Church Fathers on Geocentrism – Part 1

Map of Anaximander's universe (6th century BCE).
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The following patristic commentaries were taken from the book Galileo Was Wrong by Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett.

What is discovered is that Geocentrism was commonly taught and believed by more than just those during ‘Galileo’s time‘:

Ambrose: Worthy surely was he to stand forth as a man who might stay the course of the river, and who might say: “Sun, stand still,” and delay the night and lengthen the day, as though to witness his victory. Why? a blessing denied to Moses–he alone was chosen to lead the people into the promised land. A man he was, great in the wonders he wrought by faith, great in his triumphs. The works of Moses were of a higher type, his brought greater success. Either of these then aided by divine grace rose above all human standing. The one ruled the sea, the other heaven. (Duties of the Clergy, Bk II, Ch XX, 99)

Ambrose: But they say that the sun can be said to be alone, because there is no second sun. But the sun himself has many things in common with the stars, for he travels across the heavens, he is of that ethereal and heavenly substance, he is a creature, and is reckoned amongst all the works of God. He serves God in union with all, blesses Him with all, praises Him with all. Therefore he cannot accurately be said to be alone, for he is not set apart from the rest.(Exposition of the Christian Faith, Bk V, Ch II)

Anatolius of Alexandria: Eudemus relates in his Astrologies that Enopides found out the circle of the zodiac and the cycle “of the great year. And Thales discovered the eclipse of the sun and its period in the tropics in its constant inequality. And Anaximander discovered that the earth is poised in space, and moves round the axis of the universe. And Anaximenes discovered that the moon has her light from the sun, and found out also the way in which she suffers eclipse. And the rest of the mathematicians have also made additions to these discoveries. We may instance the facts–that the fixed stars move round the axis passing through the poles, while the planets remove from each other round the perpendicular axis of the zodiac; and that the axis of the fixed stars and the planets is the side of a pente-decagon with four-and-twenty parts. (XVII)

Aphrahat: For the sun in twelve hours circles round, from the east unto the west; and when he has accomplished his course, his light is hidden in the night-time, and the night is not disturbed by his power. And in the hours of the night the sun turns round in his rapid course, and turning round begins to run in his accustomed path. (Demonstrations, 24).

Archeleus: When the light had been diffused everywhere, God began to constitute the universe, and commenced with the heaven and the earth; in which process this issue appeared, to wit, that the midst, which is the locality of earth covered with shadow, as a consequence of the interpositions of the creatures which were called into being, was found to be obscure, in such wise that circumstances required light to be introduced into that place, which was thus situated in the midst. (Disputation with Manes, 22).

Arnobius: The moon, the sun, the earth, the ether, the stars, are members and parts of the world; but if they are parts and members, they are certainly not themselves living creatures (Arnobius Against the Heathen, Book 3, 350)

Athanasius: but the earth is not supported upon itself, but is set upon the realm of the waters, while this again is kept in its place, being bound fast at the center of the universe. (Against the Heathen, Book I, Part I)

Athanasius: For who that sees the circle of heaven and the course of the sun and the moon, and the positions and movements of the other stars, as they take place in opposite and different directions, while yet in their difference all with one accord observe a consistent order, can resist the conclusion that these are not ordered by themselves, but have a maker distinct from themselves who orders them? or who that sees the sun rising by day and the moon shining by night, and waning and waxing without variation exactly according to the same number of days, and some of the stars running their courses and with orbits various and manifold, while others move without wandering, can fail to perceive that they certainly have a creator to guide them? (Against the Heathen, Bk 1, Part III, 35)

For by a nod and by the power of the Divine Word of the Father that governs and presides over all, the heaven revolves, the stars move, the sun shines, the moon goes her circuit, and the air receives the sun’s light and the aether his heat, and the winds blow: the mountains are reared on high, the sea is rough with waves, and the living things in it grow the earth abides fixed…” (Against the Heathen, Bk 1, Part III, 44)

