Calvin and the Astronomical Revolution
Matthew F. Dowd, University of Notre Dame

In 1543, on his deathbed, so the story goes, Copernicus received a published copy of his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. This book marked the beginning of the long battle known as the astronomical revolution. This battle was not one waged only between erudite scholars with their eyes turned towards the heavens. Rather, the theories of Copernicus marked a turning point in the way that humans viewed the world around them and the heavens above them.

Eventually the heliocentric theory of the universe which Copernicus had proposed won the battle. But it took many years, and the work of many scientists, before the new science was accepted. And the arguments over the shape of the universe were not constrained to the classrooms and lecture halls of science, for the new theory presented such a radical reinterpretation of the physical world that it impacted many fields of human inquiry.

Religion was one of those fields, and it quickly became a source of debate relating to the astronomical revolution. In this paper, I wish to examine the way in which Calvin reacted to the astronomical revolution which was contemporary to him. Though Copernicus's final work was not published until 1543, he claimed that he had conceived of the idea many years earlier. And one of his pupils, Rheticus, published a treatise outlining the basic tenets of the new theory in Basel in 1541.[1]

We will begin by examining the physical theories of the universe before Copernicus, as well as Copernicus's own system. We will then address the question of whether or not Calvin knew of Copernicus. We will follow this with a discussion of Calvin's works in which he addresses questions relating to astronomy in particular, and science in general. We will conclude with some observations about Calvin's attitude towards the astronomical revolution.

The Physical Theory of the Universe before Copernicus

Though it is not the physical theories which are the main focus of this paper, it is necessary to acquaint the reader with a minimum amount of information regarding the physical theories of the universe which were the focus of disagreement during the shift in the astronomical paradigm.[2]

In the second century A.D., Claudius Ptolemy published in Alexandria the massive compendium known as the Almagest. In this book, Ptolemy gave precise mathematical relationships which governed the way the heavens moved. His theories, which were dependent upon centuries of Greek astronomy, constituted the majority opinion of the physical shape of the universe up until the time of the astronomical revolution. Nor were his theories easily dethroned by the new theories promulgated by Copernicus and those who supported him.

Ptolemy's theory of the universe, which will henceforth be referred to as the Ptolemaic system, presupposed a geocentric view of the universe. That is, this theory asserted that the earth hung motionless at the center of the universe, while the heavens rotated about it. Each "planet", which included the moon and the sun, occupied a sphere which rotated about the earth. The outermost sphere, also called the celestial sphere, held the stars and rotated about the earth once each day. Each sphere within this celestial sphere rotated with it, but in addition had its own motion. This motion translated into the appearance of the planets moving in relation to the stars. In fact, it is from this motion that the planets take their name, derived from the Greek word planao, meaning "to wander", which is what the planets appear to do: "wander" among the fixed stars. This presents the picture of the earth surrounded by a number of concentric spheres which contained, in turn, the moon, Venus, Mercury, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the fixed stars.

There were two basic types of motion in the Ptolemaic system. Near the earth, that is, below the sphere of the moon, matter had a natural motion in a straight line. Matter was made up of some combination of the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. The first two, fire and air, naturally moved in a straight line away from the center of the earth, while the latter, water and earth, naturally moved toward the center of the earth. Above the earth, in the heavenly spheres, matter was composed of celestial matter (generally considered a fifth element, though not everyone held this view) which naturally moved with circular motion.

In this simple form, the Ptolemaic system seems to coincide with casual observation. Observation shows that matter which is not restrained tends to fall to earth or to rise into the air, generally moving in straight lines. The stars do appear to move circularly about the earth, taking the planets with them, while the planets have an additional small motion in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, things are a bit more complicated that this simple theory outlined above suggests.

The notion that the heavenly bodies move with circular motion originated with Plato. He challenged his students to prove that the planets move with only circular motion. It is from this challenge that the theory of concentric spheres originated. Unfortunately, precise observation does not support such a theory.

Measurement of heavenly motions is complicated by the fact that the planets do not have a simple motion within the framework of the fixed stars, but need a number of additional circular motions (usually two to four more) to accurately describe their observed motions. This means that each planet needed not just one, but a number of spheres to describe its full range of motion. By the time of Aristotle, the total number of spheres above the earth was more than thirty.

