efficacious." Ibid.,
p. 62, cols. 1-2. Also see the quotation a few
lines below. As we have seen ( n. 61), the
Coimbra commentator denied that imaginary
space had a real and positive being.
77 Ibid., p. 62, col. 2. This passage follows
immediately after the quotation in n. 76.
78 I include the full relevant quotation here
(ibid., p. 57, col. 1) :
Non tractamus hoc loco de Spatio secundum
trinam dimensionem, vel ut vulgus Spatium
concipere solet, de Magnitudine, Amplitud-
ine, aut Capacitate, huius vel illius Rei, vel
Loci, vel Aedificii, vel Palatii, Agri, Re-
gionis, Distantiae, etc. Sed de Universali
omnium rerum Vase aut Continente ; quod
non est aestimandum secundum quantita-
tem, seu longitudinem latitudinem atque
profunditatem : neque considerandum re-
56 EDWARD GRANT
permanent, immobile, indivisible entity permeating everything corporeal and
incorporeal. But in Book II, Chapter 6, von Guericke describes this God-filled
space as three dimensional when he says that it is "immense in extent, width,
depth, i.e., according to space or expanse" (see above, n. 75). A bit later, tri-
dimensionality is clearly implied when he argues that "if the projection of a
spear or stone could be continued into infinity and no terminus for resting is
revealed, it follows that this space beyond the world is extended or expanded
without end toward all parts and thus is infinite and immense."
79
It is again
implied when we are told that "in relation to the immensity of this space" the
finite world "does not have the likeness of a point or atom."
80
Such descriptions
and comparisons make it reasonable to conclude that Otto von Guericke con-
ceived imaginary infinite void space as a three-dimensional entity.
But how did he relate this space to God and the creation? As for the first part
of this question, he contends that space is eternal, arguing that "the infinite
essence of God is not contained in space, or vacuum, since God, who is present
everywhere, is not contained in space or vacuum but the space and vacuum of
the whole creation are in Him, by Him, and for Him."
81
A response to the
second part emerges in his answer to the question raised by Bradwardine and
other medieval scholastics as to what existed before the creation of the world.
Here von Guericke replies that two responses are correct and equivalent, namely
Nothing (nihil) and the Uncreated (increatus), which are in fact identical with
spectu ullius substantiae, vel punctim, vel
sectim, vel divisirn vel ex parte, aut super-
ficialiter aut inteme aut exteme, etc. Nee
per aliquam diffusionem, dilatationem vel
expansionem sui ipsius ; sed ita quod infini-
tum et omni.um rerum continens est, in quo
omni.a sunt vivunt, et moventur, nullam inde
sustincns variationem, alterationem aut
mutationem.
This kind of absolute nondimensional space is
contrasted with the spaces which all bodies
occupy within the finite cosmos and the spaces
between those bodies :
.tvloreover the space which a mundane body
occupies, namely according to its quantity
or three dimensions, is its internal space ;
its external space is the sky or expanse [ex-
tending] from its surface to the farthest
[visible?] determination. ( "Spatium itaque,
quod Corpus Mundanum occupat, secun-
dum scilicet cujusvis quantitatem seu trinam
dimensionem, est Spatium ejus intrinsecum :
Extrinsecurn autem est Coelum vel Expan-
sum a superficie ad extimarn determina-
tionem." Ibid., Bk. II, Ch. 5, p. 59, col. 2.
79 Ibid., Bk. II, Ch. 6, p. 62, col. 2. Earlier,
in Bk. I, Ch. 35, after describing various inter-
pretations of imaginary space von Guericke
seems to present a preview of his own under-
standing of imaginary space when he says ( p.
52, col. 2) :
... finally, if imaginary space is conceded,
it follows that it is infinite and immense or
infinitely expanded in all its parts, i.e. in
length, width, and depth ; it also follows
that it is incorruptible, sempiternal, im-
mobile, fixed, and permanent, so that by no
force or reason could it be destroyed ; and
thus it could be the receptacle [or con-
tainer] of any body whether great or small.
On this matter, s.ee several places in Bk. 2,
following.
80 " . qui.a Mundus hie, in illo Infinito
Spatio (et quidem respectu immensitatis Spatii
non puncti vel Atomi instar) contentus est
.... " Ibid., Bk. II, Ch. 8, p. 65, col. 1.
