Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was an early modern astronomer and mathematician; proponent of the heliocentric cosmic model. His book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium [On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres], is often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the Scientific Revolution.
- If perchance there should be foolish speakers who, together with those ignorant of all mathematics, will take it upon themselves to decide concerning these things, and because of some place in the Scriptures wickedly distorted to their purpose, should dare to assail this my work, they are of no importance to me, to such an extent do I despise their judgment as rash. For it is not unknown that Lactantius, the writer celebrated in other ways but very little in mathematics, spoke somewhat childishly of the shape of the earth when he derided those who declared the earth had the shape of a ball. So it ought not to surprise students if such should laugh at us also. Mathematics is written for mathematicians to whom these our labors, if I am not mistaken, will appear to contribute something even to the ecclesiastical state the headship of which your Holiness now occupies.(Author's preface to de revolutionibus)
- Translation as quoted in The Gradual Acceptance of the Copernican Theory of the Universe (1917) by Dorothy Stimson, p. 115
- Finally we shall place the Sun himself at the center of the Universe. All this is suggested by the systematic procession of events and the harmony of the whole Universe, if only we face the facts, as they say, "with both eyes open."
- As quoted in The Copernican Revolution : Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought (1957) by Thomas S. Kuhn
- To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.
- As quoted in Poland : The Knight Among Nations (1907) by Louis E. Van Norman, p. 290; also in The Language of God (2006) by Francis Collins, pp. 230-31.
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (1543 )
- For I am not so enamored of my own opinions that I disregard what others may think of them. I am aware that a philosopher's ideas are not subject to the judgment of ordinary persons, because it is his endeavor to seek the truth in all things, to the extent permitted to human reason by God. Yet I hold that completely erroneous views should be shunned. Those who know that the consensus of many centuries has sanctioned the conception that the earth remains at rest in the middle of the heaven as its center would, I reflected, regard it as an insane pronouncement if I made the opposite assertion that the earth moves.
- For when a ship is floating calmly along, the sailors see its motion mirrored in everything outside, while on the other hand they suppose that they are stationary, together with everything on board. In the same way, the motion of the earth can unquestionably produce the impression that the entire universe is rotating.
- Book 1, Ch. 8
- Hence I feel no shame in asserting that this whole region engirdled by the moon, and the center of the earth, traverse this grand circle amid the rest of the planets in an annual revolution around the sun. Near the sun is the center of the universe. Moreover, since the sun remains stationary, whatever appears as a motion of the sun is really due rather to the motion of the earth.
- Book 1, Ch. 10
- At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun. For, in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. The Thrice Greatest labels it a visible god, and Sophocles' Electra, the all-seeing. Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it.
- Book 1, Ch. 10
Quotes about Copernicus
- He was a man of grave and cultivated mind, of rapid and mature intelligence; inferior to no preceding astronomer, unless in order of succession and time ; a man, who in natural ability was far superior to Ptolemy, Hipparchus, Eudoxus, and all those others who followed in their footsteps. What he was, he became through having liberated himself from certain false axioms of the common and vulgar philosophy — I will not say blindness. Nevertheless, he did not depart far from them ; because, studying mathematics rather than Nature, he failed to penetrate and dig deep enough altogether to cut away the roots of incongruous and vain principles, and thus, removing perfectly all opposing difficulties, free himself and others from so many empty investigations into things obvious and unchangeable. In spite of all this, who can sufficiently praise the magnanimity of this German, who, having little regard to the foolish multitude, stood firm against the torrent of contrary opinion, and, although well-nigh unarmed with living arguments, resuming those rusty and neglected fragments which antiquity had transmitted to him, polished, repaired, and put them together with reasonings more mathematical than philosophical ; and so rendered that cause formerly contemned and contemptible, honourable, estimable, more probable than its rival, and certainly convenient and expeditious for purposes of theory and calculation ? Thus this Teuton, although with means insufficient to vanquish, overthrow, and suppress falsehood, as well as resist it, nevertheless resolutely determined in his own mind, and openly confessed this final and necessary conclusion : that it is more possible that this globe should move with regard to the universe, than that the innumerable multitude of bodies, many of which are known to be greater and more magnificent than our earth, should be compelled, in spite of Nature and reason, which, by means of motions evident to the senses, proclaim the contrary, to acknowledge this globe as the centre and base of their revolutions and influences. Who then will be so churlish and discourteous towards the efforts of this man, as to cover with oblivion all he has done, by being ordained of the Gods as an Aurora - which was to precede the rising of this Sun of the true, ancient philosophy, buried during so many centuries in the tenebrous caverns of blind, malignant, froward, envious ignorance ; and, taking note only of what he failed to accomplish, rank him amongst the number of the herded multitude, which discourses, guides itself, precipitates to destruction, according to the oral sense of a brutal and ignoble belief, rather than amongst those who, by the use of right reason, have been able to rise up, and resume the true course under the faithful guidance of the eye of divine intelligence.
- The Copernican theory contains many absurd or erroneous assertions.
