The Church & Scientific Thought - Galileo Galilei Examined

The Church & Scientific Thought: Galileo Galilei Examined. Galileo Galilei 2

In the year, that John Calvin died, there was born in Pisa, a man who would rise up to challenge the foundations of scientific thought.

Galileo broke the silence, and ushered in an age of reason, based on academic research.

The educational world of his day considered his writings a great threat to the Roman Catholic supremacy. The Protestant reformation, at this time, was in the flood tide of its influence.

Galileo Galilei was born at Pisa, to Vincenzo Galilei, a musician.

He was 8 years old in 1572 when on the 4th of August Catherine de Medici, at the urging of the Pope, sent out the order, and 70,000 Huguenot Protestants were massacred in France.

When news of this reached Rome there was great rejoicing and the Pope and his College of Cardinals went in solemn procession to the church of San Marco and ordered a ‘Te Deum’ to be sung in thanksgiving.

A medal was struck in honor of this event and congratulations were sent to Paris to the King and the Queen Mother. The organization of this massacre had been the work of the Holy Office otherwise known as the Inquisition.

As a good Catholic, Galileo received his education at the Monastery at Villombrosa, near Florence, where his family had moved when he was 10 years of age. He was taught by the Catholic priests in their school.

He entered the University of Pisa as a medical student in 1581 at the age of 17 years, but withdrew in 1585 at the death of his father for lack of funds.

The following year he published an essay describing the Hydrostatic Balance, while lecturing at the Florentine Academy, This essay was widely read throughout Italy and his name became known for the first time in scientific circles.

Thus at 22 years of age he was already producing theses.

Two years later, in 1588. Pope Gregory XIII persuaded Phillip of Spain to launch the Armada in an attempt to wipe out Protestantism in England. Although this attempt ended in disaster for the Spanish, there was no doubt in the minds of the people of the day that the Pope could wield enormous influence and power over the world.

Twelve months later in 1589, Galileo published his next work on the Center of Gravity of Solids. This treatise won him greater fame and the honorable, but not too lucrative, post of lecturer of Mathematics at the University of Pisa. Thus at the age of 25 years he began in earnest his research into the theory of motion.

In 1592, now 28 years old, he applied for and was granted the Chair of Mathematics at Padua University. Here he remained for 18 years and performed the bulk of his most outstanding work. While he was there he corresponded with Johan Kepler, and in a letter to Kepler he stated that while he was convinced of the truth of the Copernican theory that the planets revolve around the sun, he was afraid to voice his opinions for fear of ridicule.

This letter, written in 1597 was indicative of the thin ice he felt he was then walking on, in respect to the church, and the rising jealousies of the other religious professors at Padua.

In the year 1598 the Edict of Nantes was issued, and evoked strong protest from the Pope.

The edict issued in France said in effect that liberty of conscience was granted to all people. It was clear to Galileo that this was not the time to foist his "Theories" on the world. He was more and more convinced from his studies, that he was the unique possessor of knowledge that if right, would change the thinking and hypotheses of the Church, as well as the scientific community. He only lacked the ability to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his thinking was indeed truth.

The turning point came in the spring of 1609 when during a visit to Venice he learned of the invention of the telescope. On his return home he built a telescope of 3 power magnification at Padua, and then with the ingenuity of mind that marks him for a genius, he immediately modified it to make it focus, and then saw a way to improve it still further and brought it up to a magnification of 32 times.

His knowledge of Optics enabled him to develop a way of grinding the lenses so accurately that for the first time he was able to see minute details.

This accomplished, he turned his telescope heavenward, and found the proofs that his astute mind had been seeking, to prove the theories that were considered Heresy by the Church of Rome.

Galileo and the Inquisition.

It is my intention to show that Galileo at this time embarked on a very carefully considered crusade, to mold the minds of the highest authorities in the then world towards the understanding of the Copernican theory, as he understood it, and to obtain greater liberty of Scientific expression for those who would come after him

He was well aware that he would be open to ridicule at the least, and that there could be dire consequences to his very life, if his plans went awry. There is no doubt that he fully understood that he was taking on the battle to break the stranglehold that the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic, held over the minds of the people.

His actions from the year 1609 bear thoughtful examination.

It is my intention to show that his shift from his lifelong appointment at Padua, and seeking the Patronage of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, were prudent steps in a plan to take on the might of the Roman Church, in spite of the danger that he knew to be all too real; denouncement by the Inquisition.

