Acceptance, rejection and indifference to heliocentricity before 1610.

Johannes Petreius published Copernicus’ De revolutionibus in 1543 how was this major new cosmological and astronomical work with its heliocentric hypothesis actually received in the first approximately seventy years after it appearance?  Michael Fugate and others continue to enquire about or insist upon some sort of intense religious rejection of this work and its central hypothesis within early modern Europe. Did this rejection really exist? How was this work actually viewed by those who read it or even just heard about it?  Prompted by the following comment made by M Clark to the last post here I shall attempt the historical outline of an answer to this question. (I am restricting this to the period before 1610 and the telescopic discoveries made by Galileo, Harriot, Marius and others because these discoveries and Galileo’s use of them changed the situation substantially. I have dealt with the consequences of Galileo’s behaviour in the period 1610 to 1615 in an earlier post) M Clark wrote:

Second, the Wikipedia article on Copernicus does record several instances of people objecting to the new theory on religious grounds. The Dominican Tolosani objects on both political and scientific grounds. Calvin and Luther seem to object on grounds of going against Scripture, Luther’s buddy Melanchthon really tore into Copernicus. Reading the Wikipedia article it seems there were a wide variety of reasons to oppose Copernicus, both scientific and religious.

First of all it should be made clear that the vast majority of people living in Europe in the second half of the sixteenth century reacted to Copernicus’ book with total indifference. In fact most of them almost certainly never even heard of it. This is a very important point that tends to get forgotten in the heated debate over the early reception of heliocentricity. We tend to think of De revolutionibus hitting the streets with the impact of an atom bomb but in fact its contemporary impact was more that of a damp squib. It was only with hindsight that its publication was avowed to be a turning point in human history. Even in the seventeenth century the great astronomical-cosmological debate was the plaything of a small group of intellectuals and had very, very little impact on the lives of the vast majority.

Having said that how was De revolutionibus received by those that did react to its publication? As Robert Westman pointed out, in an infamous footnote, between 1543 and 1600 there were only ten Copernicans in the whole world, that is people who completely accepted Copernicus’ cosmology, and several of those never really committed themselves in published writings; the most famous example being of course Galileo who shied away from publicly acknowledging his acceptance of heliocentricity. A second somewhat larger group of astronomers rejected Copernicus’ cosmology, that is the factual truth of heliocentricity, but used his mathematical models with their innovations to calculate tables of planetary orbits etc. The largest such group were the Lutheran astronomers indebted to Phillip Melanchthon for their education and their work places. Their instrumentalist acceptance of the mechanisms of Copernican astronomy has thus been termed The Wittenberg Interpretation by Westman. This viewpoint was however not restricted to Lutherans. Magini professor of astronomy in Bologna, and one of Galileo’s strongest opponents, famously converted Copernicus’ mathematical innovations to a geocentric system. In the twentieth century Derek de Solla Price demonstrated that the Copernican mathematical model of the solar system and its corresponding geocentric model were in fact mathematically equivalent thus demonstrating that such an instrumentalist use of Copernicus was intellectually justified. In this context Owen Gingerich discovered in his survey of the annotations and marginalia of the surviving copies of the first two editions of De revolutionibus (Nürnberg 1543 and Basel 1561) that whilst the final five books on mathematical astronomy were nearly always heavily annotated and thus obviously studiously read the first cosmological book, with its heliocentric hypothesis, was almost always free of marginalia leading to the conclusion that it was hardly read at all. This evidence tends to support a widespread instrumentalist approach to the work

But what of the critics? Clavius the leading Catholic Ptolemaic astronomer of the age rejected Copernicus’ cosmology on scientific grounds but did not in fact measure the Copernican hypothesis much importance. Put simply he didn’t think it very significant.

We now turn our attention to the supposed religious rejections listed by M Clark. These rejections are always trotted out by those who are convinced of a massive religious rejection of heliocentricity following the publication of De revolutionibus. However a closer examination of these proofs tends to take the wind out of such arguments.

The simplest case is that of Calvin. The anti-Copernican quote that is attributed to Calvin is spurious and as far as can be ascertained Calvin never publicly offered an opinion on heliocentricity.

The case of Luther is much more interesting and is a classic example of how a supposed historical fact is misused to support an argument of much greater historical significance than it actually has or had. In Luther’s Table Talk (German Tischreden) we can read the following story from Anthony Lauterbach:

There was mention of a certain astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked] “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Jos. 10:12].”

