By Paul Newall (2005)
From his time as a student (Drake, 2001: 17), Galileo had been known as someone who willingly opposed orthodoxy. Even so, the social environment in which he found himself presented him with other obstacles to navigate, including the political climate, the patronage system and the rivalries engendered by those envious of his position or angered by his ideas.
The Political Setting of the Galileo Affair
The Protestant Reformation had begun in 1517 with Luther's theses nailed to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, followed swiftly by the Council of Trent from 1545 to 1563 and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. In the wake of Protestant calls for greater interpretive leniency in reading the Bible, the Council had decreed that
... no one relying on his own judgement shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held or holds, or even contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers...(Schroeder, 1978: 18-19)
Ostensibly, then, we would expect this to have given Galileo pause insofar as his work might call for a re-evaluation of those passages that appeared to straightforwardly speak of a Earth that does not move (for example, Proverbs 8:25 and 27:3, Job 26:7, Ecclesiastes 1:5, 1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalm 104:5). As we shall see later, Galileo indeed had the "teaching of the Fathers" in mind. In this Reformation context, however, the Church was perhaps understandably wary of allowing any further adjustment or latitude in determining the meaning of Scripture; after all, if one reinterpretation was possible, why not others?
Shortly after Galileo's telescopic discoveries, in 1618, the Thirty Years War began. Partly religious and partly political in character, it placed successive Popes in difficult positions—none more so that Urban VIII, who occupied the Papacy at the time of Galileo's trial. Under pressure to provide troops and funds to the King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor, he had tried to play the two sides against one another to limit the power of the Hapsburgs and to repay a debt to the French who had aided considerably in his election as Pontiff. Galileo, as we know, was a Tuscan and representative of the Grand Duke, who was allied with Spain. When Urban chose, on the 8th of March 1632, to rid his staff of all Spaniards in response to public criticism from the Spanish Cardinal Gaspare Borgia, one of those exiled was Giovanni Ciampoli, correspondence secretary to the Pope and a man who proved instrumental in arranging the publication of Galileo's Dialogue. The significance of this will become clear later.
Lastly, since its creation in 1540, Loyola's Society of Jesus had been immensely successful in its intellectual and pedagogical battle with Protestantism and the Jesuits enjoyed an unrivalled reputation within the Catholic world. This had irked their Dominican brothers and it is interesting to study from which side and which times the support for Galileo from these two came. We have already seen that the Jesuits lauded Galileo's telescopic achievements in 1611; a response from some of the Dominicans was not long in coming.
Galileo and Personal Rivalries
Galileo did not dignify Colombe's critique of his Sidereus nuncios with a reply, but in 1611 he became involved in a discussion with two of the (Aristotelian) professors of philosophy at Pisa on the question of ice floating on water. Following Aristotle, the latter pair concluded that ice floated because of its flat shape that opposed its sinking; Galileo, on the other hand, referred to a theory of Archimedes and held that it is the respective densities of the ice compared to water that leads to sink or float. Colombe, never too far away, seized on this disagreement and proposed a public debate in which he would take on Galileo.
Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncios
Advised otherwise by the Grand Duke, Galileo wrote some notes on the issue that he expanded into booklet form after a dinner attended by Cardinals Ferdinando Gonzaga and Maffeo Barberini in which he opposed a defence of the Aristotelian position given by Flaminio Papazzoni, another professor of philosophy at Pisa. Published as a Discourse on objects which rest on water or which move in it, it explained experiments that could be carried out by anyone interested in seeing for themselves rather than relying on the authority of Aristotle. Colombe responded with An apologetic discourse concerning the discourse of Galileo but Galileo preferred to avoid any further controversy and allowed his friend and former student, Benedetto Castelli, who had replaced him at Pisa as professor of mathematics, to reply in his stead. Unfortunately this course of action was unsuccessful and Galileo learned of the existence of a letter (XI, 241-242) of the 22nd of September, 1612, addressed to Alessandro Marzimedici (Archbishop of Florence and well-disposed to Galileo) who had ensured that a copy would find its way to his friends. This correspondence spoke of the formation of an organised group of Florentines in opposition to Galileo, lead by Colombe and meeting at Marzimedici's home. There they conspired to bring about a controversy on the question of the Earth's motion and had hopes to incite one of their number to preach against Galileo from the pulpit. This group was called by Galileo's friends the League of Pigeons ("Colombe" being Italian for "dove"). One member of the League, Niccol Lorini, attacked Galileo in private in 1612 for his ideas that—according to Lorini—verged on the heretical but later wrote to him in apology. Another letter was sent to Galileo himself by the painter Cigoli in December of 1611, which explained in more detail:
I have been told by a friend of mine, a priest who is very fond of you, that a gang of ill-disposed men, who are envious of your virtue and merits, met at the residence of the Archbishop of Florence, and put their heads together in a mad quest for some means by which they could damage you, either with regard to the motion of the Earth or otherwise. One of them asked a preacher to state from the pulpit that you were asserting outlandish things. The priest, seeing the animosity against you, replied as a good Christian and a member of a religious order ought to do. I write this that your eyes may be open to the envy and malice of these evildoers.
Federico Cesi, Galileo’s great friend, supporter and patron
Also in 1612, another line of disagreement with Galileo arose. A Jesuit professor of mathematics at Ingolstadt, Christoph Scheiner, had announced his observations of sunspots in a letter of 1611 to Mark Welser, a banker and an amateur scientist in Augsburg. Although sunspots had already been seen by the Dutchman Johann Fabricius who had published a treatise on them at Wittenberg, Welser wrote to his friend Johannes Faber in Rome asking if similar studies had been performed there. Faber was a member of the Accademia dei Lincei and Cesi (and subsequently Faber) soon came to know of the letter, passing on the news to Galileo (XV, 236 and 238-239). Meanwhile, Scheiner continued his work and sent a further two letters to Welser, affirming that the sunspots were, in his opinion, wandering stars (i.e small planets). These letters were published under a pseudonym.