It is necessary here to leave Galileo for a while and take a sweeping look at Christianity, the Development of the Roman Church's power, and the incredible history of the Inquisition.

The Beginning of Christianity.

The History of Christianity starts with a man refusing the Kingdoms of this world when offered them by the Devil, and by the Jewish People on at least two occasions.

He taught clearly that His followers were to avoid pretensions of worldly power and seek Truth and Eternal Life, which He promised them would be available, through His Death for their Sins. He told them that after his Death He would come alive again, that they would see him go up to God, and they were to tell the whole world that He had made reconciliation with God possible for them.

In order to carry out his commission they organized cells, and groups, through which they could carry on their work. The early groups that so formed were self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing. The relationship between the various groups was a cordial interchange of ideas about the teaching of their leader Jesus, and an attempt to keep all of these followers saying the same thing. This state of affairs appeared to remain more or less constant for the first three hundred years, but then gradually, instead of self-rule by each group, there appeared stronger personalities emerging, and gathering several groups under their care.

The term Bishop formerly used only in the plural, designating local church elders, now taken by leaders of groups of congregations.

   The Bishop had a "Fatherly" care and fondly called 'Papa’ by the affiliated congregations. The Bishop of Rome began to claim authority over the Whole Church including all the groups after A.D. 500. Many of the groups or congregations bitterly contested this idea. By the end of the 4th century, the Christian church was presided over by five Bishops, each with an area of influence, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Rome.

   In A.D. 395 after the division of the Empire into two parts, the East and the West, the Bishops of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, gradually began to acknowledge the authority of the Bishop of Constantinople. The struggle resolved itself into a bid for supremacy between Rome and Constantinople. About A.D. 435, Augustine wrote a book "The City of God" in which he envisioned the church as a Universal Christian Empire, which was of course promoting Rome's claim to a hierarchy under one universal head.


POPE LEO 1 - A.D. 440-461

The Roman Empire under weak Emperors was breaking up. Barbarian invasions of Italy were threatening everyone. Leo, the strong man of the hour, persuaded Attila the Hun, to spare Rome. Becoming popular now, Leo claimed by divine appointment to be head of all Bishops, thus making Christianity a State religion. Emperor Valentinian III in 445 granted Imperial recognition to his claim, while the Council of Chalcedon, in AD 451 gave equal recognition to Constantinople.

GREGORY 1 - A.D. 590 – 604  

Recognized as the first Pope. In a time of political anarchy and distress throughout Europe, he gained for himself complete control of the Church in Italy, Spain, Gaul, and England. In his personal life he was a good man and one of the purest and best of Popes.

ZACHARIAS - A.D.741 - 752

He was instrumental in making Pepin (father of Charlemagne) King of the Franks, (West Germany & Middle France)

STEPHAN 11. 752 - 757 A.D.

At Stephan’s request Pepin 'Liberated' central Italy from the Lombards and gave the conquered lands to the Pope. This was the beginning of the Papal States or 'Temporal Dominion’ of the Popes. Civil control of Central Italy, recognized by Pepin, was later confirmed by Charlemagne as the Papal Kingdom, and ruled by the head of the Church. This Kingdom lasted until 1870, a rule of 1100 years. After Charlemagne's death, the treaty of Verdun divided Charlemagne's kingdom into the foundations of modern Germany, France and Italy and henceforth there was ceaseless struggle for the supremacy, between Popes, and the German, and French Kings.

NICHOLAS 1 - A.D. 858 -867

First Pope to wear a crown. He issued Decretals (letters of the pope, which formulate decisions in the ecclesiastical law of the Catholic Church). Historians called the next two hundred years the "mid-night of the dark ages". Bribery, corruption, immorality, bloodshed and ambition to acquire more POWER, are the hallmarks of this time.

INNOCENT 111 - A.D. 1198 -1216

Claimed to be 'Supreme sovereign over the Church and the World', He brought the Church into supreme control of the State. The Kings of Germany, France and England obeyed his will. The most powerful of all the Popes to date, he declared himself, as Peter's successor to be infallible, and forbade the reading of the Bible in the language of the people. It was Innocent who ordered the extermination of heretics & instituted the Inquisition to crush the reformation in the 16th & 17th centuries. Called the ‘Holy Office’, perfected under the second following pope, GREGORY IX.

The Inquisition was the church court for detection and punishment of heretics.

