Renaissance science as a whole aroused discord within the church. Even though Copernicus dedicated his great book to the pope, Christendom did not welcome a theory that questioned the belief in an earth-centered, human-centered universe. By Copernicus’s time, Western Christendom was preoccupied by its division into the warring factions of Catholic and Protestant. To what extent was the Renaissance responsible for the Reformation?
In the medieval curriculum music was grouped with the sciences because mathematics underlies musical theory and notation. The mainstay of medieval sacred music was the Gregorian chant or plainsong, which relied on a single voice. At the close of the Middle Ages musicians in the Low Countries and northern France developed the technique of polyphony, which combined several voices in complicated harmony.
The year 1543 marked the publication of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Concerning the Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies). Born in Poland of German extraction, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) studied law and medicine at Padua and other Italian universities and spent thirty years as canon of a cathedral near Danzig.
His work in mathematics and astronomy led him to attack the hypothesis of the geocentric (earth- centered) universe. In its place he advanced the revolutionary new hypothesis of the heliocentric (sun-centered) universe.
The most important invention of the Renaissance—the technology for printing books—furnishes a case history of how many individual advances contribute to an end result. The revolution in book production began in the twelfth century, when Muslims in Spain introduced a technique first developed by the Chinese in the second century and began to make paper by shredding old rags, processing them with water, and then pressing the liquid out of the finished sheets.
Humanism both aided and impeded the advance of science. The Renaissance was less a dramatic rebirth of science than an age of preparation for the scientific revolution that was to come in the seventeenth century. The major contribution of the humanists was increased availability of ancient scientific authorities, as works by Galen, Ptolemy, Archimedes, and others were for the first time translated from Greek to Latin.
The men of letters of this period may be divided into three groups: First were the conservers of classical culture, heirs of Petrarch’s humanistic enthusiasm for the classical past; second were the vernacular writers who took the path marked out by the Decameron, from Chaucer at the close of the fourteenth century down to Rabelais and Cervantes in the sixteenth; and third were the synthesizers—philosophical humanists who tried to fuse Christianity, classicism, and other elements into a universal human philosophy.