Heliocentrism as Promotion

In what might be one of the best books I’ve ever read, Remi Brague assembles a number of excellent essays regarding the political and intellectual world of the middle ages.  One chapter takes on the supposed psychological effects of the fall of geocentrism, and in it, Brague proceeds to “beat down a door that stands wide open.”  Far from the “central” position of the earth making man the focal point of all things, it demeaned him.  Every pious soul wanted to be, not in the center (between heaven and hell, mind you), but up!  For the earth to actually have been among the heavenly bodies would have been a great compliment.

Brague marshals an array of quotes from pagan, Jewish, and Christian philosophers making this point, but then he finishes the whole thing off with the big dawg himself, Galileo:

As for the earth, we seek rather to ennoble and perfect it when we strive to make it like the celestial bodies, and, as it were, place it in heaven, from which your philosophers have banished it.

~The Legend of the Middle Ages, 219

So once again we are reminded not to draw historical talking point for contemporary political polemics without taking great care.

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5 thoughts on “Heliocentrism as Promotion

  1. And Galileo was heavily influenced by Kepler who said that heliocentrism is more Trinitarian than geocentrism, since it places the earth within the three primary spheres. Kepler also loved Aristotle and tried to show that heliocentrism, though disagreeing with Aristotle at a fundamental point, could be more Aristotelian. He speaks of the three spheres that correspond to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in terms of Aristotle’s causes:

    “Now since three things necessarily come together for every affection, namely, the cause a qua, the subject in quo, and the form sub qua – therefore, in respect to all the aforesaid affections of the world, the sun [Father] exercises the function of the efficient cause; the region of the fixed stars [Son] that of the thing forming, containing, and terminating; and the intermediate space [Holy Spirit], that of the subject – in accordance with the nature of each affection.” (Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, IV.1.i.)

    I’m still reading through Brague’s book, and it is definitely worth the read.

  2. Which also puts the Church’s opposition to Galileo in a different context. (And Galileo’s “And yet it moves.”) The Church’s point was “No, we aren’t that important.” And Galileo’s was “yes, we are.” Now they were both wrong about the philosophical consequences of the science, but the Church was fighting for an important point.

  3. For more corroboration, I found this quote from Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s De caelo:

    “And therefore, in the whole universe, just as the earth which is contained by all, being in the middle, is the most material and ignoble among bodies, so the outermost sphere is most formal and most noble, while among the elements fire is above all containing and formal.” (Commentary on De caelo, sec. 485)

    So, the earth cannot hold the most noble position because it is more material than the sphere of the stars.

  4. I always liked Lewis’s observation that the medieval view of the heavens was of a very tall building that we were at the base of, inducing vertigo.

    for moderns its of being in a deep and endless forest where the trees merge together into a vague haze.

    I guess the Wood between the World fulfills the “modern” sensibility in Narnia then: they get there after passing through the various planetary sphere’s, don’t they? And its an eerie endless woods where nothing happens.

  5. Pingback: Navigating Medieval Thought « Popery

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