History : Mar-Apr 2019
52 MARCH/APRIL 2019 GOD AND COMMERCE Thesonofa merchant, Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun (above) in 1473. Looming over the Vistula River, the Gothic cathedral reflects the city’s medieval wealth. GODOFREDO DE BOUILLON DA GRAL DÍA 15 DE JULIO DE 1099. R umors were circulating in the 1530s that Nicolaus Copernicus, a cathe- dral cleric in a small Polish city, had written a revolutionary theory on the cosmos. To the frustration of many, however, the secretive clergyman was refusing to publish it. Curiosity came from many quarters. One let- ter, written in 1536, begged for more informa- tion. It praised Copernicus’s “new theory of the Universe according to which the Earth moves and the Sun occupies the basic, and hence, cen- tral, position.” Its author was Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg, a prince of the Catholic Church. By placing the sun at the center, Copernicus’s idea overturned the ideas devised by the second- century astronomer Ptolemy. In Ptolemy’s the- ory the sun and planets orbited the Earth, which was regarded as the orthodox model across the Christian world. Through decades of work, Co- pernicus had slowly and carefully found a new way of organizing the heavens, but his reticence kept these new ideas isolated from the public, who could only speculate about them. The Sacred and the Stars 1473 Nicolaus Copernicus is born in Torun, Poland. After his father’s death, his uncle, Lucas Watzenrode, a senior cleric, cares for Nicolaus. 1491 Copernicus begins his education in Krakow. Later, he will study law and medicine at Italian universities while also learning astronomy. 1503 Copernicus returns to his homeland and works for his uncle, who has become the Bishop of Warmia, a region near the Baltic Sea. 1512 His uncle dies. Soon after, handwritten copies of Copernicus’s Commentariolus, are circulated to a select group of scholars. 1540 G. J. Rheticus, a follower of the elderly Copernicus, persuades him to publish a one-volume summary of his working theories. 1543 One year after Copernicus agrees to publish his theories in full, De revolutionibus rolls off the press. Shortly after, Copernicus dies on May 24. A 1566 EDITION OF ONE VOLUME IN COPERNICUS’S SIX-TOME WORK, CONCERNING THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE HEAVENLY ORBS (DE REVOLUTIONIBUS). BRIDGEMAN/ACI KRIVINIS/GETTY IMAGES 1533 German humanist J. A. Widmannstetter lectures on the Copernican theory at the Vatican during an audience with Pope Clement VII.