History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom

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Author: Andrew Dickson White

III. The War Upon Galileo.

On this new champion, Galileo, the whole war was at last concentrated. His discoveries had clearly taken the Copernican theory out of the list of hypotheses, and had placed it before the world as a truth. Against him, then, the war was long and bitter. The supporters of what was called "sound learning" declared his discoveries deceptions and his announcements blasphemy. Semi-scientific professors, endeavouring to curry favour with the Church, attacked him with sham science; earnest preachers attacked him with perverted Scripture; theologians, inquisitors, congregations of cardinals, and at last two popes dealt with him, and, as was supposed, silenced his impious doctrine forever.[55]

[55] A very curious example of this sham science employed by theologians is seen in the argument, frequently used at that time, that, if the earth really moved, a stone falling from a height would fall back of a point immediately below its point of starting. This is used by Fromundus with great effect. It appears never to have occurred to him to test the matter by dropping a stone from the topmast of a ship. Bezenburg has mathematically demonstrated just such an abberation in falling bodies, as is mathematically required by the diurnal motion of the earth. See Jevons, Principles of Science, pp. 388, 389, second edition, 1877.

I shall present this warfare at some length because, so far as I can find, no careful summary of it has been given in our language, since the whole history was placed in a new light by the revelations of the trial documents in the Vatican Library, honestly published for the first time by L’Epinois in 1867, and since that by Gebler, Berti, Favaro, and others.

The first important attack on Galileo began in 1610, when he announced that his telescope had revealed the moons of the planet Jupiter. The enemy saw that this took the Copernican theory out of the realm of hypothesis, and they gave battle immediately. They denounced both his method and its results as absurd and impious. As to his method, professors bred in the "safe science" favoured by the Church argued that the divinely appointed way of arriving at the truth in astronomy was by theological reasoning on texts of Scripture; and, as to his results, they insisted, first, that Aristotle knew nothing of these new revelations; and, next, that the Bible showed by all applicable types that there could be only seven planets; that this was proved by the seven golden candlesticks of the Apocalypse, by the seven-branched candlestick of the tabernacle, and by the seven churches of Asia; that from Galileo’s doctrine consequences must logically result destructive to Christian truth. Bishops and priests therefore warned their flocks, and multitudes of the faithful besought the Inquisition to deal speedily and sharply with the heretic.[56]

[56] See Delambre on the discovery of the satellites of Jupiter as the turning-point with the heliocentric doctrine. As to its effects on Bacon, see Jevons, p. 638, as above. For argument drawn from the candlestick and the seven churches, see Delambre, p. 20.

In vain did Galileo try to prove the existence of satellites by showing them to the doubters through his telescope: they either declared it impious to look, or, if they did look, denounced the satellites as illusions from the devil. Good Father Clavius declared that "to see satellites of Jupiter, men had to make an instrument which would create them." In vain did Galileo try to save the great truths he had discovered by his letters to the Benedictine Castelli and the Grand-Duchess Christine, in which he argued that literal biblical interpretation should not be applied to science; it was answered that such an argument only made his heresy more detestable; that he was "worse than Luther or Calvin."

The war on the Copernican theory, which up to that time had been carried on quietly, now flamed forth. It was declared that the doctrine was proved false by the standing still of the sun for Joshua, by the declarations that "the foundations of the earth are fixed so firm that they can not be moved," and that the sun "runneth about from one end of the heavens to the other."[57]

[57] For principle points as given, see Libri, Histoire des Sciences mathematiques en Italie, vol. iv, p. 211; De Morgan, Paradoxes, p. 26, for account of Father Clavius. It is interesting to know that Clavius, in his last years, acknowledged that "the whole system of the heavens is broken down, and must be mended," Cantu, Histoire Universelle, vol. xv, p. 478. See Th. Martin, Galilee, pp. 34, 208, and 266; also Heller, Geschichte der Physik, Stuttgart, 1882, vol. i, p. 366. For the original documents, see L’Epinois, pp.34 and 36; or better, Gebler’s careful edition of the trial (Die Acten des Galileischen Processes, Stuttgart, 1877), pp. 47 et seq. Martin’s translation seems somewhat too free. See also Gebler, Galileo Galilei, English translation, London, 1879, pp. 76-78; also Reusch, Der Process Galilei’s und die Jesuiten, Bonn, 1879, chaps. ix, x, xi.

