5 March 1616
On this day in 1616 the Catholic Church banned Nicolas Copernicus’ seminal work on heliocentric theory De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres).
Published in 1543 shortly before Copernicus’ death On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres offered an alternative view to the long accepted Ptolemaic, geocentric, view of the cosmos and the relationship between the earth, the sun and the heavens.
The geocentric view is also the view reflected in the Bible in the book of Joshua at Joshua Ch. 10 v. 13:
‘And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.‘
As it is implied in the Bible that the sun moves through the heavens and also taught by Ptolemy that the earth is the centre of the universe it was accepted as physical and canonical truth that this was so and because to say otherwise was to teach contrary to Biblical scholarship to hold the contrary view was a heresy. Indeed it is said of Copernicus that the only thing that saved his life was that publication of his book was not widely known before his death.
The Ptolemaic view, the Biblical view and the canonical teachings of the Catholic Church were of course wrong. This possibility was of course not thought possible back in 1543 and to suggest so was again, heresy.