Before the time of Aristotle, it is not clear whether or not astronomers believed that these spheres actually existed, or were merely mathematical constructs designed to allow calculation of motion of heavenly bodies. However, Aristotle made it clear that his astronomy did attempt to describe the actual, physical construction of the universe. He introduced additional spheres which acted as "counter-turners." That is, each planet not only had spheres which caused its unique motion, but had additional spheres that counteracted the unique motion of the planet above it. In other words, Aristotle believed that the spheres were physical objects which were attached to each other, so that an individual sphere's motion was transmitted to each sphere within it. In the end, Aristotle was forced to hypothesize the existence of over fifty spheres to account for the planetary movements.

Unfortunately for those astronomers who wished to follow in Plato's footsteps and restrict heavenly motion to regular, circular movements, the heavens do not obey this simple rule. The greatest oddity came from the planets. They generally follow the pattern of rotating with the fixed stars, but move with a slight motion in the opposite direction. However, the speed with which they move is not a constant, violating the beauty of circular motion at a constant speed. In addition, the planets occasionally stop their wandering and reverse course, actually moving faster than the fixed stars, and then stop again and resume their previous motion in a direction opposite that of the stars. This phenomena is known as "retrograde motion."

Three devices were used to account for the varying speeds of the planets. The first is an eccentric circle. This device supposes that the heavenly body moves with constant, circular motion; however, the center of its path is not the center of the earth, but is removed to some distance from it. In this way, the speed with which the planet moves varies as it is seen from the earth, though it is actually constant.

The second device is the epicycle-deferent system. In this system, the planet moves on a small circle, the epicycle, whose center moves on a larger circle, the deferent. The center of the deferent is the earth (or some point a small distance away; the deferent was often an eccentric circle, described above). As the planet moves along this path, it appears to move backwards at certain sections due to the motion of the planet and the center of the epicycle. The resultant motion is reminiscent of a picture produced with a Spirograph, and can account for retrograde motion.

The third device is an equant. This device is created by choosing a point inside the circular path of a planet which is not the center. The planet moves at a varying speed such that it passes over an equal angle-width, measured from that point, in any give time. In other words, on a part of the circle closer to the point, the planet moves more slowly, because a given angle-width on that part of the circle will encompass a smaller arc-length than the same angle on a part of the circle farther away from the point.

Ptolemy used all of these devices in various capacities in the Almagest to give a detailed account of the motion of each planet. However, by the time he had reached his goal of being able to measure and predict all heavenly motions, the simple beautiful celestial motion envisioned by Plato had been left far behind. It is not clear, though, whether or not Ptolemy believed that the systems he described were physically real in the way that Aristotle obviously did.

What is clear, though, is that, until the astronomical revolution, astronomers presupposed a universe which had a motionless earth at its center. It was this idea against which Copernicus was to rebel.

Copernicus's Astronomical System

Copernicus proposed a system in which the sun was motionless and the earth revolved about the sun and rotated about its own axis. One thing must be made clear before we proceed further: Copernicus did not merely suggest that this was an alternate, merely "mathematical" way of looking at the universe. He believed that the system he described was the actual form of the universe.

This assertion is supported by a number of facts. First of all, Copernicus set forth his theory in systematic form in the work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, which was not published until Copernicus was on his deathbed. But he had proposed the basic idea of a heliocentric universe many years earlier in a work called the Commentariolus. This work was apparently circulated only among friends and relatives who were sympathetic to his position.[3] In it, Copernicus stated that he was dissatisfied with Ptolemy's arrangement of the heavenly motions, especially with the device of equants, which Copernicus felt destroyed the beauty of the circular motion of the heavens.[4] Such an objection would only be valid if such a system were assumed to be true. If these systems were only meant to be mathematical devices for the calculation of heavenly motions, Copernicus would have had no need to devise a whole new system that was so radically different than what was assumed true.

Further evidence appears in Copernicus's letter to Pope Paul III.[5] In this letter, Copernicus stressed that he had thought for years that the earth moved while the sun was stationary, but that he had been reticent about revealing this publicly due to the likelihood that such a view would be ridiculed. He also begged the Pope not to judge this view harshly without the proper training in mathematics that was needed to fully understand the work. Copernicus was not excusing this work by saying that it was only a mathematical construct; he truly believed that this theory described the actual construction of the universe.