Galileo received a copy of this collection in January of 1612 and wrote a letter to Welser in response, stating that he had not dared to reply without making some further observations of his own because he feared that any minor error on his part would be seized upon "by the enemies of truth whose number was infinite" (V, 94-113). Nevertheless, he argued that the sunspots were not planets but were actually on or very near the surface. Scheiner had continued his own work and sent a further three letters to Welser under the title A more accurate discourse, in which he appeared to dispute Galileo's priority in noticing the sunspots (V, 46)—in spite of their having been known since antiquity and often being visible to the naked eye. Galileo sent a second letter of his own, without having seen the booklet by Scheiner, which he received from Welser in September. Galileo's friends, including Cesi, were insistent that he respond in print to this question of priority (for example, XI, 418) and Galileo resolved "to make it clear how foolishly this matter has been dealt with" by his opponent, whom he now knew to be a Jesuit (XI, 426). In his third letter, Galileo tackled Scheiner's arguments and rejected the latter's attempts to demonstrate the Tychonian system (proposed by the Dane Tycho Brah , in which the Earth is at the centre of the system with the Sun revolving round it and the planets orbiting the Sun).
The Tychonian system of Brahe
The collection of Galileo's three letters were published in 1613 by the Accademia dei Lincei with a preface by Angelo de Fillis, their librarian, in which he attacked Scheiner and claimed priority for Galileo in the matter of the discovery of the sunspots. Galileo himself was wary of this addition and the harm it could do to his standing with the Jesuits. Unfortunately the polemical remarks by Scheiner and Galileo's friends alike had left the former particularly bitter, as would later comments by Galileo in his Assayer. Bound by their adherence to Aristotelian ideas (Constitutiones Societas Jesu, Ganss, 1970: 220), the Jesuits Giuseppe Biancani and Fran ois D'Aguilon also continued to state Scheiner's priority, while Galileo's friends rebutted them with zeal. The damage had been done.
These conflicts and squabbles form one of the subtexts to the Galileo affair and it was not long before his antagonists had another opportunity. In July of 1612, Galileo had written to Cardinal Carlo Conti about sunspots and the questions raised by them. In reply, Conti "stated that Scripture did not support the Aristotelian theory of the incorruptibility of the heavens but that, on the contrary, the common opinion of the Fathers of the Church was that the heavens were corruptible" (Fantoli, 1996: 141). Conti further remarked that the motion of the Earth could be accommodated with the Biblical passages if it was supposed that Scripture was written according to the understanding of ordinary persons, not as consisting in exact astronomical information. This, he added, "should not be admitted unless it is really necessary" (XI, 355). As a result, Galileo had noted in his second letter to Welser that the incorruptibility of the heavens was "not only false but repugnant to those truths of Sacred Scripture about which there could be no doubt" (V, 138-139)—a phrase which was removed by the censor before publication in spite of protests and referrals to Conti's opinion. Even so, a marginal statement on Copernicus (discussing "the truth of the rest of his system" following from a correct—astronomical—understanding of his De revolutionibus orbium celestium(V, 195)) was left alone, encouraging Galileo, according to Fantoli (1996: 170), to believe that he could broach the subject in more depth and detail.
On the 12th of December, 1613, Galileo's friend Castelli attended a lunch with the Grand Duke. Also present were the Grand Duchess Dowager, Christina of Lorraine, and Cosimo Boscaglia, special professor of philosophy at Pisa and an expert on Platonism. Prompted by Boscaglia whispering in her ear, the Grand Duchess asked Castelli whether the motion of the Earth was contrary to Scripture. Over the course of the meal, Castelli won an admission from Boscaglia that Galileo's discoveries were true and reduced the theological objections to silence, "carr[ying] things off like a paladin" by his own account in a letter describing the events that he sent to Galileo (XI, 605-606). Concerned at this development and the recourse to Scripture when the denial of his observations had proven impossible, Galileo wrote a lengthy reply to Castelli explaining his view of the relationship between the Bible and science (V, 281-288).
Either intentionally or without considering the consequences, Castelli made copies of this letter and some found their way to Galileo's opponents. Matters came to a head when, on the 21st of December 1614, the Dominican Tommaso Caccini preached against Galileo in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, telling his audience that mathematicians, being spreaders of heretical ideas, should be banished from the Italian states (XII, 130). Caccini was associated with the League of Pigeons and this was a calculated attack. Although Luigi Maraffi, another Dominican and a friend of Galileo, wrote to him apologising for such "madness and ignorance" (XII, 127), Galileo was advised against responding by Cesi, who told him that Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine was of the opinion that "the motion of the Earth is without any doubt against Scripture" (XII, 129-130). Galileo decided to leave Caccini unanswered, the latter having already been rebuked by his own brother.
Cardinal Bellarmine, the influential Jesuit
Hearing about the controversy and expressing his displeasure at Caccini's behaviour, Lorini was given a copy of Galileo's original letter by Castelli. On reading this, Lorini, aware of the restrictions on interpretation dictated at the Council of Trent (quoted above), considered Galileo to have overstepped the mark and, believing it to be his duty to do so, sent a copy of the letter to Cardinal Paolo Sfondrati for examination (XIX, 297-298). The latter was Prefect of the Congregation of the Index, created in 1571 by Pius V to halt the dissemination in print of heretical ideas. Since the letter was not in print, however, he passed it on to his colleague Cardinal Giovanni Millini, Secretary of the Holy Office (more commonly known as the Inquisition). Although generally favourable to Galileo, this organisation decided to pursue the matter further and requested a copy of his original letter. Having discussed the matter with their mutual friend Piero Dini and Maffeo Barberini, Ciampoli passed on the latter's advice to Galileo in a letter, stating that he ought to be careful because "not everyone has the dispassionate faculty... [o]ne man amplifies, the next one alters, and what came from the author's own mouth becomes so transformed in spreading that he will no longer recognise it as his own" (XII, 146); in short, to be careful what he said or wrote because others were want to twist his meaning. Meanwhile, Galileo was increasingly worried that events were overtaking the importance of his work and concentrating instead on Scripture, such that his enemies had "in short, opened a new front to tear me to pieces" (V, 292-293). He was also wary of the possibility that Lorini had not copied his letter faithfully, remarking that "because I have not received the least sign of scruples from anyone else who has seen the letter, I suspect that perhaps whoever transcribed it may have inadvertently changed some word..." Galileo forwarded an accurate copy to Dini, asking him to see to it that Bellarmine should read it (ibid).
