In 1613 the great astronomer, who had long inclined to the heliocentric system of Copernicus, published a letter addressed to his friend the Padre Castelli, in which he says that it is not the object of God in the Holy Scriptures to teach us science and philosophy, and that the received Ptolemaic system could no more be reconciled to the text of Scripture than the Copernican. Some time afterwards, in 1615, he wrote a much longer and more important letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, in which he is said to have endeavored to accommodate to the Copernican theory the various passages in Scripture which seem to be inconsistent with it. This letter was not published till 1636, but its tenor appears to have become known to many persons. Galileo visited Rome towards the end of 1615, and was shortly summoned before the Congregation of the Holy Office. The original minutes, showing exactly what occurred, have been published by M. de l'Epinois. On February 25, 1616, Cardinal Millin reported to the Congregation that the Pope (Paul V.) had ordered that Cardinal Bellarmine should call Galileo before him, and should "warn him to abandon the said opinion [of the immobility of the sun, etc.], and if he refused to obey, the Father Commissary .. .. was to lay a command upon him to abstain altogether from teaching or defending a doctrine and opinion of this kind, or from dealing with it [in any way]." If he was refractory, he was to be imprisoned "carceretur." The minutes of the following day show how all this was done, and an injunction, as above, laid upon Galileo; "in which command the said Galileo acquiesced, and promised to obey it." The prohibition of the Pope was identical in intention with that contained in a decree of the Congregation of the Index dated a week later, March 5, 1616. This decree first condemns five theologico political works, and then goes on to say that it has come to the knowledge of the Sacred Congregation "that the wellknown doctrineof Pythagorean origin and wholly repugnant to the sacred Scripturesconcerning the mobility of the earth and the immobility of the sun," formerly taught by Copernicus and Diego of Astorga, "was now being spread abroad and embraced by many; .... therefore, lest such an opinion should insinuate itself any more, to the destruction of Catholic truth, it gave sentence" that the books of Copernicus and Diego "should be suspended [from circulation] till they were corrected," that the work of a certain Foscarini upholding the same opinion should be altogether prohibited and condemned, "and that all other books teaching the same thing were to be similarly prohibited."
That this decree was sanctioned and confirmed by the Pope it is impossible to doubt. The writer of the article Galileo in the "Encyclopedia Britannica" maintains that its responsibility rests with a disciplinary congregation in no sense representing the Church, and that it was never confirmed by the Pope. This view is untenable in view of the fact that in any decree of one of the Sacred Congregations confirmed and ordered to be published by the Pope, it is the Pope himself who speaks not the cardinals merely if not always in his capacity of Universal Doctor, yet always in that of Supreme Pastor or ruler. That the decree was not confirmed by Paul V. there is not, so far we know, the smallest shred of evidence for maintaining; and the onus probandi rests on those who make an assertion so improbable.
Galileo was thus estopped by a decision in which he had acquiesced, and which he had promised not to infringe,
from publishing anything more on the Copernican theory. Some years passed; Urban VIII. ascended the Papal chair in 1523;
he was an enlightened man, of considerable learning, and, as Cardinal Barberini, had had much friendly intercourse
with Galileo. The philosopher visited Rome in 1624, and was received with great warmth and kindness by the Pope. Soon
after this he began to return to the forbidden subject; in an essay on sunspots he assumed the fact of the sun's immobility. In
his famous Dialogo on the "System of the World," published at Florence in February, 1632, he spoke out still more plainly,
The dialogue is carried on between three persons, Salviati, Sagredo, and Simplicio; the last being a wellmeaning
ignoramus, who supports the Ptolemaic side by arguments manifestly futile. At the conclusion of the work the question is in words
left open; but the whole effect of the treatise is said to be that of a powerful and vehement defense of
the Copernican theory. The book reached Rome at the end of February, 1632, and caused great excitement. The Pope was very angry; he said that
Galileo had been illadvised; that great mischief might be done to religion in this way, greater than was ever done before.