- When printed, the book was accepted by the holy Church and it has been read and studied by everyone without the faintest hint of any objection ever being conceived against its doctrines. Yet now that manifest experiences and necessary proofs have shown them to be well grounded, persons exist who would strip the author of his reward without so much as looking at his book.
- [Copernicus] did not ignore the Bible, but he knew very well that if his doctrine were proved, then it could not contradict the Scriptures when they were rightly understood.
- It was Copernicus who by his work showed us how fragile time-honored scientific conceptions can be.
- Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind — for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic — religious faith? No wonder his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of.
- It gave me pleasure to contemplate the right of the Polish nobleman to upset with his simple veto the determinations of a [parliamentary] session; and the Pole Copernicus seemed to have made of this right against the determinations and presentations of other people, the greatest and worthiest use.
- The nationality question has been a subject of various writings; an honoring controversy over the claim to the founder of our current world view is conducted between Poles and Germans, but as already mentioned nothing certain can be determined concerning the nationality of Copernicus' parents; the father seems to have been of Slavic birth, the mother German; he was born in a city whose municipal authorities and educated inhabitants were Germans, but which at the time of his birth was under Polish rule; he studied at the Polish capital, Krakau, then in Italy, and lived out his days as a canon in Frauenburg; he wrote Latin and German. In science, he is a man who belongs to no single nation, whose labors and strivings belong to the whole world, and in C. we do not honor the Pole nor the German, but the man of free spirit, the great astronomer, the father of the new astronomy, the originator of the true Weltanschauung (world view).
- Copernicus entered the University of Bologna, as a student of canon law, at the opening of the winter term of 1496-7. The occurrence of his name in the annals of the 'Natio Germanorum' must be regarded as a strong point in favour of the upholders of his Teutonic origin. Indeed, taken in connexion with his unquestioned use of German as his mother-tongue, it might — at least by impartial outsiders possessing intelligence of the ordinary blunt, though serviceable type — be fairly held to terminate the controversy. This, however, seems beyond hope. Controversies rarely die save of inanition. For adverse facts they not unfrequently prove to have the digestion of ostriches. And in the present instance, where common sense and technical argument might be said to be arrayed one against the other, it is plain that the view taken depends, in great measure, upon the natural bias of the mind.
- The Edinburgh Review on Prowe's Life of Copernicus, 1883
- Germans and Poles have bitterly disputed the question of Copernicus's ethnic origin, each national group claiming the distinguished astronomer for its own. Where does the truth lie in this controversy? Politically, Copernicus was a subject of the king of Poland; he remained loyal to the Roman Catholic church ; and he wrote chiefly in Latin, but a few of his private letters were composed in German.
- Edward Rosen in Three Copernican Treatises (1939)
- I thought that this auction with other nations for geniuses and heroes, for merits and cultural achievement, was really quite awkward from the point of view of propaganda tactics because with our half-French Chopin and not quite native Copernicus, we cannot compete with the Italians, French, Germans, English, or Russians. Therefore, it is exactly this approach that condemns us to inferiority.
- Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969), Diaries, as quoted in The World Republic of Letters (2004) by Pascale Casanova, translated by Malcolm Debevoise
- Poles and Germans have a common history of great scientists: Today we no longer perceive Copernicus, Hevelius, Schopenhauer and Fahrenheit as the property of one nation but as representatives of one transnational culture.
- On the five-hundred-thirtieth anniversary of the birth, and the four-hundred-sixtieth anniversary of the death, of Mikołaj Kopernik, the Senate of the Polish Republic expresses its highest esteem and praise for this exceptional Pole, one of the greatest scientists in world history. Mikołaj Kopernik, world-famous astronomer and author of the landmark work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, "stopped the Sun and moved the Earth." He distinguished himself for Poland as an exceptional mathematician, economist, lawyer, physician and priest, as well as defender of Olsztyn Castle during the Polish-Teutonic war. May the memory of his achievements endure and be a source of inspiration to future generations.
- The division of the seamless garment of Christendom into separate nations or sovereign states, which today we accept as a matter of course, was then only beginning. And the idea that people belong to all sorts of different races, with boasts of racial "purity" or "superiority", is something that has come up practically within the memories of people still alive. Hence if the astronomer had been asked concerning his race and nation, he might have replied that he was a loyal son of the Church, but otherwise would scarcely have understood the questions. Even for us today it is not an easy question to answer. Torun was founded by Germans; its leading citizens, like those of Cracow, were mostly Germans. Hence the astronomer may well have been of German extraction. The possible connection of the family on both sides with Silesia does not prove much either way for its population was a mixed one. On the other hand, the ancestors, especially on the father's side, must have lived for so many generations under allegiance to the King of Poland as to be, for all practical purposes, Poles. And Copernicus followed the family tradition in siding with the Poles against the Germans in times of crisis. In any case, it was Poland, and Cracow above all, that first nourished the youthful genius of Copernicus. And since his death it is chiefly the Poles who have gloried in their share in him, and have cherished the renown his achievements have brought to their heroic and ill-starred nation.
- Angus Armitage, British Copernican scholar, in "Sun, Stand Thou Still: The Life and Work of Copernicus, the Astronomer" of 1947. The title of later editions was shorted to "The World of Copernicus".