Sorry, Madam Senator, Copernicus was not tortured

MANILA, September 17, 2011–If the pro-RH senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago did some more research (instead of parroting old and disproved anti-Catholic rhetoric), she would be surprised to find out that one of the fiercest critics of Nicolaus Copernicus was not a cardinal or a bishop, but Martin Luther.

Here was what the father of Protestantism said about Copernicus: “There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”

It would probably come as a surprise to the senator that no less than a cardinal had to convince the Polish scientist in 1536 to publish his heliocentric theory. When he finally gave in to the appeals of supporters led by Cardinal Schonberg and Bishop Giese, Copernicus decided to dedicate his book, “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Bodies,” to Pope Paul III.

If there was anyone dogmatic and biblically rigid here, it was the Lutherans, not the Catholic Church. In fact, those given the charge of publishing Copernicus’ monumental work were fearful of Luther and Melanchthon that they had to emphasize on the title page that heliocentricity was just a “hypothesis.”

Here was what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy had to say about Copernicus: “Pope Clement VII (r. 1523–1534) had reacted favorably to a talk about Copernicus’s theories, rewarding the speaker with a rare manuscript. There is no indication of how Pope Paul III, to whom On the Revolutions was dedicated reacted; however, a trusted advisor, Bartolomeo Spina of Pisa (1474–1546) intended to condemn it but fell ill and died before his plan was carried out … Thus, in 1600 there was no official Catholic position on the Copernican system, and it was certainly not a heresy.”

Copernicus, born 1473, began his studies in Krakow, and then went to Bologna to study canon law. Later on he went to Padua to study medicine.

He moved within ecclesiastical circles (some think he became a priest) and was at one point the administrator of a diocese. He died in 1543 out of illness – definitely not tortured – receiving the first copy of his book right on is deathbed.

If not for the urgings of Catholic clergy, the most prominent supporters of the heliocentric theory (Cardinal Schonberg was in fact willing to pay for publication), Copernicus’ great work would have been consigned to the dustbin, victim to the dogmatism of the Lutherans.

For all her penchant for historical references, Santiago’s choice of Copernicus as a supposed victim of Catholic persecution falls flat, revealing the senator’s shallow appreciation of Church history. She calls Church teachings “historically conditioned.” But it seems she is historically challenged.

Or did she confuse Copernicus for Galileo? While Galileo was tried by a Church tribunal, it was not for believing in heliocentrism but for misappropriating theology and biblical interpretation. But, better luck next time, Madame Senator, Galileo was not tortured. If there’s any proof of the Church’s benevolence, it’s the fact that Galileo was buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.

The next time Santiago proclaims something as gospel truth, people should watch out and remember that once upon a time she promised to jump out of a plane if Joseph Estrada got kicked out of the presidency. Estrada was kicked out, alright, with the help of the Church. All Santiago had to say after that was: “I lied!” (Dominic Francisco)

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