But the little telescope of Galileo still swept the heavens, and another revelation was announced—the mountains and valleys in the moon. This brought on another attack. It was declared that this, and the statement that the moon shines by light reflected from the sun, directly contradict the statement in Genesis that the moon is "a great light." To make the matter worse, a painter, placing the moon in a religious picture in its usual position beneath the feet of the Blessed Virgin, outlined on its surface mountains and valleys; this was denounced as a sacrilege logically resulting from the astronomer’s heresy.

Still another struggle was aroused when the hated telescope revealed spots upon the sun, and their motion indicating the sun’s rotation. Monsignor Elci, head of the University of Pisa, forbade the astronomer Castelli to mention these spots to his students. Father Busaeus, at the University of Innspruck, forbade the astronomer Scheiner, who had also discovered the spots and proposed a SAFE explanation of them, to allow the new discovery to be known there. At the College of Douay and the University of Louvain this discovery was expressly placed under the ban, and this became the general rule among the Catholic universities and colleges of Europe. The Spanish universities were especially intolerant of this and similar ideas, and up to a recent period their presentation was strictly forbidden in the most important university of all—that of Salamanca.[58]

[58] See Ticknor, History of Spanish Literature, vol. iii.

Such are the consequences of placing the instruction of men’s minds in the hands of those mainly absorbed in saving men’s souls. Nothing could be more in accordance with the idea recently put forth by sundry ecclesiastics, Catholic and Protestant, that the Church alone is empowered to promulgate scientific truth or direct university instruction. But science gained a victory here also. Observations of the solar spots were reported not only from Galileo in Italy, but from Fabricius in Holland. Father Scheiner then endeavoured to make the usual compromise between theology and science. He promulgated a pseudo-scientific theory, which only provoked derision.

The war became more and more bitter. The Dominican Father Caccini preached a sermon from the text, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" and this wretched pun upon the great astronomer’s name ushered in sharper weapons; for, before Caccini ended, he insisted that "geometry is of the devil," and that "mathematicians should be banished as the authors of all heresies." The Church authorities gave Caccini promotion.

Father Lorini proved that Galileo’s doctrine was not only heretical but "atheistic," and besought the Inquisition to intervene. The Bishop of Fiesole screamed in rage against the Copernican system, publicly insulted Galileo, and denounced him to the Grand-Duke. The Archbishop of Pisa secretly sought to entrap Galileo and deliver him to the Inquisition at Rome. The Archbishop of Florence solemnly condemned the new doctrines as unscriptural; and Paul V, while petting Galileo, and inviting him as the greatest astronomer of the world to visit Rome, was secretly moving the Archbishop of Pisa to pick up evidence against the astronomer.

But by far the most terrible champion who now appeared was Cardinal Bellarmin, one of the greatest theologians the world has known. He was earnest, sincere, and learned, but insisted on making science conform to Scripture. The weapons which men of Bellarmin’s stamp used were purely theological. They held up before the world the dreadful consequences which must result to Christian theology were the heavenly bodies proved to revolve about the sun and not about the earth. Their most tremendous dogmatic engine was the statement that "his pretended discovery vitiates the whole Christian plan of salvation." Father Lecazre declared "it casts suspicion on the doctrine of the incarnation." Others declared, "It upsets the whole basis of theology. If the earth is a planet, and only one among several planets, it can not be that any such great things have been done specially for it as the Christian doctrine teaches. If there are other planets, since God makes nothing in vain, they must be inhabited; but how can their inhabitants be descended from Adam? How can they trace back their origin to Noah’s ark? How can they have been redeemed by the Saviour?" Nor was this argument confined to the theologians of the Roman Church; Melanchthon, Protestant as he was, had already used it in his attacks on Copernicus and his school.

