Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/February 1877/The Trial of Galileo








MANY points have been left obscure in the history of the double trial of Galileo, the details of which till lately were but imperfectly known. The important work published by Domenico Berti[2] fills up some of these gaps, by placing before our eyes a collection of authentic documents taken from the secret archives of the Vatican. We have here no work of partisanship, undertaken in the interest of religious controversy, but an historical work executed with all the scrupulous care that is nowadays exacted in all historical researches. In France the question had already been handled by Libri, Biot, Joseph Bertrand, Trouessart, and Th. Henri Martin, the first two approaching it with preconceived opinions that aided but little in the discovery of the truth, while the others brought to the discussion a remarkable spirit of impartiality. But all of these writers lacked the indispensable elements of information which now, thanks to the labors of Domenico Berti, are at the disposal of the future biographers of Galileo. If we have suffered ourselves to be anticipated by an Italian in the publication of the documents relating to this famous case, we must attribute the fact either to the negligence or to the prudence of the French Government, for we were in possession, for nearly half a century, of the valuable manuscript the full text of which is now published by Berti. Having been taken out of the Vatican archives during the first empire and carried to Paris, this original collection was there seen by the historian Denina, but he thought it to be of no importance. Nevertheless Napoleon I. ordered it to be published, with a translation facing the text; but the publication, though begun, was not continued: only the beginning of the work was then known, and of this Delambre, the astronomer, gave an account to the Italian Venturi.

In December, 1814, according to the Duke de Blacas, the private library of Louis XVIII. received the entire MS. in the same condition in which it had been found by the imperial government in Italy, and thence carried to France. During the early years of the Restoration, active negotiations were carried on by the court of Rome with the French Government, to secure the return of these important documents. The Government, though it did not positively refuse to comply, nevertheless delayed and procrastinated. It was not until 1846, after thirty-two years of negotiation, that the MS. was sent back to Rome, at the instance, no doubt, of Rossi, who himself presented it to Pius IX., in behalf of Louis Philippe. By the pope it was restored in December, 1848, to the secret archives of the Vatican, and there it still remains.

All that was known of this MS. before the publication of Berti's work rested upon a selection of documents published at Rome in 1850, with many precautions, by Monsignore Marino Marini, sometime Prefect of the Secret Archives of the Holy See, and upon a larger work, in some respects inexact, and in others imperfect, published in Paris in 1867, by Henri de l'Épinois. Both of these writers take special points of view: they appear to be more intent upon justifying the judges that condemned Galileo than upon laying bare the whole truth with the boldness and freedom of an historian. Hence we can appreciate the motives which led them to publish only a portion of the MS. though the whole of it was in their hands. Did the court of Rome really suppose that these two publications contained all the documents pertaining to the double trial of Galileo, or did it think that the time had come for no longer hiding anything from the public? However that may be, at all events Domenico Berti, in February, 1870, was permitted to examine the MS., and even to copy it at his leisure in the room of Father Theiner, who had been officially authorized to intrust it to him. The present publication, therefore, was not procured by fraud, and, if the Holy See should have any occasion to regret it, at least it could neither dispute its authenticity, nor complain that the work was done without its consent.


The interesting history of the travels and of the final destiny of the Vatican MS. is merely the preface of a far more important history, whose events we will endeavor to record impartially, with the sole purpose of unveiling and bringing to light the truth. Galileo, celebrated from his early years for the value of his discoveries and the brilliancy of his lectures at the University of Padua, loaded with honors at Venice and at Florence, and admired throughout all Italy, was pursuing the course of his great researches with the boldness of a man confident of his strength and of his fame, when certain slight indications no doubt warned him that it would not be disadvantageous, if he would carry on his researches in safety, to win the favor of the Sacred College. Accordingly he set out in 1611 for the Eternal City, without confessed misgiving, but with the ambition and expectation of interesting the most influential personages of the Roman court in his discoveries. He was nearing the decisive moment of his career. He had not as yet been disquieted by the objections of the theologians, though in prosecuting his studies of the constitution of the universe he was touching upon delicate questions which he could not expect to be permitted to discuss freely, without having first gained the sympathy, or at least the neutrality, of the Church. The court of Rome at that time exercised such moral authority in Italy, and especially at Florence, where Galileo resided, that people in some sense waited for her decision before they would accept the best-established conclusions in astronomy. The Grand-duke of Tuscany could not but be pleased at the discovery of Jupiter's satellites, announced in the "Sidereus Nuncius;" and he was all the more ready to believe, because these new heavenly bodies had received his family name: yet his own secretary had to admit that the discovery would never receive the unanimous assent of the learned world until it was approved and verified at Rome. There sat the Roman College, a regular tribunal, scientific as well as theological, whose decrees were law in Catholic countries.

