History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom

Contents:
Author: Andrew Dickson White

IV. Victory of the Church Over Galileo.

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."[63]

[63] For various utterances of Pope Urban against the Copernican theory at this period, see extracts from the original documents given by Gebler. For punishment of those who had shown some favor to Galileo, see various citations, and especially those from the Vatican manuscript, Gebler, p. 216. As to the text of the abjuration, see L’Epinois; also Polacco, Anticopernicus, etc., Venice, 1644; and for a discussion regarding its publication, see Favaro, Miscellanea Galileana, p. 804. It is not probable that torture in the ordinary sense was administered to Galileo, though it was threatened. See Th. Martin, Vie de Galilee, for a fair summing up of the case.

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."[64]

[64] For the substitution of the word "notorious" for "renowned" by order of the Inquisition, see Martin, p.227.

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."[65]

[65] For a copy of this document, see Gebler, p. 269. As to the spread of this and similar documents notifying Europe of Galileo’s condemnation, see Favaro, pp. 804, 805.

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."[66]

[66] For Chiaramonti’s book and selections given, see Gebler as above, p. 271. For Polacco, see his work as cited, especially Assertiones i, ii, vii, xi, xiii, lxxiii, clcccvii, and others. The work is in the White Library at Cornell University. The date of it is 1644.

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. Nor has that old conscientious consistency in hatred yet fully relented: hardly a generation since has not seen some ecclesiastic, like Marini or De Bonald or Rallaye or De Gabriac, suppressing evidence, or torturing expressions, or inventing theories to blacken the memory of Galileo and save the reputation of the Church. Nay, more: there are school histories, widely used, which, in the supposed interest of the Church, misrepresent in the grossest manner all these transactions in which Galileo was concerned. Sancta simplicitas! The Church has no worse enemies than those who devise and teach these perversions. They are simply rooting out, in the long run, from the minds of the more thoughtful scholars, respect for the great organization which such writings are supposed to serve.[67]

[67] For the persecutions of Galileo’s memory after his death, see Gebler and Wohwill, but especially Th. Martin, p. 243 and chaps. ix and x. For documentary proofs, see L’Epinois. For a collection of the slanderous theories invented against Galileo, see Martin, final chapters and appendix. Both these authors are devoted to the Church, but unlike Monsignor Marini, are too upright to resort to the pious fraud of suppressing documents or interpolating pretended facts.

The Protestant Church was hardly less energetic against this new astronomy than the mother Church. The sacred science of the first Lutheran Reformers was transmitted as a precious legacy, and in the next century was made much of by Calovius. His great learning and determined orthodoxy gave him the Lutheran leadership. Utterly refusing to look at ascertained facts, he cited the turning back of the shadow upon King Hezekiah’s dial and the standing still of the sun for Joshua, denied the movement of the earth, and denounced the whole new view as clearly opposed to Scripture. To this day his arguments are repeated by sundry orthodox leaders of American Lutheranism.

As to the other branches of the Reformed Church, we have already seen how Calvinists, Anglicans, and, indeed, Protestant sectarians generally, opposed the new truth.[68]

[68] For Clovius, see Zoeckler, Geschichte, vol. i, pp. 684 and 763. For Calvin and Turretin, see Shields, The Final Philosophy, pp. 60, 61.

In England, among the strict churchmen, the great Dr. South denounced the Royal Society as "irreligious," and among the Puritans the eminent John Owen declared that Newton’s discoveries were "built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary presumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture." Even Milton seems to have hesitated between the two systems. At the beginning of the eighth book of Paradise Lost he makes Adam state the difficulties of the Ptolemaic system, and then brings forward an angel to make the usual orthodox answers. Later, Milton seems to lean toward the Copernican theory, for, referring to the earth, he says:

"Or she from west her silent course advance With inoffensive pace, that spinning sleeps On her soft axle, while she faces even And bears thee soft with the smooth air along."

English orthodoxy continued to assert itself. In 1724 John Hutchinson, professor at Cambridge, published his Moses’ Principia, a system of philosophy in which he sought to build up a complete physical system of the universe from the Bible. In this he assaulted the Newtonian theory as "atheistic," and led the way for similar attacks by such Church teachers as Horne, Duncan Forbes, and Jones of Nayland. But one far greater than these involved himself in this view. That same limitation of his reason by the simple statements of Scripture which led John Wesley to declare that, "unless witchcraft is true, nothing in the Bible is true," led him, while giving up the Ptolemaic theory and accepting in a general way the Copernican, to suspect the demonstrations of Newton. Happily, his inborn nobility of character lifted him above any bitterness or persecuting spirit, or any imposition of doctrinal tests which could prevent those who came after him from finding their way to the truth.

But in the midst of this vast expanse of theologic error signs of right reason began to appear, both in England and America. Noteworthy is it that Cotton Mather, bitter as was his orthodoxy regarding witchcraft, accepted, in 1721, the modern astronomy fully, with all its consequences.

In the following year came an even more striking evidence that the new scientific ideas were making their way in England. In 1722 Thomas Burnet published the sixth edition of his Sacred Theory of the Earth. In this he argues, as usual, to establish the scriptural doctrine of the earth’s stability; but in his preface he sounds a remarkable warning. He mentions the great mistake into which St. Augustine led the Church regarding the doctrine of the antipodes, and says, "If within a few years or in the next generation it should prove as certain and demonstrable that the earth is moved, as it is now that there are antipodes, those that have been zealous against it, and engaged the Scripture in the controversy, would have the same reason to repent of their forwardness that St. Augustine would now, if he were still alive."