Dini did as he was asked, also forwarding a copy to Christopher Grienberger, the Jesuit professor of mathematics who had succeeded Clavius. Both recommended caution, suggesting that Galileo should attend to his investigations and leave Scripture alone, at least for the time being. Galileo responded by hinting at a work in progress and stating unequivocally that he had "no other aim but the honour of the Holy Church" and that he did not direct his labours "to any other goal..." (V, 299-300). Galileo, however, was encouraged by the news that Paolo Antonio Foscarini, a Carmelite professor of theology at the university of Messina in Calabria, had published his Letter on the opinion of the Pythagoreans and of Copernicus in 1615. Cesi brought it to Galileo's attention, stating that it "certainly could not have appeared at a better time, unless to increase the fury of our adversaries is damaging, which I do not believe" (XII, 150)—a misplaced hope, as it would later turn out. Foscarini sent a copy of his work to Bellarmine, asking for his views on the subject. The latter replied graciously in a letter that has been subject to much analysis and disagreement (as we shall see below), giving as his opinion that he knew of no "true demonstration that the sun is at the centre of the world...", and further that he would
... not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown me. Nor is it the same to demonstrate that by supposing the sun to be at the centre and the earth in heaven one can save the appearances, and to demonstrate that in truth the sun is at the centre and the earth in heaven; for I believe the first demonstration may be available, but I have very great doubts about the second, and in case of doubt one must not abandon the Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Holy Fathers. (XII, 171-172)
Leaving aside for now the question of how Bellarmine's position as described in the complete letter to Foscarini should be understood, we may note that reference was made to the philosophical concept of saving the appearances, or astronomical instrumentalism. This was the widespread (although some scholars have disagreed: cf. Musgrave, 1991) notion that astronomers were not concerned with giving a true description of the heavens but only a model that would fit the observations (hence "saving the appearances") and provide an instrument of prediction. To assert that Copernicanism saved the appearances better than the Ptolemaic or Tychonic systems, then, was only to say that it gave more accurate predictions or fitted the available data more simply. (A preface written by Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran theologian, was inserted into De revolutionibus orbium celestium for just this reason.) Bellarmine, like most of his contemporaries, had no complaint at instrumental claims for the superiority of the Copernican system, but considered that it would be a grave error to conclude that it represented the truth about what was in the heavens.
To respond to this and the other criticisms he had faced since the circulation of his letter to Castelli, Galileo re-wrote and expanded it substantially, addressing it as a Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (V, 309-386). In this famous work, Galileo set out his aims and motivations; namely, to separate science from religion and to save the Church from falling into the error advised against by Augustine centuries before ("... we do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: I will send you the Paraclete to teach you how the Sun and the Moon move. Because he wished to make them Christians, not mathematicians." (De Actis cum Felice Manichaeo, I, 2)). This second point was to note that since a heretic might know more astronomy than a Christian, it would be foolish to fix the truth via the Scriptures lest an infidel show them to be in error. We shall look at both these ideas in more detail.
The Letters on Sunspots
Realising that his opponents, unable to debate him on scientific grounds, wanted to fight him behind the shield of Scripture, one of the first tasks Galileo set himself in the letter was to call attention to the precedent for non-literal interpretations of Biblical passages:
.... the Scripture appears to be not only full of contradictions and false propositions but also of serious heresies and blasphemies; for one would have to attribute to God feet, hands, eyes, and bodily sensations, as well as human feelings like anger, contrition, and hatred, and such conditions as the forgetfulness of things past and the ignorance of future ones. Since these propositions dictated by the Holy Spirit were expressed by the sacred writers in such a way as to accommodate the capacities of the very unrefined and undisciplined masses, for those who deserve to rise above the common people it is therefore necessary that wise interpreters formulate the true meaning and indicate the specific reasons why it is expressed by such words. This doctrine is so commonplace that it would be superfluous to present and testimony for it. (op cit)
Faced with a Biblical statement that appeared to make no sense, then, the Fathers of the Church would try to discover the correct, non-literal interpretation of it. They were bound to do so since the Bible, being the Word of God, could not err. Galileo did little more than conclude "that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with the authority of Scriptural passages but with sensory experience and necessary demonstrations" (op cit). Going further, Galileo wrote that
... some physical propositions are of a type such that by any human speculation and reasoning one can only attain a probable opinion and a verisimilar conjecture about them, rather than a certain and demonstrated science; an example is whether the stars are animate. Others are of a type such that either one has, or one may firmly believe that it is possible to have, complete certainty on the basis of experiments, long observations, and necessary demonstrations; examples are whether or not the earth and sun move and whether or not the earth is spherical. As for the first type I have no doubt at all that, where human reason cannot reach, and where consequently one cannot have a science, but only opinion and faith, it is appropriate piously to conform absolutely to the literal meaning of Scripture. In regard to the second type of propositions, however, I should think, as stated above, that it would be proper to ascertain the facts first, so that they could guide us in finding the true meaning of Scripture; this would be found to agree absolutely with demonstrated facts, even though prima facie the words would sound otherwise, since two truths can never contradict each other. (op cit)
Here Galileo was hoping to establish the separation of science and religion: where there is no way to establish by science the truth or otherwise of a theory, it is proper to resort to a literal reading of the relevant Biblical opinions; but where science can be used, we should interpret the Scripture in light of what science tells us can or cannot be so. In the case of Copernicanism, specifically, Galileo's discoveries should be employed to help understand what the problematic Biblical passages actually entail. To insist that the literal meaning should be adhered to when scientific investigation shows otherwise is to fall into error, since there cannot be two conflicting truths.
