The Galileo Controversy
Pope John Paul II once said the following:
"In the spirit of Vatican II, I hope that theologians, scholars and historians will thoroughly examine the Galileo case, and make the suspicion disappear, that this affair still stands in the way of fruitful concord between science and Faith, between the Church and the world."
To get an in-depth understanding of this issue, we very highly recommend Mr Frits Albers booklet "Galileo Galilei - The Case for the Church", which is a very useful account. Other related books can also be used as reference. Copies of Mr Frits Alber's booklet can be received by contacting The Australian Marian Academy of the Immaculate Conception.
For decades Catholics have been subjected to ridicule, abuse and denigration on the Galileo controversy, and more often than not by ignorant Catholics in Western countries who were robbed of a Catholic Apologetics 101 course in High School. The accusation made is that the Catholic Church scientifically erred in condemning Galileo's Copernican teaching about the sun being the centre of the world and that the earth moved around it.
In answering this accusation we merely point out the scientific facts of the case.
Galileo proposed that the Catholic Church must re-interpret Holy Scripture and place the Sun at the centre of the world. In order to do this, Galileo, who was an avowed Copernican, submitted Nicolaus Copernicus's work as proof positive of the fact that the Earth moved around the Sun. The Copernican work submitted was a book called: "The Book of Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres"
The simple scientific fact is that the Copernican system and the book are scientifically flawed. It could only ever represent a set of hypothetical scientific writings, which in fact Copernicus himself acknowledged. Some have speculated on the strength of correspondence that it is quite possible Galileo may not have ever read the book entirely? But even if he did, he could have no possible scientific proof to back up its astronomical claims.
A simple illustration of this fact can be seen by the following pages. Please read the two page extract from Mr Frits Alber's booklet below. Then look at the page extracts out of the "The Book of the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres". We have used a scanned translation of this work with the copyright permission of Encyclopaedia Britannia. This is to be sure that no Catholic bias can be assigned to the translation. It has always been there for everyone to see.
Two pages extract from Frits Alber's booklet -
"Galileo Galilei - The Case for the Church"
Page extracts below with copyright permission taken from the translation of Copernicus's work
On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres (1543)
Britannia's - Great Books of the Western World (1952)
Here we see in Book 3 - Section 15 below that Copernicus says the Sun in fact moves along with the earth around a point in space between the two, thus contradicting the Introduction, and other parts of the work as well.
The example above is not the only scientific flaw in Galileo's proposal, as there are many more. For example his failure to account for Stellar Parallax. Frits Albers and Koestler do a great job in highlighting these flaws. Out of all this one comes away with tremendous admiration for the intellectual skills of Cardinal Bellamine (who was a Bishop, Saint and Doctor of the Church) and who was instrumental in the Holy Office's work.
The Catholic Church published its famous Degree on the subject on March 5th 1616.
The key text of the Decree which relates to the matter of Galileo is following:
"....And whereas it has also come to the knowledge of the said Congregation that the Pythagorean doctrine - which is false and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture - of the motion of the Earth, and the immobility of the Sun, which is also taught by Nicolaus Copernicus in 'On the Motion of Heavenly Bodies'...is now being spread abroad and accepted by many - as may be seen from a certain letter of a Carmelite Father, Paolo Foscarini...wherein he attempts to show the aforesaid doctrine of the immobility of the sun in the centre of the world, and the Earth's motion, is consonant with truth and is not opposed to Holy Scripture. Therefore, in order that this opinion may not insinuate itself any further to the prejudice of Catholic Truth, the Holy Congregation has decreed that Nicolaus Copernicus' 'On the motion of bodies'....be suspended until corrected, but that the book of the Carmelite Father Foscarini by altogether prohibited and condemned, and that all other works likewise, in which the same is taught, be prohibited, as by this present Degree it prohibits, condemns and suspends them all respectively. In witness whereof etc..."
Now whatever the intentions of the Holy Office, and irrespective of some in it who may have held private Ptolemaic geo-centric scientific beliefs, Holy Mother Church officially proclaimed with deadly accuracy that the Copernican System with regards to the motion of the Earth and immobility of the Sun are false and not consonant with truth, are to the prejudice of Catholic Truth and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture.
