10 December 2018 from 15:15 to 17:00

Huygens - Descartes Premodern History of Knowledge Colloquium with Steven Vanden Broecke

On 10 December the Descartes – Huygens Premodern History of Knowledge Colloquium will be held in Amsterdam. Presenter is Prof. Steven Vanden Broecke (University Gent). His lecture is entitled: How to be a Catholic Copernican in the Southern Netherlands.

The notion of Catholic Copernicanism in the aftermath of the Galileo affair remains something of an apparent oxymoron . It has been suggested that after the Galileo affair of 1633, cosmological truth went underground in the Catholic world for many decades, thus creating an asymmetry in the role played by Catholic and Protestant Europe in the so-called “Scientific Revolution” of the 17th century. This story remains an important reference for the history of science in the Spanish Netherlands. Living in a region that the Tridentine Church approached as a northern bulwark against the Reformation, we are told that natural philosophers suffered increasing control by “the hair-splitting orthodoxy of the Counter-Reformation”.  Likewise, the Galileo affairs are held to have shaped new doctrinal conformism, under which cosmological reflection became confined to private rooms and correspondence with intimate friends. Interestingly, the claim that Roman orthodoxy determined Catholic attitudes to Copernicanism after 1633 does not seem to apply to France. 

Prof. Steven Vanden Broeke

As Lisa Sarasohn already pointed out in 1988, growing State control over religious affairs and individual theological or epistemological convictions were more decisive in shaping French attitudes to Copernicanism than Roman disciplinary power. This result calls for a re-evaluation of the situation in the neighboring Spanish Netherlands. Was cosmological truth imposed top-down as a non-negotiable product, as standard narratives appear to suggest? In this paper, I will argue that it was not. Instead, historical evidence suggests a situation where Roman directives were appropriated under local criteria for adequate cosmological truth telling, and where the notion of public Catholic Copernicanism continued to be a tangible reality. My goal is not to suggest that in a strongly Catholic region like the Spanish Netherlands, Copernican convictions were entirely unproblematic after the events of 1616-1633. I would like to argue, however, that even after the Galileo trial, local Catholic engagement with Copernicanism was far more nuanced than a classic narrative of condemnation and censorship would have us believe. In order to do this, we may turn to one of the 17th-century astronomers working in the Spanish Netherlands: Govaert Wendelen (1580-1667). 


Start date and time
10 December 2018 15:15
End date and time
10 December 2018 17:00