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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Copernicus’s epitaph (Non parem…); Part 26b

[2018-04-15: appendix added below in red - misleading judgment by Ludwig Fuerbringer in 1932]
      This continues from Part 26a, a series on Copernicanism and Geocentricity (see Intro & Contents in Part 1) in response to a letter from a young person ("Josh") who asked if I believed Geocentricity ... and did not ridicule me in his question.
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      In the previous post, C.F.W. Walther asserted that Copernicus made his own epitaph.  But...


       But other historians of the 19th century (and contemporaries of C.F.W. Walther) Leopold Prowe (see this document here), C.E. Luthardt (see pgs 187-188 here and item #13 here), and Philip Schaff (see here, # 986) had assumed that since so many years had passed between Copernicus's death (1543) and the placing of his epitaph (~1570), the epitaph wording could not have been chosen by Copernicus himself. Concerning Pyrnesius, Prowe states (p. 374 footnote **translated): "It is not even possible to say with certainty which confession he [Pyrnesius] belonged to...".  While historian Prowe may doubt whether Pyrnesius was Lutheran, I have discovered that he received his medical training at... Wittenberg (see bottom p. 101 here).  Let the reader judge on this point.  We will see later a differing opinion from historian Robert Westman who, in contrast to Prowe and Luthardt, does not follow their denial and leaves the possibility open that indeed the wording for the epitaph may have been chosen by Copernicus himself.

      Franz Pieper also touched on the subject of Copernicus's epitaph in his essay presented to the 1924 Oregon-Washington District convention entitled “Theses on Unionism”.  The full text of this essay (translated by Pastor Kenneth K. Miller) is available here.  The following is an excerpt where Pieper refer's to Copernicus's epitaph:
Whether Copernicus or someone else composed his epitaph is unknown, but it expresses the attitude of all Christians before God. It says,
      Not that grace that Paul received do I seek;
      Nor the kindness with which Thou didst draw Peter;
      Just that which on the cross Thou didst promise the thief;
            Just for that do I beg.
Pieper did not follow Walther in his assertion on who made or chose the epitaph.  I could let this subject rest with Pieper's judgment and just leave it that it is unknown whether Copernicus actually chose this epitaph wording.  After all, next to Walther, I highly regard Pieper's judgment in matters of not only theology but also history.  He was highly informed of practically all these matters in his time. And Pieper wrote his comments 44 years after Walther's 1880 piece, plenty of time for the research of historians to be made public.

However...
Image result for robert s. westman
Robert Westman
      In support of Walther's claim, I would call attention to a writing of the historian of Copernicus, Robert Westman, in his book The Copernican Question (p. 139, bolding mine):
Melchior Pyrnesius (d. 1589), a younger fellow townsman and physician, commissioned the portrait and the epitaph. That Pyrnesius was carrying out Copernicus’s wishes in the choice of wording for the epitaph cannot entirely be ruled out.  The Latin, in sapphic meter, was one of thirty-four odes on Christ’s suffering written in 1444 by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who later reigned as Pope Pius II (1458-64):
      Not grace the equal of Paul’s do I ask,
      Nor Peter’s pardon seek, but what
      To a thief you granted on the wood of the cross,
      This I do earnestly pray for.
      An earlier historian from the 19th century, Johann Heinrich Kurtz († 1890), had stated (see pg 47, footnote): “As to the religious sentiments of Copernicus, it is sufficient here to quote the epitaph, which may yet be read upon his monument, in the ‘Johanneskirche,’ in Thorn, and which was conceived by himself for the purpose it now serves”.  However Kurtz is not reliable because of his accommodating stance towards astronomy and the Bible (see his book here) , so I do not rest on his judgment.

Bishop Tiedmann Giese
Bishop Tiedemann Giese
      Also in support of Walther’s claim of Copernicus’s faith, there is his closest friend Bishop Tiedemann Giese.  See here for an old German biography of him.  See this translation of some sentences that indicate Giese, who described Copernicus’s end to Rheticus, allowed “innovations” (read as “evangelical teachings”) at Thorn and was not so adverse to the reformation, even if he wrote some early pieces against the reformation.  Owen Gingerich reports (The Book Nobody Read, p. 180) “Tiedemann Giese described the end in a heartfelt letter to Rheticus.”  I wish that I could find out exactly what Bishop Giese wrote in this letter.  Rheticus was considered a Lutheran to the Romanists.  Westman reports (p. 138): “And Giese shared the characteristic Erasmian view that gentle persuasion could achieve more than sharp criticism and satire. Differences of opinion could be resolved through love and toleration; Christian unity must come from within the church.”  The "Deutche Biographie" webpage says (translated from the German):
"His irenic, ready attitude for concessions to the doctrines of the Reformation shows up in his theological writings."  
In the "Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie" on Giese, it states (translated from the German):
In his capacity as Bishop of Culm, Giese advanced towards the religious innovations where they showed themselves openly, for example in Thorn, ...  This circumstance in conjunction with his more irenic character and the relations in which he stood toward Protestant relatives and scholars, had earned him a reputation among the later Prussian church historians for not sufficiently fulfilling the duties of his office, and was not decided enough in his Catholic convictions.
If anyone reads this blog and knows where to find the content of Giese's letter to Rheticus, I would like to know of it and its contents. —  Owen Gingerich quotes Bishop Giese elsewhere where he confesses that he does not want Copernicus's book to be viewed as overturning the Bible:
Giese then asked Copernicus’s first and only disciple, the Lutheran scholar Georg Joachim Rheticus, to insert in the copies not yet sold a short apologia “by which you have so skillfully defended the idea that the motion of the earth is not contrary to the Holy Scriptures.”
We may notice that Giese followed the "accommodation theory", but this quote clearly shows reverence for the Sacred Scriptures, something that Walther pointed out to be absolutely necessary for a Christian. — If anyone is a key to an understanding of the faith of Copernicus, it would likely be Bishop Giese.
J. G. Rösner
martyred in 1724