A possible rejoinder to Galileo's arguments here was made both then by Bellarmine in the excerpt quoted above and more recently by Galileo scholars; namely, that Galileo did not have anything approaching "complete certainty" with regard to the Copernican hypothesis. He quite clearly stated, however, that where "one may firmly believe that it is possible to have" scientific justification to the contrary of a literal reading, we should defer to science and allow it to guide our interpretation. In more modern parlance, perhaps, we might say that where it is possible in principle that a literal Scriptural passage may be contradicted by scientific investigation, we should be careful in attributing the same. This is the approach taken by the Church today.
Commenting on the fact that the Pope had the power to condemn any opinion at any time as heretical, Galileo explained another aspect to the separation of science and religion. It was, he said,
... advisable to first become sure about the necessary and immutable truth of the matter, over which one has no control, than to condemn one side when such certainty is lacking; this would imply a loss of freedom of decision and choice insofar as it would give necessity to things which are presently indifferent, free, and dependent on the will of supreme authority. In short, if it is inconceivable that a proposition should be declared heretical when one thinks it may be true, it should be futile for someone to try to bring about the condemnation of the earth's motion and the sun's rest unless he first shows it to be impossible and false. (ibid)
The principle invoked here is one holding that since no one (from the Pope to a layman) would consider heretical a statement that could in fact be true, they could similarly not declare Copernicanism heretical unless they have already demonstrated its impossibility. In conjunction with the earlier remarks, we have a separation that allows science to pursue any matter that we have reason to believe may be resolved by investigation, a pursuit that may not be hindered by an apparent conflict with Scripture because Biblical passages are not always interpreted literally and cannot speak definitively of heresy unless the scientific question has been shown to be false. What this did, of course, was to place Scripture as the final (as in last) authority, not the first or pre-eminent one—a move that would incite his enemies yet again.
The impact of the Letter at the time was minimal, since it circulated solely within Galileo's circle of friends and was not published until late in his life. We can see, though, that when Galileo protested that he had "no other aim but the honour of the Holy Church" (ibid), he was seeking to separate science and religion in order that the Church not come to dishonour by fixing on interpretations of Scripture that could later be shown false. This in turn would raise the possibility that the Church could be left behind by science, perhaps rendering it irrelevant or at least suggesting to those so inclined that if it was in error in one area then why not another? This is an important point to realise: Galileo was a devout Catholic and there is no question he sought to save his Church, not to criticise or call it into question.
The Arguments Against Galileo (1)
While Galileo was at work on the Letter, Caccini was in front of the Holy Office in March of 1615, testifying on his own initiative in support of his allegation that Galileo was holding opinions "repugnant to the Divine Scripture" (XIX, 308-309). Caccini remarked that Galileo was "suspected in matter of Faith" by others and in correspondence with Germans (i.e. Protestants) by virtue of his membership of the Accademia dei Lincei (ibid). Ultimately, all of Caccini's accusations were dismissed, with the exception of one concerning Galileo's Copernicanism. In November of that year, an order was given that his Letters on the sunspots should be examined (XIX, 278).
Understandably concerned by this latest attack by his opponents, Galileo resolved to journey to Rome to make his case in person, "in the hope of at least showing [his] affection for the Holy Church" (XII, 184). In particular, he was opposed to any declaration that Copernicus had himself merely hoped to save the appearances, rather than believing that the Earth truly moves (ibid). His problems were exacerbated, however, by Foscarini's book and the conservative backlash it had engendered in at atmosphere already tense because of Galileo's writings. He requested and was granted permission to travel to Rome "to defend himself against the accusations of his rivals", as the Grand Duke wrote to his ambassador (XII, 203).
Arriving on the 10th of December, 1615, Galileo was determined to defend himself from the suggestion that he was a secret heretic, when—as we have seen—he thought himself a devout Catholic, dedicated to his Church. He embarked on an intense period of letter writing and visits, gradually realising the depth of feeling against him in some quarters. This was due, in no small part, to a tendency he had in debate that was explained by Antonio Querengo in a letter to Cardinal d'Este in January:
What I enjoyed most was that before he would answer the arguments of his opponents, he would amplify them and strengthen them with new grounds which made them appear invincible, so that, when he proceeded to demolish them, he made his opponents look all the more ridiculous. (XII, 226-227)
This was by no means an isolated instance of the power (and effect) of Galileo's rhetoric, as we shall see in more detail below. Nevertheless, his activity and Foscarini's work had forced the Church to look at the matter in more detail and so two propositions were submitted for the consideration of the qualificators of the Holy Office:
- The Sun is the centre of the world and hence immovable of local motion.
- The Earth is not the centre of the world, nor immovable, but moves according to the whole of itself, also with a diurnal motion. (XIX, 320)
These were examined by theologians, not scientists or those skilled in scientific areas. This, of course, was Galileo's complaint against his adversaries to begin with—that they did not know enough about the ideas they presumed to dismiss. In spite of this handicap, a decision was reached within four days. The Tuscan Ambassador, Piero Guicciardini, attributed this to the fact that "Galileo has monks and who hate and persecute him" (XII, 242), asserting that "certain friars of St. Dominic, who play a major role in the Holy Office, and others are ill disposed toward him" (XII, 207). Guicciardini had already warned that nothing good could come of the trip and had strongly advised against it (ibid).