Athenagoras: to Him is for us to know who stretched out and vaulted the heavens, and fixed the earth in its place like a center (Why the Christians do not Offer Sacrifices, Ch XIII)

Augustine: Let not the philosophers, then, think to upset our faith with arguments from the weight of bodies; for I don’t care to inquire why they cannot believe an earthly body can be in heaven, while the whole earth is suspended on nothing. For perhaps the world keeps its central place by the same law that attracts to its center all heavy bodies. (City of God, Bk XIII, Ch 18)

Augustine: For an eclipse of the sun had also happened; and this was attributed to the divine power of Romulus by the ignorant multitude, who did not know that it was brought about by the fixed laws of the sun’s course (City of God, Bk III, Ch 15)

Augustine: This he said either of those things of which he had just been speaking–the succession of generations, the orbit of the sun, the course of rivers,–or else of all kinds of creatures. that are born and die. (City of God, Bk XII, Ch 13).

Augustine: What is there so arranged by the Author of the nature of heaven and earth as the exactly ordered course of the stars? What is there established by laws so sure and inflexible? And yet, when it pleased Him who with sovereignty and supreme power regulates all He has created, a star conspicuous among the rest by its size and splendor changed its color, size, form, and, most wonderful of all, the order and law of its course! Certainly that phenomenon disturbed the canons of the astronomers, if there were any then, by which they tabulate, as by unerring computation, the past and future movements of the stars, so as to take upon them to affirm that this which happened to the morning star (Venus) never happened before nor since. But we read in the divine books that even the sun itself stood still when a holy man, Joshua the son of Nun, had begged this from God until victory should finish the battle he had begun; and that it even went back, that the promise of fifteen years added to the life of king Hezekiah might be sealed by this additional prodigy. But these miracles, which were vouchsafed to the merits of holy men, even when our adversaries believe them, they attribute to magical arts; so Virgil, in the lines I quoted above, ascribes to magic the power to “Turn rivers backward to their source, And make the stars forget their course.” (City of God, Book XXI, Ch 8).

Augustine: Who else save Joshua the son of Nun divided the stream of the Jordan for the people to pass over, and by the utterance of a prayer to God bridled and stopped the revolving sun? Who save Samson ever quenched his thirst with water flowing forth from the jawbone of a dead ass? Who save Elias was carried aloft in a chariot of fire? (Tractates, XCI, Ch XV, 24-25, 2).

Augustine:  I desire to know the power and nature of time, by which we measure the motions of bodies, and say (for example) that this motion is twice as long as that. For, I ask, since “day” declares not the stay only of the sun upon the earth, according to which day is one thing, night another, but also its entire circuit from east even to east, according to which we say, “So many days have passed” (the nights being included when we say “so many days,” and their spaces not counted apart), since, then, the day is finished by the motion of the sun, and by his circuit from east to east, I ask, whether the motion itself is the day, or the period in which that motion is completed, or both? For if the first be the day, then would there be a day although the sun should finish that course in so small a space of time as an hour. If the second, then that would not be a day if from one sunrise to another there were but so short a period as an hour, but the sun must go round four-and-twenty times to complete a day. If both, neither could that be called a day if the sun should run his entire round in the space of an hour; nor that, if, while the sun stood still, so much time should pass as the sun is accustomed to accomplish his whole course in from morning to morning. I shall not therefore now ask, what that is which is called day, but what time is, by which we, measuring the circuit of the sun, should say that it was accomplished in half the space of time it was wont, if it had been completed in so small a space as twelve hours; and comparing both times, we should call that single, this double time, although the sun should run his course from east to east sometimes in that single, sometimes in that double time. Let no man then tell me that the motions of the heavenly bodies are times, because, when at the prayer of one the sun stood still in order that he might achieve his victorious battle, the sun stood still, but time went on. For in such space of time as was sufficient was that battle fought and ended. I see that time, then, is a certain extension. But do I see it, or do I seem to see it? Thou, O Light and Truth, wilt show me. (Confessions, Bk XI, Ch XXIII, 30)

