While Toscanelli was making his observations Antoninus of Florence was for some thirteen years the Archbishop of the city and was one of the learned members of the Dominican Order at this time, who had made his novitiate among the Dominicans with Fra Angelico and Fra Bartholomeo the great Renaissance painters. Antoninus was greatly influenced evidently by his associations with Toscanelli and formed one of a group of men containing the Florentine physician astronomer, Cardinal Cusanus and Regiomontanus, himself afterwards a bishop, who were on terms of intimate relationship at least in scholarly matters at this period. Archbishop Antoninus, who is the author of a Summa Theologica Moralis of which no less than fifteen editions were printed after his death, wrote also a series of histories in which he shows this influence by insisting that comets are celestial bodies like the others in the heavens and had no effect on the physical or moral conditions of the world and, quite contrary to popular beliefs, were not responsible for war or pestilence nor prophetic of evil to mankind. There had been a number of brilliant comets in the heavens about this time and there was consequently a widespread interest in them and much popular superstition with regard to them. Antoninus was on terms of familiar intimacy with Pope Eugene IV, who insisted on his becoming Archbishop of Florence, though Antoninus would have preferred to have remained a simple Dominican and keep his leisure for his scholarly work. When the Pope felt his end approaching he called Antoninus to Rome to administer the last rites of the Church to him and be by his side during his last hours. Antoninus was frequently consulted by Pope Eugene’s successors, Nicholas V and Pius II, both of whom were among the scholarly patrons of learning and art at this time. Some fifty years after his death Antoninus was canonized by Pope Hadrian VI, the scholarly Pope from Utrecht in Holland. His whole career then shows clearly the relations of the ecclesiastics and particularly the Popes of the time to science in a most favorable light.
The relationship with the rising science of the Renaissance period thus initiated was continued during the following century. At the end of the fifteenth century Copernicus studied for ten years in Italy and felt so thoroughly the interest of Italians in advances in science as well as scholarship that when some years later he came to formulate his great new hypothesis of the heavens, he sent an abstract of his theory to some of the Roman teachers with whom he had become intimate during his stay and it was taught publicly in the city to crowded audiences. This may well seem surprising to many whose only knowledge of the relations of the Popes to astronomy is the Galileo incident, but it must not be forgotten that Copernicus’ great work in which he elaborated his theory, was dedicated, with permission, to the Pope, and not only received no censure until Galileo’s time, nearly a century later, but was welcomed as a great contribution to science and thought. It was looked upon as a theory, to be discussed as any other. When Galileo, at the end of the first quarter of the seventeenth century, insisted on teaching it as absolute science, it must not be forgotten that there were no astronomers in Europe who looked upon Copernicanism as an accepted scientific doctrine. Even the reasons advanced by Galileo for its acceptance have all since been rejected. Owing to the discussions of it far and wide in the time of Galileo, certain expressions in Copernicus’ great work were required by the Church authorities to be corrected so that his explanation of the heavens should be presented as the theory that it was and not as an absolute doctrine of science.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)