“We years before Galileo was born, Nicolaus

 “We cannot teach people anything; we can only
help them discover it within themselves.”1


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            Back in Elementary School you most
likely learned that the Earth, and all other planets, revolve around the sun,
today in fact virtually every child grows up knowing this; however, this was
not always the case. About four centuries ago the proposition of a heliocentric
solar system was so tendentious the Catholic Church found it heretical. Galileo’s
idea that the Earth rotated around the Sun drove the church into convicting him
with heresy. The conflict and compromise between the Catholic Church and
Galileo created a drift in the relationship between religion and science, which
still exists up to this day.2

            Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa
Italy in 1564, but later moved to Florence with his family. In 1575, when
Galileo was only 11 years old, he was enrolled into the school of Jesuit
Monastery of Santa Maria where he would learn Greek, Latin, mathematics, religion,
music, and painting. When Galileo was 17, his financially strained family
enrolled him in the University of Pisa as a medical student so he would become
a wealthy doctor. However, this did not interest Galileo, so he left medicine
and began physics. Nevertheless, he only lasted 4 more years studying at the
university when his family had become too poor to pay for his education. Instead,
he was taught by a family friend who was a professor of mathematics. Not long
after in 1589, Galileo returned to the University of Pisa as a professor, but
was quickly fired when he challenged Aristotle’s gravitational law. Luckily for
Galileo, he landed a job as professor at the University of Padua. In 1609
Galileo made a spyglass that was even more powerful than the existing ones, and
in 1611 he traveled to Rome to show it to Pope Paul V; they then named his
creation a “telescope”. He later returned home to Florence where he continued
his research.3

The Copernican

         21 years before Galileo was
born, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish Astronomer, published the idea of a
heliocentric solar system (See Appendix
A), he was actually the first person to publish this theory.4 The
first person to ever propose this theory was Aristarchus of Samos who proposed
this theory 200 BC, however all of his work was lost in a great fire that
destroyed a library in Greece that contained records of Greek science.5
Copernicus published his work which he named Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs in 1543, and although no one
seemed to believe him, in the mid-1590s, about 47 years after his death, Galileo,
an Italian astronomer, confirmed that he was correct6 (See Appendix B). However, it did take
Galileo a while to publish his views on Copernican theory. During that time, he
wrote a letter to Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician and astronomer,
telling him that he wanted to publish his work but he was worried he would get
turned down by his fellow colleagues and the Church. Galileo wrote, “I would
dare publish my thoughts if there were many like you; but, since there are not,
I shall forebear….”.7 Kepler
responded by encouraging him to publish his thoughts. Kepler wrote, “Be of good
cheer, Galileo, and come out publicly”.8 As a
result, in 1613 Galileo published the Letters
on the Solar Spots in which he talked greatly about the Copernican Theory.

A Letter to

            After Galileo’s publication of his
Copernican views he was quickly criticized by both scientists and Church
authorities, like Dominican friar, Father Lorini, who claimed that this theory
contradicted the Holy Scriptures.9 Biblical
verses such as Psalm 104:5- “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never
be moved.”10
were used against Galileo. They argued that the Earth does not move, therefore
it was not possible for the Earth to rotate around the Sun. In addition to
these reactions, in December 1613, his close friend Father Castelli, wrote him
a letter on how the Grand Duchess Christina had disapproved of Galileo’s
heliocentric theory. The Grand Duchess Christina viewed his theory as heretical
and declared that it challenged the Holy Scriptures.11 In
response to these disapprovals Galileo responded to Castelli. In this letter
Galileo reasoned that Biblical scriptures, unlike science, can be interpreted
in various ways and it shouldn’t be taken literally. For example, Mark 9:47- “And
if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.”12, this
does not mean to literally tear out your eye, it just means that if you are
addicted to something that is making you sin, it is best for you to get rid of
it or “cut it off”. Since the Bible should not be taken literately, Galileo argued
that it shouldn’t be used to override scientific facts because Science is based
on physical facts which can’t be changed. Galileo wrote, “It
appears to me therefore that no effect of nature, which experience places
before our eyes, or is the necessary conclusion derived from evidence, should
be rendered doubtful by passages of Scripture which contain thousands of words
admitting of various interpretations,”.13

