Since at least Vatican I, the Catholic Church has taught that the universe (material Creation) was created at a certain point in time (essentially at the beginning of Time) and that it is finite. But as late as the 1920’s, scientists believed that the universe was infinite and had always existed. This was the accepted view by Einstein and most other scientists until the early 1930’s, when a Catholic priest and scientist, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, proposed the so-called “Big Bang” theory. That theory included the conclusions that the universe had a beginning point, just before the big bang, and was finite. And within a short period of time, most scientists changed their views to agree with this theory by a Catholic priest, a theory that was in accord with Catholic teaching.
As for Copernicus and Galileo, people like to point out that science was right and the Church was wrong. But the situation at the time was not so simple. Galileo was arguing for the theory of Copernicus, about a generation after him, but most other scientists disagreed. The Church considered that perhaps the passages of the Bible interpreted as saying that the earth is stationary could be understood figuratively. But since the majority view of scientists at the time contradicted Galileo and Copernicus, the Church decided to side with science as well as a literal interpretation of the Bible, so Galileo was rebuked.
Copernicus’ theory said, as we all know, that the planets revolve around the Sun. But he also assumed that the orbits of the planets were circular (rather than elliptical) and that the stars are much closer than they really are. The result was two problems that caused other scientists to reject Copernicus’ theory, even as long as a generation later. The assumption of circular orbits caused calculations of where the planets should be in the sky, if Copernicus was correct, to fail to match observations. In addition, when the earth is on opposite sides of the Sun, we look at the distant stars from two different angles. This should result in a parallax, as when you hold a finger in front of your eyes and alternately open/close each eye. Objects more distant than your finger appear to move in relation to the finger. Scientists of Copernicus and Galileo’s time could not detect any stellar parallax. So the majority of scientists rejected the theory of Copernicus during the time of Galileo.
The Church was actually siding with the majority view of scientists in deciding against Galileo.
Eventually, it was proved that the planets do revolve around the Sun.
Then came Einstein’s general relativity theory, which holds that any object in the universe can be taken as stationary. All the math should still work, because motion is relative. You could, in theory, take the earth as stationary and relativity theory would work just as well. It is still correct to say that the planets revolve around the Sun, it’s just not as simple as that.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.