View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

Osiander's Introduction

The implications of Copernicus’ novel cosmology were muted in part because an anonymous introduction had been added to his great book, De revolutionibus, when it was printed in 1543. This was done in collusion with the Nuremberg printer by the proofreader, Andreas Osiander, who was a learned Lutheran clergyman at the St. Lorenz Kirche. Osiander wrote (and I paraphrase it), “You may be troubled by the ideas in this book, fearing that all of liberal arts are about to be thrown into confusion. But don’t worry. An astronomer should make careful observations, and then frame hypotheses so that planetary positions can be established for any time. This our author has done well. But such hypotheses need not be true nor even probable. Perhaps a philosopher will seek truth, but an astronomer will just take what is simplest, and neither will find anything certain unless it has been divinely revealed to him. So if you expect to find truth here, beware, lest you leave a greater fool than when you entered.”

Some critics, beginning with the head of the cathedral where Copernicus worked, have decried this introduction as contrary to Copernicus’ own views concerning the reality of his vision. But had Osiander’s interpretation not been there so conspicuously, it seems clear that both the Lutherans and the Catholics would have independently invented it. The rearrangement of their traditional sacred geography would have been too severe to assimilate all at once. As it was, Osiander’s introduction disarmed religious critics and made it possible for advanced students all over Europe to examine its ideas. Among them was Johannes Kepler who became the enthusiastic Copernican realist, and it was Kepler, together with Galileo who entertained similar opinions, who really set the Copernican pot aboil.

Contributed by: Dr. Owen Gingerich

Cosmic Questions

Did the Universe Have a Beginning? Topic Index
Scientific Cosmology Meets Western Theology: A Historical Perspective

Osiander's Introduction

The Challenge of Copernicus
Two Mythological Arguments
Objections to Copernicus
Hubble's Expanding Universe and Lemaître's Primeval Atom
The Steady-State, Big Bang and Religion
Too Easy an Answer?


Owen Gingerich

Related Media:

Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are We Alone?
Interview Index
The Copernican Solar System
Ptolemy's Solar System
  Media Index

Other Resources:

The Rise of Copernicanism
The Galileo Affair
Glossary Terms
Bonus Material Home...