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The Pope who devised an abacus

January 10, 2011

In an interview with Religion Dispatches, Nancy Marie Brown, author of The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages, discusses the achievements of Pope Sylvester II, who reigned from 999 to 1003 and, in her words, “devised an abacus, or counting board, that mimics the algorithms we use today for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.” Brown also calls Pope Sylvester II “the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day.”

“The popular picture of the Dark Ages is wrong,” says Brown. “The earth wasn’t flat. People weren’t terrified that the world would end at midnight on December 31, 999. Christians did not believe Muslims and Jews were the enemy. The Church wasn’t anti-science. In the Dark Ages, contrary to what most people think, science was central to the lives of monks, kings, emperors, and even popes.’


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  • Posted by: stpetric - Jan. 10, 2011 7:11 PM ET USA

    She's absolutely right, but she's got an uphill battle to overcome the myth of the "dark" ages. It's hard to call "dark" an age that gave us Dante, Chartres, and the university!