Copernicus and the Heavenly Revolutions. Nicolaus Copernicus’s book “The Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies” was a book that challenged the way people think and made them rethink what they knew as fact. When Copernicus was born on February 19, 1473, there was only one view/model of the universe, which was Ptolemy’s model. His Geocentric Universal model, where the earth is the center of the universe and everything rotates around us, there was no question that this was fact. That was the case until Copernicus came and opened their minds to another possibility.
Copernicus was a man who was born into a merchant family, but was soon orphaned at the young age of 10, he then lived with his aunt and uncle, the latter was an important bishop. This meant that the church meant a lot to him throughout his life as a child. He also attended multiple Universities including University of Krakow where he studied both painting and mathematics, once he graduated, he then went to the best Universities in Italy. At Bologna he studied law, and at Padua he studied medicine neither of which he would pursue a career in.
After Copernicus studied medicine and law in Italy, he would return to Rome where he would take a chair of mathematics. He would also join his uncle and be his personal physician and secretary until his uncles passing in 1512. He would then move to Frauenburg where he would live in quarters that were adjoining the cathedral and work there for the rest of his life. Copernicus’s book was meant for a more intellectual audience, an audience that was educated in mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences. He did not believe that it would appeal to the average person because most of the people back then were uneducated n mathematics and other astrological inquiries. Copernicus’s book explained his theory of the revolution of planetary objects, and their relation in the universe. Copernicus believed that “the universe is spherical in form, partly because this form being a perfect whole requiring no joints… partly because it makes the most capacious form” (Copernicus, paragraph 1). It was known at this time that the earth and other planets were spherical in form, and therefore the universe must take the same shape.
Copernicus used this knowledge of the spherical planets and applied it to the universe, implying that the universe is also spherical in form. Copernicus on the contrary to popular belief at the time theorized that the sun was the center of the universe, and that all the planets travelled around this focal point rather than the earth. He went on to say that the planets traveled in a spherical motion around the sun, and that the planets’ speed varies according to their distance from the sun. The closer to the sun, the smaller the orbit and the faster they will travel.
This was a major difference from the geocentric view of the earth being the center of the universe and that everything orbited the earth including the sun. Due to this being so different from what was known at this time as fact Copernicus hesitated to publish his book, because he did not think that people would accept it, and would never believe it. He also believed that if he were to publish his findings and his theory people would say that he attacked the church and their theological beliefs that were tied to the geocentric universal view.
The church at that time, although was being criticized by many, was still one of (if not the most) important aspects of the people’s lives, and would be seen as an attack on the people, and the church. Copernicus hesitated to release, and publish his book on The Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies for many reasons that would force anyone to hesitate, and think twice about ever publishing it. Copernicus had an influential background with the church through his uncle and his own time working with/ for the church.
Copernicus knew that the release f his book would upset most of the church and their officials. People and the church in the late 1400’s and early 1500’s had accepted Ptolemy’s geocentric universal model as being the fact of how the universe was, they knew no other way. They attached their theological stand point to this model thinking, the heavens were perfection and the least perfect place in the universe was the center of the earth. They believed that the sky in all its perfection was heaven, and the center of the earth, lacking any sort of perfection was hell, and people were right in between living on earth.
This is the view that they had had for years and anything new would be nearly impossible for them to understand, and to believe as true. Copernicus knew that through the publication of his book the church might be made angry and frustrated with him and they may accuse him of heresy. Due to his history with the church he did not want to offend the church or anger them in any way, he had a sort of respect for the church. There was also a rebellion in the church at this time, Martin Luther was criticizing the church and many of their teachings.
It is said that even Martin” Luther condemned “that damned fool Copernicus” for challenging the authority of Scripture” (470, The Cultures of the West A History, Backman). At this time educated and uneducated peope were criticizing the church and many aspects within the church. Copernicus did not want to be one of those scholars and anger the church even more than they already were. Although this was one his fears, and reasons for not publishing his book, he did have the support of multiple cardinals such as scientifically inclined cardinal, Nikolaus von Schonberg.
Nikolaus heard about Copernicus’s work and wrote him a letter telling Copernicus to follow through with his work, and make it known to various scholars so that his heliocentric model will be known by all, and become the new fact of the universe (469, The Cultures of the West a History, Backman). Copernicus only started to get word out of his theory around 1514 when he decided to inform a handful of his close friends. Copernicus and his friends that he told about his findings, spent the following years collecting data that they could observe.
The Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies” was not published until 1543, the year that Copernicus passed away. The printing of his book was not finished before he died. Prior to his death and the release of his book he wrote a letter to the current pope, Paul III, where he argues that if mathematicians were to look at his findings they would agree with his work. He dedicates his work to the pope, and concludes his letter with saying that if there is anyone who attacks his findings because it is a attack or a contradiction to a passage of scripture he will not listen because it is just mere foolishness.
In the end he says that he leaves his work to the pope and other mathematicians to judge for themselves. Copernicus never got to see the reactions that his book got with the public and the scientists, mathematicians, and astronomers; Copernicus never got to see the enormous impact that he left on the scientific and nonscientific world. Although his work was not accepted immediately it was greatly admired and looked up to, they were all astonished by the mathematics and astronomical findings, they struggled to wrap their head around the idea that the earth is a planet and that it moves.
His work was then taken by Tycho Brahe who devoted his life to going deeper into and to try and learn as much from Copernicus’s work and keep on researching. He set the stage for his own pupil Johannes Kepler, who used this research to learn even more about the universe, and later would create the three laws of Kepler. Which included that planets orbit in ellipses and not circles. Throughout the life of Nicolas Copernicus he came up with a whole new universal model which changed the way everyone at time saw the world and the whole universe.
His work is said to have started the scientific, or Copernicus revolution. It is called this because his work completely changed how people saw the universe and the earths place within it. People’s view of the earth went from a stationary focal point in the universe to a planet that orbits the sun: from the center of everything to just another planet that orbits the sun. Although it took a while people eventually accepted his research and findings as the new truth about the earth and the universe.