A Genius in Rome & the Genius of Rome

The engraved frontispiece of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems, published 1632; showing (left to right) Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Copernicus.

The following essay is a reflection based upon William R. Shea and Mariano Artigas’ Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003). (Originally posted, 28 December 2012.)

Shea and Artigas provide a lucid, enjoyable, and disciplined perspective on the battle between the intellectual pride and “troublesome genius” of Galileo and the intellectual authority and worldly concerns of various members of Roman Catholic Church. Galileo in Rome accomplishes this by hinging each of its six chapters around one of Galileo’s visits to the Eternal City—visits purposed at first to establish himself in academia, but increasingly to defend his position in its ranks. The book enlightens, in particular, the modern reader with its balanced presentation of the legitimate and weighty interest on both sides of this battle, namely, those of Galileo and his supporters (many of them high-ranking officials in the Church) and the true interests of the Church (whether soberly and diligently attended to by the likes of saints such as St. Robert Bellarmine or poorly represented by more worldly officials). The theses that emerge from the book’s historical narrative that are particularly clarifying with regard to the “legend and myth of Galileo the champion of scientific intellectual freedom” seem to me to be as follows: Galileo frequently hindered his own interests (both politically and scientifically) through his own intellectual pride and stubbornness; certain officials and/or members of the Catholic Church delayed or resisted Galileo’s publications involving the “new Pythagoreanism” due to legitimate concerns connected to the Counter-Reformation; the reasons why Galileo was originally instructed not to teach Copernicanism in 1616 were not the primary motivators for why he was finally brought before the Holy Office in 1633. The instructive course of the book allows the reader to see that the reasons for the conflict, from both sides of the dispute, were pride, poor timing, and (of all things) the inability to provide adequate scientific arguments! I will consider each of these four points in turn.

1. Galileo frequently hindered his own interests

It is not a new item of knowledge that Galileo was intellectually prideful. After all, his was a legitimate genius frequently and resolutely limited by the intellectual authorities of his day—this festered inside the Florentine’s soul for many long years. However, Galileo’s inability to overcome this limitation resulted in a blindness and stubbornness that hindered his goals for scientific publication on the ‘political’, or better, PR front. So, it is no surprise when Galileo hears, indirectly from a friend, that the Jesuit “Fr. Christopher Grienberger, the professor of mathematics and the Roman College” opined

If Galileo had known how to keep on good terms with the Fathers of this College, he would live gloriously in this world. None of his misfortune would have come to pass and he would have been able to write as he wished about anything, even about the motion of the earth. (p. 167)

In typical fashion, however, Shea and Artigas fill in the chiaroscuro of the situation: Grienberger had enjoyed Galileo’s controversial book (Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo) he told Evangelista Torricelli (who became an assistant of Galileo’s in his last years), “but was not convinced” by it (p. 170). Even the Jesuit Orazio Grassi (whose work on the nature of comets had been attacked by Galileo—an argument in which Galileo’s Discourse on the Comets and Assayer actually propounded a false theory, pp. 98-101)

declared that he was very sorry about Galileo’s trials and that he had always been fonder of his rival than Galileo had been of him. “When I was asked last year in Rome,” he continues, “what I thought about his book on the motion of the Earth, I did my best to placate those were against him and show them the value of the arguments that he proposed, so that some of them marveled that I should speak so favorably of someone who disliked me and had even offended me. Galileo caused his own ruin by thinking too highly of himself and despising others. You should not be surprised if everybody plots against him!” . . . .  Grassi was simply trying to be generous and fair: Galileo had good arguments, but he had antagonised his opponents by treating them the way he handled Simplicio in the Dialogue. No wonder he stirred up such animosity. (pp. 171-172)

Nonetheless, it is easy for one to imagine that these more amiable attitudes towards Galileo more easily arose because he had been silenced by the Holy Office. Perhaps the side for Scientific Progress may want to contend (in curiously scholastic fashion) that all Jesuits are liars, but they should be reminded (as Shea and Artigas remind us) that “As happened on other occasions, the Jesuits were credited with less charity than they displayed and more political power than they possessed.” (p. 171) In any event, the ways in which Galileo’s intellectual pride stymies his own scientific progress is more instructive and also more incontestably true. Among the “good arguments” which Grassi refers is Galileo’s incorrect tidal theory. Of this theory, Shea and Artigas relate that