Galileo, who was a man of rare good sense, and perfectly conversant with the ways of the world, had in advance formed at Rome the best and the most powerful of relations. Besides, he came there in a sort of official capacity, at the grand-duke's charges, and he was entertained there by the Tuscan embassador. Prelates, cardinals, princes, vied with one another for the honor of offering fétes and banquets to the most illustrious representative of Italian science. At the palace of Cardinal Bandini, in the beautiful gardens of the Quirinal, in the villa of the Marquis Cesi on the summit of the Janiculan, Galileo delighted a society of élite by having them contemplate, during the serene nights of April, the vault of heaven through the telescope which he had recently invented, and which bears his name. He awakened a genuine enthusiasm one day when, after dinner, he pointed his telescope toward St. John of Lateran, three miles distant, and enabled the guests to read the inscription upon the façade of that basilica.

His arguments did not equally convince all of those who were present at his astronomical observations, and who listened to the explanation he gave of the movement of Jupiter's four satellites, the inequalities of the moon's surface, and the phases of Venus and Saturn, and to the discussions he carried on with those who opposed his views. His doctrine implied the confirmation of the system of Copernicus and the demonstration of the earth's motion, which were no longer reserved for mathematicians only, but made intelligible to all by a series of experiments. Here was an innovation calculated to alarm the theologians. A system that might be regarded as inoffensive so long as it was only a mathematical hypothesis, useful to men of science in their researches, became a very different thing on being transformed into a physical truth accessible to the senses and pregnant with consequences touching the plurality of worlds and the aim of creation. Hence the apparent triumph of Galileo hid from view perils the magnitude of which at first eluded his penetrating mind. While he was giving himself up, with perhaps over-much confidence, to the pleasure of success, and was yielding too easily to his habitual temptation to answer objections with sarcasm, the ecclesiastical authority quietly set on foot an inquiry into the orthodoxy of his opinions. Cardinal Bellarmin, probably in the name of his colleagues of the Inquisition, asked of the members of the Roman College (without mentioning Galileo's name) what was to be thought of the astronomical observations that had recently been promulgated by a distinguished mathematician.

This is the first symptom that we have been able to discover of the intervention of theology in the examination of Galileo's scientific opinions. The response of the Roman College was favorable to him; but, from that moment forward, the alarm was sounded, and the Inquisition never lost sight of him. Though the sovereign pontiff, to whom he was presented by the Tuscan embassador, received him with great courtesy, not allowing him to utter even a word on bended knees, yet the Holy Office, even before he had quitted Rome, inquired of the tribunal at Padua whether, in the action brought against Cesare Cremonini for certain philosophical indiscretions, there might not be something to compromise Galileo. A direct personal attack, inspired by an over-weening zeal, quickly followed these early suspicions. On his return to Florence, Galileo took up his labors afresh in the pleasant solitudes of the Belvedere, placed at his service by the kind hospitality of the grand-duke; there he received his friends and pupils, who, on departing from these conversaziones, propagated his doctrines. At this a Dominican friar, Thomas Caccini, took umbrage, and, in a sermon delivered at Santa Maria Nuova on the miracle of Joshua, he suddenly exclaimed, "Viri Galilæi, quid statis aspicientes in cœlum?" The friar doubtless had heard of a conversation held at the court in presence of the grand-duchess dowager Christine of Lorraine, and the Archduchess Madeleine of Austria, in the course of which Father Castelli, a pupil of Galileo, had endeavored to prove, to the great satisfaction of his hearers, that one might believe in the earth's motion without questioning the authenticity of Joshua's miracle. Upon this subject Galileo addressed to his pupil a famous letter, in which he precisely set forth the rights of science, at the same time asserting for religion its own. Here, according to him, are two separate domains, which are not rashly to be confounded.