Under it, everyone was required to inform against heretics. All suspects were liable to Torture, without knowing the name of the informer. Proceedings were secret. The Inquisitor pronounced sentence and the victim, turned over to the civil authorities, imprisoned for life, or burned alive at the Stake. The victim’s property was confiscated and divided between the Church and State; in 30 years from 1540-1570 more than 900,000, Protestants were put to death.

No Pope has ever apologized for the Inquisition.

LEO X  1513 - 1521 A.D. a son of Lorenzo Medici was the pope -when Luther started the reformation.

The Inquisition reached its greatest power under the leader ship of Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish priest who founded the Jesuits, especially to have unquestioned loyalty to the Pope, to wipe out heresy (thinking anything different to the Pope), and to reclaim territory lost to the Protestants, and Mohommedans.

Believing that the "End justifies the means" they were in complete control at the time of Galileo. Thus, men had taken the religion of Christ and developed it into an unscrupulous Political Machine on which to ride to world power.

The Invention of Printing, in 1450, was the key to the Renaissance and reformation in the Church.

Invention of Printing was later the key to Galileo's influence on the people of his day. These events were to be the final undoing of the Inquisition, and the Papacy, although it would take many years before the world was able to act without considering them. Galileo certainly could not ignore them. Galileo left the Venetian Republic, to start his conversion of the church.

The Political situation in A.D. 1610.

Giordano Bruno was taken and burned, in 1600, after Venice handed him over in 1594. At that time, Galileo was at Padua, just a few miles away. An old pupil of Galileo, Cosimo, became the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was a supporter of the Arts. Galileo moved under the patronage of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in his homeland, and immediately went to Rome. He stayed at the Tuscan Embassy and began to lobby the highest Cardinals, to show them his new discoveries in the heavens.

These four discoveries were to prove the foundation of his Copernican beliefs:

  1. The discovery of the four Moons of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, in 1610, which disproved the Aristotelian belief that the Earth could not be a planet because it had a moon and they thought the planets, had none.
  2. The Sunspots, which proved that perfection, did not belong even to the Sun.
  3. The phases of Venus, which demonstrated that a planet could circle the around the Sun.
  4. The Moon Surface, with irregularities.

   Galileo and Kepler were in correspondence at this time. Kepler sent Galileo a copy of his thesis on the idea of Elliptical orbits. Galileo never read it! "I have always held Kepler to be a free spirit (perhaps too free) and keen,” he once wrote. Kepler wrote in prolix Latin, which was hard to understand at the best of times. When he wrote his ideas of the stars making music, Galileo lost patience and refused to read further.

   Galileo’s Siderius Nuncius”, written in 1610, was dedicated to his former Pupil, now the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo. In it, he named the moons of Jupiter after Cosimo's family name, the Medici. Galileo wrote this work in Latin, in order that the Scientists of other countries would be able to read it easily. The other writings of Galileo were usually in Italian. Now with his name on every lip, and the Grand Duke suitably impressed with his loyalty to himself and the Church, he applied for and received the appointment to First Mathematician and chief astronomer to the Court of Tuscany. This placed him under the personal protection and sponsorship of the Duke.

Galileo visited Rome in spring of 1611.

The people feted him, and he met Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, Papal secretary of State, the foremost Theologian and one of the Inquisitors General. Pope Paul V received Galileo, with benevolence, a sign of great favor. Galileo was elected sixth member of the Acedemei dei Lincei, founded by Prince Fredrico Cesi, it was the first such specializing in Science & Philosophy. He had success with nobles and Church dignitaries, accepting what they saw through Galileo's telescope. From that time, Bellarmine alerted the Inquisition to watch him. Galileo met Maffeo Barberini at the Duke's dinner and wrote the “Discourse on floating bodies” as a result. He published it in 1612. It is based on Archimedean principles, but written in the style that was to antagonize his enemies.

Letters on Sunspots

Father Christopher Schiener claimed to have discovered the Sunspots at the same time as Galileo. He wrote to Mark Welser, of the Acedemei dei Lincei, who published them anonymously and sent them to Galileo for his opinions.Galileo replied in his letter, unaware that the Schiener was the man he was writing against, and that Schiener was a Jesuit. Jesuits were not only the leaders of the Inquisition, but also advisers to the Church on Educational matters. Slowly he antagonized them more and more until they withdrew entirely from him. Galileo’s ‘Letters on Sunspots’ were written in Italian. Schiener had to have them translated as he was a German and could not read Italian.

In a Letter to Castelli in 1613, Galileo explained his views on the relations between science and faith.