Riccardi, the Master of the Apostolic Palace, whose license Galileo had obtained for the printing of the book by representations
which do not seem to have been quite straightforward, complained that arguments which Urban himself
had used to Galileo against the Copernican theory were in the
Dialogo placed in the mouth of Simplicio, a ridiculous personage. The authority
of Aristotle was in that age inconceivably great, and Aristotle had believed the earth to be immovable. The Peripatetics
so his followers were called flocked around the Pope, urged against Galileo the breach of his promise, and the
insulting neglect of the prohibition of 1616, and pressed for the condemnation both of the book and its author. Urban, still
desirous of keeping the case out of the Inquisition, appointed a commission of theologians to examine and report on the book.
Their report was submitted in September, 1632; it was highly unfavorable to Galileo. The Pope then wrote to the
Grand Duke of Tuscany, in whose service Galileo
was at the time, saying that the case must go before the Inquisition, and that the
accused must come to Rome and stand his trial. After a considerable delay which produced a stern letter from Urban (December
1632) to the effect that if Galileo could travel at all he was to be sent up to Rome in chains, the philosopher departed from Florence and arrived in Rome about the middle of February 1633, taking up his abode at the Tuscan embassy. The trial came on in April; for ten days after its commencement Galileo was committed to the house of the fiscal of the Holy Office; but on his complaining that from his feeble state of health he could ill bear the confinement, he was allowed to return to the Tuscan embassy.
The minutes of the Holy Office show that Galileo was examined on April 12 and 30, May 10, and June 21. The report of the commissioners, one of whom was Melchior Inchofer, told heavily against him. Melchior said that the author of the Dialogo did not put the case in favor of the immobility of the sun "hypothetice," but "theorematice," and that his having written in Italian, so that "vulgares etaim homines" might read it, made the matter worse. The disobedience to the command issued by the Holy Office in 1616 was also much dwelt upon; to which Galileo could only reply by putting in the certificate which he had obtained at the time from Bellarmine, and pleading that as the latter had not in this expressly referred to the injunction not to write any more on the question, he had forgotten all about it. It is probable that this was not believed, and that some intention other than one purely scientific was ascribed to him, as accounting for his open disregard of the prohibition of 1616. We read in the minutes for June 16, 1633, that the Pope ordered that Galileo should be questioned "concerning his intention, a threat even of torture being used to him; and that if he persisted in his statement (et si sustinuerit) his abjuration having been first taken, he was to be condemned," etc.
On June 21 he was examined according to this instruction. Being asked whether he had not held the opinion [of the immobility of the sun] since the decree of 1616, he said, "I do not hold and have not held this opinion of Copernicus since it was intimated to me by authority (con precetto) that I must abandon it; for the rest, I am here in your hands; you must do what you please." He was then warned to speak the truth, otherwise the torture would be applied. He answered, "I am here to make my submission, and I have not held this opinion since the decision was given as I have said. He was then allowed to withdraw. The sentence was pronounced the next day in the convent of the Minerva. A full narrative of what passed may be read in a letter addressed by the Cardinal di S. Onefrio on July 2, 1633, to the Inquisition of Venice. The sentence opened with the words, "Whereas thou, Galileo," etc., and after reciting the proceedings of 1615 and 1616, stated that the Holy Office appointed theologians on that occasion as qualificators, who reported to this effect:
1. That the sun is the centre of the world and immovable is a proposition absurd and false in philosophy, and formally heretical, as being expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.