            Hoping that this letter would clear
things up for the Church, Galileo was deceived once more when even more Church
officials accused him of assaulting the Holy Scriptures. Once again, Father
Lorini went against Galileo when he sent the Roman Inquisition a modified copy
of Galileo’s letter to Castelli, in which he added some of his own negative comments
to. All of the Fathers in the Inquisition recognized Galileo’s letter as
slightly suspicious because of Galileo’s opinion that the Holy scriptures do
not mean what they seem to mean. Although, Lorini made sure to make Galileo’s
letter far more threatening than what it really was, the inquisition dismissed
the case. With the growing conflict Galileo saw rise in front of him, he
decided to have his Letters on The Solar
Spots delivered to Cardinal Bellarmine, an Italian cardinal.14 After
reading Galileo’s work, although Bellarmine did not agree with Galileo’s
theory, he also did not agree with condemning the Copernican Theory. He wrote a
letter to Father Foscarini, a monk, to tell him about his own views on
Galileo’s theory. Bellarmine explained how he completely understood Galileo’s
theory, but he could not believe it was true unless he saw proof and Galileo
could not provide any proof.15
Bellarmine wrote, “I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun
is at the center of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the
sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would
have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear
Nonetheless, Pope Paul V’s thoughts on Galileo’s theory did not coincide with
Bellarmine’s, so he ordered Bellarmine to summon Galileo Galilei.17

The Pigeon
League’s Injunction

            In February 26, 1616, Galileo
presented himself in Rome to face the Pope; however, the Pope decided to
transfer this case, which he thought was pathetic, to the Holy Office. In order
to solve this conflict, a compromise would have to be made; so, with the case
filed to the Holy Office, they decided that they would let Galileo go free if
he promised to reject the Copernican Theory, and to never write, speak, or
teach it ever again.18 Tired
of the “Pigeon League”, which is what Galileo nicknamed the church men because
of the bird brains they had,19 and wanting
to end this conflict once and for all, Galileo agreed to the compromise.

            After several years of quiet
studies, Galileo saw a glimpse of hope for another publication of the
Copernican Theory when a new Pope, Pope Urban VIII, was elected pope in 1623.
Since this new Pope had a positive view towards science, Galileo considered
this election as a chance to lift the punishment off of the Copernican theory.20 It
seemed that Galileo’s dreams came true when Giovanni Ciampoli, the Pope’s
secretary, wrote to Galileo, persuading him to continue writing about his ideas.
Not only did the secretary encourage Galileo to publish his work, but the new
Pope himself seemed open to the Copernican Theory. Flabbergasted, Galileo began
to write a book that compared the newly discovered heliocentric solar system to
the old geocentric solar system that the Catholic Church believed in. On
December 24, 1629 Galileo wrote to his companions in Rome, informing them that
he had finally finished writing his Dialogue
Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, and the feedback that Galileo
received made Galileo think that his new book would soon be published.21 In May
1630 Galileo arrived in Rome only to be informed by the Pope Urban VIII that if
Galileo wanted his book to be published, the book would have to claim his
theory as hypothetical and not literal. Galileo agreed to this, however, when
the chief licenser Riccardi read his book for the first time, he found it less
hypothetical than it was supposed to be. In response, he demanded for it to be
revised so it would be more compatible to the Pope’s requirements. Riccardi was
unable to decide whether Galileo’s book should be published, but after some
time he hesitantly gave permission for the book to be published.22