Basil: There are inquirers into nature who with a great display of words give reasons for the immobility of the earth…It is not, they go on, without reason or by chance that the earth occupies the center of the universe…Do not then be surprised that the world never falls: it occupies the center of the universe, its natural place. By necessity it is obliged to remain in its place, unless a movement contrary to nature should displace it. If there is anything in this system which might appear probable to you, keep your admiration for the source of such perfect order, for the wisdom of God. Grand phenomena do not strike us the less when we have discovered something of their wonderful mechanism. Is it otherwise here? At all events let us prefer the simplicity of faith to the demonstrations of reason. (Nine Homilies on the Hexameron, 10)

Basil: If the sun, subject to corruption, is so beautiful, so grand.  so rapid in its move-meat, so invariable in its course; if its grandeur is in such perfect harmony with and due proportion to the universe: if, by the beauty of its nature, it shines like a brilliant eye in the middle of creation; if finally, one cannot tire of contemplating it, what will be the beauty of the Sun of Righteousness? (Homilies, 6)

Basil: From thence the sun, returning to the summer solstice, in the direction of the North, gives us the longest days.  And, as it travels farther in the air, it burns that which is over our heads, dries up the earth, ripens the grains and hastens the maturity of the fruits of the trees. (Homilies, 6, 8).

Basil: It will not lead me to give less importance to the creation of the universe, that the servant of God, Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. (Homilies, IX).

Basil: In the midst of the covering and veil, where the priests were allowed to enter, was situated the altar of incense, the symbol of the earth placed in the middle of this universe; and from  it came the fumes of incense. (The Mystic Meaning of the Tabernacle, Bk V, Ch VI; Clement of Rome, Stromata, Bk V)

Basil: Like tops, which after the first impulse, continue their evolutions, turning upon themselves when once fixed in their centre; thus nature, receiving the impulse of this first command, follows without interruption the course of ages, until the consummation of all things. (Homilies, V, 10)

John Cassian: He was a man who, after the close of his life had been decreed and the day of his death determined by the Lord’s sentence, prevailed by a single prayer to extend the limits set to his life by fifteen years, the sun returning by ten steps, on which it had already shone in its course towards its setting, and by its return dispersing those lines which the shadow that followed its course had already marked, and by this giving two days in one to the whole world, by a stupendous miracle contrary to the fixed laws of nature. Yet after signs so great and so incredible, after such immense proofs of his goodness, hear the Scripture tell how he was destroyed by his very successes. (Twelve Books on the Institutes, Bk XI, Ch X).

Chrysostom: Dost thou not see how God is daily blasphemed and mocked by believers and unbelievers, both in word and in deed? What then? Has He for this extinguished the sun? or stayed the course of the moon? Has He crushed the heavens and uprooted the earth? Has He dried up the sea? Has He shut up the fountains of waters? or confounded the air? Nay, on the contrary, He makes His sun to rise, His rain to descend, gives the fruits of the earth in their seasons, and thus supplies yearly nourishment to the blasphemers, to the insensible, to the polluted, to persecutors; not for one day or two, but for their whole life. Imitate Him then, emulate Him as far as human powers admit. Can thou not make the sun arise? (Homilies on First Timothy, Homily VI)

Chrysostom: And what took place at a later period were few and at intervals; for example, when the sun stood still in its course, and started back in the opposite direction. And this one may see to have occurred in our case also. For so even in our generation, in the instance of him who surpassed all in ungodliness, I mean Julian, many strange things happened. Thus when the Jews were attempting to raise up again the temple at Jerusalem, fire burst out from the foundations, and utterly hindered them all. (Homilies on Matthew, Homily IV)

Chrysostom: And again, David saith of the sun, that “he is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.” Seest thou how he places before thee the beauty of this star, and its greatness? For even as a bridegroom when he appears from some stately chamber, so the sun sends forth his rays under the East; and adorning the heaven as it were with a saffron-colored veil, and making the clouds like roses, and running unimpeded all the day; he meets no obstacle to interrupt his course. Beholdest thou, then, his beauty? (Homilies to Antioch, Homily X)

