The Heliocentric Theory vs. The Catholic ChurchWe view the world today as the Earth and planets revolving around the Sun. Naturally, this always wasn’t the case. Aristotle created a model in which since Godcreated the Earth and man, therefore everything should revolve around us, creating ageocentric model of the known universe. This model was widely accepted by the people,as well as the Church, since the theory was God-centered. It wasn’t until Aristotle’s timewhen scientists started to challenge this model due to advances in technology andtheories, and the heliocentric model was starting to take form, which went againts whatthe Church strongly believed.
In this paper I will explain the creation of the heliocentricmodel, and the Church’s reactions and responses to the new works on a sun-centeredDuring the Renaissance, many began to “toss aside medieval preoccupations withsupernatural forces and turned to secular concerns.” (Yamasaki, p.50) During this time,people began to think for themselves and ponder truths through philosophy, science,astronomy, astrology, etc.
Philosophers’ minds began to turn, the human mind was finallyawake. At the time, the thought of heavenly bodies being divine, and stars being eternalobjects in unchanging motion were common knowledge. A philosopher, scientsit, and one of Plato’s pupils, Aristotle, was also a veryimportant figure. Born in Stagira in 384, Aristotle is regarded as the most influentialancient philosopher of the sciences. Aristotle refined Callippus’ geometrical and sphericalconcepts, and developed the geocentric theory, which was believed for many years. Beingunder Plato’s teachings, Aristotle believed that the sphere is the most perfect figurebecause when rotated to any diameter it occupies the same space; and that circularmotions are a sign of perfection, which is why Heaven is considered divine. Thespherical nature of the Earth and Universe according to Aristotle, is the naturalmovement of Earthly matter from all places downwards, to a center, around which asphere of matter will build up. “Only circular motion is capable of endless repetitionwithout a reversal of direction, and rotary motion is prior to linear because what isexternal, or at least could have always existed, is prior, or at least potentially prior, towhat is not.”(North,80) In Aristotle’s book De Caelo (On the Heavens), he speaks of thecelestial sphere, the Earth’s center being the same shape, and dismissing the idea of theEarth rotating at the center of the universe. He also dismisses the idea of an orbitalmotion of the Earth. (North, p.81) Contradicting Aristotle, Heracleides, an astronomer,believed in the rotation of the Earth on it’s axis and is known to be the earliest astronomerto stand by it. He was thought to have taken the first step toward heliocentricity. It isbelieved in the years to follow that Copernicus was said to have mentioned Heracleides’name in this connection. (North, p.85) Aristarchus of Samos was the first astronomer to clearly put forth a truesun-centered theory, learned from Archimedes. (North, p.85) “…Aristarchus’ hypothesesare that the fixed stars and the Sun are stationary, that the Earth is carried in a circularorbit around the Sun, which lies in the middle of it’s orbit, and that the spheres of fixedstars, having the same center as the Sun, is so great in extent that the circle on which theEarth is supposedly carried is in the same ratio to the distance of the sphere has to itssurface.” (North, p.85-6) If Aristarchus believed in heliocentrism, he still couldn’texplain the differences in the Earth’s motion and seasons, which explains its failure to beaccepted. Although scientists such as Eudoxus, Callippus, and Aristotle all came up withEarth-centered systems based by providing a center for all motions, Ptolemy wastriumphant for he was able to explain sphere sizes and achieved a single system, whichwas not done by the others. “When Ptolemy achieved a single system, the sizes of theshells accommodating maximum and minimum planetary distances were settled on theprinciple that there must be no void, no wasted space, between them.” (North, p.285) Hismisconception was he believed that if the Earth was not fixed entirely, it would shatter,even though Copernicus reveals that planets’ distances from Earth and motions vary, andthat the Earth endlessly repeats in motion. (North, p.286) Despite the Catholic Church adopting Ptolemy’s and Aristotle’s beliefs ofgeocentrism, those theories did not correspond to the astronomical observations of thetime. A Polish astronomer by the name of Copernicus, documented his views on theheliocentric theory in his book Commentariolus in 1514, which sparked the time periodnow known as the Copernican Revolution. Copernicus liberated the human mind, whichhad been fettered up to his day by traditional conventions, and he opposed the basing ofscience solely on sensory experiences. Taking a stand against the entire world of thattime and against the supreme authority that he recognized—the church and the HolyScripture, against the views consolidated and sanctified by the knowledge of scholars ofmany previous centuries—he instilled into the minds of men boldness in thinking, but healso taught them humility in the quest for truth. Copernicus’ science of the stars is also ascience of man and his place on an Earth which is spinning through the universe.”