Continued

Galileo expected the qualifiers to read the Bible metaphorically. Instead, they read it literally, and found both the motion of the Earth and the stability of the Sun false and absurd in philosophy. They did not rule on the truth of Copernican astronomy, on its agreement with nature. They did rule that the motion of the Earth was at least erroneous in the Catholic faith, and that the stability of the Sun was formally heretical.

The qualifiers had exceeded their authority because only the pope or a Church Council could decree a formal heresy. The pope ignored the finding.

The Congregation of the Index issued an edict forbidding reconciliation of Copernicanism with the Bible and assertion of literal truth for the forbidden propositions. One passage about scriptural interpretation and passages calling the Earth a star (implying that it moved like a planet) were ordered removed from Copernicus's De revolutionibus. Catholics could still discuss Copernican astronomy hypothetically, and little damage had been done to science.

At a meeting with Church officials, Galileo was instructed no longer to hold or defend the forbidden propositions: the motion of the Earth and the stability of the Sun. Had Galileo resisted, the Commissary General of the Inquisition was prepared to order him, in the presence of a notary and witnesses, not to hold, defend, or teach the propositions in any way, on pain of imprisonment. Galileo did not resist, but the Commissary General may have read his order anyway. It appears in the minutes of the meeting, unsigned and unwitnessed. Galileo may have been advised to ignore the unauthorized intervention. Subsequent rumors that Galileo had been compelled to abjure caused him to ask for—and he received—an affidavit stating that he was under no restriction other than the edict applying to all Catholics.

In 1623 a new pope was chosen. Urban VIII was an intellectual, admired his friend Galileo, granted him six audiences in 1624, and encouraged him to write a book on Copernican astronomy. The book, Urban hoped, would demonstrate that the Church did not interfere with the pursuit of science, only with unauthorized interpretations of the Bible.

Galileo's Dialogue on world systems was published in 1632, with Church approval. Urban, however, became angry when he found his own thoughts attributed to the Aristotelian representative who lost every argument in the Dialogue. (It wasn't prudent to anger Urban; one summer he had all the birds in the papal gardens in Rome slaughtered because the noise they made distracted him from his work.)

Also, the timing was unfortunate for Galileo. His book appeared in a climate of heightened suspicion, even paranoia. A Spanish cardinal had criticized Urban for interfering in a political struggle, and Urban had responded with a purge of pro-Spanish members of his administration, including the secretary, who, coincidentally, had secured permission for printing the Dialogue.

Galileo was called to Rome, charged with contravening the (unsigned and unauthorized) order of the Inquisition not to hold, defend, or teach the Copernican propositions in any way. Galileo produced his affidavit, signed and dated, stating that he was under no restriction other than the edict applying to all Catholics. Nonetheless, he was found guilty and compelled to abjure, curse, and detest his errors and heresies. Henceforth, even hypothetical discussion of Copernican astronomy was heresy for Catholics.

The Galileo fiasco has long been an embarrassment for the Catholic Church. In 1978 Pope John Paul II acknowledged that Galileo's theology was sounder than that of the judges who condemned him. In 1992 the pope set up a special committee to reexamine the Galileo case and offered an official apology for Galileo's sentence.

Galileo's entanglement with religious authority resulted in the stereotype of warfare between science and religion. This stereotype is a vast oversimplification, as most stereotypes are.

Faith in an anthropocentric universe lay shattered, leaving humankind's relationship with God uncertain. John Donne's 1611 poem The Anatomy of the World, with its opening line the "new Philosophy calls all in doubt," and later, "all Relation: Prince, Subject, Father, Son, are things forgot," refers to Christian morality as well as the physical locations of the Sun and the Earth.

The idea of a "Great Chain of Being," the manifestation in the world of God's thought, would soon be among things forgotten in the intellectual turmoil of the Copernican revolution. The chain linked God to man to lifeless matter in a world in which every being was related to every other in a continuously graded, hierarchical order. Every entity had its spot in the hierarchy. Governmental order reflected the order of the cosmos. Belief in the great chain of being precluded the possibility of evolution. Social mobility and political change were crimes against nature. All this began to change with Copernicus.

Astronomers still sought, however, as they had for thousands of years, to explain the apparently irregular motions of the planets, the Sun, and the Moon with combinations of uniform circular motions. Breaking the circle is the subject of the next chapter.

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