Chrysostom: For He not only made it, but provided also that when it was made, it should carry on its operations; not permitting it to be all immoveable, nor commanding it to be all in a state of motion. The heaven, for instance, hath remained immoveable, according as the prophet says, “He placed the heaven as a vault, and stretched it out as a tent over the earth.” But, on the other hand, the sun with the rest of the stars, runs on his course through every day. And again, the earth is fixed, but the waters are continually in motion; and not the waters only, but the clouds, and the frequent and successive showers, which return at their proper season. (Homilies to Antioch, Homily XII)

Chrysostom: [Speaking of the end of the world]: For the heaven shall be disturbed and the earth shall be shaken from its foundations by reason of the fury of the wrath of the Lord of Sabaoth, in the day when His wrath shall come upon us.” And again “windows” he saith “shall be opened from the Heaven, and the foundations of the earth shall be shaken the earth shall be mightily confounded, the earth shall be bent low, it shall be perplexed with great perplexity, the earth shall stagger grievously like the drunkard and the reveller; the earth shall shake as a hut, it shall fall and not be able to rise up again: for iniquity has waxed mighty therein. And God shall set His hand upon the host of the Heaven in the height in that day, and upon the kingdoms of the earth, and He shall gather together the congregation thereof into a prison, and shall shut them up in a stronghold.” And Malachi speaking concordantly with these said” Behold the Lord almighty cometh, and who shall abide the day of His coming or who shall stand when He appeareth? for He cometh like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers soap: and He shall sit refining and purifying as it were silver, and as it were gold.” (Letters to Theodor, Letter I, 12)

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Post By Joel Watts (10,045 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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9 thoughts on Church Fathers on Geocentrism – Part 1

  1. This mistake made by the early Church was the result of imposing outside ideas on the Scriptures, not from incorrect reading of Scripture (although they had to incorrectly interpret certain passages in order to justify their beliefs). That period in Church history is actually quite similar to today’s Christians trying to mix worldly ideas and philosophies with Christianity. It was syncretism that was the cause of the early Churches poor doctrine, not Biblical literalism. The intent of Biblical literalism is to determine the meaning the author intended. Verses taken entirely out of context is in no way an example of Biblical literalism.

    • I agree, Jason, to the extent that I try to say when speaking about the ‘bad’ kind of literalism as ‘woodenly’ literal. You are right, that we have to take context, which I like to say ‘literal in context’.

    • Amen Jason!

      A bit of science background for Joel: motion is always measured relative to something. If you live on earth, motion is normally described relative to earth. When you get a speeding ticket, is the motion of the earth rotating on its axis included in the calculation? If not, does that imply the authorities think the earth is fixed in space? There is no other way in human language to accurately describe the motion of planets in everyday language; a straight forwarding reading of Scripture is fully compatible with modern science.

      Throughout history humans have been geocentric in thinking as that is their normal frame of reference. I suspect the church fathers thought this way. The quotes do not prove the point, as heliocentrist commonly use the same language.

      For the most part the Catholic church tolerated heliocentrism as long as it was discussed as a theory. The only one who promoted heliocentrism who was burned at the stake (Bruno) was also a heretic. The church did not take the strong stand against heliocentrism that Joel implies, it never fuel the fires of the inquisition. Even wikipedia acknowledges that with Galileo it was primarily the academics influenced by the Greek thought that opposed Galileo.

      • Jean, while your condescension is just super awesome, I actually no more science than you think.

        No, Jean, the fact is that a straight forward reading of the bible produces ONLY geocentrism. Sorry, but in describing scientific would not use the same language as those ancients who knew things only by sight. You can try that little parlor trick, but it is rather dishonest.

        While… so my implication, which I didn’t make, says things that I didn’t say. Again, super duper awesome.

        And yea, Wiki is fine for a few things, but I wouldn’t base too much on it.

  2. “For me, I tie my faith to Christ, in Christ and because of Christ. That I understand is important.”

    Yup. Me, too.

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