Fortunately, too, Protestantism had no such power to oppose the development of the Copernican ideas as the older Church had enjoyed. Yet there were some things in its warfare against science even more indefensible. In 1772 the famous English expedition for scientific discovery sailed from England under Captain Cook. Greatest by far of all the scientific authorities chosen to accompany it was Dr. Priestley. Sir Joseph Banks had especially invited him. But the clergy of Oxford and Cambridge interfered. Priestley was considered unsound in his views of the Trinity; it was evidently suspected that this might vitiate his astronomical observations; he was rejected, and the expedition crippled.

The orthodox view of astronomy lingered on in other branches of the Protestant Church. In Germany even Leibnitz attacked the Newtonian theory of gravitation on theological grounds, though he found some little consolation in thinking that it might be used to support the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation.

In Holland the Calvinistic Church was at first strenuous against the whole new system, but we possess a comical proof that Calvinism even in its strongholds was powerless against it; for in 1642 Blaer published at Amsterdam his book on the use of globes, and, in order to be on the safe side, devoted one part of his work to the Ptolemaic and the other to the Copernican scheme, leaving the benevolent reader to take his choice.[69]

[69] For the attitude of Leibnetz, Hutchinson, and the others named toward the Newtonian theory, see Lecky, History of England in the Eighteenth Century, chap. ix. For John Wesley, see his Compendium of Natural Philosophy, being a Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation, London, 1784. See also Leslie Stephen, Eighteenth Century, vol. ii, p. 413. For Owen, see his Works, vol. xix, p. 310. For Cotton Mather’s view, see The Christian Philosopher, London, 1721, especially pp. 16 and 17. For the case of Priestley, see Weld, History of the Royal Society, vol. ii, p. 56, for the facts and the admirable letter of Priestley upon this rejection. For Blaer, see his L’Usage des Globes, Amsterdam, 1642.

Nor have efforts to renew the battle in the Protestant Church been wanting in these latter days. The attempt in the Church of England, in 1864, to fetter science, which was brought to ridicule by Herschel, Bowring, and De Morgan; the assemblage of Lutheran clergy at Berlin, in 1868, to protest against "science falsely so called," are examples of these. Fortunately, to the latter came Pastor Knak, and his denunciations of the Copernican theory as absolutely incompatible with a belief in the Bible, dissolved the whole assemblage in ridicule.

In its recent dealings with modern astronomy the wisdom of the Catholic Church in the more civilized countries has prevented its yielding to some astounding errors into which one part of the Protestant Church has fallen heedlessly.

Though various leaders in the older Church have committed the absurd error of allowing a text-book and sundry review articles to appear which grossly misstate the Galileo episode, with the certainty of ultimately undermining confidence in her teachings among her more thoughtful young men, she has kept clear of the folly of continuing to tie her instruction, and the acceptance of our sacred books, to an adoption of the Ptolemaic theory.

Not so with American Lutheranism. In 1873 was published in St. Louis, at the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, a work entitled Astronomische Unterredung, the author being well known as a late president of a Lutheran Teachers’ Seminary.

No attack on the whole modern system of astronomy could be more bitter. On the first page of the introduction the author, after stating the two theories, asks, "Which is right?" and says: "It would be very simple to me which is right, if it were only a question of human import. But the wise and truthful God has expressed himself on this matter in the Bible. The entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the earth is the principal body (Hauptkorper) of the universe, that it stands fixed, and that sun and moon only serve to light it."

The author then goes on to show from Scripture the folly, not only of Copernicus and Newton, but of a long line of great astronomers in more recent times. He declares: "Let no one understand me as inquiring first where truth is to be found—in the Bible or with the astronomers. No; I know that beforehand—that my God never lies, never makes a mistake; out of his mouth comes only truth, when he speaks of the structure of the universe, of the earth, sun, moon, and stars....

"Because the truth of the Holy Scripture is involved in this, therefore the above question is of the highest importance to me....Scientists and others lean upon the miserable reed (Rohrstab) that God teaches only the order of salvation, but not the order of the universe."

Very noteworthy is the fact that this late survival of an ancient belief based upon text-worship is found, not in the teachings of any zealous priest of the mother Church, but in those of an eminent professor in that branch of Protestantism which claims special enlightenment.[70]

[70] For the amusing details of the attempt in the English Church to repress science, and of the way in which it was met, see De Morgan, Paradoxes, p. 42. For Pastor Knak and his associates, see the Revue des Deux Mondes, 1868. Of the recent Lutheran works against the Copernican astronomy, see especially Astronomische Unterredung zwischen einem Liebhaber der Astronomie und mehreren beruhmten Astronomer der Neuzeit, by J. C. W. L., St. Louis, 1873.

Nor has the warfare against the dead champions of science been carried on by the older Church alone.

On the 10th of May, 1859, Alexander von Humboldt was buried. His labours had been among the glories of the century, and his funeral was one of the most imposing that Berlin had ever seen. Among those who honoured themselves by their presence was the prince regent, afterward the Emperor William I; but of the clergy it was observed that none were present save the officiating clergyman and a few regarded as unorthodox.[71]

[71] See Bruhns and Lassell, Life of Humboldt, London, 1873, vol. ii, p. 411.

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Chicago: Andrew Dickson White, "IV. Victory of the Church Over Galileo.," History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom, trans. Benson, Vincent in History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom Original Sources, accessed July 6, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RESVJC6HPUGVJBK.

MLA: White, Andrew Dickson. "IV. Victory of the Church Over Galileo." History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom, translted by Benson, Vincent, in History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom, Original Sources. 6 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RESVJC6HPUGVJBK.

Harvard: White, AD, 'IV. Victory of the Church Over Galileo.' in History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom, trans. . cited in , History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom. Original Sources, retrieved 6 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RESVJC6HPUGVJBK.