"The Holy Scripture," said he, "can neither lie nor err, but it needs to be interpreted; for, were we to insist upon the literal sense of the words, we should find not only contradictions, but heresies and blasphemies; we should have to give to God hands, feet, ears, to suppose him subject to like passions with men—to anger, remorse, hatred; and, again, to hold that he forgets the past and is ignorant of the future. . . . Inasmuch as the Bible constantly requires interpretation to explain how very different the true sense of the words is from their apparent signification, it appears to me that it should be quoted in scientific discussions only as the last resort. In truth, Holy Scripture and Nature both come from the Divine Word, the one being the dictation of the Holy Ghost, while the other is the executor of God's decrees; but it was fitting that, in the Scriptures, the language should be adapted to the people's understanding in many things where the appearance differs widely from the reality. Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she is not at all concerned whether the hidden reasons and means through which she works are or are not intelligible to man, because she never oversteps the limit of the laws imposed upon her. Hence it appears that when we have to do with natural effects brought under our eyes by the experience of our senses, or deduced from absolute demonstrations, these can in no wise be called in question on the strength of Scripture texts that are susceptible of a thousand different interpretations, for the words of Scripture are not so strictly limited in their significance as the phenomena of Nature. . . . I therefore think it would be wise to forbid persons from using texts of Holy Scripture, and from forcing them, as it were, to support as true certain propositions in natural science, whereof the contrary may to-morrow be demonstrated by the senses or by mathematical reasoning."

This noble letter, the moderation of which would nowadays be admitted by every theologian, but which then gave out a dangerous odor of novelty, no doubt passed from hand to hand, was read by ill-disposed persons, perhaps fomented the agitation produced by Caccini's vehement assault, and furnished to another Dominican, Niccola Lorini, an opportunity of denouncing Galileo to the Congregation of the Holy Office. "Here," said the informer, "are propositions that seem to be suspect and rash, opinions that contradict the text of the Holy Scripture. Besides," he added, "Galileo and his disciples speak with little respect of the fathers of the Church, of St. Thomas of Aquino, and of Aristotle, whose philosophy has rendered so much service to the scholastic theology." The Inquisition, though search was made, was unable to procure the original of the letter, for Castelli had given it back to his master, and he prudently refused to part with it. The inquisitors contented themselves with an examination of the copy sent by Lorini, in which they discovered a few ill-sounding phrases, but, on the whole, nothing clearly contradictory of the language of Scripture. Still they continued to note the words of Galileo; they questioned two Tuscan ecclesiastics about the speeches that he might have uttered in their hearing; they scrutinized the letters he had published on the subject of observing sun-spots.

Galileo, though quite ignorant of the strict watch kept on him by the Inquisition, had a vague apprehension of imminent danger. To ward it off, he adopted the expedient of going again to Rome in 1615, and of pleading his cause in person in the quarter where a successful defense was most to be desired. It has been asserted that Galileo was summoned before the bar of the Holy Office, but they who so assert are in error as to the date; it was not till a much later period, viz., the beginning of his second trial, that he was ordered to appear in Rome. On the present occasion he went of his own accord, no longer possessed of the fearless assurance with which he made his first journey, yet confidently hoping that he would disarm his opponents by the clearness of his explanations. Perchance he rested his expectation of convincing them as much upon the graces and charms of his wit, and the personal attractiveness which won for him all hearts, as upon the strength of his arguments.

Besides, he had taken more pains than even he did in 1611 to prepare the ground: he had, in urgent letters, rekindled the zeal of his friends, and had again obtained for himself all the external tokens of the official protection of the grand-duke. As before, he went down to the embassador's palace, the villa of the Trinità, de' Monti, where now the Academy of France has its seat, and, the day after his arrival, went into the country. What with detailed explanations made in the presence of numerous auditors, keen and lively disputations in which he plainly showed the weakness of his opponents, frequent visits to distinguished personages, brief tractates in which he demonstrated the truth of the Copernican system, he omitted nothing that could influence in his own favor those currents of opinion which judges themselves cannot withstand.