At about this time [January 1630] Galileo received a letter from Giovanfrancesco Buonamici, the Tuscan ambassador to Spain, to whom he had written in November 1629 requesting information about the period of the tides on the Spanish coast and elsewhere. What motivated this query was Galileo’s belated discovery that in the Mediterranean there are two high tides and two low tides each day, and not only one high tide and one low tide as his own theory demanded. Buonamici made enquiries and confirmed that the flow and ebb of the sea followed a 12- and not a 24-hour cycle. This was devastating news for Galileo’s explanation of the tides, which postulated one high tide at noon and one low tide at midnight. But Galileo did not panic and merely concluded that these discrepancies could be explained by the odd shapes and the varying depth of the ocean floor. He was so convinced of the validity of his proof of the Earth’s motion that he continued to believe, in the teeth of evidence, that the diurnal period in the ocean followed a 24- and not a 12-hour cycle. His faith in his theory was greater than his trust in what sailors reported. (p. 132)

Besides his intransigence over his own theory of the tides, Galileo (the “Father of Modern Astronomy and Physics”) was also eternally unwilling to abandon the ancient and medieval dictum that all heavenly motion must by nature be circular. The two passages touch on much of the astronomical phenomena and theological concerns at issue, and so deserve to be quoted at length. The first is in connection with Galileo’s discovery of the phases of Venus, which supports the theory that it orbits the sun (but it does not prove this, as both the Ptolemaic system and Tycho Brahe’s hybrid geo-heliocentric system are able to illustrate):

On 17 December 1610, Galileo wrote to his former student, Benedetto Castelli, that those who were not convinced of the truth of Copernicanism, even before the discovery of the phases of Venus, were bookish philosophers who cared only for the empty applause of the vulgar crowd. This letter reveals a side of Galileo’s character that will recur in his private writings and before long in his published works. He was stung by reluctance or, worse, refusal to accept his discoveries, and he was becoming impatient, even arrogant, with people who criticized him. He hit back by exaggerating, as he did in this case by claiming that even before the phases of Venus had been observed there was convincing proof that Copernicus was right. To the end of his life, Galileo held to a simplified version of the Copernican system in which all the planets move in perfect circles. Although he preached open-mindedness, he never lent an ear to Kepler’s arguments about elliptical paths. (p. 26)

The second passage brings more to bear concerning the positions at issue, and how these relate to the Pole’s discovery. Since some had raised issue that the Copernican theory was contradictory to the literal meaning of certain Scriptural texts, Galileo wrote to Cardinal Carlo Conti, who replied in a letter of 7 July 1612.

The cardinal replied by distinguishing between the incorruptibility of the heavens and the immobility of the Earth. As far as the first was concerned, Scripture rather went against the Aristotelian claim that no change could occur in the heavens, but whether recent telescopic discoveries actually proved that change does occur “requires much study,” wrote the cardinal. He gave three reasons for this caution. First, celestial bodies are very far and can only be known after a long period of observation; second, we cannot simply affirm that they are subject to change, we have to explain how; and, third, in the specific case of sunspots, they could be immutable starlets and not cloud-like objects that really change in shape.

On the more radical idea of the motion of the Earth, the Cardinal considered daily rotation as acceptable since this would not remove the Earth from the center of the world. The annual motion around the Sun he found, “less in agreement with Scripture,” because we would have to interpret passages where the Sun and the planets are said to move as popular ways of speaking. This is something “that should not be admitted without great necessity,” he warned. Such an interpretation was attempted by the Spanish theologian Diego Zuñiga in his Commentary on Job but practically no one followed him.

Clearly what was required was proof that the Earth really moves, and it is one of the ironies of history that a few days after receiving Cardinal Conti’s letter, Galileo got another one that could have helped him do just that. It is dated 21 July 1612 and also came from Rome, where it was penned by Frederico Cesi [founder of the famed Lyncean Academy of which Galileo was a member, hence the appellation “Linceo” after his name], who tells Galileo about Kepler’s discovery that the orbits of the planets are elliptical: “I believe with Kepler that to compel the planets to follow perfect circles is to confine them to a path from which they often escape. I realize, like you, that many orbits are not concentric to the Sun or the Earth but that some are concentric to the Earth and others to the Sun, and perhaps all to the Sun if their trajectories are elliptical as Kepler says.”