Of further importance is the brief introduction which was added to Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium by Andreas Osiander. Osiander believed that the work of astronomers was simply to "save the phenomena"; that is, astronomers were properly concerned only with being able to predict the motion of the heavenly bodies, without necessarily making any claim on the physical construction of the universe. For this reason, he counseled Copernicus to add an introduction to his work which would prevent readers from thinking that he proposed a real physical system.[6] Copernicus refused to do so, insisting that his letter to the Pope be published with the work; so it was clear that he was in fact proposing a physical system of the universe.

Despite such a clear message, Osiander himself added an anonymous introduction to Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium in which he warns the reader not to think that the author proposed a real, physical system. He writes:

Nor is it necessary that these hypotheses should be true, nor indeed even probable, but it is sufficient if they merely produce calculations which agree with the observations.

Thus Osiander made it clear from his warning that he feared that people would understand that Copernicus believed in the physicality of the system which he proposed.[7]

Thus Osiander made it clear from his warning that he feared that people would understand that Copernicus believed in the physicality of the system which he proposed.

Copernicus's system was a radical departure from the previous theory of the universe. However, Copernicus attempted to defend himself by stating that he in fact wished to establish a system which was more like the beautifully simplistic system which Plato envisioned.[8] In search of such a system, he examined the ancient philosophers, and discovered that some of them had proposed that the earth moved. Working from such a theory, which he admitted seems at first to be absurd, he believed that he was able to accurately predict the heavenly motions with a system that was more elegant and simple than Ptolemy's.

However, Copernicus's system faced a number of difficulties. For one thing, though Copernicus wished to imply that it was more accurate than Ptolemy's system, Copernicus had in fact made use of Ptolemy's observational data to construct his theory. Thus, by its very nature, Copernicus's system could be no more accurate than Ptolemy's.[9] For another thing, Copernicus tried to construct a simpler system. In fact, his system is not really a great deal simpler.[10] The only real advantage is that he did away with the equants which created non-uniform among the heavenly bodies. But he did this by placing the earth in motion, which made calculations much more difficult than from a stationary earth.

The Copernican system also faced objections quite independent of comparison with Ptolemy's system. For one thing, Copernicus's system attributed three motions to the earth: rotation about its own axis, rotation about the sun, and precession of its axis. This violated the contemporary assumption that a body had only one natural motion.[11] Also, the system flew in the face of what most people observed: that they were stationary on the earth and that the heavenly bodies revolved around them. And if they were moving, why did they not feel the motion? And why were objects thrown up into the air not left behind as the earth rotated beneath them? In addition, certain Biblical passages suggested that the earth did not move and that the sun did. This last objection will be more fully discussed later.

It was not until many years later when Galileo turned a telescope to the skies, Kepler proposed his laws of planetary motion, and Newton established his comprehensive system of physics and calculus that the Copernican system was finally accepted by a consensus of scientists. In the time of Calvin, then, the truth of the Copernican system was still very much in doubt.

Did Calvin Know Copernicus?

There has been no small amount of scholarly work devoted to the question of whether or not Calvin knew of Copernicus or his work. This question is easier to answer in the case of some other reformers. Luther is famed for his quote about the man "who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, sun and the moon." He calls him "that fellow ... who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down."[12] And Melanchthon was known to have adopted at least parts of the Copernican theory into the studies of astronomy at the University of Wittenberg.[13]

But in Calvin's case, things are not so clear. The difficulty begins with the fact that Bertrand Russell quoted Calvin as saying "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?"[14] However, this quote does not actually appear in Calvin's work. Edward Rosen[15] has shown that this quote can be traced back from Russell through Andrew Dickson White's Warfare of Science with Theology and finally to Frederic William Farrar's History of Interpretation. Farrar fails to state from where in Calvin's work he took this quote. In fact, it appears that this quote does not appear in any of Calvin's work. Further, Rosen even quotes Farrar and Farrar's son as saying that Farrar often quoted from memory, and that he did not have the time to catch all errors which may have crept into his work.[16]

Rosen has done a good job of demonstrating that the above quotation did not come from Calvin. In the same article, however, Rosen goes on to conclude that "Never having heard of him, Calvin had no attitude toward Copernicus."[17] But Rosen's arguments are based on silence. Rosen examined Calvin's exegesis of certain Biblical passages that were normally discussed by those who argued about the motion of the earth. Within those passages, Calvin obviously presupposes the Ptolemaic system of astronomy in which the earth is motionless at the center of the universe. Rosen thus based his conclusion on the fact that within these passages Calvin makes no reference to Copernicus which, Rosen argues, he certainly would have done if he knew of Copernicus's alternate theories.