81 Jbid., p. 64, col. 2. This remark follows
shortly after a lengthy quotation from Athana-
sius Kircher' s I tinerarium ecstaticum ( 1656),
in which Kircher argued that Cod necessarily
fills an infinite imaginary void because out-
side of Cod "it is necessary that neither Noth-
ing, nor emptiness, nor vacuum be left." Von
Guericke criticizes Kircher for seeming to deny
the existence of void and imaginary space be-
cause he (Kircher) supposed that God fills
these entities and thereby actually prevents
their existence. For von Guericke these a1e
real entities contained in God and existing for
God. On this issue von Guericke seems to
agree with Oresme that space is in Cod,
whereas Bradwardine and the Coimbra com-
mentator held that Cod is in (i.e., contained
in ) an eternal infinite space.
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
57
infinite void space : "For where created things subsist and are now, Nothing was
there before and they were received in Nothing, that is, in the Uncreated, for
they could not be received in any created thing both because it was not and
because if it was it was not a Nothing but a created something."
82
By virtue of
his conception of infinite void space as a positive, real, and uncreated thing con-
tained in God, von Guericke was led to almost lyrical heights in characterizing
the enormous power and efficacy of this empty space. Indeed his description is
nothing less than an Ode to Nothing:
For the "Uncreated" is that whose beginning does not pre-exist; and Nothing,
we say, is that whose beginning does not pre-exist. Nothing contains all things.
It is more precious than gold, free of origin and distinction, more joyous than the
appearance of beautiful light, more noble than the blood of kings, comparable
to the heavens, higher than the stars, more powerful than a stroke of lightning,
perfect and blessed in every part. Nothing always inspires. Where Nothing is
there ceases the jurisdiction of all kings. Nothing is without any mischief. Accord-
ing to Job, the earth is suspended over Nothing. Nothing is outside the world.
Nothing is everywhere. They say the vacuum is Nothing; and they say that
imaginary space-and space itself- is Nothing.83
We are here far removed from atomist and Stoic conceptions of infinite void
space. No longer is the infinitely extended void an inefficacious, impotent, and
completely empty three-dimensional space. For von Guericke, who was extending
and elaborating a strong medieval Christian theological tradition founded upon
an omnipresent God, infinite imaginary void space has become a
sional, positive, real, all-powerful, and divine force.
If I have emphasized von Guericke's interpretation, it is only because he reveals
so clearly his debt to the medieval tradition. But the same tradition was available
in England, if not through the Coimbra commentaries then through the 1618
edition of Thomas Bradwardine's De causa Dei contra Pelagiurn edited by no less
a figure than Henry Savile. I n England men like Henry More, Joseph Raphson,
Samuel Clarke, and even Newton himself also conferred upon this space an
extended dimensionality which it never possessed in the medieval tradition, and
in so doing made of their God a dimensionally extended being.
Thus Henry More conceives of a finite world located in an infinite space filled
with God, but an infinite space that is "by immense spaces larger and more
82 "Ubi enim nunc sunt Creata et subsistunt,
Nihtl erat prius, et in Nihilo recepta sunt, id
est in Increato, quia in aliquo Creato non
recipi potuerunt, tum quia non erat, tum
quia si fuisset, non fuisset Nihil, sed Creatum
aliquid." Ibid., Bk. II, Ch. 7, p. 63, col. 2.
83 Ibid.:
Nam Increatum est, cujus nullum praeexistit
initium : et Nihil, dicimus esse, cujus nullum
praeexistit initium. Nihil continet omnia ;
est pretiosius auro, expers originis et interi-
tus, jucundius conspectu almae lucis, nobi-
lius Regum sanguine, aequiparabile Coclo,
altius Astris, potentius fulmineo ictu, pcrfec-
tum et ab omni parte beatum. Nihil semper
sapit : Ubi Nihil est, ibi omnium Regum
cessat jurisdictio : Nihil est sine ulla calami-
tate: Super Nihil, secundum Hi.ob, suspensa
est Terra ; Nihil est extra Mundum, Nihil est
ubique ; Vacuum dicunt esse Nihil, et Spat-
ium Imaginarium ut et Spatium ipsum, di-
cunt esse Nihil.
The italics were supplied by von Guericke
himself. The reference to Job is 26,7, where
it is said of God: "He stretched out the north
over the empty space." Interestingly, in his
discussion of imaginary space, Oresme also
cited this line.
58
EDWARD GRANT
ample'' than the world it contains.
84
Thus we have an apparent physically ex-
tended space converting God to a physically extended being. And Joseph
Raphson, in his De spatio reali of 1702, argues that God's true omnipresence is a
necessary prerequisite for the existence of all things. But only if God is actually
extended can he be omnipresent. "Indeed to be present in places diverse and
distant from each other, for instance in the globe of the Moon and in that of the
earth, and also in the intermediate space, what else is it but, precisely to extend
oneself?"
