Part 2: The Victory of the Church over Galileo

From A HISTORY OF THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE WITH THEOLOGY IN CHRISTENDOM by ANDREW DICKSON WHITE: This text is in the PUBLIC DOMAIN & the entire book is available on Internet Infidels.

While news of triumphant attacks upon him and upon the truth he had established were coming in from all parts of Europe, Galileo prepared a careful treatise in the form of a dialogue, exhibiting the arguments for and against the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems, and offered to submit to any conditions that the Church tribunals might impose, if they would allow it to be printed. At last, after discussions which extended through eight years, they consented, imposing a humiliating condition - a preface written in accordance with the ideas of Father Ricciardi, Master of the Sacred Palace, and signed by Galileo, in which the Copernican theory was virtually exhibited as a play of the imagination, and not at all as opposed to the Ptolemaic doctrine reasserted in 1616 by the Inquisition under the direction of Pope Paul V.

This new work of Galileo - the Dialogo - appeared in 1632, and met with prodigious success. It put new weapons into the hands of the supporters of the Copernican theory. The pious preface was laughed at from one end of Europe to the other. This roused the enemy; the Jesuits, Dominicans, and the great majority of the clergy returned to the attack more violent than ever, and in the midst of them stood Pope Urban VIII, most bitter of all. His whole power was now thrown against Galileo. He was touched in two points: first, in his personal vanity, for Galileo had put the Pope's arguments into the mouth of one of the persons in the dialogue and their refutation into the mouth of another; but, above all, he was touched in his religious feelings. Again and again His Holiness insisted to all comers on the absolute and specific declarations of Holy Scripture, which prove that the sun and heavenly bodies revolve about the earth, and declared that to gainsay them is simply to dispute revelation. Certainly, if one ecclesiastic more than another ever seemed not under the care of the Spirit of Truth, it was Urban VIII in all this matter.

Herein was one of the greatest pieces of ill fortune that has ever befallen the older Church. Had Pope Urban been broad-minded and tolerant like Benedict XIV, or had he been taught moderation by adversity like Pius VII, or had he possessed the large scholarly qualities of Leo XIII, now reigning, the vast scandal of the Galileo case would never have burdened the Church: instead of devising endless quibbles and special pleadings to escape responsibility for this colossal blunder, its defenders could have claimed forever for the Church the glory of fearlessly initiating a great epoch in human thought.

But it was not so to be. Urban was not merely Pope; he was also a prince of the house of Barberini, and therefore doubly angry that his arguments had been publicly controverted.

The opening strategy of Galileo's enemies was to forbid the sale of his work; but this was soon seen to be unavailing, for the first edition had already been spread throughout Europe. Urban now became more angry than ever, and both Galileo and his works were placed in the hands of the Inquisition. In vain did the good Benedictine Castelli urge that Galileo was entirely respectful to the Church; in vain did he insist that ``nothing that can be done can now hinder the earth from revolving.'' He was dismissed in disgrace, and Galileo was forced to appear in the presence of the dread tribunal without defender or adviser. There, as was so long concealed, but as is now fully revealed, he was menaced with torture again and again by express order of Pope Urban, and, as is also thoroughly established from the trial documents themselves, forced to abjure under threats, and subjected to imprisonment by command of the Pope; the Inquisition deferring in this whole matter to the papal authority. All the long series of attempts made in the supposed interest of the Church to mystify these transactions have at last failed. The world knows now that Galileo was subjected certainly to indignity, to imprisonment, and to threats equivalent to torture, and was at last forced to pronounce publicly and on his knees his recantation, as follows:


``I, Galileo, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner and on my knees, and before your Eminences, having before my eyes the Holy Gospel, which I touch with my hands, abjure, curse, and detest the error and the heresy of the movement of the earth.''

He was vanquished indeed, for he had been forced, in the face of all coming ages, to perjure himself. To complete his dishonour, he was obliged to swear that he would denounce to the Inquisition any other man of science whom he should discover to be supporting the ``heresy of the motion of the earth.''

