Banned Books of the Scientific Revolution

This OER was designed by the OU Academy of the Lynx ( in conjunction with the "Galileo's World" ( exhibition at the University of Oklahoma.

Download: Discussion Handout

Banned Books Discussion

The three most famous banned books of the Copernican revolution, listed in chronological order, are the De revolutionibus ("On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Sphers") of Copernicus (1543); a commentary on the biblical book of Job by Zuniga, a theologian in Salamanca; and a letter in defense of Copernicus by the Carmelite monk Paolo Foscarini.

Read about these three works:

  1. Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres,
  2. Zuniga, Commentary on the Book of Job,
  3. Foscarini, Letter on the Pythagorean and Copernican Opinion on the Motion of the Earth and Stability of the Sun,

The commentary by Zuniga lay at the center of controversies over the Sun-centered cosmology of Copernicus and Galileo. First published in 1584, Zuniga’s commentary on the book of Job was the first printed attempt to reconcile the Sun-centered cosmology of Copernicus with Scripture. The first edition appeared in Toledo in 1584, with a Spanish preface. Interest in Zuniga’s commentary paradoxically increased after the Council of Trent sought to minimize novel re-interpretations of scripture, resulting in a 2d ed. in Rome which became prominent in debates over Galileo. The Rome edition of 1594 is almost certainly the one referred to by Galileo and his Italian contemporaries. It bears a new preface addressed to Gregory XIV.

According to Robert Westman, Zúñiga was one of just ten confirmed Copernicans of the 16th century (the only Spaniard, and one of just three Catholic Copernicans).

Zuniga owned a copy of the De revolutionibus and achieved a working knowledge of Copernicus’ system, including some of its technicalities.

In the commentary for Job 9:6 (misnumbered 9:5), Zuniga summarized evidence for Copernicanism from the precession of the equinoxes. He also argued that Copernicanism did not violate established principles of biblical interpretation. Of the few copies extant, perhaps the majority have the passage scored out; this copy managed to escape censure although in a contemporary Italian binding.

Search the facing pages on display and count the number of times you see 
 “Copernicus” mentioned.

Other theologians came to Copernicus’ defense as well, such as Foscarini and Campanella, but after the Council of Trent their efforts were looked upon with increasing suspicion, as the Catholic Church sought to minimize novelties which, to the minds of the Council, might be linked to the Reformation. After Trent, many theologians did not pause to consider the potential reach of the new mathematical methodologies.

Cardinal Conti brought Zuniga to Galileo’s attention in a 1612 letter thanking him for a gift of the telescope. Foscarini drew upon it in his letter, as did Galileo in the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.

A decree of the Inquisition in 1616 suspended Zuniga, along with Copernicus’ De revolutionibus (1543), until they could be corrected, yet banned Foscarini’s letter altogether. The decree did not explicitly mention Galileo or his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.

The works of Copernicus, Zuniga, Foscarini, Campanella and Galileo are all on display as part of the Galileo’s World exhibition on the 5th floor of Bizzell Memorial Library. 

Banned Books Educational Cluster

We want to create variations on this activity that connect the Banned Books Discussion to a variety of ages and situations. Use the following chart and hyperlinks to find the one to best fit your group.

 Elementary SchoolMiddle SchoolHigh SchoolUndergraduate
Introductory Activity    
 30 Minute Activity 
 One Hour Activity    

Return to top