85
For Raphson "this extension is truly real, indivisible, immaterial (or,
if you wish, spatial,)"
86
for he was convinced that every positive and primary
attribute "such as extension in matter, etc. must necessarily be really and truly
present in the First Cause and be in it in a degree of infinite excellence in the
manner most perfect of its kind."
87
Indeed Raphson, indicating an acquaintance
wi th medieval arguments, says that the Schoolmen had conceived of the extension
of God as transcendent. But, in seeming disagreement, he asks how extended
beings can come from something that is only transcendently, not actually, ex-
tended.88 Hence Raphson does not hesitate to think of God as actually extended
in space. Newton too seems to think of God as actually extended through an
infinite dimensional space. This is borne out by the General Scholium in the
second edition of the Principia in 1713, where Newton says of God that
He is omnipresent not virtually only, but also substantialljt; for virtue cannot
subsist without substance. In him are all things contained and moved; yet neither
affects the other: God suffers nothing from the motion of bodies; bodies find
no resistance from the omnipresence of God. It is allowed by all that the Supreme
God exists necessarily; and by the same necessity he exists always and everywhere.89
To bother to explain, as Newton does, that bodies in motion through space-
undoubtedly a three-dimensional space-are not affected or otherwise resisted
by the omnipresent God is to say that God is actually in every par t of that space.
In his defense of Newton against Leibniz, Samuel Clarke would call infinite
84 Enchiridium metaphysicum ( 1672), Ch.
8, as quoted in A. Koyre, From the Closed
World to the Infinite Universe (Baltimore :
Johns Hopkins Press, 1957), p. 154. Koyre ob-
serves that More made infinite space an attri-
bute of Cod (p. 155) and "by a strange
irony of history, the xtv6v of the
atomists became for Henry More Cods own
extension, .. . " ( p. 154). Koyre has brilliantly
described, analyzed, and quoted the opinions
of those few authors who will be mentioned
here. Since it is merely our purpose to indicate
very briefly how these few "spatialized" God,
to use Koyre's term, it will be convenient to
cite some of the quotations from his book.
85 Koyre, From the Closed World, pp. 197-
198.
BG Ibid., p. 198.
87 Ibid. , p. 199.
ss Ibid. In Pt. VII of the eighth of his Di-
alogues on Metaphysics ana on Religion,
Nicolas Malebranch seems to adopt the very
transcendent medieval sense which Raphson
criticizes. His spokesman, Theodore, says:
"Cod, then, is extended, no less than bodies
are; since Goel possesses all absolute realities
or all perfections. But God is not extended in
the way in which bodies are, .... there are
no parts in His substance" (trans. Morris
Ginsberg, Library of Philosophy, London,
1923, p. 211). In Pt. VIII of the same
(pp. 212-213), Theodore insists
that 'The immensity of God is His substance
itself spread out everywhere, filling all places
without local and this I submit is
quite incomprehensible . . . . Assuredly,
Theotimus, if you judge of the immensity of
Goel by of the idea of extension, you
are giving Goel a corporeal extension."
89 Sfr Isaac Newton's Mathematical Princi-
ples of Natural Philosophy, translated into
English by Andrew Motte in 1729. The trans-
lation revised . . . by Florian Cajori (Berke-
ley: Univ. California Press, 1947), p. 545.
CONCEPTIONS OF THE EXTRACOSMIC VOID
59
space an attribute of God
90
and insist that "space and duration are not hors de
Dieu but are caused by, and are immediate and necessary consequences of his
existence. And without them, his eternity and ubiquity (or omnipresence) would
be taken away."ni Thus for Clarke space is eternal because it is a necessary
consequence of God's existence, and it must be conceived as dimensionally
extended because it is the instrumentality through which God makes himself
actually omnipresent.
It is evident that in England and elsewhere the position developed in the
Middle Ages was widely adopted-that God in virtue of His infinite power and
immensity must necessarily occupy and fill an infinite void space. But whereas
in the Middle Ages God's nondimensionality was deemed paramount so that He
was held to occupy an imaginary nondimensional extramundane infinite void, in
the seventeenth century He is thought to fill a three-dimensional void and thereby
has become a physically extended three-dimensional incorporeal being. How
did this happen? If I may be allowed to conjecture and speculate-for there
is little that would at present pass for solid evidence in tracing this transition-
it seems to me bound up with the Aristotelian cosmos and its collapse in the
seventeenth century.
