Columbus and the myth of the flat Eath - No, the Church has never taught Earth was flat

Hello, Catholic brothers. I’ve written an article to refute the myth that Columbus proved the Earth was round and that the Church defended it was flat and persecuted those who say otherwise.
As you can read in my article, historians of science denies all of that. Actually, there was not a single known scholar in Columbus’s days that denied the spherecity of the Earth and the Church has never stated anything about that. Also, most scholars since the Greeks knew the Earth was round and even its circumference.

Unfortunetally, this myth, despite dead in the scholarly world, still is popular everywhere else. Even Brazilian and American school teachers repeat it (there are some crazy examples
in the article).

Hope you all enjoy it.

God bless.

Please, out of curiosity, tell if you learned that myth as fact when in secundary or high school.

Perhaps the myth was not subscribed to by the scientific community of the day, it was subscribed to by the uneducated Masses…indeed, if you read the logs of Columbus on his voyage, you will find references to the worrying of the crew that they were going to sail off the edge of the earth.

While it may not have been church teaching, there was a low literacy rate in the 15th century. Much of what the masses “knew” came from what they heard, and indeed it may have been heard in church.

If we examine scripture, we find that in the story of creation a “firmament” or dome separated the waters above from the waters below…and if we look at the ancient Mesopotamian (and Hebrew) depiction of the cosmos, we see the earth looking like a platter, and the dome setting above the platter on columns (mountains)…this depiction, coupled with the description of the 2nd day of creation in Genesis, would have left many, even years later–especially if they were not educated–to see the world as a flat plate that had a boundary that a ship could sail off of.

Peace and all good!

I learned that the “flat earth” idea was only held by the uneducated. I think it’s still that way.

Thanks for the interesting reply, Neofight.

Actually, there was not the fear the “fear to sail of the edge of the earth” among the crew, as I mentioned in the article:

**“The author also explains that there was wasn’t, among Columbus’s sailors, the fear of “falling off the end of the Earth”. According to the Genovese’s own diary, those had only two complains: the worry that the journey was taking more that Columbus promised; and the fear that they would not be able to make their voyage back east, because the wind seemed to blow constantly due west.”
God bless!

Interesting. Thanks for the reply and for the link about those “exotic” societies.

Columbus’ only mistake was underestimating the circumference of the earth. Which is why he thought he’d made it to India.

Just as Columbus believed the earth was flat, as well as many other things that were eventually proven wrong, MANY MANY of the scientific principles we believe in, will one day, be determined to be wrong…this is just the way progress happens. Of course, we believe we have it all figured out and we are correct, but we forget past civilizations also thought the same thing…point is, we will all be proven wrong eventually.

You didn’t read anything here, did you. :slight_smile:

Columbus, along with many others in his era, knew the earth to be a sphere. He just miscalculated the circumference.

I have read the logs, and the crew was worried about not being able to return to Spain, and not because of falling off the edge. The spherical nature of the earth was accepted because of its shadow on the moon during an eclipse.

The only church inspired issues I’ve ever taught are the heliocentric vs geocentic models. Flat earth, hollow earth, riding on the back of turtles, are all not even mentioned as beliefs…

And, because he didn’t make it to India, nothing about his journey would have convinced an uneducated skeptic that the earth was spherical.

Around 1900 AD, college advisers were discouraging students from studying physics because everything had already been discovered, and the only thing future physicists could do is to merely refine constants, such as Planck’s Constant. Then, in 1905, an unknown Swiss patent clerk blew the doors off of physics, and today physicists realize that we’ve barely scratched the surface.

According to Wikipedia, a Greek guy named Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth in 240 BC. We don’t know for sure how accurate he was because there is uncertainty about his units of measure. He may have been off by as much as 16%, or as little as 1.6% (but impressive, either way). We know that some of his assumptions were imprecise, such as the distance between the cities of Alexandria and Syene. But his experimental method was scientifically sound. If the experiment is repeated with modern knowledge then it is accurate to within 0.16%.

Eratosthenes was the first (known) person to make a serious attempt to calculate the earth’s circumference, but it was common knowledge that the earth is spherical. People have known this from the earliest days of seafaring. As a sailing ship approaches port, the mast becomes visible first.

Yes, David.

I mentioned him and other greeks (the Church preserved their writings, that’s why we know about them today) in my article:

Since Antiquity, all major scholars of Geography, Greeks (like Eratosthenes, third century B.C.; Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.; and Ptolemy, second century A.D.) and Romans (Pliny, the Elder – 23-79 A.D.; Macrobius, fourth century A.D.; and Pomponius Mela, first century A.D.), based their works on a round world. For instance, Aristotle’s proof of the sphericity of the world (indicated by the changing positions of the costtelations as one moved about on the earth’s surface) was used as argument for many thinkers of the Middle Age and Renaissance. Also, Eratosthenes, almost two thousand and three hundred years ago, had the great feat of calculating the approximated circumference of the Earth.


The Erdapfel (German: lit. earth apple) produced by Martin Behaim in 1492 is considered to be the oldest surviving terrestrial globe. … The Americas are not included, as Columbus returned to Spain no sooner than March 1493. The globe shows an enlarged Eurasian continent and an empty ocean between Europe and Asia. … wiki.

The point here is that Behaim made a map of the known world as a globe before Columbus’ return from his first voyage. So, Europeans had a concept of the world as a globe then.

Thanks Otavio. Great article. You researched it well and included a lot of interesting facts.

You stated:
"Some argue that the Greek knew Earth’s sphericity (a fact indeed) and that knowledge was suppressed by the medieval Christian clerics. "

See picture below


A person did not have to know how to read or write to know that the earth was spherical in shape. All he had to do was to go to Mass. See a Church with a 6th century mosaic showing Jesus Christ, King of the World, sitting on a spherical globe.

Thanks, John. That’s very interesting.

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