(Adamczewski, p. 156-7) Copernicus published the first outline on heliocentrism in hisbook Commentary on the Hypothesis of the Movement of Celestial Orbs, in 1514. It wasthe first of its kind, without all of the mathematics. The Copernican theory explained theEarth-Sun line and gave a more plausible reason as to why the Sun’s role is important inthe motions of the Moon and planets in the solar system when compared to Ptolemy’s. Byintroducing the Sun into the theory of motion of every planet, Copernicus made itpossible to represent it all in a single system. The heliocentric system presented theplanets positions more logically, going around or below the Sun. It also explained therelative sizes of the planet’s retrograde arcs and why outer-stellar planets are brightest inopposition. (North, p.287) Society’s reaction to the heliocentric system was not afavorable one. Many people thought who would dare to place Copernicus’ authorityhigher than the Holy Scripture? Believing that the Earth rotates on its axis, planetsrevolve around the Sun, and planetary orbits were elliptical due to the force of gravitywas then thought of as inconceivable. Copernicus was criticized by colleagues and peersfor his enthusiasm of the ancient philosophers, who were viewed as incorrect. The onlypoint that Copernicus was trying to makes was that “…there does not exist any commoncenter for all the celestial orbs or spheres; the center of the Earth is not the center of theuniverse; but only the center of gravity and the center of the Moon’s path; all the planetsrevolve around the Sun, which is the center.” (Adamczewski, p.115) As a result of thebad reaction towards Copernicus’ views, he hesitated from publishing his famous bookDe Revolutionibus. Copernicus claims that “apprehension of the derision which I had tofear because of the hard-to- understand novelty of my theory.” (Adamczewski, p.144)Prior to the March 21, 1543 publication of De Revolutionibus, a falsifier of Copernicus’work Andreas Osiander, added his own foreword to the book saying that it was ” afictitious scheme for calculations,” just an hypothesis. Osiander also had the audacity tochange Copernicus’ title to De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. (Adamczewski,p.153-4) To free himself from heresy, Copernicus dedicated his book to Pope Paul III: “Iam fully aware, Holy Father, that as soon as they hear that in these volumes of mineabout the revolutions of the spheres of the universe I attribute some sort of motion to theEarth, some persons will immediately raise a cry of condemnation against me and mytheories.” (Adamczewski, p.152) Ironically, Copernicus’ forward in De Revolutionibusstates that “…Copernicus’ conveys to his contemporaries and to generations to come hisnew ideas which were to prove to be so dangerous to the order then extant.”(Adamczewski, p.137) Little did he know how true his words were. De Revolutionibusconsists of six volumes: 1)General survey of Copernicus’ system, and plane and sphericaltriangles. 2)Spherical astronomy. 3)The precession and motion of the Earth. 4)The Moon.
5)Planets in longitude. 6)Planets in latitude. Despite Copernicus’ book being six volumesit is still similar to Ptolemy’s book, Almagest. (North, p.286) The Church did not take anydefinite stand with Copernicus’ book—since it was dedicated to the Pope and thought ofonly as an “hypothesis” due to the false forward by Osiander—until the Reformation andscientific discoveries like Galileo’s, was it seen as a threat to the power of the Church.
(Adamczewski, p.158) In 1620, Cardinal of St. Cecilia and Bishop Albano, the Secretaryof the Congregation placed Copernicus’ book on the Index of Prohibited Books, whichresulted in Orthodox Catholics not being allowed to read it for two centuries.
(Adamczewski, p.159) This time period was not a safe time for any “scientific novelties”which were in opposition to the teachings of the Church. Any contradiction to the HolyScripture were “subject to judgement by the Inquisition.” The Inquisito HaereticaePravitatis, Sanctum Officium was established in 1215. It’s mission was to “combat allviews and trends which were considered heretical and anti-church. All opposers were toface the dungeon, torture, and burning at the stake. The onset of the Reformationweakened the Inquisition, but only for a short time until the Church began to fight againstit. Victims were adherents of heretical views, suspects of blasphemy and sacrilege,mainly scholars whose views and beliefs did not conform with the dogmas of the Church.
