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THE NEW ASTRONOMY
WITH the discovery of the New World the axis of the old world was changed. With the spread of individual thought
men's ideas of the entire universe changed also. The old astronomy had taught that the earth was the centre of
the universe, and that the sun and all the planets revolved round it in a proper and humble manner.
Now Nicolas Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, published a book in which he explained that the sun, and not the
earth, was the centre of the universe, and that the earth revolved round the sun like any other planet. This
was another shock to man's faith. Such an idea was considered by the Church as heretical and contrary to
Scripture. Had not Joshua commanded the sun to stand still? And had not the sun obeyed him?
To the ignorant theologians of the day it seemed that Copernicus was attacking the very foundations of
religion. To them he was not an eager seeker after truth but a wicked
 man who must be silenced and punished for his wickedness. Copernicus escaped any persecution, as he died
almost as soon as his book was published. His theory, however, did not die with him. Others carried on his
work, just as others had carried on that of Columbus. They were the men, it had been said, who did more than
any others to alter the mental attitude of humanity. Yet it was nearly a hundred years after the death of
Copernicus that Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer, began openly to spread his teaching.
Then once again the blind defenders of orthodoxy were in arms, and Galileo was threatened with the
Inquisition, and forbidden to teach a theory which was "expressly contrary to Holy Scripture." He promised
obedience, and was left in peace. But sixteen years later he forgot his promise, and wrote a book in which he
supported the teaching of Copernicus.
At once the thunders of the Church were launched against him. He was by this time an old man of seventy. But
that did not save him from torture and imprisonment, and under the threat of death by fire his courage gave
way, and he retracted. He acknowledged his errors, and declared that the earth was stationary. But, it is
said, that as he rose from his knees after making his confession, he was heard to murmur, "Yet still it
This recantation saved Galileo from death. He was, however, condemned to imprisonment during the pleasure of
the Inquisition. But after a short time he was practically released, and allowed to live in his own house not
far from Florence. Here, eight years later, he died, still nominally the prisoner of the Church.
But in spite of suppression and persecution the world moved on. The inquiring spirit of man once awakened
could not be put to sleep again. An intense desire to know all that there was to know increased daily.
 One of the great leaders in this fight for liberty of thought and speech was Giordano Bruno, a Neapolitan
monk. Persecuted and hunted from place to place, he was at last seized by the Inquisition, and after eight
years' imprisonment was burned as a heretic.
"The earth," he said, "only holds her high rank among the stars by usurpation. It is time to dethrone her. Let
this not dispirit man as if he thought himself forsaken by God. For if God is everywhere, if there is in truth
an unnumbered host of stars and suns, what matters the vain distinction between the heaven and the earth?
Dwellers in a star, are we not included in the celestial plains set at the very gates of Heaven?
Sayings such as these cost Bruno his life. Not unworthily has he been named "a hero of thought." He dared to
break the bonds of "authority," to think for himself, and follow truth even to death.
As can be seen the new birth was accomplished only through much pain. The new day dawned on Europe slowly and
stormily. But in spite of the hindering hand of superstition, in spite of dark dungeons and the rack, in spite
of the stake and its cruel fires, the movement increased until at length the old order vanished, and the new
took its place all over Western Europe. In every country, on all subjects, men fought for and won the right of
private judgment, the right of individual freedom.