Such an argument is dubious at best. In addition, further difficulty appears for Rosen's conclusion in an article which appeared eleven years after Rosen's. This article demonstrated, from an examination of one of Calvin's sermons, that Calvin clearly knew about a theory of the earth's motion about a stationary sun.[18] However, to further complicate matters, another article appeared in 1986 which attempted to prove that the reference within that sermon was not directed towards a theory of Copernicus, but was in fact directed towards Sebastian Castellio.[19] In this article, Christopher Kaiser tried to establish that Calvin's comments within the sermon were only one instance of a protracted campaign against his former student Castellio, and that the argument was not truly about astronomy, but about religious tolerance.[20] Kaiser believes that Calvin's comments were essentially focussed on Castellio's over-eagerness to accept new ideas that had no firm backing. Nevertheless, in that sermon, Calvin clearly denounced the view that the earth moved.

Kaiser thus concludes that we are back to the situation that Rosen described, that there is no evidence that Calvin ever knew the works of Copernicus.[21] However, as evidenced by the comments in his sermon, Calvin clearly was acquainted with at least the bare rudiments of the astronomical revolution: that the earth moved while the sun was stationary. Thus, it will still be fruitful to further examine Calvin's attitudes towards astronomy.

Calvin's Biblical Exegesis Concerning Astronomy

John Dillenberger points out that it is important to consider Calvin's biblical exegesis if we wish to determine his views on astronomy.[22] Therefore, in this section, I will examine Calvin's exegesis of certain passages of the Bible in an attempt to determine his views on astronomy. I will use those passages which were fundamentally important to the debates surrounding the astronomical revolution. But Calvin was never embroiled in the controversy the way that Galileo, for example, was. Therefore, we can not necessarily expect that Calvin will address questions of astronomy in the way in which we might hope.

There are a number of passages from the Psalms that were often discussed during the astronomical revolution. The first example is Psalm 93:1b, which Calvin translated as "he hath also established the world, it shall not be moved."[23] Calvin's exegesis clearly demonstrates that he believed in the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. He interpreted this passage as evidence both of the Creator's power over and care for the world. He writes:

The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion. ... By what means could it [the earth] maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it?[24]

This passage is thus used as a proof of God's providential care for the world.

It is interesting to note that Kaiser believes that Calvin accepted the Aristotelian notion of God as Prime Mover, and from this shaped the above argument showing that only God has the power to control the motion of the universe, not only the turning of the celestial sphere, but also the holding stationary of the earth.[25] However, it is also important to acknowledge Charles Partee's argument in which he points out that Calvin was ultimately dissatisfied with Aristotle's notion of God as Prime Mover, believing that this misunderstood God's continual, providential action in the world.[26]

So it is not Aristotle's authority that is important in this discussion. Rather, Calvin's emphasis is clearly on God's activity in preserving the world. Would this require him to argue against the astronomical revolution? I do not believe so. If the earth moved about the sun, and indeed if it had three motions as Copernicus posited, God's providential care would still be necessary. In fact, it might be even more necessary in order to keep humans stationary on the earth. However, there is more to consider than this single argument.

Another important passage in the Psalms is 104: 5-6, which Calvin translates as "He hath founded the earth upon its foundations, so that it shall not be moved for ever. He hath covered it with the deep as with a garment: the waters shall stand above the mountains."[27] In his exegesis of this passage, Calvin again affirms the Ptolemaic system. In this case, however, he is concerned with the motion of matter on the earth. Again he sees the providence of God at work. As he notes, the element of water is naturally lighter than the element of earth. Yet there is still earth which rises above the water, thus providing a place to live for humans. Again he interpreted this as evidence of God's providential care.[28]

This interpretation is harder to reconcile with the Copernican system. Such an understanding of the motion of matter requires that the center of the earth be the point to which matter settles or rises. If this point is constantly in motion, the physics of motion becomes almost nonsensical. It is not until Newton's description of gravitation that this obstacle can be overcome. Thus, before such a description, it is still reasonable for objections to be raised against the Copernican system.