He wrote another letter to the Grand Duchess Christina di Lorena, who believed that the earth could not move, because its motion would contradict the Holy Scriptures. Galileo believed that the Bible and Science would never be at odds with each other, but that the understanding of the bible by men, may be at fault. At this time, Galileo's writings showed he now believed the Copernican theory to be a fact and real.

The visit to Rome in 1615.

Galileo visited Rome again, and talked to many authorities. The Inquisition considered charges against Galileo and declared Galileo’s writings “foolish, absurd, philosophically and formally heretical”. The Pope summoned him to the Papal palace, and Bellarmine charged him to ‘not hold, teach, or defend the condemned opinions of Copernicus’. The book De Revolutionibus by Copernicus was banned. Interestingly Martin Luther had been against Copernicus too. Action was taken after Galileo's campaign became a threat to the Church.

Galileo had been planning his great life work, a book on the two systems of the world, Copernican and Ptolemaic. Many had been waiting impatiently for it. Now he was silenced. He never published again for ten years, after Sunspots. ‘The Assayer’ was a tract written to defend his views on the appearance of the comets of 1618. His pupil, Mario Guiducci, lectured on Galileo’s views about comets. A Jesuit astronomer Father Horatio Grassi wrote, a paper called the Astronomical and Philosophical Balance under the name of Lothario Sarsi. In it, he weighs Galileo's views, which Galileo thinks unjust. Galileo replied with "The Assayer". His ideas about comets were incorrect, but behind the argument about comets, was a deeper difference over the liberty of thought in Science. Galileo asserted the right to use has own brain, placing problems in their proper perspective, and drawing the inevitable conclusions from them.


Maffeo Barberini became pope at the time that the Lincian Academy was busy printing The Assayer in 1623. Galileo went to Rome to pay his respects in 1624, after recovering from sickness. The new Pope was an old friend and had written a poem about Galileo. Maffeo Barberini welcomed Galileo and seemed pleased with The Assayer, which had been dedicated to him. As a friend, he gives permission to write about Copernicus, but the Pope suggested he not present it as reality, but as a scientific hypothesis.

The ‘Dialogue of theTwo Great World Systems’ was completed by 1630.

The Imprimatur of the censors in Rome, obtained, with some difficulty, and the book was published in 1632. The main characters in the story, named ‘Salviati, Sagredo and Simplicio’, discuss what was a summation of 40 years of thought, and studies of Motion, as well as the astronomical studies, and discoveries of Galileo.

The Trial of Galileo

Galileo was summoned to Rome, publication and sales of the book stopped, and he was ordered to appear before the Inquisition.

Pope Urban was angry and became Galileo’s bitterest enemy. ‘Simplicio’ had said that the Copernican doctrine is neither true nor conclusive. Simplicio appears to be simple minded. Someone hinted that in Simplicio, Galileo had represented the Pope himself.

This was really a trial between Authority and free thought.

On June 22, 1633, Galileo recanted, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and his book was banned. His imprisonment was later commuted to house arrest, so he returned to Arcetri. His daughter, Sister Maria Celeste died at age 33. The other daughter, Sister Archangela, continued in the Monastery nearby.

Within two years, he completed the book "Two New Sciences". No publisher would take it, as the church had issued a general prohibition against printing or reprinting any of his books. Louis Elzevir of Leyden, Holland, a protestant country, published it in 1638. The Roman Church let this go unnoticed. Galileo was going blind by this time, and died on Jan 8. 1642, after a lingering fever.

 Galileo broke the silence, and ushered in an age of reason based on academic research.

Editorial Note:

Pope John II finally lifted the Edict of the Inquisition from Galileo in 1992, twelve years after presentation of this thesis. The Roman Catholic Church, finally and formally, rescinded Galileo’s sentence.

This thesis was submitted in partial fulfillminent of the requirements in the "History of Scientific Thought" for an Associate of Arts in Aerospace Maintenance Technology (AA AMT), at Northrop University, Inglewood, California. Class of 1980. Cole-Rous graduated magna cum laude.

© 1980 Jim Cole-Rous.


Galileo Galilei, Geymonat, McGraw-Hill 1965

Galileo & Scientific Revolution, Fermi Basic Books, NY 1961

Pioneers of Science, Lodge, Dover Press NY 1960

Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition – Galileo.

Collins Encyclopedia – Galileo.

Halley’s Bible Handbook.

History of Astronomy, Boyer 2nd edition, Dover Press NY 1953

‘Imortal Last Words’ by Terry Breverton, Quertus Publishing, London, WC1A 2NS. © 2010 ISBN 9981848660854