Many have wondered at this abjuration, and on account of it have denied to Galileo the title of martyr. But let such gainsayers consider the circumstances. Here was an old man - one who had reached the allotted threescore years and ten - broken with disappointments, worn out with labours and cares, dragged from Florence to Rome, with the threat from the Pope himself that if he delayed he should be ``brought in chains''; sick in body and mind, given over to his oppressors by the Grand-Duke who ought to have protected him, and on his arrival in Rome threatened with torture. What the Inquisition was he knew well. He could remember as but of yesterday the burning of Giordano Bruno in that same city for scientific and philosophic heresy; he could remember, too, that only eight years before this very time De Dominis, Archbishop of Spalatro, having been seized by the Inquisition for scientific and other heresies, had died in a dungeon, and that his body and his writings had been publicly burned.

To the end of his life - nay, after his life was ended - the persecution of Galileo was continued. He was kept in exile from his family, from his friends, from his noble employments, and was held rigidly to his promise not to speak of his theory. When, in the midst of intense bodily sufferings from disease, and mental sufferings from calamities in his family, he besought some little liberty, he was met with threats of committal to a dungeon. When, at last, a special commission had reported to the ecclesiastical authorities that he had become blind and wasted with disease and sorrow, he was allowed a little more liberty, but that little was hampered by close surveillance. He was forced to bear contemptible attacks on himself and on his works in silence; to see the men who had befriended him severely punished; Father Castelli banished; Ricciardi, the Master of the Sacred Palace, and Ciampoli, the papal secretary, thrown out of their positions by Pope Urban, and the Inquisitor at Florence reprimanded for having given permission to print Galileo's work. He lived to see the truths he had established carefully weeded out from all the Church colleges and universities in Europe; and, when in a scientific work he happened to be spoken of as ``renowned,'' the Inquisition ordered the substitution of the word ``notorious.''

And now measures were taken to complete the destruction of the Copernican theory, with Galileo's proofs of it. On the 16th of June, 1633, the Holy Congregation, with the permission of the reigning Pope, ordered the sentence upon Galileo, and his recantation, to be sent to all the papal nuncios throughout Europe, as well as to all archbishops, bishops, and inquisitors in Italy and this document gave orders that the sentence and abjuration be made known ``to your vicars, that you and all professors of philosophy and mathematics may have knowledge of it, that they may know why we proceeded against the said Galileo, and recognise the gravity of his error, in order that they may avoid it, and thus not incur the penalties which they would have to suffer in case they fell into the same.''

As a consequence, the processors of mathematics and astronomy in various universities of Europe were assembled and these documents were read to them. To the theological authorities this gave great satisfaction. The Rector of the University of Douay, referring to the opinion of Galileo, wrote to the papal nuncio at Brussels: ``The professors of our university are so opposed to this fanatical opinion that they have always held that it must be banished from the schools. In our English college at Douay this paradox has never been approved and never will be.''

Still another step was taken: the Inquisitors were ordered, especially in Italy, not to permit the publication of a new edition of any of Galileo's works, or of any similar writings. On the other hand, theologians were urged, now that Copernicus and Galileo and Kepler were silenced, to reply to them with tongue and pen. Europe was flooded with these theological refutations of the Copernican system.

To make all complete, there was prefixed to the Index of the Church, forbidding ``all writings which affirm the motion of the earth,'' a bull signed by the reigning Pope, which, by virtue of his infallibility as a divinely guided teacher in matters of faith and morals, clinched this condemnation into the consciences of the whole Christian world.

From the mass of books which appeared under the auspices of the Church immediately after the condemnation of Galileo, for the purpose of rooting out every vestige of the hated Copernican theory from the mind of the world, two may be taken as typical. The first of these was a work by Scipio Chiaramonti, dedicated to Cardinal Barberini. Among his arguments against the double motion of the earth may be cited the following:


``Animals, which move, have limbs and muscles; the earth has no limbs or muscles, therefore it does not move. It is angels who make Saturn, Jupiter, the sun, etc., turn round. If the earth revolves, it must also have an angel in the centre to set it in motion; but only devils live there; it would therefore be a devil who would impart motion to the earth....

``The planets, the sun, the fixed stars, all belong to one species - namely, that of stars. It seems, therefore, to be a grievous wrong to place the earth, which is a sink of impurity, among these heavenly bodies, which are pure and divine things.''

The next, which I select from the mass of similar works, is the Anticopernicus Catholicus of Polacco. It was intended to deal a finishing stroke at Galileo's heresy. In this it is declared:


``The Scripture always represents the earth as at rest, and the sun and moon as in motion; or, if these latter bodies are ever represented as at rest, Scripture represents this as the result of a great miracle....

