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Reformation and Revolution: Copernicus’s Discovery in an Era of Change

  • Heiko A. Oberman
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 26)

Abstract

This paper is not to be just an interesting commemoration of the historical past. Copernicus has become more than a private scholar who made a scientific discovery. Copernicus has become a symbol if not a syndrome; and it is not easy to define exactly what this symbol stands for, so varied is the reaction to his name and the associations it evokes. The nerves of Western man are hit, titillated, or hurt, and sometimes all of these at once. By no means without precedent, but certainly most intensively, today’s community of scholars and — with a remarkable intuition for essentials — society at large is probing the ultimate questions of man and matter, of time and space.

Keywords

Fourteenth Century Christian Faith Heavenly Movement Efficient Causality Copernican Revolution 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    During the first Christian millennium, in both East and West, God at the moment of creation is represented in passive majesty, actualizing the cosmos by pure power of thought, Platonically. Then, shortly after the year 1000, a Gospel book was produced at Winchester which made a great innovation: inspired by Wisdom 11.20, ’Omnia in mensura et numero et pondéré disposuisti,’ the monastic illuminator showed the hand of God - now the master craftsman - holding scales, a carpenter’s square, and a pair of compasses. This new representation spread and, probably under the influence of Prov-erbs 8.27, ’certe lege et gyro vallabat abysses,’ the scales and square were eliminated leaving only the compasses - the normal medieval and renaissance symbol of the engineer - held in God’s hand. Lynn White, Jr., ’Cultural Climates and Technological Advance in the Middle Ages’, Viator 2 (1971), 171-201, 189.Google Scholar
  2. Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 3, “Leben des Galilei” (Frankfurt a. M., 1967), pp. 1229–1345; p. 1282.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Koestler ponders a number of explanations why Copernicus did not object to or have Osiander’s Preface removed and concludes: it is more likely that he submitted to Osiander’s proposal since he had already submitted his whole life long.“… more likely he procrastinated, as he had done all his life.” Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers, 2nd ed. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1964 [Penguin Book]), p. 175.Google Scholar
  4. See K. Scholder, Op. cit., p. 68 if. and Heinrich Karpp, ’Der Beitrag Keplers und Galileis zum neuzeitlichen Schriftverständnis’, Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 67 (1970), 40–55; 46 f.Google Scholar
  5. Adagiorum Chiliades I 6, 69; in Ausgewählte Werke, Vol. 7, ed. Theresia Payr (Darmstadt, 1972), p. 414 f.Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    Calvini Opera 23, ed. cit., col. 22; see footnote 12.Google Scholar
  7. 20.
    De motibus stellae Martis, in Astronomia nova, loannis Kepleri Astronomi Opera omnia, ed. Ch. Frisch (Frankofurti a. M. et Erlangae, 1858-1871), Vol. 3, pp. 153- 156.Google Scholar
  8. 26.
    On the Cartesian dichotomy between the two experiences see J. Bots, Tussen Descar-tes en Darwin. Geloof en natuurwetenschap in de 18e eeuw in Nederland, (Assen, 1972), pp. 136-139 (German summary of this section, p. 186 f.).Google Scholar
  9. 27.
    E. A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, 2nd. ed. (New York, 1951), p. 25; cited by J. Dillenberger, op. cit., p. 26 f. Franz Wolf, though more restrained, presents the same argument in his 1943 commemoration address: “Auch in den Einzelheiten war die Überlegenheit des kopernikanischen Systems über das des Ptolemäus so deutlich zunächst noch nicht zu erkennen.” ’Von der Welt des Kopernikus bis in die Fernen der Spiralnebel - ein Blick in die Entwicklung der mo-dernen Himmelskunde’, Karlsruher Akademische Reden 22 (1943), 5-23; 11. Cf. on ’Die Schwäche des Kopernikus’ Norbert Schiffers, Fragen der Physik an die Theologie, op. cit., p. 13 f.Google Scholar
  10. 28.