Unfortunately for Galileo, the tribunal of the Inquisition was but little affected by external influences; it imposed laws on opinion, and took no advice from it. The members of the Holy Office, heedless of the steps taken by the illustrious astronomer, and of the ardor with which his ideas were espoused by a portion of Roman society, went on quietly with their work. In examining the letters on the sun-spots, they found therein two propositions worthy of censure. On the 24th of February, 1616, they unanimously pronounced it absurd and heretical to assert that the sun is motionless, and that the earth revolves. The sovereign pontiff immediately ordered Cardinal Bellarmin to summon Galileo, and to have him promise that he would no longer uphold a proposition condemned by the Church. "If he refuses to obey," said the pontifical letter, "the Father Commissary, in the presence of a notary and witnesses, shall enjoin him absolutely to abstain from teaching that doctrine and that opinion, from upholding it or even speaking of it; in case he does not comply, he shall be cast into jail." Accordingly, on the 26th of February, 1616, Cardinal Bellarmin, in the presence of the commissary-general of the Holy Office and two witnesses, invited Galileo to renounce the two condemned propositions. After Bellarmin, the commissary-general again intimated to him, on behalf of the pope and the entire Congregation of the Holy Office, the formal order no longer to uphold, teach, and defend this opinion, whether by writing, by word of mouth, or in any manner whatsoever; if he failed to comply, he was to be prosecuted by the Holy Office. Galileo promised to obey.[3] On the 5th of March following, the Congregation of the Index condemned the work of Copernicus until it should be corrected.

From these authentic facts it results that a certain number of modern historians are deceived themselves, or would deceive us, when they insinuate that the Holy Office meant to condemn, not the system of Copernicus, but Galileo's theological interpretations of it. There was no question whatever about theological interpretations. In neither Copernicus's book, nor in the letters on the sun-spots, is there a word, a single phrase, in which the Holy Scriptures are interpreted. If here and there in his correspondence Galileo, out of respect to religion, endeavored to reconcile the data of science with the text of the Bible, he never published these explanations. It was not upon these private manuscript documents that he was tried, and the only document that furnished a basis for the charge was a printed work, purely scientific in character, and having nothing whatever to do with theology. By no manner of argumentation can the fact be negatived that a tribunal of theologians constituted itself a judge in a question of science, and decided it as an authority decides. The Holy Office did not forbid receiving and teaching the doctrine of Copernicus, on the ground that it was not yet demonstrated, as some of the apologists of the Holy See would have us believe; they would not permit it to be demonstrated; they pronounced it in advance to be "absurd, heretical, contrary to the text of the Scripture." Such is the whole truth about Galileo's first trial, and Domenico Berti sets it forth with much dialectic vigor.


Galileo once reduced to silence by the act of submission to which he had subscribed, the object of the Inquisition was attained. No useless rigor followed the first procedure. Provided that the culprit spoke no more about the motion of the earth, the court of Rome would like nothing better than to make the most of a great mind that for a moment had gone astray, but whose genius and whose scientific fame were intact. After the trial, Galileo remained three months in Rome, and was kindly received by the sovereign pontiff. In fact, the rumor having spread that he had been punished by the Holy Office and obliged to retract and to do penance, he obtained from Cardinal Bellarmin a certificate to the contrary effect. All that was done, said the cardinal, was to forbid him defending or upholding the system of Copernicus. What advantage could it have been to drag Galileo down from the high position he occupied in the world's opinion? It was enough, for the purposes of his judges, if they could shut his mouth.

In this they supposed they had succeeded, but here they failed to take account of the overmastering impulse to propagate truth, which is the very essence of scientific genius. Galileo could neither erase from his mind a belief that rested on a demonstration, nor refuse to employ it in advancing to fresh discoveries, nor abstain from speaking of it with those who consulted him with regard to their own astronomical labors, or took an interest in his. In his retirement at the Belvedere, where, since his return from Rome, he led a more secluded life than ever, he received, as in former times, numerous visits, nearly all prompted by the love of science. He was still the recognized and admired head of the scientific movement in Italy. Why should he not converse about the cardinal proposition of the earth's motion with the young savants who came to ask his advice and to receive his instruction? A distinguished Italian narrates how, having spent a few days with him, after the close of his first trial, he heard from Galileo's mouth the exposition of the Copernican system, was converted to his ideas, and himself then converted Campanella to that doctrine.

