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Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus by January Matejko, late 1800s, Frombork, Poland





By the Middle Ages philosopher-theologians like Thomas Aquinas had synthesized Christianity and Reason, thus wedding Aristotle’s newly rediscovered philosophy to the medieval church. Aristotle’s outermost sphere, or Prime Mover, became identified with the Christian heaven, and the Earth at the center reflected god’s central concern for mankind. No matter that the Catholic Church now embraced ideas that had originated with pagan Greek philosophers; to challenge them had become heresy.

The year Columbus discovered America, Nicolaus Copernicus matriculated with his brother in Krakow in Latin, mathematics, astronomy, geography and philosophy. Astronomy in Copernicus’ time, however, was not the modern, observational science it is today. It consisted rather of mathematical courses introducing Ptolemy’s and Aristotle’s views, enabling students to follow the calendar, calculate holy days, and master maritime navigation. Indeed, most of what then passed for astronomy was actually astrology, including the teaching of casting personal horoscopes from exact times of birth.

In response to his guardian uncle in the clergy and to provide security for his pursuit of learning (his father had died when he was 10), Copernicus embarked on a career in the church, continuing with canon law, medicine, and astronomy in Bologna and Padua. And in those days astrology was taught to him not only in his astronomy courses, but was used by physicians in the medical profession as well.

Then, with the distribution to a few of his friends of a small, hand-written book with no credit of authorship, in 1514 Nicolaus Copernicus initiated a great arc of change known as the Copernican Revolution. Known as the Little Commentary, his book postulated seven revolutionary axioms, the last being the most significant. No one prior to Copernicus had correctly explained the retrograde motion of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (Uranus was not discovered until 1781). His seven axioms were:

  1. There is no one centre in the universe.

  2. The Earth’s centre is not the centre of the universe.

  3. The centre of the universe is near the sun.

  4. The distance from the Earth to the sun is imperceptible compared with the distance to the stars.

  5. The rotation of the Earth accounts for the apparent daily rotation of the stars.

  6. The apparent annual cycle of movements of the sun is caused by the Earth revolving round it.

  7. The apparent retrograde motion of planets is caused by the motion of the Earth from which one observes.

It wasn’t until the last year of his life that Copernicus published his great work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). He received his first copy of his great work, written in Latin, on his deathbed.

This Nicolaus Copernicus page and much of this 600-page website are excerpted from You and the Universe, a fine art book on astrology, mythology and astronomy through which the recipient's complete astrological reading is woven.


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