The crucial sentence is the last one: Unless the orbits of the planets are elliptical they cannot have the Sun as their center or, more precisely, at one of the two focuses of the ellipse, as Kepler also said. Unfortunately, Galileo seems never to have taken this idea seriously. He may have been deterred by Kepler’s mystical asides, but the main reason was that he was deeply convinced that natural and unending motion (in the absence of retarding forces such as air) can only be perfectly circular. (pp. 53-54)

Here we have a theme which frequently returns in this book: one cannot simply affirm, but one must explain how. Galileo’s own intellectual ideologies prevented him, at crucial moments, from seeing ways to advance arguments for the accurate physical conception of the heavenly bodies. His life-long resistance to the discoveries of Kepler is the primary evidence of this. Also at work, as we can see in the above quote, are the concerns which the officials of the Church (including St. Robert Bellarmine) voiced repeatedly—the mode in which the Sacred Scriptures are interpreted can change (the figurative interpretation or the “common parlance” interpretations were nothing new), but this must only be embarked upon given serious scientific proof of the contrary, which was never achieved in Galileo’s lifetime. It is also worthy of note, although nothing new to those familiar with St. Thomas’ commentaries on Aristotle’s works in natural philosophy, that Aristotelianism did not dictate the mode of interpretation of Biblical passages, as Cardinal Conti notes.

The final note of evidence of Galileo’s “thinking too highly of himself and despising others” comes from Galileo’s own pen. After his condemnation in 1633, and before the publication of his Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche, intorno à due nuove scienze, Galileo wrote to his friend Nicolas-Calude Fabri de Peiresc:

I have two sources of lasting comfort; first, that in my writings there cannot be found the faintest shadow of irreverence towards the Holy Church; and second, the testimony of my own conscience, which only I and God in heaven thoroughly know. And He knows that in this cause for which I suffer, though many might have spoken with more learning, none, not even the ancient Fathers, has spoken with more piety or with greater zeal for the Church than I. (pp. 198-199, emphases mine)

Even granting that Galileo’s first “source” of comfort is legitimate and granting him some leeway for speaking in an Italian (i.e., hyperbolic and ‘mystical’) sense, the two italicized statements betray the extent to which Galileo’s investment in his intellectual cause clouded his objective evaluation of its historical, concrete circumstances. To assert that his piety and zeal exceed even the Fathers of the Church is not only false on its face (would the Florentine really win in a zeal-contest against St. Jerome?), yet further, something Galileo cannot maintain within the premises of his own discourse—would he not have to know the testimony of the Fathers’ consciences?

This much to support the first thesis.

2. Galileo’s books were delayed or resisted due to legitimate concerns

Two points will suffice to illustrate the legitimacy of the Church’s concerns and their reasons why Galileo’s position was suppressed. In the fourth section I will say something to the nature of intellectual authority, but for now it is well to fill in the strength of Galileo’s opponents’ position. This can be done in a general and particular way. On both counts the matter at issue is the Copernican or neo-Pythagorean theory of the celestial bodies.

Generally, the energies of Church officials and the Congregation of the Index in regard to new publications were focused by Counter Reformation policies and the spirit of the recent council of Council of Trent. The officers of the Congregation of the Index were concerned with reversing Protestant principles of Scriptural interpretation and protecting the integrity of Catholic doctrine and dogma. Hence, the various passages in Scripture which run counter (on a literal reading) to Copernican theory were at issue. Even as early as 1616, due to his astronomical discoveries and publications concerning sunspots and his Letter to Castelli (a revised version of which is the famous Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine), Galileo was a known proponent of the Copernican theory. Even his friend Cesi, the aforementioned founder of the Lyncean Academey,

urged Galileo to avoid discussing Copernicus for the time being and to bear in mind “that it is very easy to proscribe a book or suspend it, and that this is done even in case of doubt.” Cesi did not fear that Copernicanism would be officially declared heretical but that it might be condemned in a milder, but nonetheless embarrassing, way by being put on the Index, as was often done. Why, Bellarmine himself had had one of his books placed on the Index in 1590 by Sixtus V on the grounds that he was not hard enough on those who criticized the temporal power of the papacy! (p. 60)

The extreme caution which the Congregation of the Index was accustomed to show during this time, as part of the legitimate fight against protestant forms of heresy and schism, is evident from this quote. The key event that concerns us here, a meeting of the Congregation of the Index from 1-5 March 1616, resulted in the following decree:

“It has also come to the knowledge of the said Congregation that the Pythagorean doctrine of the motion of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun, which is false and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture, is also taught by Nicolaus Copernicus in his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, and Diego de Zuñiga in his Commentary on Job, and is now being spread abroad and accepted by many. This can be seen from a certain letter of a Carmelite Father, intitled letter of Father Paolo Foscarini, Carmelite, on the Opinion of the Pythagoreans and of Copernicus Regarding the Motion of the Earth, and the Stability of the Sun, and on the New Pythagorean System of the World. Naples: Printed by Lazzaro Scorrigio, 1615. In this letter the said Father tries to show that the aforesaid doctrine of the immobility of the Sun in the center of the world and of the Earth’s motion is true and not opposed to Holy Scripture. Therefore, in order that this opinion may not insinuate itself any further to the prejudice Catholic truth, it has been decided that the said Nicolaus Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium, and Diego de Zuñiga, On Job, be suspended until corrected. The book of the Carmelite Father, Paolo Antonio Foscarini, is altogether prohibited and condemned, and all other works in which the same is taught are likewise prohibited, and the present Decree prohibits, condemns, and suspends them all respectively.”

This degree is remarkable in a number of ways. First, it is the only document to have been published (as opposed to private proscriptions, such as ones Galileo received), and hence it alone has legal status. Second, Galileo is not mentioned. Third, Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus is not banned outright but taken out of circulation until corrections are made. Fourth, although the panel of experts had called the immobility of the Sun “formally heretical,” the decree merely states that the doctrine is “false and contrary to Holy Scripture.” This point significant. The Congregation of the Index could have been expected to endorse the censure as it had been approved by the Holy Office. The fact that it did not means that someone objected at the meeting of 3 March 1616. Indeed, not one but two cardinals did, as we know from three sources. The first is an entry in the diary of Giovanfrancesco Buonamici (the aforementioned Tuscan ambassador to Spain), who happened to be in Rome many years later when Galileo was tried in 1633. He made enquiries about the background of the affair and, on 2 May 1633, wrote as follows: “In the time of Paul V this opinion was opposed as erroneous and contrary to many passages of Sacred Scripture; therefore, Paul V was of the opinion to declare it contrary to the Faith; but on account of the opposition of the Cardinals Bonifazio Caetano and Maffeo Barberini, now Urban VIII, the Pope was stopped right at the beginning.” (pp. 84-85)

Thus, the Copernican theory was proscribed in print, but not by any means declared heretical. Shea and Artigas are at pains to point this out in the midst of various details concerning the ban of 1616:

The decree that proscribed Copernicus and other works that taught heliocentrism did not involve the infallibility of the Church, the pope or anyone else. It was, in the eyes of those who prepared and approved it, a prudential decision to remove from public circulation works that might lead unwary readers to misunderstand the nature of science and the role of Scripture. The Counter Reformation did not encourage discussion or debaters about doctrinal matters. The theological pendulum that the reformers had pushed too far in one direction was now made to swing to the other extreme, but even the most conservative cardinals would not have considered a decree of the Congregation of the Index as offering a definitive statement of the Catholic faith. (p. 88)

The point at issue was, in the main, entirely one of care for souls. While this results in the historical backwash of the officials of the Church being portrayed as anti-intellectualists, this myopic, whiggish interpretation fueled by the Baconian exceptionalism in scientific “freethinkers” is undermined when met with the actual men at the scene of the real events. For this purpose, it is suitable to consider the thoughts of St. Robert Bellarmine.

The particular evidence we have is through the injunction Galileo received in 1616 from St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, head of the Congregation of the Index, on instruction from the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Bellarmine himself was fully appraised of the situation, having read Foscarini’s aforementioned letter. He writes to Foscarini on 12 April 1615 (for the narrative of Shea and Artigas concerning this letter, pp. 69-71):

I have gladly read the letter in Italian and the treatise which Your Reverence sent me, and I thank you for both. And I confess that both are filled with ingenuity and learning, and since you ask for my opinion, I will give it to you very briefly, as you have little time for reading and I for writing:

First. I say that it seems to me that Your Reverence and Galileo did prudently to content yourself with speaking hypothetically, and not absolutely, as I have always believed that Copernicus spoke. For to say that, assuming the earth moves and the sun stands still, all the appearances are saved better than with eccentrics and epicycles, is to speak well; there is no danger in this, and it is sufficient for mathematicians. But to want to affirm that the sun really is fixed in the center of the heavens and only revolves around itself (i. e., turns upon its axis ) without traveling from east to west, and that the earth is situated in the third sphere and revolves with great speed around the sun, is a very dangerous thing, not only by irritating all the philosophers and scholastic theologians, but also by injuring our holy faith and rendering the Holy Scriptures false. For Your Reverence has demonstrated many ways of explaining Holy Scripture, but you have not applied them in particular, and without a doubt you would have found it most difficult if you had attempted to explain all the passages which you yourself have cited.

