In the early Church, astronomy, like other branches of science, was looked upon as futile, since the New Testament taught that the earth was soon to be destroyed and new heavens created.
The heavenly bodies were looked upon by the theologians as either living beings possessing souls, or as the habitation of the angels. However, as time passed, the geocentric doctrine, the doctrine that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun and planets revolve about it, was the theory that held the highest respect.
Copernicus, in 1543, was first to bring clearly before the world the then astounding theory that the earth and planets revolve about the sun. But not until he was on his deathbed did he dare to publish it, for he well knew the opposition with which it would be met. Even then he published it with an apologetic, lie by a friend Osiander, that Copernicus had propounded the doctrine of the earth's movement not as a fact, but as a hypothesis.
"Thus was the greatest and most ennobling, perhaps, of scientific truths a truth not less ennobling to religion than to science forced in coming before the world, to sneak and crawl." (White: "History of Warfare of Science with Theology."
During the next seventy years the matter slumbered, until Galileo upheld the Copernican doctrine as the truth, and proved it to be the truth by his telescope. Immediately the Church condemned the statements of Copernicus and forbade Galileo to teach or discuss them. All books which affirmed the motion of the earth were forbidden, and to read the work of Copernicus was declared to risk damnation. All branches of the Protestant Church, Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, vied with each other in denouncing the Copernican doctrine.
One man, Giordano Bruno dared to assert the truth in the hearing of the Papacy. For this heresy he was hunted from land to land, finally trapped in Venice, imprisoned at Rome, burned alive, and his ashes scattered to the winds!
Against Galileo, the war against the Copernican theory was concentrated. His discoveries were declared to be deceptions, and his announcements blasphemy when, in 1610, he announced that his telescope had revealed the moons of the planet Jupiter.
In 1615, Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition at Rome, and forced to promise that he would "relinquish altogether the opinion that the sun is the center of the world, and immovable, and that the earth moves, nor henceforth to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatsoever verbally or in writing."
Pope Paul V solemnly rendered the decree that "the doctrine of the double motion of the earth about its axis and about the sun is false and entirely contrary to Holy Scripture."
The climax of this instance of the infallibility of the Church occurred when in his seventieth year Galileo was again brought before the Inquisition; he was forced to abjure under threats of torture and imprisonment by command of Pope Urban a truth which, in this day, is taken for granted by the youngest of children. Galileo was then kept in exile for the rest of his days, died, and was buried ignobly, apart from his family, without fitting ceremony, without monument or epitaph.
As late as 1873 there was published, in St. Louis, a work by a president of a Lutheran teachers' seminary in which he stated that the earth is the principal body of the universe, that it stands fixed, and that the sun and moon only serve to light it.
Astronomy brings forth a noble array of men who have, by their intense desire for the truth, persevered against the Church, and in spite of the vilest opposition of that Church, brought to the attention of man laws that have given a meaning and order to our universe.