I've been doing some research for a cosmology series and I'm struck by how many physicists and philosophers, from Newton to Einstein, had a notion that the Universe should be static and eternal. Why was this view so widespread?
Personally I'm surprised that this is the case given that for hundreds of years Europe was Christian and the biblical Genesis quite matter of factly said that the universe was created. It's strange that this didn't factor in their speculations about the universe and its history.
Still, it's understandable. After all, if the universe was created then it would have been created all at once and it's difficult to see just how that can be the case when the universe appears spread over such an enormous scale. One way around this, which LeMaitre took, is to suggest that the universe was created as a kind of cosmic egg, which cracked open (symmetry breaking!) and which then expanded. But then one has to imagine the whole, vast expanse of the universe compressed into something very small and compact and that also beggars the imagination.
No doubt that's why astronomers took the simplest, safest and most cautious option and just declared the universe to have been as it always was. Undoubtably this was easy to do since the sky at night, apart from the sun and the moon doesn't appear to change very much from year to year and in fact was taken as the epitome of a permanent and changeless divine sphere: the supralunary as opposed to the sublunary, so to speak.