Though the Bible definitely has many more oddities to explore (and explore them you most definitely should), the summer has sadly come to a close. But the end of one message series means the beginning of a new one, and I’m really excited for this one. In “God’s Not Dead,” the messages will focus on the scientific proof for the existence of God, and these articles are going to talk about some of the incredible Catholic scientists who’ve lived and studied in the past several hundred years.
So often, it seems like science and religion can’t go hand in hand — some scientists claiming that God and religious thought are scientific improbabilities, things you can’t believe in while also believing in science. People know all about the treatment of Galileo by the Catholic Church (something Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for), but very few know about the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which welcomes the work of all scientists, Catholic and beyond. They even accept the work of atheists. And, if you dig a little deeper you will find both historical and contemporary support of scientific thought and study by the Catholic church, and discover the work of some incredible Catholic scientists.
Nicolaus Copernicus was one such scientist. Born in Warmia, Poland in 1473, he was a Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer who promoted the theory of heliocentrism, the idea that the Sun was the center of the universe, not the Earth, as was widely believed. Heliocentrism was a massive contribution to the Scientific Revolution in Europe, triggering its own “Copernican Revolution,” though the idea had first been proposed eighteen centuries earlier.
Copernicus was not just an astronomer and mathematician, though. A polyglot, polymath, physician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist, he also found time to obtain a doctorate in canon law and become an ordained priest. He was fluent in Latin, German, and Polish, spoke Italian and Greek, and was somewhat familiar with Hebrew, though most of his published writings are in Latin.
Following his education in Italy, he returned to Poland, where he became assistant to his uncle, the Prince-Bishop of Warmia. While working for his uncle, he traveled extensively and began working on his heliocentric theory, as well as publishing the Commentariolus, a collection of 85 short stories on three themes: advice, country life, and love. In 1512, his uncle died, and he relocated to Frombork, on the Baltic Sea, where he played a key role in economic and governmental advising for the area.
In 1533, Johann Widmanstetter, Pope Clement VII’s private secretary, explained Copernicus’s heliocentric theory to the Pope and two of his cardinals. This theory intrigued and delighted the Pope, who gave a valuable gift to Widmanstetter as a gesture of thanks, so it is interesting that Church officials took such an aggressive stance against Galileo a few decades later.
As a physician, Copernicus famously treated patients of all faiths, a rare practice at the time. He also began to receive criticism from Protestants during his lifetime, as many of his friends adopted Lutheran values. He remained Catholic, however, despite persecution, until his death in 1543.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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