There is another passage from this Psalm, namely verse 19, which is significant. Calvin translates this verse as "He hath appointed the moon to distinguish seasons; the sun knoweth his going down."[29] Calvin interprets this simply to show again that God cares for the world by creating a system by which humans can determine the date and time. Again, such an interpretation would not be rejected under the Copernican system, for it described the same heavenly motions as did the Ptolemaic system.

A passage which was even more important in the astronomical debate was Joshua 10: 12 13. Calvin translates this passage as "Then spake Joshua to the Lord ... 'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed ...."[30] Calvin's exegesis of this passage, however, contains relatively little mention of astronomy. His emphasis is rather on Joshua's need to supplicate God, and on the power that faith in God can command. Only a brief sentence, mentioned almost in passing, states that the cause of the sun stopping was God temporarily ceasing the motion of the celestial sphere.[31]

It is surprising that Calvin gives such short shrift to this passage. In later years, for example during the Galileo affair, this would become one of the most frequently used passages to refute the Copernican theory. If the sun were already at rest, the argument would go, then God would have stopped the earth, not the sun. The fact that Calvin passed by this passage so quickly could be interpreted in two ways. First, Calvin might not have heard this passage used within the astronomical debate. But it may also be that Calvin simply did not think such a debate was all that important when seen against his greater concern, that God's providence and power be understood.

A final example from Calvin's exegesis needs to be investigated. In his "Argument" which prefaced his commentary on Genesis, Calvin writes that "We indeed are not ignorant, that the circuit of the heavens is finite, and that the earth, like a little globe, is placed in the center."[32] This might be read as a ringing endorsement of the Ptolemaic system. However, the purpose of this passage, in context, is not to affirm the Ptolemaic system per se. Rather, this is a part of a discussion in which Calvin was investigating the nature of God's eternity and infinity (brought about in part by the question of what God was doing before the Creation). In terms of the affirmation of the Ptolemaic system, Calvin simply uses it to once again affirm God's majesty and providential care for the world.

Calvin and Science

We have seen through the preceding investigation that Calvin accepts the Ptolemaic system. And yet there does not seem to be any particular importance attached to that system, other than to affirm God's power and providence. At this point, I believe it would be advantageous to investigate Calvin's attitude towards science in general. This will further illuminate his views on the particular science of astronomy.

In the preceding section we investigated Calvin's exegesis. We must realize, though, that Calvin certainly did not consider astronomy, or science in general, to be the focus of the biblical text. It is because of this that he writes concerning the Creation account, "nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the Word. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere."[33]

The Bible, then, is not meant to be a scientific textbook. For one thing, Calvin recognizes that, in writing of the Creation, Moses accommodated his style to that which the common person could understand.[34] And since the common person could not be assumed to have a working knowledge of science, it was occasionally necessary for Moses to speak in a less-than-precise manner when discussing a scientific concept.[35] In addition, though Calvin continuously throughout his commentary on the first chapter of Genesis demonstrates how the creation story is impacted by the contemporary understanding of science,[36] science is never the focus of his comments. As Dillenberger points out, for Calvin "Scripture was Christologically interpreted."[37]

But this is not in any way meant to imply that Calvin was anti-science. In Book I, chapter V of his Institutes, Calvin argues that the visible universe offers abundant proof of God's existence, and that thorough investigation into the sciences can act to reveal to the scientist an even greater understanding of God's nature. He writes:

There are innumerable evidences both in heaven and on earth that declare his wonderful wisdom .... To be sure, there is need of art and of more exacting toil in order to investigate the motion of the stars, to determine their assigned stations, to measure their intervals, to note their properties. As God's providence shows itself more explicitly when one observes these, so the mind must rise to a somewhat higher level to look upon his glory.[38]

So science per se is not a thing to be degraded. However, though Calvin certainly does not have a negative view of science, he does recognize that being overly concerned with science can have negative repercussions. In particular, there is a danger of becoming engrossed in the creation, while forgetting the Creator. Indeed, one could go so far as to believe that "the universe, which was founded as a spectacle of God's glory, were its own creator!"[39]

