Above: The Copernican System
Image in the Public Domain
NICOLAUS COPERNICUS (FEBRUARY 18, 1473-MAY 24, 1453)
GALILEO GALILEI (FEBRUARY 15, 1564-JANUARY 8, 1642)
Second. I say that, as you know, the Council [of Trent] prohibits expounding the Scriptures contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers. And if Your Reverence would read not only the Fathers but also the commentaries of modern writers on Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Josue, you would find that all agree in explaining literally (ad litteram) that the sun is in the heavens and moves swiftly around the earth, and that the earth is far from the heavens and stands immobile in the center of the universe. Now consider whether in all prudence the Church could encourage giving to Scripture a sense contrary to the holy Fathers and all the Latin and Greek commentators. Nor may it be answered that this is not a matter of faith, for if it is not a matter of faith from the point of view of the subject matter, it is on the part of the ones who have spoken. It would be just as heretical to deny that Abraham had two sons and Jacob twelve, as it would be to deny the virgin birth of Christ, for both are declared by the Holy Ghost through the mouths of the prophets and apostles.
It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
The Bible shows us the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.
For biographies of these two saints I refer you, O reader, to the following links:
To bash the Roman Catholic Church for its posthumous treatment of Copernicus and its abuse of Galileo, as well as its tardiness in rescinding the decree of heresy against him, is about as easy as fishing with dynamite. To do so while ignoring the broader, more complex history of the relationship between Holy Mother Church and science is also deceptive. Besides, leading Protestants of the time tended to be just as skeptical of the Copernican theory and Galileo’s observations as were Roman Catholic officials.
The Copernican theory contradicted bad and well-established theology. Sinful humans were on the Earth; God and the angels dwelt out there, according to orthodox theology. Therefore, according to the orthodox position, to make the Sun the center and the Earth a planet orbiting it was to make a heretical statement about the place of sinful human beings in the cosmos. Science disproved not only conventional wisdom but foundational theological assumptions.
Now, of course, we know that reality is far more revolutionary (pardon the double entendre) than Copernicus and Galileo could have guessed; the Sun is not the center of the universe. Furthermore, our galaxy is one of many, and the Sun is far from its center. We humans are marginal and insignificant in the universe (never mind the multiverse, if there is such a thing). God’s creation is unimaginably vast and spectacular.
Science helps us to understand our physical reality better, if not completely. When it does this will we accept objective reality and embrace a religious faith for the modern age? Or will we restrict our theological horizons to those of previous eras? Will we honor those scientists who teach us this “new” knowledge? Or will we scorn–even persecute–them?
As Galileo understood, that which seems like orthodoxy might actually be heresy.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 14, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF JOHN AMOS COMENIUS, FATHER OF MODERN EDUCATION
THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF SAMUEL SEABURY, FIRST EPISCOPAL BISHOP
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROMANIS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER
God of grace and glory, you create and sustain the universe in majesty and beauty:
We thank you for Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and all in whom you have
planted the desire to know your creation and to explore your work and wisdom.
Lead us, like them, to understand better the wonder and mystery of creation;
through Christ your eternal Word, through whom all things were made. Amen.
2 Corinthians 13:1-6
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 738