Pope Sylvester II

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Pope Sylvester II (or Silvester II) (c. 946 – May 12, 1003), born Gerbert d'Aurillac, was a prolific scholar, teacher, and pope. He endorsed and promoted Arabic knowledge of arithmetic, mathematics, and astronomy in Europe, reintroducing the abacus and armillary sphere, which had been lost to Europe since the end of the Greco-Roman era. He was the first French Pope, reigning from 999 until his death . Due to his efforts to root out simony and other corruption within the Church, and his connection with the science and intellectualism of the Arab world, there were many rumors and legends spread of Sylvester II being a sorcerer in league with the devil.



Gerbert was born about 946 in the town of Belliac, near the present-day commune of Saint-Simon, Cantal, France.[1] Around 963, he entered the monastery of St. Gerald of Aurillac. In 967, Borrell II of Barcelona (947–992), visited the monastery, and the abbot asked the Count to take Gerbert with him so that the lad could study mathematics in Spain and acquire there some knowledge of Arabic learning. In the following years, Gerbert studied under the direction of Atto, Bishop of Vic, some 60 km north of Barcelona, and probably also at the nearby Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll.[2]

Borrell II of Barcelona was facing major defeat from the Andalusian powers so he sent a delegation to Córdoba to request a cease fire. Atto was part of the delegation that met with Al-Hakam II of Cordoba, who received him with honor. Atto was mesmerized by the Arabic palaces in Cordoba and returned with great respect for the Arabs. Gerbert insisted that Atto teach him more about these Arabic princes who seemed to him more interested in the sciences and literature than warfare. Gerbert was fascinated by the stories of the Christian Bishops and judges who dressed and talked like the Arabs, well-versed in mathematics and natural sciences like the great teachers of the Islamic universities. This sparked Gerbert's veneration for the Arabs and his passion for mathematics and astronomy. Gerbert learned from the Arab teachers in Spain subjects that no one in the rest of Europe had even heard of, the most important being Arabic numbers. It used to be rumored that he would sneak out from the monastery at night to study under the Arabs.

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