Did the Reformers Reject Copernicus?
From the start, Nicolaus Copernicus's heliocentric system, described in his De Revolutionibus, met opposition from Catholics and Protestants alike. Critics attacked his new cosmology with a number of Scripture passages:
Psalm 19: "He set the tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it."
Psalm 93: "Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm, thy throne firm from of old."
Ecclesiastes 1: "But the earth abideth forever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose."
In 1539, even before Copernicus's book was printed, Martin Luther had already heard about the astronomer's theories—and commented against them in the course of a dinner conversation. An eager young student copied down the critique and reported it:
"There was mention of a certain new astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and trees were moving. Luther remarked, 'So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever … must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. … I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.'"
Another student recorded it a little differently: "That fool would upset the whole art of astronomy." A punchier "sound bite," this version has been widely quoted, though scholars generally believe it to be apocryphal.
These off-the-cuff remarks might have been forgotten, though they were printed ...