``These writings must be prohibited, because they teach certain principles about the position and motion of the terrestrial globe repugnant to Holy Scripture and to the Catholic interpretation of it, not as hypotheses but as established facts....''

Speaking of Galileo's book, Polacco says that it ``smacked of Copernicanism,'' and that, ``when this was shown to the Inquisition, Galileo was thrown into prison and was compelled to utterly abjure the baseness of this erroneous dogma.''

As to the authority of the cardinals in their decree, Polacco asserts that, since they are the ``Pope's Council'' and his ``brothers,'' their work is one, except that the Pope is favoured with special divine enlightenment.

Having shown that the authority of the Scriptures, of popes, and of cardinals is against the new astronomy, he gives a refutation based on physics. He asks: ``If we concede the motion of the earth, why is it that an arrow shot into the air falls back to the same spot, while the earth and all things on it have in the meantime moved very rapidly toward the east? Who does not see that great confusion would result from this motion?''

Next he argues from metaphysics, as follows: ``The Copernican theory of the earth's motion is against the nature of the earth itself, because the earth is not only cold but contains in itself the principle of cold; but cold is opposed to motion, and even destroys it - as is evident in animals, which become motionless when they become cold.''

Finally, he clinches all with a piece of theological reasoning, as follows: ``Since it can certainly be gathered from Scripture that the heavens move above the earth, and since a circular motion requires something immovable around which to move,... the earth is at the centre of the universe.''

But any sketch of the warfare between theology and science in this field would be incomplete without some reference to the treatment of Galileo after his death. He had begged to be buried in his family tomb in Santa Croce; this request was denied. His friends wished to erect a monument over him; this, too, was refused. Pope Urban said to the ambassador Niccolini that ``it would be an evil example for the world if such honours were rendered to a man who had been brought before the Roman Inquisition for an opinion so false and erroneous; who had communicated it to many others, and who had given so great a scandal to Christendom.'' In accordance, therefore, with the wish of the Pope and the orders of the Inquisition, Galileo was buried ignobly, apart from his family, without fitting ceremony, without monument, without epitaph. Not until forty years after did Pierrozzi dare write an inscription to be placed above his bones; not until a hundred years after did Nelli dare transfer his remains to a suitable position in Santa Croce, and erect a monument above them. Even then the old conscientious hostility burst forth: the Inquisition was besought to prevent such honours to ``a man condemned for notorious errors''; and that tribunal refused to allow any epitaph to be placed above him which had not been submitted to its censorship.

The Inquisition's ban on reprinting Galileo's works was lifted in 1718 when permission was granted to publish an edition of his works (excluding the condemned Dialogue) in Florence. In 1741 Pope Benedict XIV authorized the publication of an edition of Galileo's complete scientific works which included a mildly censored version of the Dialogue. In 1758 the general prohibition against works advocating heliocentrism was removed from the Index of prohibited books, although the specific ban on uncensored versions of the Dialogue and Copernicus's De Revolutionibus remained. All traces of official opposition to heliocentrism by the Church disappeared in 1835 when these works were finally dropped from the Index.

In 1939 Pope Pius XII, in his first speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, within a few months of his election to the papacy, described Galileo as being among the "most audacious heroes of research ... not afraid of the stumbling blocks and the risks on the way, nor fearful of the funereal monuments" His close advisor of 40 years, Professor Robert Leiber wrote: "Pius XII was very careful not to close any doors (to science) prematurely. He was energetic on this point and regretted that in the case of Galileo."

On 15 February 1990, in a speech delivered at the Sapienza University of Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger cited some current views on the Galileo affair as forming what he called "a symptomatic case that permits us to see how deep the self-doubt of the modern age, of science and technology goes today." Some of the views he cited were those of the philosopher Paul Feyerabend, whom he quoted as saying “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo's teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.” The Cardinal did not clearly indicate whether he agreed or disagreed with Feyerabend's assertions. He did, however, say "It would be foolish to construct an impulsive apologetic on the basis of such views".

On 31 October 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled, and officially conceded that the Earth was not stationary, as the result of a study conducted by the Pontifical Council for Culture

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Tags: Galileo, catholic, church, history, popes

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Comment by Clarence Dember on November 13, 2008 at 12:00am
Thugs loose in the end! Thank you for this window into the historical omissions set forth by the Vatican. Dogma indeed.

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