Chap. V.

A Digression of the Wisdom of God in the site and motion of the Sun.

HAVING thus beheld the ignorance of man in some things, his error and blindness in others, that is, in the measure of duration both of years and seasons, let us a while admire the Wisdom of God in this distinguisher of times, and visible Deity (as some have termed it) the Sun. Which though some from its glory adore, and all for its benefits admire, we shall advance from other considerations, and such as illustrate the artifice of its Maker. Nor do we think we can excuse the duty of our knowledg, if we only bestow the flourish of Poetry hereon, or those commendatory conceits which popularly set forth the eminency of this creature; except we ascend unto subtiler considerations, and such as rightly understood, convincingly declare the wisdom of the Creator. Which since a Spanish Physitian1 hath begun, we will enlarge with our deductions; and this we shall endeavour from two considerations; its proper situation, and wisely ordered motion.

And first, we cannot pass over his providence, in that it moveth at all; for had it stood still, and were it fixed like the earth, there had been then no distinction of times, either of day or year, of Spring, of Autumn, of Summer, or of Winter; for these seasons are defined by the motions of the Sun; when that approacheth nearest our Zenith, or vertical Point, we call it Summer, when furthest off, Winter, when in the middle spaces, Spring or Autumn, whereas remaining in one place these distinctions had ceased, and consequently the generation of all things depending on their vicissitudes; making in one hemisphere a perpetuall Summer, in the other a deplorable and comfortless Winter. And thus had it also been continual day unto some, and perpetual night unto others; for the day is defined by the abode of the Sun above the Horizon, and the night by its continuance below; so should we have needed another Sun, one to illustrate our Hemisphere, a second to enlighten the other; which inconvenience will ensue in what site soever we place it, whether in the Poles, or the Æquator, or between them both; no spherical body of what bigness soever illuminating the whole sphere of another, although it illuminate something more then half of a lesser, according unto the doctrin of Opticks.[2]

His wisdom is againe discernable, not only in that it moveth at all, and in its bare motion, but wonderful in contriving the line of its revolution; which is so prudently effected, that by a vicissitude in one body and light it sufficeth the whole earth, affording thereby a possible or pleasurable habitation in every part thereof; and this is the line Ecliptick; all which to effect by any other circle it had been impossible. For first, if we imagine the Sun to make his course out of the Ecliptick, and upon a line without any obliquity, let it be conceaved within that Circle, that is either on the Æquator, or else on either side: (Fo, if we should place it either in the Meridian or Colures, beside the subversion of its course from East to West, there would ensue the like incommodities.) Now if we conceave the Sun to move between the obliquity of this Ecliptick in a line upon one side of the Æquator, then would the Sunne be visible but unto one pole, that is the same which was nearest unto it. So that unto the one it would be perpetual day, unto the other perpetual night; the one would be oppressed with constant heat, the other with insufferable cold; and so the defect of alternation would utterly impugn the generation of all things; which naturally require a vicissitude of heat to their production, and no less to their increase and conservation.

But if we conceive it to move in the Æquator; first, unto a parallel sphere, or such as have the pole for their Zenith, it would have made neither perfect day nor night. For being in the Æquator it would intersect their Horizon, and be half above and half beneath it: or rather it would have made perpetual night to both; for though in regard of the rational Horizon, which bisecteth the Globe into equal parts, the Sun in the Æquator would intersect the Horizon: yet in respect of the sensible Horizon (which is defined by the eye) the Sun would be visible unto neither.[3] For if as ocular witnesses report, and some also write, by reason of the convexity of the Earth the eye of man under the Æquator cannot discover both the poles; neither would the eye under the poles discover the Sun in the Æquator. Thus would there nothing fructifie either near or under them: The Sun being Horizontal to the poles, and of no considerable altitude unto parts a reasonable distance from them. Again, unto a right sphere, or such as dwell under the Æquator, although it made a difference in day and night, yet would it not make any distinction of seasons: for unto them it would be constant Summer, it being alwaies vertical, and never deflecting from them: So had there been no fructification at all, and the Countries subjected would be as unhabitable, as indeed antiquity conceived them.

Lastly, It moving thus upon the Æquator, unto what position soever, although it had made a day, yet could it have made no year: for it could not have had those two motions[4] now ascribed unto it, that is, from East to West, whereby it makes the day, and likewise from West to East, whereby the year is computed. For according to received Astronomy, the poles of the Æquator are the same with those of the Primum Mobile. Now it is impossible that on the same circle, having the same poles, both these motions from opposite terms, should be at the same time performed, all which is salved, if we allow an obliquity in his annual motion, and conceive him to move upon the Poles of the Zodiack, distant from these of the world 23 degrees and an half. Thus may we discern the necessity of its obliquity, and how inconvenient its motion had been upon a circle parallel to the Æquator, or upon the Æquator it self.