On the 23rd of February, 1616, the opinion of the qualificators was agreed and presented the next day in the plenary session of the consultors of the Holy Office. On the first proposition, the qualification was that
All said that this proposition is foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture, according to the literal meaning of the words and according to the common interpretation and understanding of the Holy Fathers and the doctors of theology. (XIX, 321)
For the second, the decision was that
All said that this proposition receives the same censure in philosophy and that in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith. (ibid)
It is important to appreciate fully what the key terms in these qualifications meant. "Formally heretical" implies that the first proposition was diametrically opposed to a doctrine of faith; that is, the opinion of the plenary session was that the words of the Holy Fathers and the literal interpretation of the Scriptures were to be understood as a statement of faith. (Note that this is precisely the position Galileo had warned of and tried to have his Church avoid, and Augustine before him—that of allowing faith to dictate a physical truth.) This charge was the most serious possible. "Erroneous in faith", however, is a lesser complaint, according to which the Scriptures do not give a clear indication on the issue but, given the falsity of the first proposition, it would be an error to suppose that the Earth moves when it had already been declared a matter of faith that the Sun circles the Earth. As for "foolish and absurd in philosophy", note that theologians were pronouncing a physical theory philosophically unsound. We have already seen, from Guicciardini's letters, why these men should have taken such a short period of time (four days) to decide a question entirely beyond their ken on the basis of Scripture. Neither physical nor philosophical arguments were given.
On the next day, in the weekly meeting of Cardinals, Millini notified those present that "after the reporting of the judgement by the Father Theologians against the propositions of the mathematician Galileo, to the effect that the sun stands still at the centre of the world and the earth moves even with the diurnal motion, His Holiness ordered the Most Illustrious Cardinal Bellarmine to call Galileo before himself and warn him to abandon these opinions; and if he should refuse to obey, the Father Commissary, in the presence of notary and witnesses, is to issue him an injunction to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it; and further, if he should not acquiesce, he is to be imprisoned" (XI, 321). Although this may seem harsh, it expresses a careful degree of tact: the two propositions had been condemned, not Galileo, and the Church sought a way to entreat him to give up his ideas without embarrassing the Grand Duke (of whose court Galileo was an official part) or Rome (on account of Galileo's fame throughout Europe). Fantoli (1996: 259) remarks that neither Paul V nor Bellarmine bore Galileo any ill will, the former evidenced by the audience that he was granted with the Pope shortly thereafter.
We shall discuss the physical and other arguments against the two propositions below but there was also a specific objection to Galileo's ideas that worried the Church. In his letter of advice to Galileo sent via Ciampoli, already quoted from above, Cardinal Barberini explained:
Your opinion regarding the phenomena of light and shadow in the bright and dark parts of the moon draws an analogy between the lunar globe and the Earth. Somebody then enlarges on this, and says that you place inhabitants on the Moon. The next fellow starts to dispute how these can be descended from Adam, or how they can have come off Noah's ark, and many other extravagances you never dreamed of" (op cit).
Barberini's solution to this difficulty was to "declare frequently that one places oneself under the authority of those who have jurisdiction over the minds of people in the interpretation of Scripture is to remove this pretext for malice" (op cit). The problem suggested here was a very real one, however: for some people it was a short step from displacing the Earth from the centre of the world to it being just another planet like any other, some of which might contain life. This would be far more than allowing that the Earth moves, extending to the possibility that people might live elsewhere in the universe and raising all kinds of theological questions: would these people have known the revelation of Christ? How could they be saved if it were otherwise? Had they then received the Scriptures? How? If Christ had ascended to heaven following His resurrection, when did he visit these other worlds? The redemption was supposed to be a unique event, and so on. For the farsighted clergy, Copernicanism was not just a matter of the moving Earth, and Barberini's warning was that Galileo's enemies could take advantage of his silence on these issues to assert that he would imply them all unless stopped. A good example of the concerns was given by Brecht's simplistic rendering of the affair in his play:
I am informed that Signor Galilei transfers mankind from the centre of the universe to somewhere on the outskirts. Signor Galilei is therefore an enemy of mankind and must be dealt with as such. Is it conceivable that God would trust this most precious fruit of His labour to a minor frolicking star? Would He have sent His Son to such a place? ... [To Galileo] You have degraded the earth despite the fact that you live by her and receive everything from her. I won't have it! I won't have it! I won't be a nobody on an inconsequential star briefly twirling hither and thither... The earth is the centre of all things, and I am the centre of the earth, and the eye of the Creator is upon me. About me revolve, affixed to their crystal shells, the lesser lights of the stars and the great light of the sun, created to give light on me that God might see me—Man, God's greatest effort, the centre of creation: "In the image of God He created him." (op cit, 72-73)
For some, the case of Giordano Bruno was still fresh in their minds. Bellarmine, in particular, had worked as a consultor on it before his election as Cardinal. Basing his ideas on Copernicus' heliocentrism, as well as Neo-Platonism, Bruno held that the universe was infinite (something Copernicus had refused to countenance—cf. Book I, Chapter VIII of De revolutionibus orbium celestium) with a correspondingly infinite number of systems like our own, drawing the obvious conclusion that beings similar to us probably lived on some of these and bringing to bear all the above questions. Accused of heresy, Bruno was tried by the Holy Office and, although none of the charges were proven and he was repeatedly denied his legal right to appeal all questions of heresy to the Pope (cf. Fantoli, 1994: 43 and Drake, 2001: 26), he was publicly burned at the stake in 1600.
Galileo and Patronage
Galileo was not treated in a similar fashion at this stage, however. In accordance with the order quoted above and his position both as the pre-eminent intellectual in Europe and as a member of the Tuscan Court, he visited Bellarmine and was given a private injunction. Exactly what happened at this meeting has been subject to much discussion and scrutiny, particularly given its import at Galileo's later trial. We shall return to it below.
On the 5th of March, the Congregation of the Index published its decree announcing the prohibition of certain works. After describing the intent of the "Pythagorean doctrine", it declared that
... in order that this opinion may not insinuate itself any further to the prejudice of the Catholic truth, the Holy Congregation decreed that the said Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium celestium, and Diego de Zu iga, On Job, be suspended until they be corrected; but that the book of the Carmelite Father, Paolo Antonio Foscarini, be altogether prohibited and condemned, and all other works likewise, in which the same is taught, be prohibited, as by this present decree it prohibits, condemns and suspends them all respectively. (XIX, 323)
We need not be apologists to note that the contemporary era lacks any moral high ground from which to lament the banning of books (cf. Martin, 1954), which is the exclusive domain of neither religion nor medieval contexts. Moreover, it is known that only eight percent of copies of Copernicus' work were ever censored (Gingerich, 1981: 45-61), the decree being difficult to enforce. Nevertheless, for our purposes the important point on which to remark is that there was no mention of heresy in the decree of the Index, nor Galileo. Although Foscarini's book was to be banned entirely, Copernicus' and Zu iga's merely required minor corrections. This was due, it seems, to Foscarini's work being devoted to showing the compatibility of Copernicanism with Scripture, while the others only mentioned it in passing.
