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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Copernicus: Priest or heretic?

Conversation with God (Matejko)
Although Wikipedia describes "polymath" Nicolaus Copernicus as a Catholic priest (as well as an artist, mathematician, polyglot, diplomat, translator, jurist, physician, scholar, astronomer and economist), the Catholic Encyclopedia is somewhat less emphatic about his clerical role. reports that no document exists to prove that Copernicus "ever received higher orders."  Nevertheless, "the fact that in 1537 King Sigismund of Poland had put his name on the list of four candidates for the vacant episcopal seat of Ermland, makes it probable that, at least in later life, he [Copernicus] had entered the priesthood."  Copernicus had also served as administrator of the Frauenburg diocese.

However, goes on to conclude that "these various offices…  could not distract the genius of Copernicus from "the main thought of his life" (i.e., "astronomy").  The tower at Frauenburg became one of a number of observatories for "his great work 'On the Revolutions of the Celestial Bodies'…"  He spent
countless hours studying the solar system.

At the time, these astronomical pursuits did not interfere with his good Catholic standing.  On the contrary, Pope Leo X (via Bishop Paul of Fossombrone) requested his input regarding "the reform of the ecclesiastical calendar."  Copernicus' subsequent observations concerning "the length of the year and of the months and the motions of the sun and moon" served 70 years later as "a basis for the working out of the Gregorian calendar." explains that opposition "against the Copernican system" was first raised "by Protestant
theologians for Biblical reasons" (and continues to be sporadically raised from time to time).  However,
Catholic opposition did not commence until 73 years later, "when it was occasioned by Galileo."

The Catholic Encyclopedia currently concludes:  His [Copernicus'] genius appears in the fact that he
grasped the [heliocentric] truth centuries before it could be proved.  Nevertheless, Copernicus had also
"set his face against the reformers of religion." 

Copyright February 19, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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