    Karl Heinz Burmeister, Georg Joachim Rhetikus 1514-1574, Vol. 3, Briefwechsel (Wiesbaden, 1968), p. 55. It seems clear that Gisius refers to Osiander as responsible for putting pressure on Petreius. Gisius’s interpretation of Osiander’s motives is - under¬standably - more malicious than convincing: “… dolens descendendum sibi esse a pristina professione, si hie liber famam sit consecutus.” In letters to Copernicus and his co-editor Rheticus Osiander had as early as April (20) 1541 developed his plan de campagne for winning over the two expected opposition parties. See K. H. Burmeister, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 25:“… Peripathetici et theologi facile placabuntur [instead of: placa- bunter], si audierint, eiusdem apparentis motus varias esse posse hypotheses…” Cf. note 30.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Andreas Osiander an Rhetikus in Frauenburg, Nürnberg, den 20. April 1541. ’…Peripathetici et theologi facile placabuntur, si audierint, eiusdem apparentis motus varias esse posse hypotheses, nec eas afferri, quod certo ita sint, sed quod calculum apparentis et compositi motus quam commodissime gubernet, et fieri posse, et alius quis alias hypotheses excogitet, et imagines hie aptas, ille aptiores, eandem tamen motus apparentiam causantes, ac esse unicuique liberum, immo gratificaturum, si commodio res excogitet. Ita a vindicandi severitate ad exquirendi illecebras avocati ac provocati primum aequiores, tum frusta quaerentes pedibus in auctoris sententiam ibunt…’ K. H. Burmeister, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 25. For the parallel, partly identical letter of Osiander to Copernicus, dated on the same day, April 20,1541, see “Apologia Tychonis contra Ursum,” Kepleri opera omnia, ed. cit., Vol. 1, p. 246.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Kepleri opera omnia, ed. cit., Vol. 3, p. 136.Google Scholar
  13. 32.
    Edward Rosen, Three Copernican Treatises, 2nd ed., 1959, pp. 28-33. The appen¬dix of annotated bibliography (pp. 201-269) proved to be invaluable.Google Scholar
  14. 33.
    E. Rosen, op. cit., p. 31. Cf. also Rheticus’s dedicatory letter to the Narratio Prima, quoted by Leopold Prowe, Nicolaus Copernicus, Vol. 2 (Berlin, 1884 ), p. 321, 27.Google Scholar
  15. 35….
    neuter tamen quicquid certi comprehendet aut tradet nisi divinitus illi revelatum fuerit. For an accessible and emendated Latin text of Osiander’s Preface, see Emanuel Hirsch, Die Theologie des Andreas Osiander und ihre geschichtlichen Voraussetzungen (Göttingen, 1919), Anhang 1, p. 290.Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    This universal vision as the essential advance beyond Ptolemaeus is highlighted by Matthias Schramm in his commemoration address in Tübingen, February 1, 1973, entitled “Die Leistungen des Copernicus.” The author kindly supplied me with his manuscript.Google Scholar
  17. This universal vision as the essential advance beyond Ptolemaeus is highlighted by Matthias Schramm in his commemoration address in Tübingen, February 1, 1973, entitled “Die Leistungen des Copernicus.” The author kindly supplied me with his manuscript.Google Scholar
  18. 37.
    Der Mensch ist nicht, wie es die Stoiker bestimmen sollten, zur Betrachtung des Himmels disponiert, sondern seine theoretische Neugierde stellt ihn vor die Erschei¬nung einer heterogenen und unerreichbaren Weltregion, für deren Erkenntnis ihm seine Natur keine Anhalte liefert. Die Erkenntnistheorie der astronomischen Resignation ist damit metaphysisch systematisiert. Hans Blumenberg, Die kopernikanische Wende. (Frankfurt a. M., 1965), p. 64. Cf. Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, op. cit., p. 346 ff.Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Nicole Oresme. Le Livre du ciel et du monde. Book II, 8. fol. 89 d; ed. Albert D. Menut and Alexander J. Denomy,C.S.B. (Madison, 1968), p. 356,15 f.Google Scholar
  20. 40.
    See Ernst Zimmer, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Coppernicanischen Lehre, Sitzungs¬berichte der Phy.-Med. Sozietät Erlangen 74. (Erlangen, 1943), p. 406. These Quaes- tiones are part of a genre of composite volumes described by Pierre Duhem, Les Origi- gines de la statique, Vol. 2 (Paris, 1906), p. 59, note 1; p. 337 if., note 1.Google Scholar
  21. 41.
    In another context - with respect to the significance of neostoicism as the “setting” for Descartes, Spinoza, and Calvin - the French philosopher Eric Weil observes that such “authors are credited with an originality they themselves would not have admitted, simply because we do not study what every cultured man in their times had always present in mind.” See his article ’Supporting the humanities’, in Daedalus 102,2 (1973), 27-38;33.Google Scholar
  22. 42.