The history of Thorn Prussia/Poland (now Toruń) after Copernicus's death is ripe with Reformation history!  Just read the history of the Tumult of Thorn (Toruń) and the biography of Johann Gottfried Rösner, the martyred Lutheran mayor who confessed as he was about to be murdered by the Jesuits (God's Playground A History of Poland: Volume 1, p. 141):
“Be satisfied with my body; my Soul is my Saviour's”
Poor Poland!  The Reformation shone brightly for a time in that land... only to be snuffed out.  Could it be that Bishop Tiedemann Giese was in part responsible for the admittance of the doctrine of the Reformation in his land?  Could it be that Bishop Giese comforted his close friend Copernicus at his last hour with the glorious message of the Gospel of Grace that had dawned on Christendom anew?  Could it be that this was the reason for his "heartfelt" letter to Rheticus who was considered a Lutheran?  — (For more on the Reformation in Poland, see this)
      In the next Part 26c, I review evidence on Copernicus himself...

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2018-04-15 – 
Appendix
Misleading judgment of Ludwig Fuerbringer

      I came across a short blurb by the third president of Concordia Seminary Ludwig Fuerbringer where he overturns to a degree the judgment of the two previous presidents.  This was published in the April 1932 Concordia Theological Monthly, p. 297-299, 10 months after Franz Pieper's passing.  Below is my translation from the German of a portion of his comment:

In one of the above articles about Dr. Pieper I had also mentioned the inscription on the tomb of Copernicus, and suggested that this inscription did not stem from Copernicus himself. A writer asks how it actually is with this inscription. It is indeed widely believed that this inscription, written on Copernicus's tomb in St. John’s Church of Thorn [now Torun], was written by himself, and it has been cited many times as evidence that this famous astronomer  had given expression in keeping with his Christian faith. But this is an old, ever-recurring mistake.  … The well-known theologian C. E. Luthardt, who in the first editions of his “Apologetic Lectures on the Fundamental Truths of Christianity” represented the above assumption and used the verse accordingly, 3) has proved in the later editions of these lectures, by Prowe’s better work on Copernicus, corrected this statement and made an effort to remove the error from the world.4)
The much-quoted verse does not come from Copernicus, but is a stanza taken from the poem of Aenaeus Sylvius Piccolomini De Passione Domini [see here] and which the city physician at Thorn, Dr. Melchior Pyrnesius († 1589), put on the monument for Copernicus built in his day. Copernicus is depicted with folded hands in front of a crucifix; next to the left arm is a skull and in the background a celestial globe and next to it a compass, and under the right arm is that stanza. As far as I know, there are no testimonies for the piety and ecclesiastical convictions of Copernicus. His moral life is not without shadows, and in the circle of his cathedral chapter there was an air of Erasmus. But the verse itself remains in all honor and beautifully expresses a thought that is truly worth holding on to.  And the strange thing is that the author of this stanza, the author of the above-mentioned poem, became known in church history under the name of Pope Pius II. The Piccolomini were a famous line of Italians, and several members of this family have emerged in the history of their time. L.F.
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3) Fifth edition, p. 65, 262 [ or 7th ed.; English ed. p. 90;  366].
Fuerbringer again shows his weakness as a theologian by being overawed by the likes of Luthardt, Prowe, and Schaff, and completely discarding the judgment of C.F.W. Walther and partially overruling Pieper's judgment.  Fuerbringer took a step beyond what Pieper stated in 1924, that "whether Copernicus or someone else composed his epitaph is unknown".  No, Fuerbringer had to go beyond Pieper's judgment of "unknown" to make the additional assertion that "the much-quoted verse did not come from Copernicus". We have also seen elsewhere where Fuerbringer was lax in exactness in historical details. — Again, I believe that Walther was well aware of the findings of Prowe who wrote his history well before 1880 when Walther published his statement.  Walther was not willing to follow the crowd of church historians but could see through the events during the times of the Reformation and made his assertion in full view of Prowe's and Luthardt's judgments.  And now even the current historian of Copernicus, Robert Westman, has admitted that "Copernicus’s wishes in the choice of wording for the epitaph cannot entirely be ruled out" (see above).