Here we have it at last a religious rejection of heliocentricity by a very major sixteenth century religious figure, case proved or is it? If one actually examines the context of this quote then its significance actually dwindles to almost nothing. The Tischreden are just what the tittle says they are they are records of the conversations that took place around the dinner table in Luther’s house. Luther was a professor at the University of Wittenberg and like many other university professors in the Renaissance his house was also a boarding house for rich students whose payments for board and lodging helped to supplement the professor’s income whilst reassuring anxious parents that their, mostly teenage, sons were under suitable supervision whilst attending the university. Luther was a bon vivant, who greatly enjoyed his food and drink in copious quantities so his evening meals were grand affairs with many people seated at the table enjoying the hospitality and entertaining conversation of their host. The conversation in question was recorded in 1539 but first published in 1566 long after Luther’s death so it cannot be authenticated. The date of its occurrence is of course before the publication of both Rheticus’ Naratio prima as well as Copernicus’ De revolutionibus and as we have very good grounds to believe that the Commentariolus was not know in Wittenberg at this time the entire conversation is based on hearsay, the participants never having read any account of Copernicus’ hypothesis.

What we actually have, in the passage quoted, is a man in his cup making a throw away quip to impress his dinner guests with his intellectual quick-wittedness. Nowhere else in his voluminous writings or in the records of his lectures and speeches does Luther mention Copernicus or his hypothesis with a single word. Also possibly more important nobody in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries quotes this passage from the Tischreden as Luther’s opinion on heliocentricity, it is first in the nineteenth century that we find this passage being used as a so-called proof for the religious rejection of heliocentricity in the early modern period.

We now come to Melanchthon and a genuine vehement attack on Copernicus and his views from somebody whose opinions on the subject probably counted more than those of Luther. Luther was a philologist and a theologian whereas Melanchthon was a theologian, a philosopher and an educator whose main function in the Reformation was to design, create and manage the Lutheran education system throughout Europe. Melanchthon determined what was taught in the Lutheran Protestant schools and universities. In one of the textbooks he wrote for use at the Lutheran Protestant universities, Initia Doctrinae Physicae, an introduction to Aristotelian physics, Melanchthon wrote:

But some dare say, either because of the love of novelties or in order to appear ingenious, that the earth moves, and contend that neither the eight sphere nor the sun moves while they assign other movement to the celestial spheres and place the earth among the stars. The joke is not new. There is a book by Archimedes called De Numeratione Arenae, in which he reports that Aristarchus of Samos defended this paradox, that the sun remains fixed and the earth turns around the sun. And although clever workers investigate many questions to give expression to their ingenuity, the young should know that it is not good to defend such absurd opinions publicly, nor is it honest or a good example.

One should of course note that although Melanchthon is anything but polite about the heliocentric hypothesis his criticisms are not religious in nature. This is Melanchthon the Aristotelian philosopher at work and not Melanchthon the theologian. However even this fairly strong rejection of Copernicus, who is not mentioned by name, becomes much, much milder when put into its correct historical context.

Although the first edition of his book, containing the quoted passage, was published in 1549 textual evidence shows that Melanchthon actually wrote the book in 1545 shortly after first reading De revolutionibus, time softened his response. Already in the second edition from 1550, and in all subsequent editions, he toned down his criticism removing all of the insults whilst however retaining his principled rejection of the heliocentric hypothesis. However at the same time he actively encouraged the so-called Wittenberg interpretation, outlined above, and supported the teaching of an instrumentalist Copernicanism in the Lutheran Protestant universities.

Our supposed religious rejections of Copernicus and the heliocentric hypothesis are melting away at an alarming rate but fear not dear readers we now how a genuine case in the writings of the Florentine Dominican Giovanni Maria Tolosani (c. 1470 – 1549) a Papal advisor on matters of doctrine and a highly knowledgeable astronomer. He wrote a major work entitled On the Truth of Sacred Scripture to which he appended a series of pamphlets dealing with a variety of issues one of which was an analysis of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus.

Tolosani read and criticised De revolutionibus from a dogmatic Thomist-Aristotelian standpoint and here we have a genuine rejection of the heliocentric hypothesis on religious grounds. He writes:

For by a foolish effort he [Copernicus] tried to revive the weak Pythagorean opinion, long ago deservedly destroyed, since it is expressly contrary to human reason and also opposes holy writ. From this situation, there could easily arise disagreements between Catholic expositors of holy scripture and those who might wish to adhere obstinately to this false opinion. [my emphasis]

The last phrase perfectly echoes what indeed happened between Galileo and the Catholic Church in 1615. Tolosani goes on to accuse Copernicus of being woefully ignorant of both physics and logic and the first (cosmological) book of De revolutionibus of being therefore defective. Interestingly Tolosani closes his polemic against Copernicus with the following claim:

The Master of the Sacred and Apostolic Palace [Bartelomeo Spina] had planned to condemn this book, but, being prevented first by illness and then by death, he could not fulfil this intention. However, I have taken care to accomplish it in this little work for the purpose of preserving the truth to the common advantage of the Holy Church.

