On this day in 1616, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. But I put it that way because I’m suffering from heartburn and feeling very old today. (It is my little sister’s 51st birthday today!) Anyway, the book in question is Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, and it was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books.
As I’ve noted before, Copernicus had the right idea, but his theory was a mess. Since he assumed that the planets go around the sun in circles, his predictions weren’t good. It would take Johannes Kepler — who was working this all out just as Copernicus was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books — before we got a proper theory of the solar system.
I was thinking, though, that maybe it’s not wrong to withhold distressful information from people. To me, it is more a matter that the idea would never occur to me. That way of thinking is so foreign to me that I’ve never given it any real thought. Obviously, that’s mostly due to the time and place of my birth. But I know a lot of people who are always jumping to the conclusion less information is better. And I just find it bizarre.
Of course, it doesn’t appear that Copernicus’ book was banned because the Church was concerned that it was going to cause riots. It appears it was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books for the same reason that most government documents are classified: because it was embarrassing. It’s not like the Church had made countless reversals previously without everyone losing faith in the Church.
And note: this all happened over 70 years after the book was published. And the book was published after Copernicus died, because he was a careful man. And the Church didn’t care that much anyway. It was just that Galileo was making a lot of noise, and there are always people, as I said, keen to stop the flow of information.