Christian revisionism ∞
The elderly priest was hesitant to divulge his theory, lest it provoke church authorities to any angry response, and so he withheld his work from all but a few astronomers. Compernicus' landmark De Revolutionibus was published while he was on his deathbed, in 1543. He did not live long enough to witness the chaos his heliocentric theory would cause.
- On the Shoulders of Giants ISBN 9780762413485, pg. 2
In March of 1513, Copernicus purchased 800 building stones, and a barrel of lime from his chapter so that he could build an observation tower. There, he made use of astronomical instruments such as quadrants, parallactics and astrolabes to observe the sun, moon and stars. The following year, he wrote a brief Commentary on the Theories of the Motions of the Heavenly Objects from Their Arrangements (De hypothesibus motuum coelestium a se constitutis commentariolus), but he refused to publish the manuscript and only discreetly circulated it among his most trusted friends. The Commentary was a first attempt to propound an astronomical theory that the earth moves and the sun remains at rest. ... "We revolve around the Sun," he concluded in Commentary, "like any other planet.
- On the Shoulders of Giants ISBN 9780762413485, page 3
Still, Copernicus feared exposing himself to the contempt of the populace and the church, and he spent years working privately to amend and expand the Commentary The result was On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres (De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium) which he completed in 1530, but withheld from publication for thirteen years. The risk of the church's condemnation was not, however, the only reason for Copernicus' hesitancy to publish. Copernicus was a perfectionist and consider his observations in constant need of verification and revision. He continued to lecture on these principles of his planetary theory, even appearing before Pope Clement VII, who approved of his work. In 1536, Clement formally requested that Copernicus publish his theories. But it took a former pupil, 25-year-old Georg Joachim Rheticus of Germany, who relinquished his chair in mathematics in Wittenberg so that he could study under Copernicus, to persuade his master to publish On the Revolutions. In 1540, Rheticus assisted in the editing of the work and presented the manuscript to a Lutheran printed in Nuremberg, ultimately giving birth to the Copernican Revolution.
- On the Shoulders of Giants ISBN 9780762413485, page 4
When On the Revolutions appeared in 1543, it was attacked by Protestant theologians who held the premise of a heliocentric universe to be unbiblical. Copernicus' theories, they reasoned, might lead people to believe that they are simply part of a natural order, and not the masters of nature, the center around which nature was ordered. Because of this clerical opposition, and perhaps also general incredulity at the prospect of a non-geocentric universe, between 1543 and 1600, fewer than a dozen scientists embraced Copernican theory. Still, Copernicus had done nothing to resolve the major problem facing any system in which the earth rotated on its axis (and revolved around the sun), namely, how it is that terrestrial bodies stay with the rotating Earth. The answer was proposed by Giordano Bruno, and Italian scientist and avowed Copernican, who suggested that space might have no boundaries and that the solar system might be one of many such systems in the universe. Bruno also expanded on some purely speculative areas of astronomy that Copernicus did not explore in On the Revolutions. In his writings and lectures, the Italian scientist held that there were infinite worlds in the universe with intelligent life, some perhaps with beings superior to humans. Such audacity brought Bruno to the attention of the Inquisition, which tried and condemned him for his heretical beliefs. He was burned at the stake in 1600.
- On the Shoulders of Giants ISBN 9780762413485, pages 4-5
By 1543, Copernicus became paralyzed on his right side, and weakened both physically and mentally. The man who was clearly a perfectionist had no choice but to surrender control of his manuscript, On the Revolutions, in the last stages of printing. He entrusted his student, George Rheticus with the manuscript, but when Rheticus was forced to leave Nuremberg, the manuscript fell into the hands of Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander. Osiander, hoping to appease advocates of the geocentric theory, made several alterations without Copernicus's knowledge and consent. Osiander placed the word "hypothesis" on the title page, deleted important passages and added his own sentences which diluted the impact and certainty of the work. Copernicus was said to have received a copy of the printed book in Frauenburg on his deathbed, unaware of Osiander's revisions.
- On the Shoulders of Giants ISBN 9780762413485, pages 5-6
The foreword, at first ascribed to Copernicus, is held to have been written by Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran theologian and friend of Copernicus, who saw the De Revolutionibus through the press.
- On the Shoulders of Giants ISBN 9780762413485, page 7 (footnotes)