In addition to this prodigious theological engine of war there was kept up a fire of smaller artillery in the shape of texts and scriptural extracts.

But the war grew still more bitter, and some weapons used in it are worth examining. They are very easily examined, for they are to be found on all the battlefields of science; but on that field they were used with more effect than on almost any other. These weapons are the epithets "infidel" and "atheist." They have been used against almost every man who has ever done anything new for his fellow-men. The list of those who have been denounced as "infidel" and "atheist" includes almost all great men of science, general scholars, inventors, and philanthropists.

The purest Christian life, the noblest Christian character, have not availed to shield combatants. Christians like Isaac Newton, Pascal, Locke, Milton, and even Fenelon and Howard, have had this weapon hurled against them. Of all proofs of the existence of a God, those of Descartes have been wrought most thoroughly into the minds of modern men; yet the Protestant theologians of Holland sought to bring him to torture and to death by the charge of atheism, and the Roman Catholic theologians of France thwarted him during his life and prevented any due honours to him after his death.[59]

[59] For various objectors and objections to Galileo by his contemporaries, see Libri, Histoire des Sciences mathematiques en Italie, vol. iv, p. 233, 234; also Martin, Vie de Galilee. For Father Lecazre’s argument, see Flammarion, Mondes imaginaires et mondes reels, 6th ed., pp. 315, 316. For Melanchthon’s argument, see his Initia in Opera, vol. iii, Halle, 1846.

These epithets can hardly be classed with civilized weapons. They are burning arrows; they set fire to masses of popular prejudice, always obscuring the real question, sometimes destroying the attacking party. They are poisoned weapons. They pierce the hearts of loving women; they alienate dear children; they injure a man after life is ended, for they leave poisoned wounds in the hearts of those who loved him best—fears for his eternal salvation, dread of the Divine wrath upon him. Of course, in these days these weapons, though often effective in vexing good men and in scaring good women, are somewhat blunted; indeed, they not infrequently injure the assailants more than the assailed. So it was not in the days of Galileo; they were then in all their sharpness and venom.[60]

[60] For curious exemplification of the way in which these weapons have been hurled, see lists of persons charged with "infidelity" and "atheism," in the Dictionnaire des Athees., Paris, [1800]; also Lecky, History of Rationalism, vol. ii, p. 50. For the case of Descartes, see Saisset, Descartes et ses Precurseurs, pp. 103, 110. For the facility with which the term "atheist" has been applied from the early Aryans down to believers in evolution, see Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 420.

Yet a baser warfare was waged by the Archbishop of Pisa. This man, whose cathedral derives its most enduring fame from Galileo’s deduction of a great natural law from the swinging lamp before its altar, was not an archbishop after the noble mould of Borromeo and Fenelon and Cheverus. Sadly enough for the Church and humanity, he was simply a zealot and intriguer: he perfected the plan for entrapping the great astronomer.

Galileo, after his discoveries had been denounced, had written to his friend Castelli and to the Grand-Duchess Christine two letters to show that his discoveries might be reconciled with Scripture. On a hint from the Inquisition at Rome, the archbishop sought to get hold of these letters and exhibit them as proofs that Galileo had uttered heretical views of theology and of Scripture, and thus to bring him into the clutch of the Inquisition. The archbishop begs Castelli, therefore, to let him see the original letter in the handwriting of Galileo. Castelli declines. The archbishop then, while, as is now revealed, writing constantly and bitterly to the Inquisition against Galileo, professes to Castelli the greatest admiration of Galileo’s genius and a sincere desire to know more of his discoveries. This not succeeding, the archbishop at last throws off the mask and resorts to open attack.