Second. I say that, as you know, the Council [of Trent] prohibits expounding the Scriptures contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers. And if Your Reverence would read not only the Fathers but also the commentaries of modern writers on Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Josue, you would find that all agree in explaining literally (ad litteram) that the sun is in the heavens and moves swiftly around the earth, and that the earth is far from the heavens and stands immobile in the center of the universe. Now consider whether in all prudence the Church could encourage giving to Scripture a sense contrary to the holy Fathers and all the Latin and Greek commentators. Nor may it be answered that this is not a matter of faith, for if it is not a matter of faith from the point of view of the subject matter, it is on the part of the ones who have spoken. It would be just as heretical to deny that Abraham had two sons and Jacob twelve, as it would be to deny the virgin birth of Christ, for both are declared by the Holy Ghost through the mouths of the prophets and apostles.

Third. I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the center of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not travel around the earth but the earth circled the sun, then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated. But I do not believe that there is any such demonstration; none has been shown to me. It is not the same thing to show that the appearances are saved by assuming that the sun really is in the center and the earth in the heavens. I believe that the first demonstration might exist, but I have grave doubts about the second, and in a case of doubt, one may not depart from the Scriptures as explained by the holy Fathers. I add that the words ‘the sun also riseth and the sun goeth down, and hasteneth to the place where he ariseth, etc.’ were those of Solomon, who not only spoke by divine inspiration but was a man wise above all others and most learned in human sciences and in the knowledge of all created things, and his wisdom was from God. Thus it is not too likely that he would affirm something which was contrary to a truth either already demonstrated, or likely to be demonstrated. And if you tell me that Solomon spoke only according to the appearances, and that it seems to us that the sun goes around when actually it is the earth which moves, as it seems to one on a ship that the beach moves away from the ship, I shall answer that one who departs from the beach, though it looks to him as though the beach moves away, he knows that he is in error and corrects it, seeing clearly that the ship moves and not the beach. But with regard to the sun and the earth, no wise man is needed to correct the error, since he clearly experiences that the earth stands still and that his eye is not deceived when it judges that the moon and stars move. And that is enough for the present. I salute Your Reverence and ask God to grant you every happiness. [my emphases]

The letter as a whole and the passages I have highlighted display the familiarity that Bellarmine has with the arguments at issue. The first highlighted passage also expresses a key bone of contention that has already been raised: absent scientific demonstrations (and not mathematical hypotheses) to the contrary, there is no need to mandate reinterpretation of Scriptures and correction of the Fathers of the Church. Indeed, the second highlighted passage of Bellarmine’s letter perfectly encapsulates the vast difficulty under which the early modern scientific revolution was laboring—to birth the intellectual brain-child that held that the reality of the heavens was accessible only through an intellectual achievement that depended upon correctly interpreting the (if taken at face value) misleading data of the senses. This is the stronger yet quieter revolution—the greater and more conceptual “shock”—greater even than the consequence of the heliocentrism to which it gave rise, as Armour expresses it (“The Philosophy of Charles de Koninck,” p. 10):

The great advances in the science of the time—and of the succeeding centuries—were essentially conceptual. It is said that the great shock provided by “science” was the growing realization that the earth revolves around the sun. The displacement of the geocentric universe was supposed to shock people because it displaced the earth from the centre of the universe. I suspect that this shock has been greatly exaggerated, but another, greater, shock is less often noticed. The heliocentric universe forced us to believe that the senses deceive us: the earth seems to stand still and the sun certainly appears to move.

It is, then, not a discredit to Galileo’s opponents or to Galileo, but a witness to the difficulty of the matter, that the key theses and theories that would have lent more resolution to their debate were only discovered long after Galileo’s death.