CONCLUSION
It is no exaggeration to say that the medieval Scholastics who accepted and
argued for the reality of an imaginary infinite void space beyond the finite and
spherical Aristotelian cosmos did so on purely theological grounds. Perhaps in
the aftermath of the Condemnations of 1277 it was inconceivable to them that a
God possessed of infinite and absolute power should be confined to an abode at
the empyrean heaven or be otherwise restricted to the universe He created.
Rather, it was necessary that He be omnipresent both inside and outside the
world and therefore infinitely everywhere. But it was an equally indispensable
condition that He be nondimensional and unextended, for otherwise He would
be a divisible being; hence His spatial omnipresence was to be taken only in a
transcendent sense. Incomprehensible as all this may seem, it provoked no
intense debate and had almost no impact on medieval Aristotelian physics, which
was concerned exclusively with motion and change within-not without-the
finite world. To be sure, God could, if He wished, create bodies beyond the
cosmos. But most were content to side with Aristotle and believe that all existent
matter lay within our finite world, wholly filling it to the exclusion of all vacua.
And so it was that apart from a few extremely interesting hypothetical arguments
the existence of an imaginary extramundane infinite void required no adjustments
in medieval physics and cosmology.
By the seventeenth century, however, an enormous change had occurred.
90 The paragraph containing this declaration
is worthy of full citation because it reflect5
the medieval position described above. "Void
~ p a c e is not an attribute without a subject ;
because, by void space, we never mean space
void of everything, but void of body only. In
all void space, God is certainly present, and
possibly many other substances which are not
matter ; being neither tangible nor objects of
any of our senses." Clarke's Fourth Reply,
par. 9, in The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence,
p. 47.
91 Ibid., par. 10.
60
EDWARD GRANT
Aristotelian physics and cosmology were barely alive, except in Scholastic cir-
cles. The significant advances in astronomy and physics were being made outside
of and in opposition to the Aristotelian science of the Schoolmen. Moreover,
opinions and viewpoints about the actual existence of void spaces had undergone
some transformation in the course of the seventeenth century. Experiments and
discoveries about atmospheric pressure-especially those by Pascal, von Guericke,
and Robert Boyle-had shown that nature did not abhor a vacuum and that
atmospheric pressure decreased as the height of the air above the earth's surface
increased. By means of pumps, artillcial vacua were produced in enclosed vol-
umes, and while many stiJl denied the interpretations placed upon such experi-
ments, others eagerly accepted the actual existence of both artificial and natural
vacua. Finally, ancient atomism with its three-dimensional void space extending
to infinity also had its adherents, as did Stoic cosmology in which a sealed finite
world was surrounded by a real infinite three-dimensional extramundane void.
Despite continued opposition to the existence of any kind of void by Aristote-
lians, Cartesians, and others, the cumulative impact of the events just described
may have led proponents of void to accept it as three dimensional-especially
since it could be artificially produced upon the evacuation of an enclosed volume.
Three-dimensional vacua had become part of a new physics. But for those who
also accepted the medieval view that God occupied all void space, there was
now a genuine dilemma. If God fills a three-dimensional space, He becomes
physically extended; but if God is nondimensional, then in what sense can He be
said to fill a three-dimensional space? The Scholastics, for whom the issue of
infinite extramundane void space was divorced from their physics, were content
to assume the reality of extramundane void space-after all, God could create
a body there-but deny it dimensionality, choosing to take refuge in transcendent
meanings of terms such as "extension" and "dimension" when applied to God.
Authors in the seventeenth century had no such options and devices. Convinced
that void space was three dimensional and that God was omnipresent in it, those
whose views we have briefly described here were driven, however reluctantly, to
extend God into their three-dimensional void space. The demands of a new phys-
ics compelled the proponents of infinite void space, in whatever form they accepted
it, to make God an extended three-dimensional being. And so, despite a near
identity in language and substantive description of an omnipresent God extended
through infinite void space, there was yet a gulf that separated medieval and
seventeenth-century vie,vpoints. Whereas in the Middle Ages God's nondimen-
sionality determined the characteristics of an imaginary infinite extramundane
void, in the seventeenth century it was the three-dimensional infinite void space
of a new physics that conferred upon God a new property-three-dimensionality.
And yet this important difference must not be allowed to obscure an important
contribution. Whether conceived dimensionally or not, the belief in God's omni-
presence in an infinite void made that overpowering and difficult concept more
readily acceptable to a number of significant and theologically oriented philo-
sophic and scientiflc Rgures in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
This belief and the arguments justifying it were a legacy from the late Middle
Ages.