Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What evidence exists to indicate that the Pope attempted to suppress the number zero?

In an editorial review, Rob Lightner claims that "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea", by Charles Seife, explains "Why did the Church reject the use of zero?". On the other hand, "God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science", by James Hannam, rebuts "the idea that the pope tried to suppress the number zero".

share|improve this question
3  
The first sentence is very wrong. It reflects the attitudes of perhaps 150 or 200 years ago. Nowadays the Middle Ages get their due. Look up Late Antiquity for one example. –  Felix Goldberg May 27 '13 at 21:22
2  
The BBC's In Our Time programme had an interesting episode on the history of Zero a while ago. The issue of any pope suppressing zero did not come up. To me esp. absent any motivation on behalf of the church the idea sounds like from the plot of the next Dan Brown novel (full disclosure: I'm not a fan :) –  Drux May 27 '13 at 21:49
3  
This should be posted on skeptics. –  Monster Truck May 28 '13 at 0:18
1  
Thx, these additional references are welcome and somewhat helpful. BTW, you may also be interested in the German (ahem) historian Heribert Illig, according to whom the medieval period of European history did not exist, and there was a cover up that whole centuries were "inserted" after the fact ... :) –  Drux May 28 '13 at 5:43
2  
I stand corrected. Today, I would say that zero is an Arab "introduction" (to Europe), not invention. The rest of my earlier comment stands. –  Tom Au Jun 2 '13 at 13:56
show 10 more comments

1 Answer

According to this article, Pope Sylvester II (Gerbert d'Aurillac, c943-1003), is credited with re-introducing the abacus into Europe without an explicit use of the number zero. This was because it had not been introduced in the European mathematical vocabulary (Fibonacci did this around 1202, and it took centuries for it to become established), rather than an explicit decree that it should be banned.

It's also interesting to note that Gottfried Leibniz had a somewhat mystical interpretation of the binary numbers, with one representing God and zero the void.

share|improve this answer
2  
Welcome to the site James! The wikipedia article you cite is actually sourced from "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea", by Charles Seife. This link (yaleglobal.yale.edu/about/zero.jsp) confirms your point that Fibonacci introduced zero to Europe around 1202. Good work! –  BrotherJack May 28 '13 at 15:45
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.