On an unforgettable night in 1577, a mother took her 5-year-old son to the top of a hill to view the bright path of a comet. The boy was Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), and that night his life course was set.

The reverent wonder of that experience shines from Kepler's later description of Copernicus's cosmology—which he was the first to publish in textbook form.

Kepler imagined the heliocentric universe as a reflection of the Trinity: The sun at the center represented God the Father, the outer sphere of stars represented Jesus Christ, and the intervening space represented the Holy Spirit.

This vision of the stars as a window into the eternal sustained the Lutheran astronomer through a life of unremitting suffering.

His father, a mercenary soldier, went missing in action when Johannes was 16. Kepler's first wife died, and he lost several children from both his first and second marriages. He was persecuted by the Catholic Church and excommunicated from the Lutheran church over views of the Lord's Supper that were later changed. He endured the death from drink of his employer and mentor, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe; the descent into madness and death of his patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II; and the arrest and threatened torture (which his intervention averted) of his mother for the crime of witchcraft.

Schooled not only in mathematics and astronomy but also in theology, Kepler initially intended to serve as a minister. However, in 1594 Lutheran authorities assigned him a job as a mathematics teacher in Graz, Austria. There his duties included compiling an annual calendar of astrological predictions, which he did with reluctance and cautious generality.

In 1596, Kepler published his Cosmographic Mystery, on the spacing of ...

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