    On a broad (often manuscript) basis Lynn Thorndike presents Oresme’s views on astrology, magic, and miracles, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, Vol. 3. (New York, 1934 ), pp. 398 - 471.Google Scholar
  23. 43.
    Anneliese Maier herself has often been more ready to grant Oresme his subjective sense of exploring reality; see e.g. An der Grenze von Scholastik und Naturwissenschaft, Studien zur Naturphilosophie der Spätscholastik III, 2nd ed. (Roma, 1952), p. 354 f. In a characteristic formulation Anneliese Maier now ascribes to Oresme a view (earlier assigned by her to Albert of Sachsen) “in der man eine erste Ahnung des Äquivalenz-satzes der modernen Mengenlehre sehen kann.” Die Vorläufer Galileis im 14. Jahr- hundert, Studien zur Naturphilosophie der Spätscholastik I, 2nd ed. (Roma, 1966 ), p. 309.Google Scholar
  24. 44.
    See Menut’s bibliography in Nicole Oresme. Le Livre du ciel et du monde, ed. cit., pp.753-762.Google Scholar
  25. 46.
    Book 1.2. fol. 7a; ed. cit., p. 58,23. See also the synonyms used by d’Ailly, as quoted by Francis Oakley, ’Christian Theology and the Newtonian Science: The Rise of the Concept of the Laws of Nature’, Church History 30 (1961), 433-457; 454 f., note 74.Google Scholar
  26. 48.
    See, however, G. W. Coopland: “Of Oresme’s use of experience in the everyday sense little need be said; it is illustrated at every turn and furnishes the most attractive part of his work. It is evidently the result of wide interests and knowledge of his world, although in this connection, again, we discern that strange stopping short of closer and more searching enquiry demanded by modern standards. Of organised and controlled observation in the form of experiment we can find no trace.” Nicole Oresme and the Astrologers. A Study of his Livre de divinacions (Cambridge, Mass., 1952 ), p. 35.Google Scholar
  27. 50.
    Jean Gerson uses for our ’metacosm’ mundus archetypus: “Macrocosmus, est mai or iste mundus exemplatus et productus a mundo archetypo Deo, continens in se univer- sam creaturam, corporalem et spiritualem, ad ipsum Deum finaliter ordinatam. Micro- cosmus, est minor quidem mundus, continens in se duplicem substantiam, corporalem scilicet et spiritualem Dei capacem, ad finem beatitudinis ordinatas.” Opera omnia, Vol. 3, ed. E. du Pin, “Definitiones terminorum ad theologiam moralem pertinentium,” col. 107 B.Google Scholar
  28. 51.
    See Anneliese Maier’s Addenda to the second edition of her Die Vorläufer Galileis im 14. Jahrhundert, Studien zur Naturphilosophie der Spätscholastik 1,2nd ed., (Roma, 1966), p. 315, and the comparison with Bradwardine’s view of the immensitas Dei, p. 315, note 1. Cf. John E. Murdoch: “Il est remarquable qu’au Moyen Age, une telle spéculation sur l’infini se soit centrée sur le problème plus ancien, et en soi moins scientifique, de l’éternité du monde. Les raisonnements sur l’infini étaient initialement destinés à résoudre cette question plus traditionnelle. Au XIVe siècle, au contraire, dans beaucoup de cas, le problème de la possibilité d’un monde éternal était simplement devenu l’occasion de discuter des mystères de l’infini.” “’Rationes Mathematice’, Un aspect du rapport des mathématiques et de la philosophie au Moyen Age.” = Confé-rence donnée au Palais de la Découverte de 4 Novembre 1961. Histoire des Sciences (Université de Paris, 1962 ), p. 22.Google Scholar
  29. 52.
    The significance of this “breakthrough of God” for Luther’s theology is described well by W. Elert, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 386 f.Google Scholar
  30. 53.
    For Oresme’s fascination with the image of the clock see also Lynn Thorndike, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 441, note 1. For Jean Buridan - Oresme’s teacher also in this respect - see Quaestiones super libris quattuor de caelo et mundo’, Liber II. qu. 22, ed. Ernest A. Moody (Cambridge, Mass., 1942 ), pp. 226 - 233.Google Scholar
  31. 54.