Science, if taken too far, could detract from one's appreciation of the Creator. By concentrating too much on one's study of nature, the realization of the importance of the Creator and Sustainer of that nature might diminish. "Hence [for Calvin], the aim of all true science could be no other than that of showing forth the marvelous works of Him who is the source and meaning of one's life."[40]

Indeed, God is the source not only of nature, but of the science which studies it. Humans do not discover truths about nature without the aid of God, for "we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth."[41] And though the ancients were advanced in the study of the sciences, we must not "count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God."[42] Calvin continues on to issue the warning we would expect. The science itself is not what is important; rather, understanding that God is the source of both the science and that which it studies is what is most important.[43]


We have seen that Calvin was certainly not an adherent of the Copernican theory. He took for granted that the Ptolemaic system accurately described the physical construction of the universe. Yet he was not oblivious to the astronomical revolution which was occurring around him. However, he only spoke of it once that we know of, and then only to denounce it. But this denunciation, as we noted above, was not of the Copernican theory per se, but was an attack against a theologian with whom Calvin had other disagreements.

Calvin was no enemy of science or scientific inquiry. Why, then, did he not speak more often of the astronomical revolution? I propose two possible reasons. First, he may simply not have known much about it. But though he did explicitly attack it in one instance, the Copernican theory was almost an innocent bystander in a battle taking place over an unrelated issue.

The second possible reason I see for Calvin's lack of mention of the astronomical revolution was that he didn't believe it was all that important. He did believe that astronomy was a worthwhile pursuit because it could lead to a greater appreciation of God. It is unlikely, therefore, that Calvin would attack a scientific theory unless it in some way threatened such an appreciation of the Creator.

The Copernican theory does not fit this criteria. Calvin's emphasis on God's providence and continual care for the world is not threatened by the Copernican theory. The particulars of God's role in sustaining the Creation would change; for example, instead of holding the earth stationary while heavens rush all around it, God would hold humans against the earth as it spun about and hurtled through space. But this would not diminish the need for God's continual care.

This second possible reason for Calvin's silence seems more convincing to me. First of all, at Calvin's time, the Copernican theory still had certain objections to overcome. For example, the physics of motion had to be completely rewritten. As another example, it went against centuries of assumed truth. So Calvin may not have believed that the Copernican theory was an important development in astronomy.

More important than such objections, I believe, was the fact that science itself simply was not that important to Calvin. The underlying realization of God's continual role in sustaining the creation was more important than the scientific study which led to that realization. The Copernican theory did not threaten to undermine an appreciation of God's power and providence. It was for this reason that Calvin did not need to address the new theories of Copernicus.


1. Edward Rosen, Three Copernican Treatises, Dover, 1959, p. 10.

2. I will not footnote each item separately during this discussion as the theories are presented in a number of sources. Instead, I will present a basic summary of the state of astronomy in the early sixteenth century. For more detailed discussion, the reader can find a number of books which deal with this topic. I suggest the following: Michael J. Crowe, Theories of the World from Antiquity to the Copernican Revolution, Dover, 1990; Thomas S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution, Harvard, 1957; and Olaf Pedersen, Early Physics and Astronomy, revised edition, Cambridge, 1993.

3. Alexandre Koyre, The Astronomical Revolution, Dover, 1973, p. 27

4. Copernicus,Commentariolus, contained in Rosen's Three Copernican Treatises, p. 57.

5. Copernicus, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, pp. 23-27.

6. Koyre, p. 35.

7. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, p. 22.

8. Ibid., pp. 25-26.

9. Koyre, p. 23.

10. Ibid., pp. 43-45.

11. Robert S. Westman, "The Copernicans and the Churches," p. 80, in Lindberg and Numbers, God and Nature, University of California Press, 1986.

12. Martin Luther, Table Talk, vol. 54 in the series Luther's Works, Fortress Press, 1981, No. 4638, pp. 359-259.

13. See Robert S. Westman, "The Melanchthon Circle, Rheticus, and the Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory," Isis, vol. 66, June, 1975.

14. Quoted from Russell's A History of Western Philosophy , by Edward Rosen in "Calvin's Attitude Toward Copernicus," Journal of the History of Ideas, July, 1960, p. 431.