Here we have at long last the much-trumpeted rejection of Copernicus and the heliocentric hypothesis on religious grounds. This discovery has however one small but highly significant imperfection, Tolosani’s work was never published but disappeared, still in manuscript, into the archives and it would appear that nobody took any notice of it what so ever before 1610. There is some evidence that it was read by one of the Dominicans who stirred up trouble for Galileo in 1613 but otherwise this document lay dormant and ignored until its rediscovery in the twentieth century.

Much as some would wish it otherwise there really was no significant opposition to heliocentricity on religious grounds between the publication of De revolutionibus in 1543 and the telescopic discoveries made between 1610 and 1613. In the period following those discoveries there developed a conflict between Galileo and Foscarini on the one side and the Catholic Church on the other not for scientific reasons but because the two of them tried to tell the Church how to interpret Holy Scripture as I have explained in an earlier post.


Filed under Early Scientific Publishing, History of Astronomy, History of science, Myths of Science, Renaissance Science

29 responses to “Acceptance, rejection and indifference to heliocentricity before 1610.

  1. Pingback: Acceptance, rejection and indifference to heliocentricity before 1610. | Whewell's Ghost

  2. Thony. You’re AWESOME.

  3. Superb! You are a great example of how being sensible can yield good history.

  4. I think there’s a more general problem with the story that opposition to Copernicus was largely religious. The 16th Century, the century of the Reformation, was an era obsessed with theological controversies; but none of ’em had much to do with cosmology. There was no dissident sect proclaiming that the sun was in the middle. Internet comment threads have nothing on the incredible volume and sheer nastiness of vituperation that learned Europeans launched at each other on salvation by faith alone or the correct interpretation of the Eucharist. The flame wars of those times, after all, featured real flames. Dynasties fell; armies ravaged whole provinces; the religious unity of Europe was irrevocably shattered. None of this, however, was about astronomy. When, as certainly sometimes happened, individuals got in trouble with ecclesiastical authority over scientific or philosophical issues, the issues in question invariably bore on some properly religious question, in Galileo’s case who has the authority to interpret scripture or in the case of many an Italian philosophy professor the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the world.

    If you go into the library looking for evidence of the warfare of science and theology in the 16th Century, you’ll wind up with index cards supporting your case because your methodology guarantees that you’ll only find what you were looking for. You’re acting like an advocate and not a historian. It helps to suspend your own concerns and try to look at the past in its own terms, though, admittedly, that does mean that you’ll need a great many more index cards.

  5. M Clark

    This post is very enlightening. Thanks for clarifying – perhaps correcting is the better word- the information from the Wikipedia article!

  6. Hello Thony,

    Through this interesting post I came across your previous post ‘An interesting question’ and the heated debate with ‘Ken’ in the comments section.

    While you are a first-rate historian of science and I find your arguments that the judgement of 1616 was based on a correct – given the evidence available – assessment of the scientific knowledge of the day, I do think there is a question in church history which needs resolving before we can fully understand these events. Now I am no historian and certainly not a church historian, so the best I can do here is to try to explain the conceptual framework which makes the question important.

    The judgement of 1616 makes two claims: that heliocentrism goes against prevailing science and that ‘it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture, according to the literal meaning of the words and according to the common interpretation and understanding of the Holy Fathers and the doctors of theology’. Now you make the excellent point that it is the job of theologians to re-interpret, under certain constraints which effectively define the academic discipline, Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers in order to make it consistent with the products of reason. (There are views which do not require reason and revelation to be consistent, but they were not orthodox in Rome, so we shall set them aside for present purposes.) Thus you make the claim that Galileo’s offence to the church was not that heliocentrism would need certain passages of Holy Scripture to be interpreted differently and, crucially, not literally, but that he was (a) challenging their exclusive right to interpret Scripture, on (b) flimsy evidence.

