Who Is Nicolaus Copernicus

How Nicolaus Copernicus changed the coarse of history.

The Renaissance period was a time of rebirth. Talented artists and brilliant scientists made their marks in history. It was the time of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael Santi, Galileo Galilei, Shakespeare, and Sir Thomas More. To understand the impact these people had on society, and politics, in the past and present, one must first look at a giant of this period, the polish astronomer, mathematician, and canon, Nicolaus Copernicus.

Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun, Poland in 1473. He was a bright student and received a Doctorate degree in what one could receive a degree in, canon Law. In addition to canon law, he studied medicine, Greek, and mathematical sciences. He never formally studied astronomy, but it was an active hobby.

His work in this field was what he is best known for. His published work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was a pivotal book on the revolution of heavenly orbs. In this book he stated that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, but the Earth revolves around the Sun. This idea was thought to be heresy by the Catholic Church. Judging by what they did to Galileo when he stated this to be a fact, they would have made Nicolaus's life very uncomfortable had he not died of natural causes shortly after the book was published.

He had several defenders of his book before and after it was published. Most were friends and admirers of his work. They helped him publish his book, and keep the church from banning it after he died. Some of these people include Johannes Kepler, Johannes Petreius, Georg Joachim, Lucas Watzenrode, and Cardinal Schoenberg. Even the official catalyst of the reformation, Martin Luther, stated, "This fool wants to turn the entire science of astronomy upside down! But, as the Bible tells us, Joshua told the Sun, not the Earth, to stop in its path!" Also, an associate of Luther voiced his opinion of Copernicus: "Some believe that to expound such an absurd matter, as that Sarmatian [Polish] astronomer has done, who would move the Earth and stop the Sun is an excellent thing. Verily, wise governors should curb such talented rashness." This shows that large figures of this time supported his sayings and the findings of his research.

Galileo Galilei was one of Nicolaus's strongest supporters. He was born shortly after Nicolaus died, and during his lifetime drew great attention to De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. Although Nicolaus supported his claims with mathematical proof, the church refused to believe that their model of the solar system was wrong. They threatened Galileo with torture at the least, but since he stuck to his beliefs, the idea spread, and was later proven, without a doubt, by Sir Isaac Newton. Not everyone agreed and appreciated his claims.

The Catholic Church was his greatest adversary, and a powerful one at that. The church was the "big cheese" of the Middle Ages, and most of that power carried through to the early Renaissance, when the reformation took place. The church ruled the land through power, money, and intimidation. The church was the cornerstone of everyday life. A person would get up, work, and go to sleep for the church. The church was thought to be all-powerful and all knowing. Generally, if anyone said anything that went against the strict teachings of the church, they would be tortured, and usually burnt at the stake to save them from eternal damnation. Needless to say, usually people didn't defy the church.

It may be hard to believe that some polish canon could go up against the most powerful force of that time (the church) and make such an impact, that present generations and future generations would feel the ripples of this social and political shockwave. The chances were probably one in a million that his single voice would be over the drone of unproved statements made by the church. It undoubtedly changed the course of history forever, but first it changed that time period.

This was a very bold move, but it was worth it. It proved that the church doesn't know everything. This caused a radical change in peoples attitudes, and ways of thinking. It caused disillusionment in the people. They started to wonder what else the church had been wrong about. If they would lie about this, what else where they lying about? Once people doubted what they knew to be true, many more advancements were made. Once the church's grip was loosened from the population, the cascades affect that lead to the loss of the power of the church.

The spoken truth that the church didn't know everything weakened the Church. People started to question the credibility of the Church's sayings, and its authority over the population. People were ready for a change, and this idea made them realize that they didn't have to live, breath, and die for the church. It was the catalyst for an enormous social and political change. Socially, it lead to a mass shift in beliefs such as the reason we were put here on Earth. It was no longer to suffer, and work for the church so that when we die we might go to heaven. People started to think that maybe they should enrich their lives as much as possible while they were on this Earth, and they would still have a good chance to get to heaven. Politically, it lead to the fall of the church as the unofficial ruler of Western Europe. People spent the extra hours of the week that they used to spent in church, learning an art or science. This allowed more inventions and ideas to be formed. This strengthened the culture of Western Europe, and sculpted what we know as the Renaissance period.

The Scientific Revolution that followed Nicolaus lasted well through the Renaissance, and arguably into the Modern Revolution. After all, if he had not taken that first step, it is possible that the church would have just gained power, and we would still believe everything they say. America might not have been discovered had someone not thought that the world was round instead of flat. It is like watching the effects of a pebble being skipped across a clear still pond. The ripples all affect one another, but if it hadn't been for the pebble the pond of ideas may have remained still for a long time.

Not only did Nicolaus force new ideas to come out, but he also started the movement of scientific fact over faith. Before, everything that couldn't be understood using common sense was true by faith. After this movement began, little was left to faith, and because of this God became an abstract concept that more and more people don't believe in. In modern times, the church is a place we go to feel good about ourselves when we have spare time on Sundays. While scientific fact is taught five days a week in schools. This also contributed to the separation of church and state.

It effects modern times as much as it effected the Renaissance period. It still has an impact on our daily lives. Instead of the study of canon law, a person can earn a degree in a large number of fields. This allows a person to do what they like doing, and have a little F-U-N before they die.

Also, in modern times, a popular line of work is a lawyer, probably the farthest thing from a priest, or nun. Hardly any children say they want to be a nun when they grow up. It is usually a doctor, a writer, an artist, or any number of other jobs. The fall in the power of the church allows us to have more choices, and fewer restrictions. Because of these fewer restrictions, people can continue to invent to make our standard of living better. We are making the world an easier and nicer place to live in.

Nicolaus Copernicus's idea caused an enormous change in the Renaissance period, that lead to a larger change in modern times. Who knows where we would be if someone didn't take that first step toward freedom by speaking against that which oppressed us. We may never know how grateful we should be to Nicolaus and his many followers. They radically altered the future be effecting the past. Nicolaus forced change on the Church, and the people of this time. Some accepted it, and some fought it, but in the end, change is inevitable. It is because of this change that Nicolaus Copernicus is and was the most influential person in history.


"Development of De Revolutionibus", http://www.frombork.art.pl/Ang12.htm, 9/4/00.

Everyday Life Through the Ages. Reader's Digest. 1992. Pleasantville NY.

Helden, Albert Van. "Nicolaus Copernicus",

http://es.rice.edu/es/humsoc/Galileo/Catalog/Files/copnics.html, 10/4/00.

"Life of Nicolaus Copernicus", http://www.frombork.art.pl/Ang11.htm, 10/8/00.

The Regents of the University of Michigan. "Nicolaus Copernicus"

http://www.windows.umich.edu/cgi-bin/, 10/6/00.

Westfall, Richard S. "Nicolaus Copernicus Polish Cleric and Astronomer",

http://www2.lucidcafe.com/lucidcafe/library/96feb/copernicus.htm, 9/4/00. Revised: 4/13/00.

© High Speed Ventures 2011