While there are three unpublished (as opposed to the published decree of the Index) sources leading up to the proscription of Galileo from teaching Copernicanism, it is the fourth unpublished (and hence unofficial) but still authentic document, the minutes of the crucial meeting between Galileo and Bellarmine, which was to resurface in 1633, much to Galileo’s detriment:

According to this document, Galileo was admonished by Bellarmine in the cardinal’s residence in the presence of Commissioner Shegizzi, some members of his staff, and two guests, who had come to see the cardinal. Calileo was told by Cardinal Bellarmine to abandon the error of Copernicanism, “and immediately thereafter, before me and before witnesses, the Cardinal being still present, the said Galileo was by the said Commissioner commanded and enjoined, in the name of His Holiness the Pope and the whole Congregation of the Holy Office, to relinquish altogether the said opinion that the Sun is the center of the world and at rest and that the Earth moves; nor henceforth to hold, teach, or defend it in any way verbally or in writing. Otherwise proceedings would be taken against him by the Holy Office. The said Galileo acquiesced in this ruling and promised to obey.

. . . .  Bellarmine may have felt that his own admonishment had been sufficient, and the minute was left unsigned in the dossier. When it was found in 1633, it put Galileo in the uncomfortable position of having apparently acquiesced, in the wording of the minute, not to hold, teach, or defend Copernicanism in any way, verbally or in writing. To break such a promsie would be a much more serious offence than would a contravention of the warning not to go beyond using Copernicanism “as a convenient hypothesis” to facilitate computations. This is how Galileo later remembered having been instructed. (pp. 83-84)

Thus, we can conclude from the secretary’s record that Shegizzi’s proscription is distinct from Bellarmine’s. This is key to trying to understand the trouble into which Galileo later drove himself (he could only vaguely recalled the full wording of the proscription “nor henceforth to hold, teach, or defend it in any way verbally or in writing”), why Galileo’s trial in 1633 progressed as they did, as the second highlighted passage imports. Nonetheless, rumors flew after the degree of the Congregation of the Index proscribing Copernicus that Bellarmine had more severely punished Galileo; thus, to add to Galileo’s multiple sources of instruction, Galileo soon after the decree appealed directly to Cardinal Bellarmine for clarification, and received this reply:

“We, Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, having heard that it is calumniously reported that Signor Galileo Galilei has in our hand abjured and has also been punished with salutary penance, and being requested to state the truth as to this, declare that the said Galileo has not abjured, either in our hand, or the hand of any other person here in Rome, or anywhere else, so far as we know, any opinion or doctrine held by him. Neither has any salutary penance been imposed on him; but that only the declaration made by the Holy Father and published by the Sacred Congregation of the Index was notified to him, which says that the doctrine attributed to Copernicus, that the Earth moves around the Sun and that the Sun is stationary in the center of the world and does not move from east to west, is contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and therefore cannot be defended or held. In witness whereof we have written and subscribed the present document with our own hand this twenty-sixth day of May 1616.”

With this certificate in his pocket, Galileo felt that he could continue to publicly consider heliocentrism as a convenient, albeit arbitrary, mathematical tool and, in the secret of his heart, hope that the decree might one day be revoked. (pp. 90-91)

Besides this concern over “neo-Pythagoreanism,” a more significant source of concern, as the years wore one, was Galileo’s atomism. Thus, Galileo’s Assayer was denounced in 1625 to the Holy Office for the threat that the distinction between primary and secondary qualities posed to the doctrine of transubstantiation decreed by the Council of Trent (see Shea and Artigas, pp. 117-120).

This much to support the second thesis.

3. Why 1616 was and was not 1633

We can then, at the risk of repeating the work already accomplished by Shea and Artigas, argue succinctly that the reasons for Galileo’s trial in 1633 were not primarily the ones for which he drove himself into trouble in 1633. Already we have seen that Galileo’s version of Copernicanism lacked sufficient and adequate demonstrative proof and that there were concerns over Scriptural interpretation, as expressed privately by many (e.g., Conti and Bellarmine) and publicly by the decree of the Congregation of the Index. Furthermore, on Galileo’s fourth trip to Rome in 1624 (to test the waters and garner resources for publishing his all but completed Dialogo) he had in his audience with Pope Urban VIII (his long-time friend and supporter) heard from the Pope a metaphysical objection to the possibility of determining the physical truth of the celestial bodies through astronomical theories. This objection Galileo put in the mouth of Simplicio (the numbskulled representative of Aristotelianism) near the end of the fourth day of the Dialogo. What was originally amiable support for Galileo’s mathematical hypotheses at the time of his fourth visit, under the pressures of political crises, plague, and personal ambition, had turned to Urban VIII’s stung pride by the time the book was distributed. He had been under the impression all along that Galileo was writing a defense of the old theories of astronomy in which the Catholics were shown not to be slow-witted when it came to understanding the theories newly propounded by Copernicus and favored by the Protestants. This was a concern of the Pope’s, as evidenced by