Hence the submission of Galileo was only apparent. Later he was justly charged with having broken his promise. Still, he avoided compromising himself publicly, and in his first work, "Il Saggiatore," which is a model of keen, clever irony, he hardly ventured to write anything touching on the system of Copernicus. Presently the election of a new pontiff inspired him with the hope that the court of Rome might relax its rigor. Urban VIII., of the family of Barberini, was a Florentine, a lover of letters, well disposed toward the Academy of the Lincei, and especially friendly to Galileo, to whom he had addressed, while yet a cardinal, some verses conceived in a vein of eulogy. Galileo went to Rome to see him, had six long audiences with him, was presented by him with a picture, medals, agnus deis, and a pension for his son, and doubtless talked with him about the great subject which filled his mind. We can only guess at what was said by the two friends: some authors assert that Urban VIII. then inclined toward the Copernican system; others, on the contrary, say that he demonstrated to Galileo the impossibility of maintaining the theory of the earth's motion. The truth is, that we know nothing about the matter; neither the pope nor the astronomer has given out anything about the nature of their conversations. Perhaps even, as we shall shortly see, they believed that they could agree, while differing from one another widely.

At all events, it seems that, dating from the accession of Urban VIII. to the pontifical throne, Galileo felt more free to touch anew upon the forbidden subject, under a different form. Was this the result of an overweening confidence in the friendship of the sovereign pontiff, of a too favorable interpretation of some friendly speeches, or of the impossibility of being silent while Kepler was speaking boldly outside of Italy, while on Italian soil one was constantly harassed by ignorant opponents, and, though one's hand were full of truths, one durst not open it and rout them. The "Dialogues on the Two Great Systems of the Universe," which were destined to bring Galileo into so much trouble, show that, in writing them, he stood between the conflicting influences of a strong desire to speak and the fear of compromising himself. He rather insinuates his ideas with true Italian finesse than puts them forth boldly. He does not defend the Copernican system, but expounds it. He even takes the precaution of stating, in a preface, the rough draft of which had been sent to him from Rome, that the true aim of his work is to show that in Italy ideas are not condemned unknown, and that nowhere is this delicate matter better understood than in Italy. He carefully avoids drawing conclusions: the personage whom he introduces as the representative of the doctrine of Ptolemy and as the defender of the belief in the earth's immobility, though clad in the strongest dialectical coat of mail, and though driven to his last ditch by the keen raillery and the copious logic of his interlocutors, replies to them unmoved: "Your arguments are the most ingenious that can be conceived, but I consider them to be neither true nor conclusive." Father Riccardi, Master of the Sacred Palace, whose business it was to examine Galileo's manuscript, suffered himself to be half-way won by these exhibitions of innocence, and gave a permit for the work to be printed, though not without resistance. He afterward protested that he had been deceived by the author, and that some of the conditions on which he had granted the imprimatur were not fulfilled. At first it was agreed that the "Dialogues" should be printed at Rome; but at the earnest entreaty of Galileo leave was granted to have the work done at Florence, where it would involve less trouble and cost to him, and where, above all, he could more easily evade the surveillance of the Sacred Palace. In this negotiation Galileo displayed a fecundity of resource and a force of will that show how important be considered the publication of his work to be. The chief fruit of his address was that he escaped a second revision of the text, which would have been made at Rome had the work been printed there. Galileo chose rather to deal with the inquisitor at Florence, to whom Father Riccardi had delegated his powers, but who, doubtless at the solicitation of the grand-duke, exercised these powers with less rigor than would have been used at the Sacred Palace. We can imagine the wrath manifested by the court of Rome; in fact, despite all its finesse, it had been outwitted by an Italian shrewder even than itself, by a fellow-countryman of Macchiavelli.

