May 23: Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, Astronomers, 1543
May 23, 2011 22 Comments
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Born in 1473, Nicolaus Copernicus ﬁrst studied law and medicine before serving as a cleric under the direction of his uncle, the Bishop of Warmia (in northeastern Poland). Copernicus ﬁrst set forth his heliocentric theory of astronomy in a small work called the Commentariolus, which was not published until 1878. His argument that the sun, rather than the earth, was the center of the universe around which the planets rotated was developed fully in his 1543 opus De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium.
The initial ecclesiastical reaction to his revolutionary theory was somewhat muted, but when his thought was further developed by Galileo, the religious debate was intensiﬁed, and De Revolutionibus was placed on the index of banned books. Copernicus had originally dedicated his work to the Pope, and he saw no conﬂict between his theory and the authority of Scripture.
Among those chieﬂy responsible for the solidifying of Copernicus’ theories was the German astronomer Johann Kepler. Born nearly a century after Copernicus, Kepler was ﬁrst educated at Tübingen where he received instruction in Copernican theory. His ﬁrst major work on Copernican astronomy was the Mysterium Cosmographicum, in which he believed he had demonstrated God’s geometric plan for the universe. Kepler saw in the relation between the sun and the rotating planets the image of God himself, and like Copernicus, he saw no conﬂict between his astronomical views and the account of God in the Scriptures. Kepler is chieﬂy known for his discovery of the laws of planetary motion, set forth variously in his later works. Though their works were each controversial in their own way, Copernicus and Kepler laid the groundwork for modern astronomy.
Kepler’s work was even inﬂuential on Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation. Both men, through their life’s work, testiﬁed to the extraordinary presence of God in creation and maintained, in the face of both religious and scientiﬁc controversy, that science can lead us more deeply into an understanding of the workings of the Creator.
I. As the heavens declare thy glory, O God, and the ﬁrmament showeth thy handiwork, we bless thy Name for the gifts of knowledge and insight thou didst bestow upon Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler; and we pray that thou wouldst continue to advance our understanding of thy cosmos, for our good and for thy glory; through Jesus Christ, the ﬁrstborn of all creation, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II. As the heavens declare your glory, O God, and the ﬁrmament shows your handiwork, we bless your Name for the gifts of knowledge and insight you bestowed upon Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler; and we pray that you would continue to advance our understanding of your cosmos, for our good and for your glory; through Jesus Christ, the ﬁrstborn of all creation, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 2:6–12
Preface of God the Father
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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