Now with what Providence this obliquity is determined, we shall perceive upon the ensuing inconveniences from any deviation. For first, if its obliquity had been less (as instead of twenty three degrees, twelve or the half thereof) the vicissitude of seasons appointed for the generation of all things, would surely have been too short; for different seasons would have hudled upon each other; and unto some it had not been much better then if it had moved on the Æquator. But had the obliquity been greater then now it is, as double, or of 40 degrees; several parts of the earth had not been able to endure the disproportionable differences of seasons, occasioned by the great recess, and distance of the Sun. For unto some habitations the Summer would have been extream hot, and the Winter extream cold; likewise the Summer temperate unto some, but excessive and in extremity unto others, as unto those who should dwell under the Tropick of Cancer, as then would do some part of Spain, or ten degrees beyond, as Germany, and some part of England; who would have Summers as now the Moors of Africa. For the Sun would sometime be vertical unto them: but they would have Winters like those beyond the Artick Circle; for in that season the Sun would be removed above 80 degrees from them. Again, it would be temperate to some habitations in the Summer, but very extream in the Winter: temperate to those in two or three degrees beyond the Artick Circle, as now it is unto us; for they would be equidistant from that Tropick, even as we are from this at present. But the Winter would be extream, the Sun being removed above an hundred degrees, and so consequently would not be visible in their Horizon; no position of sphere discovering any star distant above 90 degrees, which is the distance of every Zenith from the Horizon. And thus if the obliquity of this Circle had been less, the vicissitude of seasons had been so small as not to be distinguished; if greater, so large and disproportionable as not to be endured.

Now for its situation, although it held this Ecliptick line, yet had it been seated in any other Orb, inconveniences would ensue of condition like the former; for had it been placed in the lowest sphere of the Moon, the year would have consisted but of one moneth; for in that space of time it would have passed through every part of the Ecliptick;[5] so would there have been no reasonable distinction of seasons required for the generation and fructifying of all things; contrary seasons which destroy the effects of one another, so suddenly succeeding. Besides by this vicinity unto the earth, its heat had been intollerable: for if (as many affirm[6]) there is a different sense of heat from the different points of its proper Orb, and that in the Apogeum or highest point (which happeneth in Cancer) it is not so hot under that Tropick, on this side of the Æquator, as unto the other side in the Perigeum or lowest part of the Eccentrick (which happeneth in Capricornus) surely being placed in an Orb far lower, its heat would be unsufferable, nor needed we a fable to set the world on fire.

Now whether we adhere unto the hypothesis of Copernicus, affirming the Earth to move, and the Sun to stand still;[7] or whether we hold, as some of late have concluded from the spots in the Sun,[8] which appear and disappear again; that besides the revolution it makes with its Orbs, it hath also a dinetical[9] motion, and rowls upon its own Poles, whether I say we affirm these or no, the illations before mentioned are not thereby infringed. We therefore conclude this contemplation, and are not afraid to believe, it may be literally said of the wisdom of God, what men will have but figuratively spoken of the words of Christ; that if the wonders thereof were duly described, the whole world, that is, all within the last circumference, would not contain them. For as his Wisdom is infinite, so cannot the due expressions thereof be finite, and if the world comprise him not, neither can it comprehend the story of him.[10]


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces} Ross objects to part of this chapter, Arcana Microcosmi, II.13, where he says that the Sun is an efficient cause of heat, but is not itself hot.

1 Valerius de Philos. Sacr. [Valerius: all editions have this for Vallesius; Francisco Valles, De Sacra Philosophia, 1600, 1619, etc.]