    The wide spread of popular astrology is one of the many indications that the Ara-bian “myth screen” had not been sufficiently effective. See here Manfred Ullmann: “Die Deutungsmöglichkeiten der Planetenstellungen beruhen auf der Gleichsetzung der Planeten mit den Göttern, ein Vorgang, der sich seit dem 6. Jhdt. vor Chr., zunächst bei den Pythagoräern, dann im allgemeinen Sprachgebrauch, eingebürgert hatte. Alle Eigenschaften, Fähigkeiten und Taten der Götter, die in den Mythen ihren Niederschlag gefunden hatten, wurden nun mit den betreffenden Planeten assoziiert und ermöglichten es, die Konstellationen auszudeuten. Für die Araber und Muslime verloren die Namen der Planeten in der Übersetzung ihren Charakter als Götternamen. Aber die Araber übernahmen das komplizierte Gefüge der Deutungsmöglichkeiten, das ihnen ohne den antiken mythologischen Hintergrund ein rein mechanistisches, unerklärbares System bleiben musste.” Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaften im Islam (Leiden, 1972), p. 348.Google Scholar
  32. 55.
    Conversely, developments in the field of physics show effects on theology. After the Thomistic ontological relation between grace and movement, the new impetus-doctrine transforms “motion” and personalizes the concept of grace. We have pursued the history of theology and the history of the medieval sciences so long in separate depart-ments that we stand only at the very beginning of seeing the interactions between shifts in these fields.Google Scholar
  33. 56.
    Et donques appert par ce que dit est que il ne s’ensuit pas se [=si] Dieu est que le ciel soit et, par consequent, il ne s’ensuit pas que le mouvement du ciel soit, car selon vérité, tout ce depent de la volenté de Dieu franchement sanz ce que il soit aucune nécessité que II face ou produise telles choses ou ait faites et productes perpetuelment, si comme il fu plus a plain déclaré en la fin du XXXIVe chapitre du premier. Item, encore ne s’ensuit il pas se le ciel est que il soit meu, car si comme dit est, Dieu le meut ou fait mouver purement voluntairement. Et selon vérité, ce monstra II ou temps de Josué, quant le soleil se arresta par tant de temps comme dure un jour, car de ce dist l’Escripture: Et una dies facta est quasi due. Et est vraisemblable que lors cessa le mouvement journal de tout le ciel et des planetes et non pas le soleil seulement. Et pour ce disoit le Prophete en recitant ceste chose: Sol et luna steterunt in habitaculo suo, etc. Nicole Oresme, Le Livre du ciel et du monde, Book II, 8. fol. 92 b; ed. cit., p. 364. Cf. Eccl. 46:5; Hab. 3: 11.Google Scholar
  34. 57.
    Or donques, posé que la terre fust meue avecques le ciel ou au contraire du mouve-ment du ciel, il ne s’ensuit pas que pour ce le/(92d) mouvement du ciel cessasi. Et donques ce mouvement, quant est de soy, ne requiert pas de neccessité que la terre repose ou milieu. Item, ce n’est pas impossible que toute la terre soit meue d’autre mouvement ou d’autre maniere: Job IXe: Qui commovet terram de loco suo,… Nicole Oresme, Le Livre du ciel et du monde, Book II, 8. fol. 92 d; ed. cit., p. 366. Cf. Job 9: 6.Google Scholar
  35. 58.
    Hardly more cautious is the explicit of a physics commentary, Quaestiones, assigned to Buridan: “Tu melius scribe, qui dixeris hoc fore vile/Si melius fuerit, plus tibi laudis erit!” Quoted by Pierre Duhem, Le Système du monde, op. cit., Vol. 4, p. 132. The same desideratum from the inversed perspective is formulated by John Murdoch in his ’Philosophy and the enterprise of science in the later Middle Ages’, The Interaction of Science and Philosophy, ed. by Y. Elkana ( Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1974 ), pp. 51 - 74.Google Scholar
  36. 59.
    With all respect for my fellow country man, E. J. Dijksterhuis, who belongs to the pioneers in the history of science, I cannot share his view of Parisian nominalism. “Dat er in hunne werken van eenige verdere ontwikkeling der vruchtbare, maar nog geheel onontgonnen denkbeelden, die deze theorie bevatte, geen sprake is, typeert de deca- dentie, waarin de Scholastiek vervallen was; toch waardeert men tenminste in de Parijsche philosophen van dezen tijd, dat ze althans het goede wisten te behouden, wanneer men in dezelfde periode de Italianen op mechanisch gebied ziet terugkeeren tot de te Parijs reeds lang overwonnen Aristotelisch-Averroistische dwalingen.” Val en worp. Een Bijdrage tot de Geschiedenis der Mechanica van Aristoteles tot Newton (Groningen, 1924); Hoofdstuk II: Val en Worp in de Scholastiek, pp. 117-121; p. 118.Google Scholar
  37. 61.