15. Edward Rosen, "Calvin's Attitude Toward Copernicus," pp. 431-435.

16. Ibid., pp. 434-435.

17. Ibid., p. 441.

18. The article was Stauffer, "Calvin et Copernic," Revue de l'histoire des religions, 1971. See also Christopher B. Kaiser, "Calvin, Copernicus, and Castellio," Calvin Theological Journal, April, 1986, pp. 5-31 and Robert White, "Calvin and Copernicus: The Problem Reconsidered," Calvin Theological Journal, November 1980, pp. 233-243.

19. Christopher B. Kaiser, "Calvin, Copernicus, and Castellio," pp. 23ff.

20. Ibid., pp. 28-29.

21. Ibid., p. 31. Actually, Kaiser is here being overly polite to Rosen. Rosen did not stop with the claim that we have no evidence that Calvin knew of Copernicus; he concluded that, since we lack this evidence, Calvin in fact did not know Copernicus. Kaiser is more precise when he says that we simply lack any evidence that Calvin did know Copernicus.

22. John Dillenberger, Protestant Thought and Natural Science, University of Notre Dame Press, 1960, p. 29.

23. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. IV, Eerdmans, 1949, p. 5f.

24. Ibid., pp. 6-7.

25. Kaiser, pp. 5-6.

26. Charles Partee, Calvin and Classical Philosophy, E.J. Brill, 1977, p. 98.

27. Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, p. 147.

28. Ibid., pp. 148-149.

29. Ibid., p. 161.

30. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of Joshua, Eerdmanns, 1949, p. 147.

31. Ibid., p. 153.

32. John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, Eerdmans, 1948, p. 61.

33. Ibid., p. 79.

34. Gary B. Deason, "Reformation Theology and the Mechanistic Conception of Nature," p. 171, in Lindberg and Numbers,God and Nature.

35. For example, a frequent argument used in later years to support the Copernican system was that Joshua, in the passage discussed above, commanded the sun to be still simply because this would be better understood by those who heard him. Had he instead said for the earth to be still, no one would have understood what this meant.

36. For example, verses 6-10 presuppose the Ptolemaic understanding of the motions of the elements, and he uses this understanding to demonstrate the power that God used during Creation.

37. Dillenberger, p. 30.

38. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Westminster, 1960, I, v, 2, p. 53. I am indebted to Dillenberger for drawing attention to this passage, footnote 21, p. 34.

39. Calvin, Institutes, I, v, 5, p. 58. Again, I am indebted to Dillenberger.

40. Dillenberger, p. 35.

41. Calvin, Institutes, II, ii, 15, p. 273.

42. Ibid., II, ii, 15, p. 274.

43. Ibid., II, ii, 16, p. 275.


Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Book of Joshua, trans. by Henry Beveridge, Eerdmanns Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1949.

Calvin, John, Commentary on the First Book of Moses called Genesis, trans. by John King, Eerdmanns Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1948.

Calvin, John, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. by James Anderson, Eerdmanns Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1949.

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Ford Lewis Battles, John T. McNeill, ed.,Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1960.

Copernicus, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, trans. by A. M. Duncan, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1976.

Crowe, Michael J., Theories of the World from Antiquity to the Copernican Revolution, Dover Publications, New York, 1990.

Dillenberger, John, Protestant Thought and Natural Science, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1960.

Kaiser, Christopher B., "Calvin, Copernicus, and Castellio," Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, April 1986.

Koyre, Alexandre, The Astronomical Revolution, trans. by R. E. W. Maddisson, Dover Publications, New York, 1973.

Kuhn, Thomas, The Copernican Revoltution, Planetary Astronomy in the Deelopment of Western Thought, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1957.

Lindberg, David C. and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., God and Nature, Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1986.

Luther, Martin, Table Talk, vol. 54 in the series Luther's Works, Fortress Press Philadelphia, 1981.

Partee, Charles, Calvin and Classical Philosophy, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1977.

Pedersen, Olaf, Early Physics and Astronomy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993.

Rosen, Edward, "Calvin's Attitude Toward Copernicus," Journal of the History of Ideas, July Sept., 1960.

Rosen, Edward, Three Copernican Treatises, Dover Publications, New York, 1959.

Westman, Robert S., "The Melanchthon Circle, Rheticus, and the Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory," Isis, vol. 66, June, 1975.

White, Robert, "Calvin and Copernicus: The Problem Reconsidered," Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 15, November, 1980.

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