Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother

Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother

by James A. Connor


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060750497
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/10/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 214,541
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.04(d)

About the Author

James A. Connor is the author of Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother and Silent Fire: Bringing the Spirituality of Silence to Everyday Life. A former Jesuit priest, Connor is professor of English at Kean University in Union, New Jersey; he has also held teaching posts at St. Louis University and Gonzaga University. He is a director of studies at the Lessing Institute in Prague. He holds degrees in geoscience, philosophy, theology, and creative writing, and a Ph.D. in literature and science. He is a prize-winning essayist published widely in such places as American Book Review, Traditional Home, Willow Springs, The Critic, The Iowa Review, and The Iowa Journal of Literary Studies.

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Kepler's Witch
An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother

Chapter One

With Unspeakable Sadness

Where Kepler's mother, Katharina, is accused of
witchcraft by a former friend, which the gossip of
the townspeople whips into a fury against her.

On September 28, 1620, the Feast of St. Wenceslas, the executioner showed Katharina Kepler the instruments of torture, the pricking needles, the rack, the branding irons. Her son Johannes Kepler was nearby, fuming, praying for it to be over. He was forty-nine and, with Galileo Galilei, one of the greatest astronomers of the age -- the emperor's mathematician, the genius who had calculated the true orbits of the planets and revealed the laws of optics to the world. Dukes listened to him. Barons asked his advice. And yet when the town gossips of Leonberg set their will against him, determined to take the life of his mother on trumped-up charges of witchcraft, he could not stop them. Still, he never gave up trying, and in that he was a good deal like his mother.

It was five years into the trial, and the difficult old woman would not bend -- she admitted nothing. Not surprising, for if truth be told, Katharina Kepler was a stubborn, cranky, hickory stick of a woman who suffered from insomnia, had an excess of curiosity, and simply couldn't keep her nose out of other people's business. She was known to be zänkisch -- quarrelsome-- and nearly everyone said she had a wicked tongue. Perhaps that was why her old friends and neighbors were so willing to accuse her of witchcraft, why five years before they had forced her at sword point to perform an illegal magical ritual just to gather evidence that she was indeed a witch, and why they eventually handed her over to the magistrate for trial.

The ordeal consisted of two years of accusations and five years of court action, from 1613, when the accusations of handing out poison potions were first made, to 1620, when they convicted Katharina and sentenced her to the territio verbalis, the terrorization by word, despite all Johannes could do. There were tidal forces at work in this little town. The events around the duchy of Württemberg would gather into themselves all the violent changes of the day, for by their conviction of Katharina, the consistory (the duke's council), the magistrates, and the Lutheran church authorities had bundled together their fear of Copernicus and their anger against Johannes, a man they had already convicted of heresy. The Reformation, like an earthquake, had cracked Western Christianity, stable since the fifth century, into Catholics and Protestants, and the Protestants into Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Anabaptists, with the many camps drifting apart like tectonic plates. Even the heavens had begun changing, and Kepler had been a part of that change. Copernicus, an obscure Polish priest, had published his On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which had dethroned the earth from its place at the universe center and sent it spinning through the heavens like a top revolving around the sun. Fear ruled Europe -- fear of difference, fear of change. And there, in one corner of Swabia in southern Germany, the mother of a famous man, a mathematician and scientist, a respected, pious Lutheran, nearly paid with her life.

Like his mother, Johannes was willing to fight. He had taken a hand in her defense, writing much of the brief himself. He was not present at the sentencing, though, for he would not have been permitted to accompany her to the territio. But only a few days before, Kepler had petitioned the Vogt, the magistrate, of Güglingen, the town where the trial had taken place, to get on with it, so when it was over old Katharina could finally have some peace.

Early that morning, she was led to the torturer by Aulber, the bailiff of Güglingen, who was accompanied by a scribe for recording her confession, and three court representatives. The torturer, with the bailiff standing to one side, then shouted at her for a long time, commanding her to repent and tell the truth and threatening her if she didn't. He showed her each instrument and described in detail all that it would do to her body -- the prickers, the long needles for picking at the flesh; the hot irons for branding; the pincers for pulling and tearing at the body; the rack; the garrote; and the gallows for hanging, drawing, and quartering. He adjured her to repent, to confess her crimes, so that even if she would not survive in this world, she could at least go to God with a clear conscience.

Meanwhile Johannes, almost insane with rage and fear, waited in town for the ordeal to be over. Kepler was a slight man with a jaunty goatee and a dark suit with a starched ruff collar; he was slightly stooped from bending over his calculations and he squinted from bad eyesight, a parting shot from a childhood bout with smallpox. His hands were gnarled and ugly, again a result of the pox. Perhaps he paced as he waited for news, shook his fists at the empty room. Essentially a peaceful man, he was given to rages when he knew an injustice was being done. After all, these were his neighbors, his childhood friends, not strangers, who had forced this trial. The accusation, the trial, the conviction, and the sentence were all the work of hateful people, people who had wanted some petty vengeance, people who had seen their chance to get their hands on his mother's small estate. It was the work of a fraudulent magistrate, a good friend of the accusers, and of a judicial system gone mad.