No amount of jawboning, whitewashing or nay saying can get around the scientific facts. The simple fact is that all of us need to do more homework on the Copernican system, and on the Galileo case. Indeed we use Kepler's elliptical planetary laws today in which there is no true centre of the solar system, (i.e there are no centres in elliptical orbits only in circular ones) and we now believe the whole solar system, including the Sun moves through space as part of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Copernican system is a crock of history which the Catholic Church rightly asked to be corrected. It could not be used to re-interpret Holy Scripture. End of Story.
The Galileo case is a perfect example of the unitive interaction between Faith and Reason. Both go hand in hand. It's a pity many still do not recognise this fact.
The moral of the story is that we all better be sure that we have a scientific truth before we try to force the Catholic Church to re-interpret Holy Scripture according to that truth.
Postscript: In recent times some have speculated on why Galileo was brought to trial himself 17 years later in 1633, pronouncing some secret political conspiracy, but with no evidence.
They maintain that Galileo: had "done everything right, he's followed all the rules and suddenly out of nowhere he's called to trial", after publishing another book "Dialogue on the Great World Systems"
with the new Pope's [i.e. Urban VIII] personal censor's permission. But the answer seems very straight forward. We quote extracts from Frits Alber's book directly:
According to an entry in the Inquisition file of February 25th 1616
"...His Holiness has directed the Lord Cardinal Bellarmine to summon before him the said Galileo and admonish him to abandon the said opinion, and in case of his refusal to obey,
that the Commissary is to enjoin on him, before a notary and witnesses, a command to abstain altogether from teaching or defending this opinion and doctrine, and even from discussing it".
There are two entries extant, both from Cardinal Bellamine, which seem to indicate that Galileo acquiesced which means the obligation placed on him could be intepreted elastically.
The question: "Exactly what injunction had been placed on him? and "Did he break his undertaking?" became of great importance later on during his trial in 1633"
It appears, then, that no greater obligation had been placed on him than to abandon the faulty opinions of Copernicus as true.
The thing that brought matters to a head this time after a 17-year period of peaceful coexistence was the fraudulent way in which Galileo obtained an Imprimatur for his latest book:
Dialogue on the Great World Systems, in which Galileo boldly advocates the Copernican system as the only true one!
Clearly the new pope's censor had perhaps not read Copernicus either? We'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Really though, Galileo broke his obligation of 1616 in some form or another. Even if he retracted his words, finally realising his scientific mistakes, the damage had already been done.
Whatever the final story, it appears he got off lightly by even today's standards of court trial and punishment. The Catholic Church's official scientific, moral and theological position does not suffer one bit. The Truth it seems always wins out in the end,
even 17 years later.
As an aside, to prove a point that the issue about sun centred verses earth centred was nothing new to Catholic Church thinking witness the following two quotes:
"There was, as well, the perception that the Scholastics were in stern disagreement with the natural sciences, expecially the development of astronomy and mathematics,
an image of intolerance that has persisted right up into the twentieth century. The case that exemplifed such views was the so called Galileo Affair in which
Galileo faced condemnation for his views on the solar system."
"Most legitimate Scholastic adherents never flinched in the face of scientific reality. St Thomas Aquinas
himself epitomised such intellectual courage by flaunting current or conventional wisdom with such deductions as the earth's roundness, arguing through applied
physics it should be easy to prove. He also suggested that one day the geocentric theories of Ptolmey (that the sun orbits the earth) would be replaced by a more enlightened view.
This came some
three hundred years before the Galileo controversy, an episode blamed on hateful medieval thinking that opposed scientific progress."
We await secular writers currently trying in vain to lionise Copernicus's mighty efforts as being that of some kind of secret secular hero, after having backpeddled
somewhat on Galileo, da Vinci, and the like, to start glorifying Saint Thomas Aquinas as the greatest secular thinker of history. We will not hold our breath.
The fact is there is no division between Faith and Reason.
Incidently, Copernicus who was a Catholic Canon, dedicated his book to Pope Paul III, who welcomed the work, and other Catholic clergy actually encouraged him to release it. This was long before Galileo came on the scene.
Read the translated dedication here Copernicus's Dedication of Heavenly Spheres to Pope Paul III
How you can therefore propose that Copernicus was a secret secularist is ridiculous, and so is the pathetic secular portrayal of the Catholic Church as anti-scientific.
, The Angelic Doctor - The Life and World of St Thomas Aquinas, Matthew Bunson, p118, OSV, 1994