Early Christianity and the Hazard of the Ptolemaic View
- - - Michael Bakunin
In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set out in his quest to reach the East Indes much in the same manner Christopher Columbus tried to do, and also to circumnavigate the earth (Magellan was killed during the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines and did not make it), which proved to everyone at the time that the earth was round, not flat on pillars under a sky dome. The Catholic Church however, still stuck to the flat earth theory for almost another 200 years, long having denied as contrary to Holy Scripture the Copernican view affirming the double revolution [motion] of the earth (about its axis and about the sun).
Pythagoras believed the planets revolved around the sun in the sixth century, and the ancient Greeks used trigonometry to get a very good estimate concerning the circumference on the earth; Jean Foucault (1819-1868) in 1851 used a pendulum that bears his name to show the earth moved about its axis. Galileo and his use of the telescope showed the planet Jupiter had moons. Many ancient people believed the earth was round, and this prevailed until the Church gained prominence.
To understand why, one has to see what early Christianity took from the Canon to construct the Ptolemaic [flat earth] theory. The story of Babel (Chaldean in origin) will make more sense. The early Church leaders merely combined various Biblical passages in the most logical fashion they could:
Genesis 1:6 - And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
Genesis 1:7 - And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
Genesis 1:8 - And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
Genesis 1:16 - And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also.
Psalms 19:4 -Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath He set a tabernacle [tent] for the sun,
Psalms 19:5 - Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
Ecclesiastes 1:4 -One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth [lasts] for ever.
Joshua 10:12 - Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and He said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
Joshua 10:13 - And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
Isaiah 38:8 - Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
Job 9:1 -Then Job answered and said,
Job 9:2 - I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?
Job 9:3 - If he will contend with Him, he cannot answer Him one of a thousand.
Job 9:4 - He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?
Job 9:5 - Which removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in His anger.
Job 9:6 - Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.
Kindly see what the early Church minds managed, using only the Bible as their guide, as proper interpretations to what they literally took as the word of God. Given what they had, they did a rather explicit job:
From Genesis 1:6-8 the Church got the idea of the firmament [Heaven], implying fixed and immovable. The firmament is where God and the angels dwelled. Well, obviously.
From Genesis 1:16 the Church got the idea that the moon cast its own light, and was not reflecting light from the sun. This is worth nothing because if the earth, in double revolution, was in the path of sunlight to the moon, then the moon was reflecting sunlight back to earth.
From Psalms 19:4-5 the Church got the idea that the sun came out of a chamber and was sent forth on a set path in the sky from a tent. More on the notion of angels moving the lights in the firmament idea later.
From Ecclesiastes 1:4 the Church got the idea that the earth was also immovable as the firmament.
From Joshua 10:12-13 the Church got the idea that the sun, being able to be commanded to stand still and do so, was clearly the celestial body that moved, and not the earth; the earth was truly the center of the universe. On a side note, even Gibbon (Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire) noted that many events in the sky were recorded by many people, including comets and eclipses, but only the Israelites manage to capture in writing the most fantastic event ever to bear witness to man: the stillness of the sun. He implied it must not have happened as everyone else on the planet would have taken great note of this event.
From Isaiah 38:8 the Church got the notion that God can make the sun move backwards as easily as forwards, and it suffices to say that besides the writer(s) of this book, no one else on the planet noticed the sun moving west to east, a grand scale celestial event in reverse.
From the passages of Job we get the idea that God is powerful enough to make the earth tremble on its pillars; earth obviously had pillars to hold it up above hell.
One can now understand the story of Babel: if the earth is flat and the firmament is just above, one should be able to build a tower high enough to get to heaven, the glass dome in the sky (some theologians at the time disagreed whether the compostion was ice or crystal). From a Christian standpoint, Babel signifies the diversity of languages and thus the birth of different nations. However, many believe Babel was actually a place of centralized worship or commerce, so the people would have some common meeting point, and they were not interested in trying to reach up and meet God and the angels, but I digress.
But the Church, in its *wisdom,* did not stop there, and decided to augment the Ptolemaic view with a hierarchy of angels responsible for the movement of every star in the firmament along with the moon and the sun. This was not inspired by Scripture, and I will explain how they envisioned this to happen so that the astute reader can understand just how unimaginative the early Church leaders were. If someone is going to concoct a notion about angels moving lights, a child can fancy a more beautiful description than this, but the Church sought to imagine itself wherever they so chose:
- the Pope sat in the chair of Saint Peter, as did God sit in the central throne in Heaven
- the Pope was surrounded by the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, as was God surrounded by the three choirs [orders] of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones
- all subject to the Pope, as were all answerable to the LORD
- the order of each successive sphere, i.e., a series of invisible domes on top of others, all moving freely within themselves: the first, the moon; the second, Mercury; the third, Venus; the fourth, the sun; the fifth, Mars; the sixth, Jupiter; the seventh, Saturn; and the eight, the rest of the stars of the firmament; the ninth, the primum mobile; the tenth, the Empyrean where God dwelt, encopassing all other nine spheres (Dante's Inferno comes to mind)
- there were three hierarchies of the firmament; the Empyrean (i.e., a tenth sphere), the heavens (all other nine spheres), and earth (i.e., the zero sphere, so to speak, and was immovable)
- the first hierarchy of the angels in the Empyrean was divided into three: the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, all of whose glory was to incessantly chant in the divine; and the Thrones were charged with communicating God's will to the second hierarchy
- the second hierachy of angels was split into three (a pattern here on this number): the first is the order of the Dominions, who received from the Thrones the LOGOS [the word of God]; the second, the order of Powers, who moved the sun, the moon, and the stars, and opened and shut the 'windows of heaven' [precipitation]; and lastly the third, the order of the Empire, to guard the Dominions and the Powers against the fallen angels
- the last hierarchy of angels were for earth: the first order was the Principalities, which guarded nations and kingdoms; the second were the Archangels, which protected religion, bearing the name of the prayers of the saints (and useful in Sodam and Gomorrah, the killing of the first born in Egypt, and other *virtuous* deeds); and the third, the Angels, who looked after earthly affairs, so everyone had a guardian angel, and also useful for animals, trees, fish, etc.
Interesting. But not imaginative, since it reflected directly the Pope, igne atque ferre, and how he saw how he ruled the known world. It does get better: the pillars of earth held it above hell, populated by other angels in service to the fallen prince of the Seraphim, the most beautiful (so called) Prince of Light: Lucifer. The story about the rebellion led by him over hubris and then tossed out of heaven with a third of the other angels gave us this nonsense. Beneath the earth, they sometimes caused trouble with the other good angels of the firmament, and the Church believed disease, famine, and storms were responsible by these fallen angels (especially Lucifer). And, of course, responsible in tempting man to sin. Other theologians would say this was God's will, to punish those who needed it and testing the vigor of mankind. Nonsense begetting nonsense.
The Ptolemaic view is rather excessive story telling on part of the clergy to explain the movements of the sky as opposed to the simpler Copernican theory concerning the double revolution of the earth. But the Church, especially the Pope, with papal infallibility (i.e., a tautology: the belief the Pope could not err, because he was the Pope... he had this power because he, as the Pope, said he could not err) pressed this view on the laity and universities throughout Europe years after Galileo's death; the threat of being hauled before the Holy Office [Inquisition] did a great deal to stifle natural progress. Many universities were forbidden by the Church from teaching the Copernican view, and the Protestant Church [Lutheran] did the same. There is a rather long discourse on how Christianity finally submitted to the truth, and I will make no attempt to do so in this blog.