By Steve Bishop
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Augustin Louis Cauchy (1789-1857)
“The life of Augustin Cauchy … offers a perfect model of Christian virtue, as well as of supreme intellectual activity. He was one of the most eminent mathematicians that France has produced, and his nobility of character was not less remarkable than his genius for mathematics,” wrote the French physicist Jean Baptiste Biot (1774-1862) cited in Kneller (1911, p. 57).
Cauchy declared: “I am a Christian, that is to say, I believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ …” Kneller (1911, p. 43).
Augustin Louis Cauchy was born in Paris in 1789 during the French Revolution. His family moved for safety to Arcueil. He was a sickly child and suffered from malnourishment. In Aucueil he met Laplace and Lagrange. On the family’s return to Paris he enrolled as a student at the Ecole Polytechnique, where he studied engineering.
From 1810 he served as an engineer in Napoleon’s army. He had to give up this role due to ill health and sought an academic job, without success, in Paris. In 1816 he became professor of the Ecole Polythechnique and was elected to the French Academy of Sciences. At the Ecole Polytechnique he attempted to reform the mathematics syllabus.
In 1825 he set up his own mathematical journal Exercises des Mathematiques.
As an ardent Catholic and royalist, Charles X’s abdication in 1830 meant Cauchy lost his prestigious positions and following a self-imposed exile he took up a professorship in Turin. He later tutored Charles X’s son in Prague.
In 1838 he was able to return once again to France and to the Ecole Polytechnique. He then took up a position in 1848 at the Sorbonne. He died in 1857 from a fever.
Cauchy had a powerful influence over the development of complex analysis. Ioan James describes him as “the greatest French mathematician of his time.” (James, 2002, p. 81)
There are a number of mathematical ideas named after him including: The Cauchy-Riemann equations, Cauchy integral theorem, Cauchy integral formula, determinant, distribution, horizon, problem, product, sequence, surface, and at least two theorems.
Kneller SJ, Karl Alois. 1911. Christianity and the Leaders of Modern Science: A Contribution to the History of Culture in the Nineteenth Century London: B. Herder.
James, Ioan. 2002. Remarkable Mathematicians: From Euler to von Neumann. Cambridge University Press, 2002
Belhoste, Bruno. 1991. Augustin-Louis Cauchy: A Biography. New York: Springer.
Steve Bishop is the compiler of A Bibliography for a Christian Approach to Mathematics and the author of several articles on the relationship between faith and math. Look for future posts from him in this series on Christian Mathematicians.
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