2. That the earth is not the centre of the world, nor immovable, but that it moves even with a diurnal motion, is in like manner a proposition absurd and false in philosophy, and, considered in theology, at least erroneous in faith. The accused is reminded that, after Bellarniine had advised and admonished him, the then commissary of the Inquisition told him that he could not defend nor teach that doctrine any more, either orally or in writing. In publishing the Dialogo he had manifestly disobeyed the precept, and in consequence of the publication, the tribunal understood, the said opinion was spreading more and more. He had acted disingenuously in saying nothing about the precept when he applied for the license to print. Mistrusting him, the tribunal had thought it right to proceed to the rigorous examen ("rigoroso esame") in which, he had answered as a Catholic should ("rispondesti cattolicamente"). "We therefore," proceeds the tribunal, "say, pronounce, declare, etc., that you, Galileo, have made yourself vehemently suspect of heresy to this Holy Office i.e. of having believed and held a doctrine false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures." He had therefore incurred all the usual penalties; nevertheless the tribunal would absolve him if he abjured and detested the said errors But as a warning to others, they ordered: 1. that his Dialogo should be prohibited: 2, that he should be "formally" imprisoned (Under restraint, but not in a material prison) during the pleasure of the Holy Office; 3, that he should say once a week for three years to come, the seven penitential psalms. Galileo then abjured the condemned opinion, and swore never to promote it in future, and to denounce to the Holy Office any whom he might find maintaining it.
Harsh as this sentence sounds, the fact is that Galileo was treated with little that can be called severity for the remainder of his life. He resided at first at Siena, afterwards in his own villa at Arcetri, near Florence. He was so far under restraint that he was not allowed to go into the city, nor to remove elsewhere without permission; but within his own house and grounds he seems to have been left entirely free. Milton visited him at Arcetri in 1638 or 1639. "There [i.e. in Italy] I found and visited the famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition." Perhaps Milton did not mean to mislead, but the common inference drawn from his words has been, that he found Galileo immured in the dungeons of the Inquisition, instead of living as a private gentleman in his own country house. The philosopher died at an advanced age at Arcetri in 1642.
Such, in brief outline, were the facts of this celebrated condemnation. Before considering the motives actuating
those who pronounced it, let us examine what the sentence itself amounted to. Did the Roman Pontiff, at any stage of
these proceedings, pronounce ex cathedra that the theory of Copernicus was wrong, and that the earth was the fixed centre of
the world? The writer in the "Dublin Review" already referred to appears to us to make it quite plain that the Roman
Pontiff did nothing of the kind. Whether the
decrees of Pontifical congregations on matters of doctrine, in which there is a
clause expressly asserting the Papal sanction, are or are not to be regarded as
ex cathedra and infallible judgments, is a
point, according to the reviewer, on which theologians are not entirely agreed; but no one, he adds, has ever doubted that
decrees not containing this clause are not to be regarded as decisions
ex cathedra. Now, the decree of the Congregation of the
of March 5, 1616, does not contain the clause; it cannot, therefore, be regarded as defining ex cathedra.
What, then, does the decree decide or do? It decides that the theory of Copernicus is "false" and "entirely contrary to Scripture," and that the books which teach it are to be prohibited. To this must be added the language used by the Holy Office in the preamble of their sentence, as given in a previous paragraph, It is abundantly clear that both Pontifical congregations held that the opinion about the earth's motion now universally received was false and contrary to Scripture, and that no Catholic could hold it without falling into heresy. The reviewer maintains that it was natural and inevitable that they should so regard it, seeing that the obvious sense of Scripture is unquestionably opposed to the Copernican theory, and only "some overwhelming scientific probability" (p. 159) could render it legitimate to override the obvious in favor of an unobvious sense. Later researches have supplied this overwhelming probability, and consequently all Catholics now "admit that the Holy Ghost for wise purposes .... permitted the sacred writers to express themselves in language which was literally true as understood by them, but was figurative in the highest degree as intended by Him." (Ib.)
The reviewer moreover contends that, although all Catholics were bound to assent to the decrees, they were not thereby obliged to hold the geocentric theory as an article of divine faith i.e. with an assent excluding all doubt. To maintain the contradictory of this proposition would be absurd. since the heliocentric theory was allowed to be proposed hypothetically, but the Church would never for a moment allow even the hypothetical maintenance of an opinion contrary to an article of faith. For instance, what impossibility is greater than that, since 1854, the Church should allow any Catholic theologian to maintain, as a hypothesis, that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is untrue? But that the heliocentric theory might be hypothetically propounded after the decree of 1616 is indisputable. For, first, Galileo deposed before the Holy Office in 1633 that in 1616 Cardinal Bellarmine spoke approvingly, both as to him and Copernicus, of their holding the opinion of the movement of the earth "ex suppositione and not absolutely.'' Secondly, the same Bellarmine declared in 1620, "that if a scientific proof of Copernicanism were discovered, Scripture should then be Copernically interpreted;" and the theologian Amort, writing in 1734. expressed himself to the same effect. Thirdly, the report of Melchior Inchofer speaks of "the reasons by which Galileo assertively, absolutely, and not hypothetically .... maintains the motion of the earth;" whence it may be inferred to maintain it hypothetically would not have been censurable.