    So far so good. But the question of whether some passage of Scripture should be interpreted literally or not is very rarely just a question of the interpretation of scripture. For if some passages of scripture make a claim one way or another on a certain subject, say geocentrism, and are interpreted literally, then revealed knowledge has commitments with respect to that subject and it is not simply a matter for natural philosophers to decide. But when theologians re-interpret those passages figuratively, revealed knowledge becomes silent on that subject and it is placed firmly in the domain of philosophy. For this reason, to re-interpret certain passages, such as those about the Incarnation, the Resurrection or the Trinity, is always heresy, for those mysteries are matters of faith and thus must be included within the realm of revealed knowledge. Thus questions of the interpretation of Holy Scripture an intimately intertwined with questions about the limits of philosophy and reason as opposed to revelation.

    Now it is striking that the judgement of 1616 says that heliocentrism is ‘formally heretical’ (I haven’t checked the translation here, so do not want to put too much weight on this). This masks, or deliberately remains silent on, the crucial question, which is how much the Roman Church at the time cared about whether Scripture and thus revealed knowledge was committed to geocentrism or whether it was uncommitted on the issue. Your writing draws on the fact that much later they were prepared to re-interpret when the scientific evidence was uncontroversially in favour of heliocentrism. But that still leaves it open that – in 1616 – the commitment to geocentrism was seen as a very important part of revealed knowledge and not something which could be left to natural philosophy alone.

    The attraction of geocentrism to Christianity is obvious: it makes a physical reality of the metaphor that humans are at the centre of the universe, which is a way of understanding the Christian doctrine about the relation between man and God. Now, as you will be well aware, heliocentrism does not require the Christian to drop the metaphor or change his view of the relation between man and God, but it does make it that little bit harder to believe in that relationship. We see a similar situation with 21st century creationists and young earthers: they feel that evolution and cosmology threaten their religious beliefs even if it is in fact possible to remain Christian and believe those scientific doctrines (as the Roman Church has done!).

    So the question in church history is one of the extent to which geocentrism was thought to be a fundamental pillar of the Church’s primary mission, that of maintaining the faith of a largely uneducated population, and the extent to which it was thought to be something which was helpful but inessential to the Church.

    I do not know the answer to that question and I am very grateful to you for throwing it into focus for me. But I do think that until we know the answer to that, we do not fully know how to understand the Church’s response to Galileo. For, from my position of relative ignorance, it certainly looks like their reaction was inappropriate to their official assessment of his works unless they thought that Galileo was a risk to the Church precisely because he might cause (in one way or another) the heliocentric hypothesis to be accepted as true outside the narrow bounds of astronomy and cosmology. In contrast, as you make a good case above, Copernicus didn’t pose such a threat.

    • Claws

      Tom, you should probably read a few of the other posts in this blog, which has answered again and again your claims about the “obvious” reason why Christians would supposedly prefer a geocentric universe.

      • Claws,

        I’ll admit I haven’t read all the posts on this blog, but I have read a fair few and I didn’t see my question being addressed. The tone of your comment suggests you think ‘obvious reason’ entails ‘good reason’, which of course it does not. My question was about a question in Church history, namely whether it was believed to be important *for a particular purpose* at a particular time. Thony’s very helpful response below suggests not and offers another explanation for the nature of the Church’s response to Galileo. I must admit that I am still not entirely convinced by this point in Thony’s argument, but I lack his expertise.


    • Tom, first of all thank you for your reasoned, stimulating and well argued comment, which touches on an important point within the science and religion debate as it was at the beginning of the seventeenth century. I shall try to answer it as best I can although I’m quite happy to admit that the finer points of mediaeval or early modern Catholic theology is not really my area of expertise.

      Firstly the correlation of geocentricity and the concept of humans being at the centre of the universe is a modern myth. In the Middle Ages the earth was regarded as the second worst place in the universe with only hell, which was beneath the earth, being worse. If you go here you can read a wonderful quote from Otto von Guericke that perfectly illustrates this fact.

      You ask about the importance of geocentricity for Christian theology to which the first simple answer is not very and not fundamental, unlike for example the virgin birth or the crucifixion. Geocentricity is, so to speak, dogma in Aristotle’s philosophy and thus becomes Church dogma in the Thomist synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian philosophy. Cosmologically the match, in this case, creates no problems as the Bible is also basically geocentric and that brings us to the real problem.

      Although there is no direct allusion to a geocentric cosmology in the Bible there are a handful of Bible passages that only make sense if interpreted within the framework of one. The most important of which being Joshua 10:12-13, which, in the King James version, famously reads:

      12) Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon in the valley of Ajalon.

