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Between Copernicus and Galileo: Christoph Clavius and the Collapse of Ptolemaic Astronomy.

Clavius (1538-1612) has been a subject of tangential interest to historians of the science revolution, but prior to the book here under review there has been no detailed study of his thought or his place in that revolution. Lattis's work fills a void in the literature, and it does so in several ways.

L. gives a comprehensive account of Clavius's contributions to astronomy; he supplies superb pedagogical aids for those who would study the conceptual changes that took place between Ptolemy and Galileo; and he covers in some detail how Jesuit mathematician-astronomers and philosopher-theologians reacted in different ways to astronomical discoveries in the late-16th and early-17th centuries. Some, such as Robert Bellarmine, held for a fluid-heaven through which planets move "like fish in the sea"; others, such as Benedict Pereira, continued to defend Aristotle's universe of homocentric spheres; yet others, such as Christopher Grienberger, inclined at first toward Copernicus's heliocentrism. After the latter's condemnation in 1616, however, most Jesuit mathematicians subscribed to Tycho Brahe's geo-heliocentrism as best in accord with Scripture and Galileo's telescopic discoveries.

Against this background L. portrays Clavius as certainly the preeminent theoretical astronomer in his day, yet one who was preoccupied with integrating Ptolemaic planetary theory within Aristotelian physics as understood in the 16th century. So, unimpressed by Brahe, he defended a universe of solid (as opposed to fluid) orbs enhanced with eccentrics and epicycles. In my view this portrayal makes Clavius somewhat too intransigent on the solidity and eccentric-epicycle issues. Just as, after initial opposition, he was won over by Galileo's findings, he would have endorsed Kepler's discovery of elliptical orbits had he lived to see the evidence. But that is a matter of interpretation. For the facts, L. has given us the best account of Clavius and his work now available.

WILLIAM A. WALLACE, O.P. Catholic University of America
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Author:Wallace, William A.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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