Being imperial mathematician meant that the courts in Leonberg couldn't touch him, but they could do as they liked with his mother. Imperial protections went only so far. In the end, no mere scientist could expect that much security. Thirteen years later, the other great astronomer, Galileo, would face charges of heresy before the Inquisition in Rome ...

Kepler's Witch
An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother
. Copyright © by James Connor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

With Thanksxiii
Introduction: So Why Kepler?1
Letter from Kepler to the Senate of Leonberg, January 1, 16167
IWith Unspeakable Sadness13
Testimony of Donatus Gultlinger, Citizen of Leonberg, Given to Luther Einhorn, Magistrate of Leonberg, 162019
Testimony of Benedict Beutelsbacher, German Schoolmaster of Leonberg, 162020
IIAppeired a Terrible Comet23
Kepler's Horoscope for Himself, November 159731
IIIBorn with a Destiny35
From Kepler's Astronomia Nova, 160947
IVTaken by a Forceful Passion49
Letter from Kepler to the Theology Faculty at Tubingen, February 28, 159469
VIn Many Respects So Honorable71
Letter from Kepler to Michael Mastlin, February 10, 159785
VIMarried under Pernicious Skies87
Letter from Kepler to Michael Mastlin, June 11, 1598101
Letter from Kepler to Herwart von Hohenberg, December 9, 1598102
VIIAn Archimedean Calculation of Motion107
From Kepler's Eulogy on the Death of Tycho Brahe, October 24, 1601141
VIIIWhen in Heaven the Flock of Secret Movers145
Letters from Kepler to Johann Georg Brengger, October 4, 1607; November 30, 1607167
IXLiving Creatures on the Stars169
Letter from Kepler to Tobias Scultetus, April 13, 1612189
XWho with Tender Fragrance193
Letter from Kepler to an Unknown Nobleman October 23, 1613227
From Kepler's Journal, 1614229
XITo Quiet the Gossip231
Letter from Luther Einhorn, Magistrate of Leonberg, to the Duke of Wurttemberg, October 22, 1616255
XIIIf One Practices the Fiend's Trade259
Letter from Kepler to Herzog Johann Friedrich von Wurttemberg, November 1620271
XIIIWith Present Maladies of Body and Soul275
From Kepler's Harmonice Mundi, Book V, 1619307
XIVTo Examine the Secrets of Nature311
Letter from Kepler to Johann Matthias Bernegger, February 15, 1621
From Kepler's Journal, 1623339
XVMy Duty under Danger341
Kepler Time Line377
Source Readings381

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“A detailed and fascinating account of the life and times of one of the great founding figures of modern science.”

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“A fascinating book, analyzing a pivotal time in western intellectual history.”

Kenneth Silverman

“Connor’s skillful narrative brings to life an extraordinary man who wanted to know the mind of God.”

David Edmonds and John Eidinow

“Connor has illuminated the life - and thus also the work - of one of history’s greatest star-gazers.”

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Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Add Johannes Kepler's name to the short list of courageous geniuses who vaulted humanity into the modern world. Having conducted prodigious, often on-site research, James Connor reveals how the noted astronomer and mathematician braved the violent and superstition-ridden Middle Europe of the 18th Century to become one of the courageous geniuses (like Galileo, Luther, Newton, and Copernicus) who launched the modern world. Connor's gloriously clear prose makes this book a page-turner, even for the non-specialist. Amazingly, and despite lifelong threats to his life and livelihood, and a conspiratorial witchcraft trial which effectively ended his mother's life, Kepler searched his entire life for evidence of harmony in the universe. As Connor beautifully states: '...[Kepler] was no plodding empiricist, no earthbound pragmatist. His joy was in the perfect beauty of mathematics, especially geometry, which he always expressed in mystical terms. He was a mystical rationalist, a man who found transcendence by embracing reason rather than by abandoning it.' Connor's fascinating glimpse into Kepler's world should help us see how transcending commonplace thought can save the world rather than destroy it. By understanding Kepler's world, we hopefully may undertand our own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The topic is excellent and very interesting from a human, spiritual as well as historical point of view. However, Connor¿s writing is so repetitive, slow and chaotic. He repeats the same ideas and facts over and over again, which makes the reading boring and annoying. In addition, he presented the story in such a chaotic way. So there is no time continuity or subject continuity. Suddenly the reader jumps from subject to completely different and uncorrelated one. Also, historical events are presented in a chaotic way. Keppler would be mad to see so much chaos in his story! But what annoyed me the most was the repetitions of facts and ideas.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I want to read a chapter....