      13) And he sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is this not written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

      Why this passage has special importance I will explain shortly but first a brief return to the general situation as it was in 1616.

      As I have explained previously Galileo’s dispute with the Church took place in the middle of the Counter Reformation where the behaviour of the Catholic Church was strictly bound on the dictates of the Council of Trent. Here the following decree is of upmost importance:

      In matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian Doctrine, no one, relying on his own judgement and distorting the Sacred Scriptures according to his own conceptions, shall dare to interpret them contrary to the sense which Holy Mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge their true sense and meaning, has held and does hold, or even contrary to the unanimous agreements of the fathers.

      On this basis alone Galileo was guilty as charged no matter which Bible passage he had chosen to interpret in opposition to the accepted dogmatic Church interpretation.

      However that he chose to re-interpret Joshua 10:12-13 is particular provocative for two different reasons. He had chosen to re-interpret a miracle and miracles were and are the bedrock of revealed religion. As far as the Church is concerned miracles are the objective and empirical proof of God’s existence. Anyone who tries to tamper with a bona fide miracle does so at his own peril. Also the story of Joshua and his conquest of the Promised Land, of which the scene described in the two verses quoted in part, is part of the central religious myth of the Jews as God’s chosen people. A role that Christianity, originally a Jewish sect, had taken over for itself. In terms of Church Doctrine Galileo could have hardly chosen a worse Bible passage on which to exercise his amateur exegesis.

      I’m not sure if all of this answers you question adequately but it’s how I read the situation as it occurred in 1616.

      • HI Thony,

        This is really helpful. I am not entirely convinced, but that may be a lack of expertise on my part.

        I like the von Guericke quote, and can match it with this from the 18th century (and someone about to become a Bishop):

        And, for aught we know, this spot, with the few sinners on it, bears no greater proportion to the universe of intelligences than a dungeon doth to a kingdom. It seems we are led not only by revelation, but by common sense, observing and inferring from the analogy of visible things, to conclude there are innumerable orders of intelligent beings more happy and more perfect than man, whose life is but a span, and whose place, this earthly globe, is but a point, in respect of the whole system of God’s creation. We are dazzled, indeed, with the glory and grandeur of things here below, because we know no better. But I am apt to think, if we knew what it was to be an angel for one hour, we should return to this world, though it were to sit on the brightest throne in it, with vastly more loathing and reluctance than we would now descend into a loathsome dungeon or sepulchre.

        Berkeley, Alciphron or the Minute Philosopher, IV.23 (1732)

        But in fact, my question about the pragmatic value of the metaphor would only be addressed by reading sermons or instructions for missionaries. Furthermore, von Guericke’s point, at least taken out of context as you have done, does seem to make geocentrism rather central to Christian belief, for the way of thinking he describes involves an analogical conflation of ‘the heavens above’ with a greater degree of perfection. If you lose the spatial structure (and thus the above-below ordering), you also lose the contrast between the earth as ‘dregs’ and the heavens above as a promised improvement on our earthly lot. (Berkeley’s ‘but a point’ attempts to recreate the central Christian thought with a different spatial analogy.)

        But back to Galileo. Am I right in saying that your explanation has the following counterfactual consequence: had GG defended heliocentrism but explicitly and publicly left the issue of scriptural interpretation to the Church, he wouldn’t have been censured in 1616? That fits well with the Decree of the Index on 5th March, but it seems odd that it is not mentioned in the Injunction on GG himself. But I lack the knowledge to judge whether that odd-seeming is just anachronism on my part.

        Thanks again for your excellent work on these topics,


      • Tom, thank you once again for a very thoughtful and insightful comment. To deal with your last point first, I seriously think that if GG and Foscarini had not tried to re-interpret the scriptures to make them conform with the heliocentric hypothesis then GG would never have been investigated by the Inquisition. His Bible interpretations were a step too far.

        On your other more important point I think you touch upon something very interesting to which I’ve not paid enough attention up till now. I have to say none of the authors on GG, heliocentrism and the Church that I have read up till now has investigated the question as you put it. To what extent does the heliocentric hypothesis disrupt accepted integrated spacial and thought structures?

        The other day I came across the following on Inchofer’s post trail justification [Tractatus,, (1633)] for Galileo’s punishment in John Heilbron’s Galileo. Inchofer, a Jesuit, was one of the three referees who read the Dialogo to see if it broke the injunction of 1616.