II. The meaning and effect of the decrees being what we have described, the question arises, Was there any urgent, and at the same time Justifiable, motive for issuing them at all? After all, it may be said, the opinion condemned by the decrees has come to be universally believed; was it not therefore a mistake, to say the least, to attempt thus to suppress it? Has not the logic of events proved that course to be wrong? Such questions as these will be differently answered, according to the varying estimates which people may form of the value of a stable religious conviction. The Pope and the cardinals believed in 1616 that if every one might freely teach, at universities or by printed books, that the earth revolved round the sun, a great weakening of religious faith would ensue, owing to the apparent inconsistency of such teaching with a number of wellknown passages in the Bible. They might remember that Giordano Bruno, an ardent Copernican, had also taught pantheism with equal ardor. The standing danger on the side of Protestantism was, they might think, sufficiently formidable, without the addition to it while it could still be staved off of a danger on the side of physical science. At the present day the youth of Italy listen to infidel lectures and read bad books without restriction; one single book of this kind, Renan's Vie de Jesus, is said to have caused loss of faith to innumerable readers in Spain and Italy. With loss of faith there comes too often, as we all know, a shipwreck in morals. Are the young Italians of today, whom no one thinks of shielding from the knowledge of attacks on Christianity, morally purer and intellectually stronger than their partially protected predecessors of the seventeenth century? We are not in a position to answer the question; but those who believe that the case is not so, but much otherwise, may well approve the solicitude of the rulers of the Church at the former period when the repression of bad books was still possible to protect the Christian faith of the rising generation of Italians. Few Catholics would hesitate to say even now, that it would have been to the unspeakable advantage of European society and individual souls, if the bad book by Renan just adverted to had been summarily suppressed at its birth, and the writer imprisoned, at least "formally." Far be it from us so to disparage the honored name of Galileo as to suggest for a moment that the two cases are parallel. Galileo was a Christian all along, and could no more have written the sentimental impieties of the Vie de Jesus than could Urban VIII. himself. Still there can be no doubt that the Pope and cardinals, beside thinking his personal behavior censurable, because he had broken a distinct promise and disregarded a solemn warning believed that the interests of religion required that Copernicanism should be no otherwise taught than as a scientific hypothesis. The decrees, it is true, say nothing as to a hypothetical propounding; to them the Copernican theory is simply false. But this is the usual style of all disciplinary tribunals. The words of Bellarmine before quoted leave no doubt as to the Church's mind, and an important Step towards their realization was taken when in 1757 the Newtonian philosophy which involves the centrality of the sun having been favorably received at Rome Benedict XIV. suspended the decree of the Congregation of the Index above described.
III. One more question remains whether Galileo was or was not tortured in the course of his examination. It
is extremely painful to read of torture being even threatened to a man so warmly loved by a host of friends, and to whom
science was under such profound obligations. However, one may feel reasonably confident that it was no more than a threat.
M. l'Epinois (La Question de Galilee p. 104) enters fully into the question, and shows (1) that no one in the seventeenth
century ever said or thought, so far as appears, that Galileo had been actually tortured; (2) that a special "interlocutory
of the judge must have been given before the application of the torture, and that of such sentence there is no trace; (3) that even if such sentence had given, Galileo might have legally appealed against it on the ground of age and illhealth, and that his appeal must have been allowed. For these and several other reasons which we have not space to analyze, L'Epinois considers that it is scarcely possible to doubt that the torture, though threatened, was not actually administered.
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