Would Galileo have been so eager for the publication of his work, if he had foreseen the dangers to which he exposed himself by publishing it? The sovereign pontiff, immediately upon receipt of the book, in the beginning of August, 1632, was highly incensed, charged Galileo with having made an unhandsome return for his kindness, and would on the spot have referred the author and the book to the tribunal of the Holy Office, had he not been restrained by the importunities of the embassador Niccolini, and his fear of offending the Grand-duke of Tuscany. "Galileo," said Urban, "has not acted with out deliberation, has not sinned through ignorance; he was perfectly well aware of the difficulties of the case, for I myself have made them clear to him." These expressions of dissatisfaction on the part of the sovereign pontiff would seem to show that, in the interviews of which we have spoken, the two friends had touched on the delicate question of the earth's motion, and that, by a process of self-illusion quite natural under the circumstances, each had supposed he had convinced the other. The pope was angry at Galileo, as at one in whom he had for a long time mistakenly reposed confidence—as though a fraud had been practised upon him; this feeling, which had broken the bond of their old friendship, explains the harshness with which Urban treated the friend of his youth. Nor had Galileo been less mistaken with regard to the disposition of the pope's mind. He flattered himself that he should find in him an indulgent judge of his astronomical theories, while in point of fact he was wounding Urban in his most sacred convictions. Had he known that the pope was so opposed to the system of Copernicus, doubtless he never would have braved the wrath of one whose power was unlimited, or affronted a tribunal from which there was no appeal.

On receipt of the "Dialogues," Urban instructed a commission to examine the book and report to him. As soon as the report came into his hands, he commanded the inquisitor at Florence to communicate to Galileo a formal summons to appear in October before the commissary-general of the Holy Office in Rome. Galileo, then seventy years of age, and suffering from hernia, asked the authorities to take into consideration his age and his malady, and to dispense him from the journey. The Grand-duke of Tuscany interceded for him. But Urban would listen to nothing; fearing lest he should be deceived, as he believed he had been before, he would permit no delay. He would not even believe the testimony of three physicians who attested the reality of Galileo's malady; he sent the inquisitor in person to him, with orders to arrest and bring him in irons to Rome, if he was found to be in a condition to bear the journey. Poor Galileo had taken to his bed, and, as was said by one of his friends, "he was more in danger of going to the other world than to Rome." He was not in a condition to be removed until January, 1633. The good offices of the Grand-duke of Tuscany attended him to the presence of his judges, and there the friendship of Niccolini accompanied him—weak succors these in the face of such powerful adversaries. At first the embassador's palace was appointed as his place of confinement, and he was commanded not to leave it; he went out only in order to submit to the interrogatories proposed to him by the Holy Office.

On the 12th of April he was interrogated for the first time. To begin with, he was asked if he remembered what took place in 1616, when he had to appear before Cardinal Bellarmin and the commissary-general of the Holy Office. Galileo admitted having heard it declared on that day that the system of Copernicus could not be maintained or defended, as being contrary to the Holy Scriptures. "It may be," he added, "that at the same time I myself was forbidden to maintain or defend that opinion, but I do not recollect, it is now so long ago." Whatever may be the interest now taken in a case so bound up with the question of the freedom of thought, it is not easy to believe with Berti that Galileo replied to this first interrogatory with entirely good faith. When a prohibition is issued in terms so formal as those we have given, upon so definite a point, neither the form nor the substance is ever forgotten. Ambiguity was out of the question after Bellarmin's warning, and still more after the solemn injunction of the commissary-general. Domenico Berti is in error with regard to the psychological conditions of memory where he says that it must have been easier for Galileo to recollect the conciliatory words of Cardinal Bellarmin than the threats of the commissary-general. On the contrary, what strikes one most under such circumstances, what impresses itself deepest in the memory, is the threats. How could any one forget words so simple, so clear, so menacing, as these: "You are forbidden to maintain this opinion, to teach or to defend it, whether by writing or by word of mouth, or in any other manner whatsoever, else the Holy Office will take information against you!" These last words in particular must have buried themselves like an arrow in the memory of Galileo, nevermore to come out. He knew all too well what he had to fear from the Inquisition ever to forget on what conditions that tribunal agreed to take no further cognizance of him. The silence he kept in public for sixteen years upon the forbidden subject, and even the care he took in his "Dialogues" to give to his thoughts an inoffensive turn, might serve as evidence of the faithfulness of his memory.

