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Line's intriguing sun-dial set up
in the court of his English preditors
A brief truce between an English king and Francis Line, S.J. who was the best dial maker of the kingdom
Unlike the Christian pessimist, Blaise Pascal who abandoned science because he found it incompatible with his theology, Jesuit scientists treated science as a window of God's grandeur and used its appeal in their apostolic endeavors. Science and mathematics maintained a place of honor in the curriculum established for Jesuit seminarians in the Roman College. Jesuit educators knew that "many a professor of philosophy has made no end of mistakes because of his ignorance of mathematics". In 1611 a school in Antwerp specializing exclusively in mathematics was established for young Jesuits skilled in the sciences. As a result, scientific inquiry of a high order flourished in the early Society.
During their first century the Jesuits were the only scientific society in existence anywhere. Their astonishing scientific experiments and publications contributed significantly to the growth of science but also proved suasive in establishing rapport with intellectuals otherwise hostile to Jesuits. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (PTRS) apologized to suspicious readers for its numerous articles by and about Jesuit scientists "whose goal it is to propagate their faith...but their plentiful correspondence from all parts of the world, their numerous excellent and useful observations on nature ... make some recompense for the destruction they have so long made of mankind." Unrepentant for said "destruction" these free spirits executed their remarkably bold and imaginative scientific innovations.
One such free spirit was the English Jesuit Francis Line (d. 1675) who entered the Jesuits the year that Robert Southwell was hanged, drawn and quartered, and in a time when those who harbored Jesuits in Merry England were crushed to death. To gladden their beleaguered fellow Catholics, exiled Jesuits returned to England on any pretext and occasionally their capricious persecutors even requested their assistance.
In 1669 King Charles II felt he needed a spectacular sundial for his garden in Whitehall. Francis Line, renowned dial maker and professor of physics in Liege, was chosen for the job. Some sort of gentleman's truce was arranged, Line came to Whitehall and built a elaborate dial modeled after his famous sundial at Liege. It was an immediate and immense success, and consisted of a series of glass spheres floating freely in fluid inside larger glass spheres. Because this fascinating sundial had interesting demonstration possibilities - even for inquisitors, a friend of Galileo requested Line to bring one to Rome to help Galileo defend the heliocentric theory. Although Line was willing, Galileo was not.
How seriously Line's scientific opinions were taken is clear from the passionate and immediate reactions of Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle to Line's objections to their positions on the nature of color and on the vacuum. In these disputes the Royal Academy decided against Line and in favor of Newton and Boyle, but Boyle acknowledged that these confrontations had the happy effect of forcing both Newton and Boyle to clarify imprecise language. When Francis Line persisted in his objections, Newton seriously considered taking up law as a less litigious enterprise.