(Adamczewski, p.157) Reactions towards Copernicus’ views and theories had “arousedmush opposition and downright hostility” due to the inability of some to comprehendCopernicus. They were too “accustomed to hard-and-fast schemas” which was acceptedworldly then, written in the Holy Scripture, deemed as “immutable.” (Adamczewski,p.147) This resulted in Copernicus’ last years being dismal and De Revolutionibus “lainwell hidden.” (Adamczewski, p.148-50) Nicolaus Copernicus died in Frombork on May24th, 1543. He was seventy years old and all that is know of his final years are hidden inthe shadows of Frombork Castle. (Adamczewski, p.154) Nicolaus Copernicus was seenas “…the man who set the Earth in motion.” (North, p.285) “No Genghis Khan, noNapoleon, no emperor nor pope, has had a more radical influence on the history ofmankind than Nicolaus Copernicus…Of all the discoveries and opinions proclaimednothing surely had made such a deep impression on the human mind as the science ofCopernicus.” (Adamczewski, p. 157) Giordano Bruno, who also suffered from theInquisition for his scientific views as did Galileo, had said that “Copernicus had not onlymoved the Earth but also set in motion the minds of men.” (Adamczewski, p.161) “TheCopernican Revolution consisted in overcoming the view which had enormous prestigesanctified by centuries of acceptance as scientific knowledge, in taking up the old idea ofthe heliocentric system, in creating for this Inquisition as full and rigorous a scientificfoundation as was possible with the framework of the time…Accepting a threefoldmotion of the Earth and placing it in the row of planets, of moving heavenly bodies,Copernicus constructed a new heliocentric models of the world and laid the foundationfor a new vision of the universe.” (Adamczewski, p.156) It did not end there. Three menwould later come along to prove the Copernican heliocentric system: Galileo Galilei,Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton. (Adamczewski, p.158) The key figure in the battleto have the new astronomy accepted by the Church was Galileo Galilei. He “campaignedto reconcile” the Copernican theory with Christianity, which resulted in a programdefined by Galileo to separate science and faith. (Morphet, p.5) Galileo Galilei was bornin Pisa, Italy, in 1564. Galileo is most known for having invented the telescope, aninstrument he would later use to find evidence to defend the heliocentric theory. A veryopinionated and questioning man for his time, Galileo became unpopular for challengingancient beliefs and believing in the Copernican theory. After he had learned of HansLippershey, a Dutch eyeglass-maker, inventing a spyglass, Galileo got himself one andaltered it making the first telescope. He was now able to see thirty-three times farther intothe sky. Despite the evidence Galileo was able to show to back up his discoveries, peoplestill refused to believe him. Their ignorance and loyalty to the old Aristotelian ways wasthe problem. Through his telescope Galileo saw features of the Moon and endlessamounts of stars, but people just thought that he was being tricked by the Moon. In 1610,Galileo published his discoveries in a book called Starry Messenger. One of hisdiscoveries being that of Jupiter having four moons. It was translated and distributed overEurope. By the end of that year, he had discovered that Jupiter also had rings, but mostimportantly he discovered that the Sun was the center of the solar system because thesunlight on the other planets move across like here on Earth. He now had the proof todefend the Copernican heliocentric theory, but would people believe him? After the 1613of another book called Letters on Sunspots, Pope Paul found Galileo’s book a threat to theCatholic Church. In 1616, The Pope denounced the Copernican theory, surprisingGalileo. During 1626, a group formed and plotted to ruin Galileo. They felt that faith wasmore important than the truth of the universe. The asked Galileo to renounce his belief inheliocentrism and his discoveries because the Bible spoke nothing of his discoveriestherefore they saw them false. Despite the evidence Galileo now had to prove the validityof the heliocentric theory, the Church ordered Galileo to speak of heliocentrism only as ahypothesis even though it was true. Galileo’s third book, Dialogue on the Two GreatSystems of the World, was about the Church and science. The Pope banned it because itwas slanderous against the church. The Church now saw his book as heresy and orderedGalileo to appear before the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Now 68 years old and failingin health, Galileo publicly recanted and admitted his crimes in order to save his life. Hewas not able to escape the wrath of the Inquisition and was confined to his home for therest of his life. Seeing that the Inquisition gave harsher punishments than that, Galileowas glad to receive a light conviction. Galileo lived to be 78 years old, and died in 1642due to sickness causing his to be bedridden his last three years. Through Galileo’sexperiments and discoveries he was able to confirm Copernicus theories, furtherdeveloped observational astronomy, and with Kepler, prepared the groundwork for IsaacNewton’s discovery of the Law of Universal Gravitation. (Adamczewski, p.158) Heliocentrism was proven true by the discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton;through their efforts to prove the validity of the heliocentric theory people began to findtruth in science through experimentation rather than religion with no proof. Manyscientists went through great ordeals for their scientific beliefs, thus making theheliocentric theory the most electrifying idea in human history. Bibliography:Bibliography Bibliography Primary North, John. The Norton History of Astronomy ans Cosmology.
New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995. Adamczewski, Jan. Nicolaus Copernicus and His Epoch. Washington DC: CopernicusSociety of America, 1970. Morphet, Clive. Galileo and Copernican Astronomy: A scientific world view defined.
Boston: Buttherworths, 1977. Silverburg, Robert. Four Men Who Changed the Universe. New York: G.P. Putnam’sSons, 1968. Information on four figures who changed science: Copernicus, Galileo,Kepler, and Brahe. Quotes and facts on all four of these men were used in my report.
“Copernican System.” Passages from De Revolutionibus.
http://es.rice.edu/ES/humsoc/Galileo/Things/copernican_system.html Website containinginformation on Galileo, and other science-related things involving Galileo. Sis, Peter. Starry Messenger. New York: Frances Foster Books, 1996. Yamasaki, Mitch. The Scientific Revolution in Pre-Modern Europe. Honolulu, Hawaii:National History Day, 1998. “Galileo,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (c)1993-1995 Microsoft Corp.
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