What are Copernicus' contributions to the Renaissance?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nicolaus Copernicus's greatest contribution to the Renaissance—and the world itself—is undoubtedly the heliocentric model of the solar system.

Before Copernicus published his theories on the universe, the generally accepted model of the universe was a geocentric model that assumed Earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus's model wasn't completely correct, but it was closer than that of others at the time. It also created a foundation for other scientists to build on.

Of course, Copernicus's views weren't widely accepted during his time. According to A&E's Biography: 

Around 1514, [Copernicus] shared his findings in the Commentariolus. His second book on the topic, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, was banned by the Roman Catholic Church decades after his May 24, 1543 death in Frombork.

It took more than one hundred years after his death for people to take him seriously. His ideas were a serious challenge to the religious hierarchy of the time. Almost one hundred years later, Galileo Galilei was even punished for continuing Copernicus's ideas and saying that Earth revolves around the sun. The very idea was deemed heresy. 

One thing Copernicus achieved through the publication of his ideas was standing as a symbol of an educated scientist who was undermined by religious fundamentalists, according to the eNotes guide on Copernicus. Though other people later took that mantle, he still functioned as a rallying point for those who believed deeply in their ideas about science but were persecuted by religious figures. 

Copernicus did other things in his life. For example, he was the first person in Poland to translate Theophilactus Symocatta from Greek into Latin. He held many positions as well, from doctor to mapmaker to diplomat and advisor to the Prussian Diet. Still, though, his major remaining contribution to the Renaissance—and what he is well-known for—is his heliocentric model of the universe.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my mind, Copernicus' greatest contributions to the Renaissance was the transformative idea that the Earth revolves around the sun.  The basic premise of the Renaissance was to construct theories and ideas that represented transformation and change.  The Renaissance allowed individuals to see what could be as opposed to what is.  It was  a movement conscious of this level of altering the most fundamental of human perceptions of self and world.  Copernicus' analysis and work represents this.  He was not content with the advancement of Earth centered theories that provided a sense of consolation, to a great extent, in trying to make human beings the "center" of the world.  Rather, he was forceful in suggesting that the sun was the basic center of the solar system.  In making such an assertion with scientific analysis, Copernicus actually ended up representing how powerful human beings can be in changing people's minds and how individuals think.  This is a Renaissance element in its purest form.  At the same time, Copernicus was skilled in so many different areas in terms of math, science, politics, and literature that he was able to advance his theory and demonstrate skill in multiple realms that the idea of a "Renaissance" figure was embodied in his being.  In both of these notions, one sees how Copernicus can be seen as a Renaissance figure and in doing so, Copernicus contributes a significant amount to the Renaissance time period.

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