            In February 1632, the first copy of
Galileo’s book was published and was soon sold out. Sorrowfully for Galileo,
his Jesuit enemies convinced the Pope that Galileo’s book only confirmed the
Copernican Theory and that he talked badly of the present geocentric solar
Convinced, the Pope protested that Galileo had disobeyed his restrictions and
he also claimed that Galileo had openly insulted him by including the Pope’s
own arguments in one of the character’s dialogue of the book which was referred
to as the fool.24
With another uprising conflict that had started because of the first failed
compromise, the infuriated Pope then ordered the Inquisition to perform further
investigations on Galileo, and it didn’t take much time for the church leaders
to once again summon Galileo to Rome to stand trial with a charge of heresy.25
Galileo’s doctors argued that Galileo was too ill to travel, they wrote, “All
these symptoms are worthy of notice, as under the least aggravation they might
evidently become dangerous to life.”26 the
Holy Office replied, “Come willingly, or come in chains.”.27

The Trial
of 1633

         Galileo was 70 years old
when he traveled to Rome to stand trial, and even though the Pope could have
imprisoned him, he allowed him to stay at the Medici’s’ Embassy because of his
old age. The first day of trial was April 12, 1633; where the Church accused
Galileo of heresy. They claimed that Galileo had disobeyed the injunction that
the Church had originally given to him in 1616. Galileo defended himself to
this by claiming that the Pope himself had given him permission to write the
book as long as it stated the new theory as hypothetical. He insisted that he
followed the guide lines and that he was innocent. The Church however didn’t
budge, and by the end of the day Galileo found himself in deep trouble with the

            A couple of days later, the second
day of the trial came. On this day, the Church had decided to review Galileo’s
book, but this time they would pay close attention to his opinions to see if it
supported the Copernican Theory. They agreed that it did in fact support the
theory. When the questions began on the second day, it seemed like Galileo had
given up on this battle; because instead of fighting against their accusations,
he simply began to apologize. Galileo had realized the great danger that he was
in, and as an old man with poor health he became frightened of the punishments.
Galileo would have to repent if he wanted to live, so he admitted that his book
had gone too far.

            On the third day of the trial, with
no more arguments from Galileo, the Church pronounced Galileo guilty, and
afterwards they admitted to him that he had brought all his penalties on
himself. However, apart from their harsh acts on Galileo, they offered him yet
another compromise; Galileo could avoid all the harsh penalties that would be placed
on him if he would declare that the Copernican Theory was wrong.

            Since Galileo had agreed to this
compromise, on the fourth day of the trial, Galileo entered wearing a white
robe.28 On
trial, these white robes would represent a cleansed soul, or a soul which has
been washed pure.29 He
immediately knelt down and listened to his sentence which stated, “We order
that by a public edict the book of DIALOGUES OF GALILEO GALILEI be prohibited,
and We condemn thee to the prison of this Holy Office during Our will and
pleasure; and as a salutary penance We enjoin on thee that for the space of
three years thou shalt recite once a week the Seven Penitential Psalms,”.30

            After the Church finished reading
Galileo’s sentence, Galileo then proceeded to recite his abjuration that the
Church had prepared for him. He read, “I abjure with sincere heart and
unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally
all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church. And I swear
that for the future I will neither say nor assert in speaking or writing such
things as may bring upon me similar suspicion;”. 31

Never-Ending Drift

         Galileo’s hardest
punishment, which was house arrest, lasted for the rest of his life. Four years
after being imprisoned in his farm house in Arcetri, Galileo lost sight in both
of his eyes because of an infection.32 The man
who once gazed out into space through his telescope, now lived in a void of
darkness, and on January 8, 1642, he died.33

          Galileo’s persecution made both scientists and
the Church realize that religion could neither control or explain science. This
is exactly what Galileo tried to explain to the Catholic Church, but since they
didn’t agree with him they persecuted him, creating a conflict which they later
tried to fix by making a compromise. However, this compromise didn’t exactly
fix things; it only tried to hide the fact that science and religion don’t always
agree with each other.


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