The obvious questions to ask, then, are why, if Galileo's expositions of the first proposition were judged to be "formally heretical", was he not mentioned by name, and why was there no suggestion that the decree was due to the heretical nature of the works? The answers may be found in a diary entry of Gianfrancesco Buonamici, recalling these events many years later:
In the time of Paul V this opinion [i.e. the two propositions] 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 through the opposition of the Lord Cardinals Bonifatio Gaetano and Maffeo Barberini, today [i.e. in 1633] Urban VIII, the Pope was stopped right at the beginning on account of the good reasons taken by their Eminences and the learned writings of the said Mr. Galileo on this matter addressed to Lady Christina of Tuscany about the year 1614. (XV, 11)
The reference to Galileo's Letter was described by Fantoli (1996, 262) as "completely unlikely", since it was not published at that time (1616) and hence not available to the Pope in his deliberations. Nevertheless, we see here an important factor in the Galileo affair that has been noted by many scholars (in particular, Biagioli, 1993); namely, the relevance (or even decisive influence) of patronage. This was (and in some places still is) a social dimension that was impossible to avoid (indeed, Biagoli remarks that it was "a voluntary activity only in the narrow sense that by not engaging in it one would commit social suicide" (1993: 16). Not only was the social status of an author correlated with the credibility of their ideas and, in particular, their reports of observation and experiment (cf. Shapin, 1985 (with Schafer) and 1995, and Dear, 1985), just as today, but also individual disciplines were accorded a place in a hierarchy, theology, as queen, at the top. The rigidity of this particular structure is one of the reasons why Galileo's challenge was so unwelcome. Indeed, already in the 1540s Tolosani had written a critique of Copernicus from this perspective, stating that the "lower science receives principles provided by the superior" and that the latter had violated this order by neglecting to ascribe to mathematics and astronomy their proper places (quoted in Garin, 1975: 31-42).
Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
As we have seen, Galileo's early career depended on the patronage of men like Guidobaldo and Clavius. Aside from his obvious talents, he relied on the patronage connections already established by his father, Vincenzio (Biagioli, op cit: 22). At this stage Galileo was not able to contact the Grand Duke directly, having to negotiate his way via satellite personalities that functioned as brokers. An example of the manner of writing and speech that was required to navigate the system of patronage is given by his first letter written directly to Cosimo in 1605, his former student with whom he had cultivated the client/patron relationship for several years:
I have waited until now to write to Your Most Serene Highness, being held back by a respectful concern of not wanting to present myself as presumptuous or arrogant. In fact, I made sure to send you the necessary signs of reverence through my closest friends and patrons, because I did not think it appropriate ... to appear at once in front of you and stare in the eyes of the most serene light of the rising sun without having reassured and fortified myself with their secondary and reflected rays. (X, 153-154)
It is important to place Galileo and the entire Galileo affair within this context of patronage. The system functioned in two directions: on the one hand, the client hoped to use his patrons to secure social advance and economic success; on the other, the patron intended his clients to shower him in reflected glory, as it were—a testament to his enlightened court and his wide ranging interests. "A patron demonstrated his magnificence by supporting the best." (Westfall, 1989: 65) The image of early science as a venatio or "hunt" beyond the realm of mere appearances was a product of the courts, "develop[ing] outside of the universities" and "in opposition to the methodological assumptions of official academic culture" (Eamon, 1991: 74). Courts at this time were a magnet for all types of new ideas and Galileo was not the only one seeking to make a name and find a place for himself, Machiavelli having declared that "a prince ought to show himself a lover of ability, giving employment to able men and honouring those who excel in a particular field", thereby gaining "the reputation of being a great man of outstanding ability". Many Renaissance courts kept wunderkammern to house and publicly display curiosities, thereby demonstrating the power of the prince and the extent of his dominion, even unto the weird and wonderful. The de' Medicis kept a studioli in like fashion, Francesco I eventually transferring most of the contents of his to the Uffizi gallery in 1584. Perhaps the most famous example of patronage and its import is the court of Rudolf II in Prague and its Kunstkammer, a part of his attempt to establish himself as a contemporary Maecenas, acting as a patron to Brahe and Kepler, amongst others.
Intermediaries were used because patrons did not want to take the risk associated with direct communication or offering support to a client who might subsequently embarrass them. Having invested many years in his association with Cosimo, Galileo was able to use his telescopic discoveries to finally give himself the importance he felt he had, although prior to that time he had little value to the court. "Without these carefully forged relationships, the Medicean Stars would not have projected him into prominence" (Biagioli. ibid: 24). A network of brokers supported this system and it is easy to see parallels in some aspects of contemporary society.
The ritualised conduct inherent in the patronage system was not an archaic irrelevancy that Galileo had to struggle against, then, but one in which he fully immersed himself as he had to. This was vital because the hierarchical status of Galileo's discipline (mathematics) and his methodology was so low in comparison with others (cf. Westman, 1980 and Biagioli, 1989). In order to improve its epistemological standing, it was first necessary for Galileo to gain in social standing; and the only way to do that was to seek out a patron—the higher in society the better. As a consequence, we have to appreciate that Galileo's social activities were not ancillary to his scientific work but an unavoidable and interdependent part of it: the more he gained in importance by his association with patrons, the more his ideas gained a hearing; while, conversely, the more famous he became from his scientific work, the more desirable he was as a client to patrons of increasing prestige and influence. Inevitably, of course, Galileo would come into conflict with others seeking patronage in much the same way, whether those seeking similar positions or those resentful of the proposed reordering of the disciplines that he was working towards. Then, as now, fame and reward brought with them jealously and envy.