2 [Wren: All this must of necessity evidentlye follow, unlesse (according to the supposition of Copernicus, for I suppose it was but a postulate of art, no parte of his creed) that the son is fixed in the midst or center of this universal frame of the world, altogether immoovable, and that the earth, with all the rest of the elements, is annually caryed round about the sonne in the sphere between Mars and Venus, parting that lovinge couple of godlinges by its boysterous intrusion, but the mischieef is that besides this annual motion of the earth, mounted like Phæthon in the chariot and throne of the sonne, the Copernicans are forced, contrary to their own principles, that unius corporis coelestis (for soe you must nowe accompte it, though a dul and opacous planet, unius est motus simplex) to ascribe two other motions to the earth; the one a vertiginous rotation, whirling about his own center, whereby turning toward the son causeth the daye, and turning from the son, night; both of them every twenty-four hours; the other a tottering motion of inclination to the son, the sommer halfe year, and of reclination from the son in the halfe halfe, from whence must of necessity follow two vast and unconcedable postulates. First, that as the son, in his old sphere, is supposed to respect of his distance from the center to moove noe lesse than 18000 miles every minute of an hour, yf the earth be in the sons place, they must perforce acknowledge the same pernicitye in the earth, and yet not perceptible to our sense, nor to the wisest of the world, since the creation till our times. But to salve this, as they thinke, they suppose and postulate the second motion of rotation or whirling on his owne center, which others conceive to be diametrally opposite to Scripture: but then there recoyles upon them this strange consequence that the earthe being 21600 miles in compass, and whirling rounde every twenty-four howres, caryes every towne and howese 895 miles every houre, and yet not discernablye.]

3 [If the line of the ecliptic were the same as the equator, there would simply be equal periods of day and night over the whole earth, including the poles, all year long, as at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, when the Sun is "on the equator", as it were.]

4 [Wren: The motion from east to west is cald the motion of the world, because by itt all the whole frame of the universe is caryed round every 234 howres, and among the rest of the cœlestial lights the sun alsoe, to whome this motion does not belong but pasively onlye, and therefore heere was noe feare of crossing that undoubted principle which unavoydably recoyls upon the Copernicans, who to make good their hypothesis, fancye a rotation of dinetical, that is, a whirling rapture of the earthe about his owne axe every 24 houres, that is, 900 miles every howre, which is more impossible then for the heaven which wee call the primum mobile to turne about 400,000 miles every houre; unless they thinke that he who made it soe infinitelye vast in compasse and in distance from us, could not make it as swift in motion alone, as he makes his angels, or has he made his owne bodye in his ascension, or as he makes the lightning or the light itself.

The compass of the earth, which is 21600 miles divided by 24 leaves in the quotient 937-12/24 i.e. 1/2 of miles, and so many the Copernicans thinke the earth turnes every houre, and about 1/4 of a mile every second, i.e. swifter then the natural motion of the heart. Procul dubio loca terræ sub polis sita, nequeunt ab æquatoris subjectis cerni: cum horison terrestris nusquam in ipso oceano tranquillo 60 miliarium visu terminetur: at polis coeli posse ab iisdem terræ incolis ismul conspici, manifestum ex rarefactione quæ sydera attollit ultra distantiam horizontis rationalis.]

5 [The Moon, in orbiting the Earth once a month, does indeed move along the entire path of the ecliptic, but its path is extremely wobbly (hence some astrologers also use the distance of the Moon from the ecliptic in their calculations of its effects). If the sun were in a similar pattern, the seasons would not only be very short, but very uneven from "year" to "year". The "wobbling" of planets from the ecliptic was one of the factors which necessitated the encumbering of the Ptolemaic system with epicycles and epiepicycles, to the point where an accurate description of the motion of a planet was possible in theory, but extremely difficult in practice. (It is interesting to speculate that if the seventeenth century had been blessed (or cursed) with the computer, we might still be teaching the Ptolemaic theory in our schools, as we now teach, more or less, a "fixed-sun, moveable-earth" model that is as inaccurate a representation of "reality".) It is somewhat surprising that Browne, who was aware of the calculational and theoretical difficulties of the system, retained his belief in it.]

6 [Wren: Especially Scaliger, in that admirable work of his exercitations upon Cardan de Subtilitate. Exercit. 99, § 2, p. 342.]

7 [Wren: Copernicus, to make good his hypothesis, is forced to ascribe a triple motion to the earthe; the first annuall, round about the sonne, which he places in the midst of the universe, and the earthe to be carryed, as the sonne was ever supposed to be, in a middle orbe betweene Venus and Mars; the second not a motion of declination from the æquator to bothe the tropicks onlye, causing the different seasons of the year, but more properlye a motion of inclination likewise to the sonne, which supposes also the poles of the earth to be mooved, and the third motion is that called dineticall, or rotation upon his owne axis, causing day and night.]

8 [Which had been observed early in the 17th century by Galileo and by Fabricius; the observed motion of the spots led to the conclusion that the Sun moves about on an axis.]

9 [Wren: Signifies whirlinge, from δινη, which in the Greeke is a whirlpole, so that the dineticall motion of the son is such, in their opinion, as that of the materiall globes, which we make to turne upon their axis in a frame.]

10 [This Mandelbrotian view of the world is developed at length in Garden of Cyrus.]

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