    Quarto nunc primum accedam ad hoc opus, quod et tibi in mentem venit, ut hypothesibus artem astronomicam liberarem, solis contentus observationibus. Atque utinam haberemus omnium aetatum observationes idque iuxta nostras capiendi observations rationes traditas, quas omnino iudico easdem esse, quibus primi artis indaga- tores usi sunt, et talem tablularum modum exquisiverimus, quod non perpetua opus haberent emendatione.… Habeo etiam prae manibus novas de rerum natura philo- sophandi rationes, ex sola naturae contemplatione, omnibus antiquorum scriptis sepositis. “ K. H. Burmeister, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 188. Cf.: ”Gegen Ende seines Lebens versuchte Rheticus aus seinen reichen Erfahrungen als Astronom, Arzt und Chemiker ein neues philosophisches System aufzubauen, dessen Grundlage nur die Natur sein sollte: 4ex sola naturae contemplatione’. Nur von daher, so schrieb er 1568 an Ramus, wolle er seine Naturphilosophie begründen. Er verzichte dabei auf alle Schriften der Alten. Diese Forderung hatte Rheticus, wie wir wissen, für Medizin, Astronomie und Astrologie ebenfalls aufgestellt. K. H. Burmeister, op. cit., Vol. 1, Humanist und Wegbereiter der modernen Naturwissenschaften (Wiesbaden, 1967 ), p. 173.Google Scholar
  38. 62.
    See the - in other respects - excellent study by Francis A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 2nd ed. (London, 1971), pp. 241-243. The Sun-analogies and Hermetic traditions - alluded to by Copernicus in his Preface - are certainly im- portant characteristics of a movement we can trace from protohumanism (Richard de Bury’s library, used by Bradwardine and Holcot) to Pico and Reuchlin. See Eugenio Garin, Portraits from the Quattrocento, 2nd ed. (New York, 1972) pp. 145-149. Wayne Shumaker, The occult sciences in the Renaissance. A study in intellectual patterns. (Berkeley, 1972), pp. 201 ff; on the sun, ibid. p. 221. For a perspective on Copernicus’s discovery this tradition does not help us a step further. Here A. Koyre’s evaluation of the parallel case of Cusanus applies. See note 5. The -scientific and regressive impact of Renaissance “occultism” should be clearly seen. This should not be over¬looked out of respect for the pre-modern ideal of comprehensive scholarship operative behind it. This perspective is particularly pertinent, since such claims continue to be advanced: “Renaissance Hermeticism prepared the way emotionally for the accep¬tance of Copernicus’ revolutionized universal structure. In this case, then, scientific advance was spurred by the renewed interest in the magical Hermetic religion of the world.” Peter J. French, John Dee. The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London, 1972 ), p. 103.Google Scholar
  39. 63.
    characteristic of all discoveries from which new sorts of phenomena emerge. Those characteristics include: the previous awareness of anomaly, the gradual and simultaneous emergence of both observational and conceptual recognition, and the consequent change of paradigm categories and procedures often accompanied by resistence. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. (Chicago- London, 1969 ), p. 63.Google Scholar
  40. 64.
    And as Randall has shown, the Paduan Aristotelians a century later dominated the climate of thought with which Copernicus must have become familiar during his Italian study years. Cf. John Herman Randall, The School of Padua and the Emergence of Modern Science, Saggi e testi I (Padova, 1961), p. 24 f.; p. 71 if.Google Scholar
  41. 66.
    There may not be much time left to adjust to the secular cosmos, since a post- secular cosmology is appearing on the intellectual horizon. Cf. Karl R. Popper: “Thus we live in an open universe. We could not make this discovery before there was human knowledge. But once we have made the discovery there is no reason to think that the openness depends exclusively upon the existence of human knowledge. It is much more reasonable to reject all views of a closed universe - that of a causally as well as that of a probabilistically closed universe; thus rejecting the closed universe envisaged by La-place, as well as the one envisaged by quantum mechanics. Our universe is partly causal, partly probabilistic, and partly open: it is emergent.” ’Indeterminism is Not Enough’, Encounter 40 (1973), 20 - 26; 26.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Holland 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heiko A. Oberman
    • 1
  1. 1.Universität TübingenUSA

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