To return to our story, an obvious question to ask is why the Church—if it was indeed opposed to Galileo's ideas and to science in general—allowed him to publish at all, either up to 1616 or later? As we have seen, his position in the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany was in no small part responsible for the private injunction he received from Bellarmine and his absence from the decree of the Index, along with the relatively minor role of the asides on Copernicanism in his writings to that date. The letter from Buonamici, quoted above, together with one from the much later Tuscan Ambassador Francesco Niccolini (XIV, 428), both spoke of Maffeo Barberini having "preserved" Galileo (cf. also Westfall, 1989: 21). Speaking directly of his intervention, Barberini remarked in 1630 that prohibiting Copernicanism "was never our intention, and if he had been left to us, that decree would not have been made" (XIV, 88). If Galileo's patrons had saved him, however, others were suggesting that he was himself unintentionally doing all he could to ruin his good fortune.
Galileo and Rhetoric
When he wrote to Tuscan court to inform them of the outcome of the events of early 1616, Ambassador Giucciardini explained what he held to be Galileo's significant part:
Galileo has relied more on his own counsel than on that of his friends. Cardinal del Monte and myself, and also several Cardinals from the Holy Office, tried to persuade him to be quiet and not to go on irritating the issue. If he wanted to hold this Copernican opinion, let him hold it quietly and not to go on irritating the issue. If he wanted to hold this Copernican opinion, he was told, let him hold it quietly and not spend so much effort in trying to have others share it. Everyone feared that his coming here might be prejudicial and dangerous and that, instead of justifying himself and triumphing over his enemies, he could end up with an affront. (XII, 241-242)
He went on to add that Galileo was
... all afire on his opinions, and puts great passion in them, and not enough strength and prudence in controlling it [sic]; so that the Roman climate is getting very dangerous for him... (ibid)
It is this kind of description of Galileo as a Copernican zealot, utterly convinced of the truth of his ideas and determined to spread them, that forms the basis of the second myth of the Galileo affair (cf. Duhem, 1969; Koestler, 1959; Feyerabend, 1993; Langford, 1966; Shea and Artigas, 2003). Giucciardini was not alone in his view of events, with even Kepler blaming the prohibition of part of his own 1618 work Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae on the "inappropriateness of some who have treated of astronomical truths in places where they should not be treated and with improper methods" (V, 633).
This thesis, however, overlooks several important points that—at this stage, at any rate—give the lie to it. Guicciardini did not know the content of Bellarmine's injunction to Galileo, sending his report to the Grand Duke before the adoption of the decree of the Index and incorrectly asserting that Galileo's opinion had been found "erroneous and heretical" (op cit). He spoke, therefore, only of "rumours that were circulating among the circles of the Papal Curia" (Fantoli, 1996: 258). More importantly, perhaps, and in spite of the Ambassador's insistence that the Pope would not tolerate such things, Galileo was granted an audience with the Pontiff less than two weeks later. According to Galileo's testimony,
... since I appeared somewhat insecure because of the thought that I would always be persecuted by their [i.e. his enemies'] implacable malice, he consoled me by saying that I could live with my mind at peace, for I was so regarded by His Holiness and the whole Congregation that they would not easily listen to the slanderers, and that I could feel safe as long as he lived. (XII, 248)
Galileo did not return immediately to Tuscany with this assurance, since he heard from several of his friends (for instance, XII, 246) that rumours were circulating to the effect that he had been ordered by Bellarmine to adjure his heresy. Having complained to the latter in this connexion, Galileo received on May the 26th a signed statement from the Cardinal describing what had occurred at their meeting (XIX, 348). (This document would prove important for his later trial and all subsequent scholarship, and we shall return to it later.) Although his attempt to separate science and religion had failed for the time being, Galileo was content to travel back to Florence and wait for a more opportune moment. In spite of the judgement of the theologians, the Church had not condemned Copernicanism but only mandated that it be treated as a hypothesis.
In the meantime, Galileo returned to his studies and observations, working on his Discourse on the ebb and flow of the sea and the eclipses of the satellites of Jupiter. This latter endeavour was being used to compile tables that Galileo believed could help address the problem of determining longitude at sea, a famous problem for navigators (cf. V, 419-425). Negotiations had been opened with the Spanish King to this end, although they would eventually (in 1632) grind to a halt.
Christoph Scheiner, Galileo’s Jesuit opponent on the question of sunspots
Late in 1618, three comets were seen in quick succession, beginning another round of speculation on their implications—whether for astronomical systems or as harbingers of upheavals to come. Galileo was unable to offer any comment himself due to illness (a susceptibility to which had plagued him throughout his life and would continue to do so), later stating so explicitly (VI, 225), and refused to rely on guesswork when he had made no observations of his own.
Nevertheless, the Jesuits were not so constrained and in 1619 their professor of mathematics at the Roman College, Orazio Grassi, who would later take over from Grienberger, wrote De tribus cometis anni MDCXVIII disputatio astronomica ("An astronomical discussion on the three comets of 1618"), otherwise known as the Disputatio. Although released under a pseudonym, much like Scheiner's booklet, Grassi defended the Tychonian system and word reached Galileo that "the Jesuits have spread it around that this thing overthrows the Copernican system, against which there is no surer argument than this" (XII, 443—although Biagioli claimed that this is a mistranslation (1993: 282, n49) and, more accurately, states that some outside the Jesuit order were spreading the rumour).
