Copernicus, Nicolaus (1473–1543)
Nicolaus Copernicus, whose astrological calculations are
generally credited with breaking the hold of the geocentric perspective
of the universe on Western thought, was born on February
19, 1473, in Torun (or Thorn), Poland. His father, a
wealthy merchant, provided Nicolaus an education at the University
of Krakow, where he received a broad education in the
sciences, and the University of Bologna, where he studied for
five years (1496–1501), in the liberal arts. It was still an era in
which one could largely master the whole body of scientific
Copernicus’ father also arranged for his son’s appointment
as a church canon, and upon his return from Italy, he settled
in at the Cathedral at Frombork (Frauenberg), where he lived
quietly for the rest of his life. Though attending to a wide range
of duties, and despite having no telescope (as yet to be invented),
over a period of years Copernicus observed the heavens
and kept careful records of his observations. He gave thought
to a problem that had long haunted astronomy. As the planets
moved across the heavens, at times they appeared to move
backward (or retrograde). This backward motion was a major
offense to any understanding of the divine perfection of the
heavens. To solve this problem, Copernicus proposed the idea
that the Sun was the center of the solar system, and the Earth,
like the other planets, circled it. While not a totally new idea,
he backed his idea with his data. His idea had appeal in that
it preserved, for the time being, the movement of the heavenly
bodies in their perfection. It met opposition in its moving the
Earth from the center of creation.
Although Copernicus published his theories as early as
1514, in a manuscript privately circulated to a few friends, his
final work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolution
of the Heavenly Spheres), was not released until the end
of his life (he did not live to see published copies). He had
turned the manuscript of his book over to his astrologer friend,
Joachim Rheticus, to publish. The real impact of Copernicus’
work would come decades later as Johann Kepler, Galileo, and
Isaac Newton built on it and made plain some of the implications
of humanity’s not living at the center of the universe.
As Copernicus’ heliocentric view became widely known, it
became a major challenge to astrology, an art based on Ptolomy’s
geocentric views. Attempts to create a heliocentric astrology
emerged as Europe gave up an Earth-centered view of the
world over the next two centuries, but most astrologers remained
hostile to such a change. They argued that since astrology
concerned the life of earthlings, the relation of the heavenly
bodies to Earth remained the key item in their art. After all,
even Copernicus did not give up astrology and like most people
with some astronomical expertise, cast horoscopes. The
move to a heliocentric astronomy did not require a change to
a heliocentric astrology. Some new heliocentric astrologies
have been proposed in the last generation, partly as an anticipation
of future human life on other planets, but they have yet
to be seriously considered by most astrologers.
Khun, Thomas S. The Copernican Revolution Planetary Astrology
in the Development of Western Thought. Cambridge, Mass.
Harvard University Press, 1957.
Kitson, Annabella, ed. History and Astrology Clio and Urania
Confer. London Mandala, 1989.
Rosen, Edward. Copernicus and His Successors. Hambleton
Press, 1995.

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