Copernicus developed his theory – that the earth moved around the sun – but then was afraid to publish it, because of what university professors would have done to him. Like today’s global warming hysteria, he knew that if he told the truth about the prevailing ideas, he would have been bitterly denounced by the whole academy.
But today, the Times pretends that it was the Catholic church that was opposed to his ideas.
FROMBORK, Poland (AP) — Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer whose work was condemned by the Catholic Church as heretical, will be reburied by Polish priests as a hero on Saturday, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.
His burial in a tomb in the cathedral where he once served as a church canon and doctor indicates how far the church has come in making peace with the scientist whose revolutionary theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun helped usher in the modern scientific age.
Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, died as a little-known astronomer working in what is now Poland, far from Europe’s centers of learning. He had spent years laboring in his free time developing his theory, which was later condemned as heretical by the church because it removed Earth and humanity from their central position in the universe.
But this is nonsense. The Times is a nonsense machine these days. They are merely propagandists, and will write anything at all that will throw a bad light on the Catholic church. By the way, “later” in the above paragraph means 100 years later.
I get asked about this a great deal, in large measure because the common lore is that the Catholic Church immediately condemned Copernicus and his system, while enlightened Protestants eagerly embraced both. In fact, the response from the leading Protestant theologians of Copernicus’ time was swift and negative, though even this response was mostly remarks in passing in conversation or sermons, nothing resembling an organized anti-Copernican campaign. The Catholic Church, despite later official hostility, was largely silent at first. Silence, however, does not necessarily imply approval, as the events of the following century were to so forcefully prove.
The specific response one of the most important contemporaries of Copernicus, Martin Luther, is telling. The quote below is actually in response to the publication of the brief Commentariolus, which appeared a decade before De Revolutionibus. It comes from Luther’s Tablebook (Tischreden), or record of dinner-table conversations:
“There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”
The scriptural passage to which Luther refers is Joshua 10:10-15. Elsewhere Luther refers to Copernicus as “a fool who went against Holy Writ”. It is this latter quote that usually makes it into the textbooks.
Despite these more dramatic objections, overall the initial response to Copernicus was somewhat ambivalent. The full implications of his revolutionary ideas only began to sink in over the decades following the publication and slow dissemination of De Revolutionibus. Luther’s sarcastic comments aside, Copernicus’ ideas were seriously discussed in Lutheran as well as Catholic universities during subsequent years, both for and against (though mostly against at first). While in detail Copernicus’ system used more circles than Ptolemy’s, it did not use the equant, which was mathematically more challenging to use in practice. As a consequence, mathematically speaking the Copernican system was relatively easier to use. Indeed, computations based on the Copernican system were used to create accurate tables of planetary positions (the Prutenic Tables computed by Erasmus Reinhold), and Copernical computations were used in part of the Gregorian Calendar Reform of the 1570s. At issue at the time was whether one viewed Copernicus’ Sun-centered system as merely a convenient computational artifice, or whether the Sun and not the Earth really was at the center. Copernicus clearly believed in the latter, but this conviction was muted by Osiander’s preface to De Revolutionibus that suggested otherwise.
And in fact, Copernicus was ENCOURAGED by the Catholic Church to develop his theories and to publish them:
About 1532 Copernicus had basically completed his work on the manuscript of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium; but despite urging by his closest friends, he resisted openly publishing his views, not wishing—as he confessed—to risk the scorn “to which he would expose himself on account of the novelty and incomprehensibility of his theses.”
In 1533, Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter delivered a series of lectures in Rome outlining Copernicus’ theory. Pope Clement VII and several Catholic cardinals heard the lectures and were interested in the theory. On 1 November 1536, Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg, Archbishop of Capua, wrote to Copernicus from Rome:
Some years ago word reached me concerning your proficiency, of which everybody constantly spoke. At that time I began to have a very high regard for you… For I had learned that you had not merely mastered the discoveries of the ancient astronomers uncommonly well but had also formulated a new cosmology. In it you maintain that the earth moves; that the sun occupies the lowest, and thus the central, place in the universe… Therefore with the utmost earnestness I entreat you, most learned sir, unless I inconvenience you, to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars, and at the earliest possible moment to send me your writings on the sphere of the universe together with the tables and whatever else you have that is relevant to this subject …
By then Copernicus’ work was nearing its definitive form, and rumors about his theory had reached educated people all over Europe.
So, even though Luterans had a much bigger role in criticizing Copernicus, the Times attempts to lay it all at the feet of the Catholic church.
It is true that later – about 100 years after Copernicus’ death, the Church did denounce the Copernican theory. But that was only because they preferred the same theory that most scientists of the time preferred – the classical Greek theories of Ptolemy.