        …”it is a matter of faith that the heavens are up and the earth is down,” from which it follows that the sun cannot be at the center or the earth above Venus. For if they were so placed, as Copernicans require, how are we to understand how Christ descended into Hell and rose into Heaven?

        Heilbron references Richard J. Blackwell’s Behind the scenes at Galileo’s trial. Including the first English translation of Melchior Inchofer’s Tractatus syllepticus, Notre Dame UP, 2006, which I have to admit I haven’t read yet. Also probably useful in this context is Blackwell’s Galileo, Bellarmine and the Bible, Notre Dame UP, 1991, which I also haven’t read yet.

        That infinite list of books!! I should point out that Galileo and his travails is only a fairly minor side interest and in the foreseeable future I shall be devoting my time to finally writing a paper on Petreius and the publication of De revolutionibus that is only eight years overdue! Maybe I’ll get around to Blackwell when I’ve finished writing.

  7. Steve Perisho’s post may be helpful here:
    Pre-Copernican geocentrism was anything but geoelevantic (in the sense of anthropocentric)
    “That which is the center is in the middle, and in a sphere only that which is in the middle can be at the bottom [(quod centron est medium est; in sphaera vero hoc solum constat imum esse quod medium est, What is the center is the middle; in a sphere, that alone truly proves to be the bottom which is the middle)].”

    Macrobius, Commentarii in somnium Scipionis 1.22.4, on the earth (terra), as translated by William Harris Stahl (Commentary on the dream of Scipio (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 181-182). Rémi Brauge, The legend of the Middle Ages: philosophophical explorations of medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 211 and 273n24.

    “the central point [kentron] of the whole cosmos] is the centre [meson] of the spherical magnitude and body, but it is necessary to seek something else as the most honorable [part] analogous to the heart, namely the centre; and this is not the central point but rather the fixed sphere because it is the starting point of the being of the cosmos and carries around the other spheres [fixed stars?] with it and contains the whole corporeal nature. Here is where one should seek what is most honourable.”

    Simplicius, Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, vol. 7 (1894), pp. 514, 514-518, as translated by Ian Mueller (On Aristotle’s “On the heavens 2.1-9” (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 54). Rémi Brague, The legend of the Middle Ages: philosophical explorations of medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, trans. Lydia G.Cochrane (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 211 and 273n21.

    In this essay entitled “Geocentrism as the humiliation of man,” Brague does nothing more than “pick up on what Arthur Lovejoy, Paolo Rossi, and many others set out to do” (220; cf. 272n9 and passim), by adding “a few texts that [he] ha[s] not found cited anywhere else in this connection”, most of them “from authors who wrote in Arabic or in Hebrew” (206), the point being that pre-Copernican “‘geocentric cosmology did not lead the ancient [or medieval] astronomers and philosophers to a man-centered view of the universe, an exaggerated view of man’s importance in the scheme of things. It led them rather to stress his smallness, insignificance, and lowly position in the cosmic order'” (212, quoting A. H. Armstrong, from vol. 3, pp. 68-69n of the edition of Plotinus he edited for the Loeb Classical Library), as well as the need for humility (216-218). Indeed, Copernican heliocentrism was sometimes resisted because it first unduly promoted the earth and man (218-219)!

  8. Pingback: Carnivalesque #88 « The Georgian Bawdyhouse

  9. Thony, are you familiar with the work of Luigi Guerrini, who says that Tolosani’s anti-Copernican text was more widely known among the Florentine Dominicans than previously assumed? He has an interesting article in the new issue of the Journal for the History of Astronomy (November 2012).

  10. Pingback: SHOCK! HORROR! OUTRAGE! RELIGION HINDERS PROGRESS OF SCIENCE! | The Renaissance Mathematicus

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  13. Pingback: Galileo, Foscarini, The Catholic Church, and heliocentricity in 1615 Part 1 – the occurrences: A Rough Guide. | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  14. Ryan.Vilbig

    An essential passage from Aquinas on alternatives to Ptolemy’s epicycle and deferents. Summa, I, q. 32, a. 2. Quote:

    “Reason is employed in another way, not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astronomy the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them.” (Summa, I, q. 32, a. 2) h/t to another blogger for that insight.

  15. Pingback: The emergence of modern astronomy – a complex mosaic: Part VI | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  16. John w. Roach

    Greetings,. The Roman Catholic educational curriculum in Astronomy from 500 A.D. to 1250 A.D. taught the rotating Geocentric Earth. It was called the Egyptian System but ignored the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy. Around 1250 A.D., St. Thomas Aquinas implemented Scholastic Aristotelianism.

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