This tactic of composing texts without giving a real name was part of the precautions used in the patronage system, according to Biagioli (1993: 63): to avoid tarnishing the image of his order or patron, an author would not give his name. Galileo quickly found out, however, and took exception—wrongly (Fantoli, 1996: 303)—to a remark he felt was directed at him. Replying through his friend and former student, Mario Guidicci (although it is known that Galileo wrote almost the entirety of the work attributed to Guidicci (XII, 457)), Galileo and his friends were thereby responsible for the rapid destruction of his good relations with the Jesuits, the consequences of which concerned Ciampoli who said that the Jesuits were "much offended" (XII, 466). It was too late, however, as Grienberger observed:
As to the affairs of Galileo, I would prefer not to get mixed up in them after he has behaved so badly with the mathematicians of the Roman College, by whom he was treated, in fact, more than once not less well than with sincerity. If even one mention of him had been made in the Disputatio Romana or if he had been refuted in any way, I would be less resentful towards him. But since no thought at all was given to him and the whole question turned on the fact that the comets were found much higher than common opinion maintained and use was made here of an hypothesis which up to now it had been licit to admit, I cannot marvel enough how it could have leapt into Galileo's mind to consider himself under attack... (Codex 530, II, folio 48r, Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University)
So began the cycle that demonstrates Galileo's brutal rhetoric and its effects decisively. A master of satire and wit, possessed of the sharpest of tongues, Galileo opened the Discourse on the comets by explicitly accusing Scheiner of plagiarism during their earlier interaction on the subject of sunspots, a charge "deliberately couched in the most insulting terms" (Westfall, 1989: 51), before moving on to "rip Grassi apart" (ibid). In spite of some scholars incorrectly portraying Galileo's arguments as "decadent Aristotelianism" (Shea, 1972: 85) when they could not be reconciled with Aristotle (Fantoli, 1996: 278), or the barely disguised glee at the "demythologiz[ing of] the heroes of the scientific revolution" (Shea, 2003: 100), he had shown the inability of the Tychonic system to account for the observations of the comets rather than attempted to replace it—that is, to show that the purported refutation of Copernicanism was no such thing. Grassi's response was not long in coming, published as the Libra astronomica ac philosophica also in 1619 but under a different pseudonym, "Sarsi", allegedly a disciple of Grassi and keen to show him in a better light. This reply was also not free of rhetoric but nothing on the scale that Galileo would unleash in his rejoinder.
While the Jesuits were speaking of having "annihilated" Galileo (XII, 498-499), he himself was cautiously composing what would become The Assayer. Since his patron Cosimo II had died, along with Paul V earlier in 1621, he was keen to avoid controversy at home. As time passed, his friends became increasingly concerned that silence on his part was as good as admitting defeat, although—as usual—Galileo had again been very ill. He eventually completed the work in 1622 and his friends Cesi and Cesarini set about obtaining permission for its publication in Rome by the Accademia dei Lincei, some its members suggesting slight modifications. Examined and accepted by the Dominican Niccol Riccardi, the manuscript was with the printers in 1623 when the new Pope, Gregory XV, died suddenly only two years into his tenure. After much argument among the Cardinals, Maffeo Barberini, Galileo's friend and great defender, was elected to the Pontificate, taking the name Urban VIII. Galileo immediately wrote to Cesi of this mirabil congiuntura ("marvellous conjuncture"), saying that if they could not achieve their aims now then "they will never come about because—as far as I am concerned—there is no point hoping that a similar situation will come around again" (XIII, 135).
Giovanni Ciampoli, Galileo’s friend
Galileo had good reason to continue to delight in this fortuitous occasion: his friends Cesarini and Ciampoli were appointed as Master of the Chambers and Secretary of the Briefs to the Princes respectively—both already members of the Accademia dei Lincei. To take advantage of the circumstances, the Accademia decided to dedicate the Assayer to the new Pontiff (XIII, 129). Thus was born a work that has been described as "a stupendous masterpiece of polemical literature" (Geymonat, 1965: 101), in which Galileo's command of rhetoric was given free reign. Having told Colombe previously that "there is no point in undertaking to refute someone who is so ignorant that it would require a huge volume to refute his stupidities (which number more than the lines of his essay)" (IV, 443), he was simply brutal to Grassi and his appeals to the authority of others:
If Sarsi [i.e. Grassi] insists that I must believe ... that the Babylonians cooked eggs by swiftly whirling them in a sling, I will believe it; but I must say that the cause of such an effect is very remote from that to which it is attributed, and to find the true cause I shall reason thus. If an effect does not follow which followed with others at another time, it is because, in our experiment, something is wanting which was the cause of the former success; and if only one thing is wanting to us, that one thing is the true cause. Now we have eggs, and slings, and strong men to whirl them, and yet they will not become cooked; nay, if they were hot at first, they more quickly become cold; and, since nothing is wanting to us but Babylonians, it follows that being Babylonians is the true cause why the eggs became cooked, and not the friction of the air, which is what I wish to prove. ... I, at least, will not be so wilfully wrong, and so ungrateful to Nature and to God, that, having been gifted with sense and logic, I should voluntarily set less value on such great endowments than on the fallacies of a fellow-man and blindly and blunderingly believe whatever I hear and barter the freedom of my intellect for slavery to one as liable to error as myself. (quoted by de Santillana, 1958: 158)
In another famous passage, he expressed his contempt for those who attacked him:
Perhaps Sarsi believes that all the host of good philosophers may be enclosed within four walls. I believe that they fly, and that they fly alone, like eagles, and not in flocks like starlings. It is true that because eagles are rare birds they are little seen and less heard, while birds that fly like starlings fill the sky with shrieks and cries, and wherever they settle befoul the earth beneath them... The crowd of fools who know nothing, Sarsi, is infinite. Those who know very little part of philosophy are numerous. Few indeed are they who really know some part of it... (from Drake, 1957: 239)
Little wonder, then, that Galileo aroused such vehement opposition in his enemies through a combination of a gargantuan ego and ruthless tongue. As Westfall remarked, "[n]ot even a saint would have received Il Saggiatore without hostility, and Grassi has not been nominated for sainthood" (1989: 51). Nevertheless, Galileo was caught up in the patronage system and ignoring Grassi and others was not an option: defeat would reflect on his patrons as surely as his successes and there were continual calls for "some further new invention of [his] genius" (XIII, 146-147). In spite of the risks, then, Galileo had to "publish or perish"; showing, once more, that it is simply not possible to break up the Galileo affair into distinct spheres of influence. Galileo's ego and his rhetoric, as well as his p