The medieval European belief in the concept of a fixed Earth and a Sun
orbiting Earth was based upon literal interpretation of a couple of
statements included in Bible verses.
Possibly the most important of these scriptural references to a
geocentric cosmological system was Joshua 10:12-13:
"Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up
the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight
of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the
valley of Ajalon.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had
avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book
of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted
not to go down about a whole day."
By taking these verses literally, medieval theologists regarded them
as clear biblical (and thus established) evidence that indeed the Sun
Additional biblical proof for a moving Sun was seen in Ecclesiastes
1:5, where it is said:
"The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his
place where he arose."
Other biblical verses were interpreted as scriptural evidence that the
Earth is fixed and immovable:
"(...) the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved."
"Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever."
1 Chronicles 16:30
"(...) the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved."
Upon these text passages from the Old Testament, theologians based the
doctrine of a fixed Earth with the Sun orbitting it. For example,
Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) referred to these passages,
when he became involved in the controversy about Galileo Galilei's
work. On 12 April 1615, he wrote in a letter, refusing Galilei's
scientific concept of the Sun being orbited by the Earth which proved
wrong the doctrine:
"I say that, as you know, the Council [of Trent] prohibits expounding
the Scriptures contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers.
And if Your Reverence would read not only the Fathers but also the
commentaries of modern writers on Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and
Josue, you would find that all agree in explaining literally (ad
litteram) that the sun is in the heavens and moves swiftly around the
earth, and that the earth is far from the heavens and stands immobile
in the center of the universe."
And even reformer Martin Luther was still a man of medieval
Scripture-based cosmology. In 1539, he commented the ideas of German
astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who had made a case of a cosmological
system with the Sun in the center and all planets including the Earth
orbiting it, with the deprecative statement:
"Der Narr will die ganze Kunst Astronomiae umkehren! Aber wie die
Heilige Schrift anzeigt, so hiess Josua die Sonne still stehen und
nicht das Erdreich."
("That fool tries to distort the entire art of astronomy! But as the
Holy Scripture shows, Joshua commended the Sun to stand still, and not
University of Notre Dame: Ideas in Society - Robert, Cardinal Bellarmine
Skeptics Corner: Sun, stand thou still - by Louis W. Cable
Leadership U: Luther and Science, by Donald H. Kobe
Womenpriests.org: The Case of Galileo Galilei
Spiritual Stars of the Golden Age: Galileo Galilei
Web Bible Network
Die Demütigen und die Militanten, by Paul N. Siegel (in German)
Search terms used:
sun earth joshua galilei
"Joshua 10" galilei
"sonne um die erde" stillzustehen
"to the common agreement of the Holy Fathers"
"The sun knows its time for setting"
luther kopernikus "der narr" erdreich
"die ganze Kunst Astronomiae umkehren"
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