The whole struggle to crush Galileo and to save him would be amusing were it not so fraught with evil. There were intrigues and counter-intrigues, plots and counter-plots, lying and spying; and in the thickest of this seething, squabbling, screaming mass of priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, appear two popes, Paul V and Urban VIII. It is most suggestive to see in this crisis of the Church, at the tomb of the prince of the apostles, on the eve of the greatest errors in Church policy the world has known, in all the intrigues and deliberations of these consecrated leaders of the Church, no more evidence of the guidance or presence of the Holy Spirit than in a caucus of New York politicians at Tammany Hall.

But the opposing powers were too strong. In 1615 Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition at Rome, and the mine which had been so long preparing was sprung. Sundry theologians of the Inquisition having been ordered to examine two propositions which had been extracted from Galileo’s letters on the solar spots, solemnly considered these points during about a month and rendered their unanimous decision as follows: "THE FIRST PROPOSITION, THAT THE SUN IS THE CENTRE AND DOES NOT REVOLVE ABOUT THE EARTH, IS FOOLISH, ABSURD, FALSE IN THEOLOGY, AND HERETICAL, BECAUSE EXPRESSLY CONTRARY TO HOLY SCRIPTURE"; AND "THE SECOND PROPOSITION, THAT THE EARTH IS NOT THE CENTRE BUT REVOLVES ABOUT THE SUN, IS ABSURD, FALSE IN PHILOSOPHY, AND, FROM A THEOLOGICAL POINT OF VIEW AT LEAST, OPPOSED TO THE TRUE FAITH."

The Pope himself, Paul V, now intervened again: he ordered that Galileo be brought before the Inquisition. Then the greatest man of science in that age was brought face to face with the greatest theologian—Galileo was confronted by Bellarmin. Bellarmin shows Galileo the error of his opinion and orders him to renounce it. De Lauda, fortified by a letter from the Pope, gives orders that the astronomer be placed in the dungeons of the Inquisition should he refuse to yield. Bellarmin now commands Galileo, "in the name of His Holiness the Pope and the whole Congregation of the Holy Office, to relinquish altogether the opinion that the sun is the centre of the world and immovable, and that the earth moves, nor henceforth to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing." This injunction Galileo acquiesces in and promises to obey.[61]

[61] I am aware that the theory proposed by Wohwill and developed by Gebler denied that this promise was ever made by Galileo, and holds that the passage was a forgery devised later by the Church rulers to justify the proceedings of 1632 and 1644. This would make the conduct of the Church worse, but authorities as eminent consider the charge not proved. A careful examination of the documents seems to disprove it.

This was on the 26th of February, 1616. About a fortnight later the Congregation of the Index, moved thereto, as the letters and documents now brought to light show, by Pope Paul V, solemnly rendered a decree that "THE DOCTRINE OF THE DOUBLE MOTION OF THE EARTH ABOUT ITS AXIS AND ABOUT THE SUN IS FALSE, AND ENTIRELY CONTRARY TO HOLY SCRIPTURE"; and that this opinion must neither be taught nor advocated. The same decree condemned all writings of Copernicus and "ALL WRITINGS WHICH AFFIRM THE MOTION OF THE EARTH." The great work of Copernicus was interdicted until corrected in accordance with the views of the Inquisition; and the works of Galileo and Kepler, though not mentioned by name at that time, were included among those implicitly condemned as "affirming the motion of the earth."

The condemnations were inscribed upon the Index; and, finally, the papacy committed itself as an infallible judge and teacher to the world by prefixing to the Index the usual papal bull giving its monitions the most solemn papal sanction. To teach or even read the works denounced or passages condemned was to risk persecution in this world and damnation in the next. Science had apparently lost the decisive battle.

For a time after this judgment Galileo remained in Rome, apparently hoping to find some way out of this difficulty; but he soon discovered the hollowness of the protestations made to him by ecclesiastics, and, being recalled to Florence, remained in his hermitage near the city in silence, working steadily, indeed, but not publishing anything save by private letters to friends in various parts of Europe.