a letter of Castelli to Galileo of 16 March 1630 in which he says that he heard from Prince Cesi that Tommaso Campanella recently informed Urban VIII that he had been on the verge of converting some German Protestants but that they backed away because of the decree banning Copernicus. The pope winced, and reportedly answered, “This was never our intention, and if it had been left to us, that Decree would not have been made.” (p. 86)

Also at issue was Galileo’s duplicity and hoodwinking of the Dominican friar Niccoló Riccardi, the master of the sacred palace and responsible for licensing the printing of books. Father Riccardi had originally given the imprimatur for Galileo’s Assayer and praised it highly, stating “that it contained

so many fine considerations pertaining to natural philosophy that I believe our age is to be celebrated by future ages not only as the heir of works of past philosophers but as the discoverer of many secrets of nature that they were unable to reveal, thanks to the deep and sound reflections of this author in whose age I count myself fortunate to be born—when the gold of truth is no longer weighed in bulk and with a steelyard, but is assayed with so delicate a balance. (pp. 107-108)

However, Galileo had time after time avoided and delayed sending Riccardi a copy of the manuscript of the Dialogo for assessment. All told, the only parts of the book the Dominican had seen were the preface and parts of the conclusion. His limited imprimatur for the work was limited to publication in Rome, and, due to Galileo’s misrepresentation of its contents (which continued even at the opening of his trial in 1633) Riccardi did not know that he had given permission to a book which went against the 1616 decree of the Index.

Galileo’s trial was thus motivated by papal lèse-majesté (furthered by various contributing voices offended in Roman academia) as well as its violation of the decree of 1616. The trial of 1633, once it uncovered the proscription Galileo had received privately at the hands of Bellarmine and Commissioner Shegizzi, had then another point upon which Galileo had played foul—to say nothing of Galileo’s misrepresentation of the Dialogo‘s contents at his trial—he maintained that the book did not defend Copernicanism. Thus, what in 1616 was a prudential proscription (lacking scientific evidence to the contrary), had become in 1632 a political and personal struggle of wills, above and beyond the intellectual dispute.

4. A confluence of prideful and stubborn wills

All told, therefore, the Galileo affair originated from pride, poor timing, and the inability to provide adequate scientific arguments—on both sides of the debate. The stubbornness of Galileo through his career and driving his book past the proper authorities for its publication and the pride of the academics and Urban VIII were the matrix from which the trial eventually arose. As Shea and Artigas note, the time at which Galileo made his proposals was theologically and politically very turbulent—a time when intellectual proposals were not hermetically sealed from violent consequences. The Florentine’s theories were mathematical toys at best and physical-turned-political turmoil at the worst when it came to religious wars spurred on in part by warring theologies of Scriptural interpretation. The inadequate scientific arguments provided by the scientist—and the inadequate objections which faced him—also provided elements of tension that drove tempers and wills on both sides. On the one hand were the details of Aristotelian cosmology that were essentially susceptible to revision, insofar as they were based on observational data which advances in the line of Galilean-type astronomy were to improve. On the other hand were the infant arguments of the Copernican theory—yet to be bolstered by sufficient Newtonian physical theories. Indeed, Copernicanism itself is false in its conjunction that the earth moves and the sun is immobile at the center of the universe.

The perennial issue in this conflict is the existence of intellectual authority. For the sake of the common good—whether of a class, a family, a university, a city, or (and especially) the Church—the rectitude of the truth must be preserved among the intellects of those ordered to the common good. This is especially true insofar as practical truth among members of the common good is requisite for the pursuit of intellectual truths that, in their nature, transcend the purview of the common good of that society. However, this is not the case for the Catholic Church, for the common good to which it is supernaturally ordered is Substantial Truth. The implications for Catholic practice, religious freedom, intellectual and academic discipline, philosophical understandings of reason, and science were the burden—painfully and problematically discharged—of the ages following that of the genius who troubled Rome.


"Sed contra" or "Distinguo" or "Amplius" below ...

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