Thursday, February 05, 2009

Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Philip Melanchthon Wax Astronomical, Geocentric, & Aristotelian, Putting the Pernicious "Fool" Copernicus in His Place



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Martin Luther


[From Conversations With Luther: Selections From Recently Published Sources of the Table Talk, translated and edited by Preserved Smith and Herbert Percival Gallinger, New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1915 (link to Google Reader)]


Then Luther spoke concerning the threefold movement of the heavens: "The first is the primary motion, of great swiftness, which is perhaps caused by an angel; in twenty-four hours the whole firmament is revolved a thousand miles in a jiffy. It is wonderful how quickly the whole sky is thus wheeled around. If the sun and stars were made of iron, silver or gold, they would soon be melted as a result of their enormous velocity. . . ."

"No one will persuade me, neither Paul nor an angel from heaven, nor even Melanchthon (1), to believe in the predictions of astrology, which are mistaken so many times that nothing is more unreliable. . . ."

Mention was made of a new astronomer (2) who wished to prove that the earth moved and went around, not the sky or the firmament or the sun or the moon. It was just as when one was sitting on a wagon or a boat which was moving, it seemed to him that he was standing still and resting, and that the earth and trees moved by. "So it goes," [said Luther] "whoever wants to be clever must not be content with what any one else has done, but must do something of his own and then pretend it was the best ever accomplished. The fool wants to change the whole science of astronomy. But the Holy Scripture clearly shows us that Joshua commanded the sun, not the earth, to stand still. [Joshua 10:12-13]

[1] Dave: Melanchthon was a firm adherent of astrology, as was early Lutheran champion Martin Chemnitz.

[2] Editors: "Copernicus, whose epoch-making work De orbium coelestium revolutionibus was printed as its author was dying by the Protestant Reformer Osiander at Nuremburg in 1543. He had arrived at his momentous conclusions as early as 1507, and Luther, who is speaking on June 4, 1539, had heard of them from one of his numerous Nuremburg friends."

(pp. 101-102, 104)

John Calvin

[From: Copernicus and His Successors, Edward Rosen, edited by Erna Hilfstein, Continuum International Publishing Group, 1995 (link to Google Book Search and reader)]

. . . let us look at Calvin's commentary on Ps. 93:1, the relevant portion of which reads as follows:
The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion -- no disturbance in the harmony of their motion. The sun, though varying its course every diurnal revolution, returns annually to the same point. The planets, in all their wanderings, maintain their respective positions. How could the earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by God's hand? By what means could it maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it?

[Commentary on the Book of Psalms, tr. James Anderson (Edinburgh, 1845-1849), IV, 6-7; re-issued, Grand Rapids, 1949; Calvini opera, XXXII, 16-17]

(p. 168)
* * *

Theological opponents of Copernicus usually quoted Ps. 104:5 (God "laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed, for ever"), on which Calvin's comment begins as follows:
Here the prophet celebrates the glory of God, as manifested in the stability of the earth. Since it is suspended in the midst of the air, and is supported only by pillars of water, how does it keep its place so stedfastly that it cannot be moved? This I indeed grant may be explained on natural principles; for the earth, as it occupies the lowest place, being the center of the world, naturally settles down there.

[Commentary on the Book of Psalms, IV, 148-149; Calvini opera, XXXII, 86]

(p. 168)
* * *

Commenting on Ps. 19:4, Calvin says: "the firmament, by its own revolution, draws with it all the fixed stars" (Commentary on the Book of Psalms, I, 315; Calvini opera, XXXI, 198)

(p. 168)

* * *

This concept of a stationary earth at rest in the air was picturesquely elaborated by Calvin in his sermon on the alphabetical Ps. 119:90 ("Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth"):
I beseech you to tell me what the foundation of the earth is. It is founded both upon the water and also upon the air: behold its foundation. We cannot possibly build a house fifteen feet high on firm ground without having to lay a foundation. Behold the whole earth founded only in trembling, indeed poised above such bottomless depths that it might be turned upside down at any minute to become disordered. Hence there must be a wonderful power of God to keep it in the condition in which it is.

[Calvin, Two and Twentie Sermons . . . [on] the Hundredth and Nineteenth Psalme, tr. Thomas Stocker, (London, 1580), fol. 99v (somewhat modernized); Calvini opera, XXXII, 620: sermon 12, preached on April 9, 1553]

(p. 169; see also Calvin's sermon on Job 26:7, cited at length on pp. 169-170)
* * *

. . . in his Commentarius in librum Iosue, composed during the agony of his last illness, Calvin commented:
As in kindness to the human race He divides the day from the night by the daily course of the sun, and constantly whirls the immense orb with indefatigable swiftness, so He was pleased that it should halt for a short time till the enemies of Israel were destroyed.

[Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of Joshua, tr. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh, 1854), 153; re-issued, Grand Rapids, 1949, Calvini opera, XXV, 500]

(p. 171)
* * *

. . . Calvin never demolished, condemned, rejected, opposed, or stigmatized as an utter reprobate the quiet thinker who founded modern astronomy.

What, then, may we ask at the end of our inquiry, was Calvin's attitude toward Copernicus? Never having heard of him, Calvin had no attitude toward Copernicus.

(p. 171)

Philip Melanchthon

The eyes are witnesses that the heavens revolve in the space of twenty-four hours. But certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded that the earth moves; and they maintain that neither the eighth sphere nor the sun revolves . . . Now, it is a want of honesty and decency to assert such notions publicly, and the example is pernicious. It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to acquiesce in it.

[in Elements of Physics, 1549 (six years after Copernicus' death); cited in The Copernican Revolution, Thomas Kuhn and James Bryant Conant, 5th edition, Harvard University Press, 1973, p. 191]
* * *

Copernicus, in effect, already refuted these scientifically ludicrous opinions:
Perhaps there will be babblers who claim to be judges of astronomy although completely ignorant of the subject and, badly distorting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, will dare to find fault with my undertaking and censure it. I disregard them even to the extent of despising their criticism as unfounded. For it is not unknown that Lactantius, otherwise an illustrious writer but hardly an astronomer, speaks quite childishly about the earth's shape, when he mocks those who declared that the earth has the form of a globe. Hence scholars need not be surprised if any such persons will likewise ridicule me.

(Preface to De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium)
* * *

I located on Internet Archive the old debates between Ken Cole and Gary Hoge vs. Robert Sungenis, with the latter defending the position of geocentrism:

Scientific Disproof of Geocentrism (Ken Cole, with four replies by Sungenis and four counter-replies from Cole)

As the Universe Turns: Is it physically possible for the whole universe to orbit the earth? (Gary Hoge)

Why the earth can't be the center of mass of the universe (+ Part II) (Gary Hoge vs. Robert Sungenis; Hoge's rebuttal to Sungenis' reply to the article immediately above)

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