But at last a better vista seemed to open for him. Cardinal Barberini, who had seemed liberal and friendly, became pope under the name of Urban VIII. Galileo at this conceived new hopes, and allowed his continued allegiance to the Copernican system to be known. New troubles ensued. Galileo was induced to visit Rome again, and Pope Urban tried to cajole him into silence, personally taking the trouble to show him his errors by argument. Other opponents were less considerate, for works appeared attacking his ideas—works all the more unmanly, since their authors knew that Galileo was restrained by force from defending himself. Then, too, as if to accumulate proofs of the unfitness of the Church to take charge of advanced instruction, his salary as a professor at the University of Pisa was taken from him, and sapping and mining began. Just as the Archbishop of Pisa some years before had tried to betray him with honeyed words to the Inquisition, so now Father Grassi tried it, and, after various attempts to draw him out by flattery, suddenly denounced his scientific ideas as "leading to a denial of the Real Presence in the Eucharist."

For the final assault upon him a park of heavy artillery was at last wheeled into place. It may be seen on all the scientific battlefields. It consists of general denunciation; and in 1631 Father Melchior Inchofer, of the Jesuits, brought his artillery to bear upon Galileo with this declaration: "The opinion of the earth’s motion is of all heresies the most abominable, the most pernicious, the most scandalous; the immovability of the earth is thrice sacred; argument against the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and the incarnation, should be tolerated sooner than an argument to prove that the earth moves." From the other end of Europe came a powerful echo.

From the shadow of the Cathedral of Antwerp, the noted theologian Fromundus gave forth his famous treatise, the Ant-Aristarclius. Its very title-page was a contemptuous insult to the memory of Copernicus, since it paraded the assumption that the new truth was only an exploded theory of a pagan astronomer. Fromundus declares that "sacred Scripture fights against the Copernicans." To prove that the sun revolves about the earth, he cites the passage in the Psalms which speaks of the sun "which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber." To prove that the earth stands still, he quotes a passage from Ecclesiastes, "The earth standeth fast forever." To show the utter futility of the Copernican theory, he declares that, if it were true, "the wind would constantly blow from the east"; and that "buildings and the earth itself would fly off with such a rapid motion that men would have to be provided with claws like cats to enable them to hold fast to the earth’s surface." Greatest weapon of all, he works up, by the use of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, a demonstration from theology and science combined, that the earth MUST stand in the centre, and that the sun MUST revolve about it.[62] Nor was it merely fanatics who opposed the truth revealed by Copernicus; such strong men as Jean Bodin, in France, and Sir Thomas Browne, in England, declared against it as evidently contrary to Holy Scripture.

[62] For Father Inchofer’s attack, see his Tractatus Syllepticus, cited in Galileo’s letter to Deodati, July 28, 1634. For Fromundus’s more famous attack, see his Ant-Aristarchus, already cited, passim, but especially the heading of chap. vi, and the argument in chapters x and xi. A copy of this work may be found in the Astor Library at New York, and another in the White Library at Cornell University. For interesting references to one of Fromundus’s arguments, showing, by a mixture of mathematics and theology, that the earth is the centre of the universe, see Quetelet, Histoire des Sciences mathematiques et physiques, Bruxelles, 1864, p. 170; also Madler, Geschichte der Astronomie, vol. i, p. 274. For Bodin’s opposition to the Copernican theory, see Hallam, Literature of Europe; also Lecky. For Sir Thomas Brown, see his Vulgar and Common Errors, book iv, chap. v; and as to the real reason for his disbelief in the Copernican view, see Dr. Johnson’s preface to his Life of Browne, vol. i, p. xix, of his collected works.

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Chicago: Andrew Dickson White, "III. The War Upon 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 November 28, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T6IQ2TIXPGGBEU7.

MLA: White, Andrew Dickson. "III. The War Upon 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. 28 Nov. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T6IQ2TIXPGGBEU7.

Harvard: White, AD, 'III. The War Upon 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 28 November 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T6IQ2TIXPGGBEU7.