Not the Center of the Universe

This really bugs me.

People who should know better–including Ph.D.s–keep making the same mistake. I just read it in a 2008 book, which I will not name to protect the guilty.

The Myth. In the Middle Ages people believed the sun went around the earth because it put the earth and humanity at the center of the universe–elevating the prominence of humanity in the cosmos.

The Fact. According to Medieval cosmology, the hierarchy of the cosmos was from the outer extremes (most important and most perfect) down to the center (least important and least perfect). Aristotle said that the heavenly realms were so superior that they were made of something entirely different from the four elements of earth, water, air and fire. The fifth element–the quintessence, or aether–was found only in the heavenlies. In other words, the closer to the center something was, the less ethereal, and thus the more imperfect it was.

Earth, being irregular (mountains, valleys, etc.), changing and subject to corruption, was the least perfect. The moon, as Medieval cosmologists could clearly see, also had imperfections but fewer than earth. The planets were more perfect (but had an irregular motion accounted for by epicycles). The realm of stars was even more perfect. Beyond that, well, heaven of course. Some cosmologies also put the most imperfect–hell–at the very center of the earth itself.

So putting earth at the center of the cosmos was not a statement of human hubris but of human humility.

There, I feel better already.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

7 thoughts on “Not the Center of the Universe”

  1. Thanks Andy,
    I didn’t know this. You have given me a bit of information I will enjoy passing around. (Maybe the myth will disappear – eventually.)

  2. Thanks for such as enlightening info!

    Now that leads me to another question. How did the idea of Middle Ages folks being “geocentric” [in negative way] come to be? Perhaps you’ll explain in the next post?

  3. Wow, you still are a trivia nerd. And I like you all the more for it. (Okay, comology and its affects on anthropology aren’t trivial….)

    A similar irritation of mine, perpetuated by authors and editors alike: Statements that the early Church changed/reached/turned upside-down/blah blah, etc “the world”.

    The “world” included a lot more than the Roman Empire or the Mediterranean basin. I’d rant more about Asia and the Americas, but it may be more useful to point people to an IVP book — AD 33 by Colin Duriez.

  4. I hsve just heard “Robby? I believe Zacarious (SP?) today. Sunday on FM RZIM. I heard his sermon: CD125 on Secularism. I need two copies of the CD: one for me and one for my pastor, Pastor Bron Barkley, Sr. Pastor at Shalom Hebraic Christian Congregation in Kingwood, Texas. Your message here is exactly where our country is at. We need this CD–and the world needs this message. I can’t find out how to get it, so please let me know and email me quickly. It was one of the best sermons I’ve heard lately. I’m also every interested in hearing and checking out other videos. Our country is in such bad bad shape, and it is and will continue to get worse until someone defends G-d the way He must be defended.

    Shalom,

    Carol A. Knaak
    6431 Brigegate Dr.
    Spring, Texas 77373
    Home: (281) 443-6096
    Cell: (218) 785-4117
    email: cknaak@usa.com

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