The Composition of the Cosmos: Kircher’s Ecstatic Celestial Journey

Kircher, Athanasius (1602-1680); Schott, Gaspar (1608-1666)

Iter exstaticum coeleste, quo mundi opificium, id est, coelestis expansi, siderumque tam errantium, quàm fixorum natura, vires, proprietates, singulorumque compositio et structura, ab infimo telluris globo, usque ad ultima mundi confinia, per ficti raptus integumentum explorata, novâ hypothesi exponitur ad veritatem, interlocutoribus Cosmiele et Theodidacto: hâc secundâ editione prælusionibus & scholiis illustratum; ac schematismis necessariis, qui deerant, exornatum; nec non à mendis, quæ in primam romanam editionem irrepserant, expurgatum, ipso auctore annuente

Würzburg: heirs of J.A. & Wolfgang Endter, 1660


Quarto: 19.8 x 16 cm. [ ]4, [ ]4, [ ]4, A-Z4; Aa-Zz4; Aaa-Zzz4, Aaaa-Tttt4, Uuuu2. With an engraved title page and twelve full-paged engraved plates.

SECOND EDITION, first issue.

The first illustrated edition. Enlarged and edited by Kircher’s disciple, Gaspar Schott. A fine copy, complete with all 12 engraved plates, bound in contemporary stiff vellum.

In this controversial work, Kircher synthesizes elements of Copernicanism and the mystical cosmology of the heretic Giordano Bruno, while ostensibly adhering to the Church-approved Tychonic model of the solar system.

“In Kircher’s “Ecstatic Journey”, a certain Theodidactus, a personification of Kircher himself, has a dream of a journey through the heavens guided by the angel Cosmiel. In the first dialogue Kircher tells of a journey to the moon, which he finds full of mountains and craters. He continues on to Venus, and then on to each of the other planets and to the region of the fixed stars. The sun has blemishes, he announces. He himself had seen sunspots through his telescope some years earlier. Kircher rejected the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic cosmologies for that of Tycho Brahe, who had argued that the sun orbits the earth and is in turn orbited by the planets and the fixed stars. This system was adopted by most of Kircher's fellow Jesuits, since it allowed them to maintain geocentric orthodoxy while espousing, at least in part, the new, more scientific heliocentricity advocated by the Copernicans. Kircher broaches this subject more directly in the second dialogue, where he deals with the creation of the earth, its position in the universe, its various characteristics and limitations, and finally, its eventual destruction. To support his views Kircher cites scriptural and scientific authorities in his conclusion. Among the latter are the astronomer Johannes Hevelius, the influential astronomer and meteorologist Gottfried Wendelin, and Galileo.”(Merrill)

Kircher, Copernicus and the Roman Censors:

One of the twelve engravings depicts six models for the solar system, including Tychonic and Copernican models. Despite Kircher’s pronouncement in favor of a Tychonic model, “Iter extaticum” met with criticism from the Roman censors for his presentation of the Copernican model: “To be sure, Kircher on occasion reproves the condemned opinions of Copernicus about the motion of the earth lest, he says, he be seen to assert anything contrary to the decrees and institutions of the Holy catholic Church: nonetheless, throughout his entire book he carefully constructs all the evidence that Copernicus first brought in to establish and defend the motion of the earth, and he weakens all the arguments by which that error is usually refuted under a great weight of reasoning. From whom, if not from Copernicus and his followers, did Kircher accept that immensity of the firmament that he inculcates ‘ad nauseam’, and that error about the distance of the fixed stars from earth?”(Paula Findlen)

Gaspar Schott and the second edition:

“By 1659, Kircher’s onetime student and close collaborator, Gaspar Schott (who was perhaps the real-life model of the angel Cosmiel), proposed publishing a revised edition of the ‘Iter’ in Germany, In the course of his revision, Schott, a formidable scholar in his own right, supplied his mentor’s book with a copious body of annotations, some his own, some the work of Kircher himself. The new version of the dialogue was printed in Würzburg in 1660. Schott used it to launch an implicit challenge to Kircher’s Roman censors, citing Giordano Bruno among other indexed authors in support of his own cosmological contentions (some of which differed from Kircher’s as well.) Schott’s revised ‘Iter’ also included a direct reply to Kircher’s Romans censors, on which the two of them collaborated. Whether because it was published in Germany or because of Pope Alexander VII’s protection, or both, the ‘Iter extaticum’ would be spared by the censors and ultimately reprinted in 1671.”(ibid.)

Merrill 12 & 14; De Backer Sommervogel IV, 1056-57.14; Lalande, 275-276; Caillet, II, 5776