Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the Lutheran Johannes Kepler and his devotion to understanding the created universe.

It is the 15th of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


The Early Modern Era in Europe (roughly 1450-1650) had it all: artistic innovations in the Renaissance, the invention of the novel, religious reformations, awakenings and wars, and, to top it all off, a Scientific Revolution that reconfigured the way we saw ourselves in relation to the cosmos. The first big name was Copernicus, whose “heliocentric” (sun-centered) universe turned the church on its ear.  Many would be scared into silence, but not Johannes Kepler- the name between Copernicus and Isaac Newton and one for whom his Lutheran faith was central to his understanding of the Universe. 

Kepler was born in 1571 in Würtemberg to Lutheran parents. This would be a relatively peaceful time for Lutherans who had been granted the right to worship freely in the Duchy. And Johannes was tagged from an early age as some kind of prodigy. He was sent to various schools on scholarship and then to the nearby University of Tübingen. He had gone to study theology and become a pastor, but he insisted he inherited his mother's constitution- the Lutheran pastor was robust and bearded, not bookish like Johannes. His love of the planets led to one of his professors, Michael Maestlin, letting down his guard around the young prodigy. Maestlin lent Johannes his contraband copy of Copernicus’ work with extensive notations.

Upon graduation, Johannes applied to teach at Tübingen when his understanding of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was seen as deficient, and thus, he was deemed non-Lutheran and unable to teach in the Lutheran Duchy. Despite this and a later dismissal for too broad a view of the metaphysics of the Lord’s Supper, he would always consider himself a Lutheran. IN 1597, Johannes and his family moved to Graz, where he served as a teacher of Mathematics at the Protestant Seminary. In 1600, All non-Catholics were expelled from Graz, and Kepler took an invitation to the Court of Rudolph II- Holy Roman Emperor, to work under Tycho Brahe- the Danish Lutheran serving as Imperial Mathematician.  With Brahe dying the following year, Kepler was named Imperial Mathematician, and it was in this first decade he was his most productive. He would provide mathematical proofs for the elliptical motion of planets around the sun. When Galileo observed the moons of Jupiter, it was Kepler's work in optics that gave proof to the observations.  

But about 1611, things took a turn for the worse- not only did his wife and once child die from Small Pox, but the emperor- Johannes’s boss- abdicated the throne to his ultra-Catholic cousin. Not only would this lead to the 30 Years War, but it also sent the Keplers Linz, Germany. He would stay there until a new tragedy struck in 1617. Johannes’ Mother, Katharine Kepler, now an old widow, had been accused of Witchcraft. This, the 17th century, which saw the Scientific Revolution, also saw a massive flare-up of witch crazes, trials, and burnings.

Johannes uprooted his family again (he was remarried) and spent months in his hometown, meticulously arguing for his mother's innocence. She was acquitted and set free but was ruined by the affair and soon died. Johannes, moving back to Linz, couldn’t let his colleagues know why he was gone- his own supposed heterodoxy combined with rumors of being a witch's son would be too much.  It didn’t help that in 1609, he had written what some consider to be amongst the earliest works of science fiction. In The Dream, the narrator's mother is a witch who helps him travel to the moon.  

He would find work in 1627 under the Empire’s mercenary General von Wallenstein- this, during the 30 Years War, was unpopular amongst Lutherans, but Kepler needed a salary and couldn’t teach at any University on account of his less than Orthodox Lutheranism. In 1630, Kepler decided to travel to Regensburg to collect outstanding debts and perhaps find a teaching job. He became ill and died on the 15th of November in 1630.

By the end of the century, Isaac Newton’s work would verify Kepler’s theories, and he would be rehabilitated a hero amongst astronomers and Lutherans alike. Born in 1571 and dying on this date in 1630, Johannes Kepler was 58 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary- you know Advent is coming when the daily readings get apocalyptic- this is from Jeremiah 31:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant

with the people of Israel

    and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant

    I made with their ancestors

when I took them by the hand

    to lead them out of Egypt,

because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”

declares the Lord.

“This is the covenant
I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.

“I will put my law in their minds

    and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

    and they will be my people.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by the always apocalyptic, entirely eschatological, and rapture-ready, Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who has done the math and looked at the calendars and, for a small donation, will let you in on the secret: I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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