The fact is, that the reason of Galileo's taking up his pen again to treat a forbidden subject was not that he had forgotten the formal prohibition. He might have made answer, with great frankness, that, though he had been ordered to hold his peace, yet he had not been convinced, and that, after so many years of silence, the need of proclaiming the truth had more power over him than the fear of disobeying. But it was not for a mind so subtile, nor for a character so wary as that of Galileo, to be tied down to a categorical declaration, and so to shut every portal of escape. He chose rather to use evasions with his judges, to plead extenuating circumstances, to produce the impression that he might have misunderstood, but that he had not acted with evil intent and with his eyes open. Even while undergoing the first interrogatory, he was still in hopes of finding in the sovereign pontiff some remnant of friendship, or, at least, of good-will; and this was another reason why he made an evasive reply, and did not compromise himself by an explicit admission of his offenses. He appears to have believed, at this first session, that it would be possible for him to have a private interview with the holy father. Being questioned as to what had been said to him by Cardinal Bellarmin in 1616, he replied that some of the details of their conversation he could intrust only to the ear of the sovereign pontiff. This plainly was a request for an interview with Urban. His judges seemed not to understand him, or, if they carried his words to the holy father, they obtained from him no favorable answer; but, in the course of the trial, it became evident that Galileo could expect neither indulgence nor commiseration from his old friend.

All of Galileo's answers at the first interrogatory present the same character of ambiguity. On being asked whether, before he begged of Father Riccardi license to print his "Dialogues," he had informed the master of the Sacred Palace of his having previously been forbidden to treat certain subjects, his reply was that he had not mentioned that to Father Riccardi, "for he did not think it necessary to do so, having no scruples, nor having supported or defended in his book the opinion of the earth's motion and the stability of the sun." It is not altogether certain that, by thus altering the truth, Galileo chose the best line of defense; probably a little more of frankness would have served him better. He was simply trifling with his judges and taking them for fools, when he tried to make them believe that, in his "Dialogues," his purpose had been to demonstrate the "weakness and insufficiency" of Copernicus's arguments. The disguises in which the author clothes his thoughts fail to deceive the thoughtful reader. Throughout the work, the defender of Ptolemy's theory, Simplicio (in whom it has been wrongfully supposed that some of the traits of Urban VIII. may be found), is overthrown by his opponents' arguments, and made an object of ridicule by their irony. Surely, it was imprudent on the part of Galileo to deny the evidence, thus giving to his defense the appearance of double-dealing.

Nor did the resort to this course deceive any one. The three judges who had questioned him unanimously declared that in his book he had contravened the injunctions of Cardinal Bellarmin, and the decree of the Congregation of the Index. Two of them added that he was gravely suspect of adhering to the doctrine of Copernicus. After the close of his first interrogatory, he was removed to the palace of the Holy Office, and there he occupied a chamber in the sleeping-apartments of the wardens, with an express prohibition of going out without leave. Here he had long and frequent interviews with Father Vincenzo Macolano, commissary of the Holy Office, an educated man of kindly disposition, and a friend of the grand-duke and of the Tuscan embassador; Father Macolano took it upon himself to warn Galileo of the dangers of the situation, and to aid him with his counsels. First of all, he induced Galileo to submit without reserve, to admit his offenses, and to repent. "I made his error patent to him," wrote the father commissary, at the close of one of their interviews; "he clearly saw that he had made a mistake, that in his book he had gone too far, and he expressed to me his regret in words full of feeling, as though he drew comfort from the knowledge of his error, and was thinking of confessing it judicially; he only asked of me a little time to consider how he might best word his confession." Father Macolano then looked for a speedy ending of the trial, and a less severe sentence. "When once we have Galileo's confession," said he, "the reputation of the tribunal will be safe, and the accused can be treated with indulgence." Evidently he expected that the case would not be carried beyond the first stage of inquisition, and that it would terminate by a special form of interrogatory, known as the "interrogatory with regard to the intention."

If things were pushed further than the commissary of the Holy Office either wished or expected, the blame does not rest with the accused, who, once warned, immediately resolved to submit. On being interrogated again on the 30th of April, Galileo confessed that, without meaning it, he had presented too forcibly the arguments in favor of the system of Copernicus, his intention all the while being to refute them, and that thus he might have led the public into error. He declared that he was "ready to refute the opinion of Copernicus by all the most efficacious methods that God might place within his power." These words, no doubt dictated to him by the humanity of the father commissary, had the effect of procuring for him some measure of liberty. That very evening he was sent back to the palace of the Tuscan embassador, so that there he might receive such care as the state of his health required.

We must not forget that to the humiliation of repudiating his most cherished opinions, of belying his own thoughts, and of seeing himself treated as a criminal after he had, by his labors, done honor to his country and to mankind, were added physical sufferings of the most grievous kind. It is impossible to read without emotion the appeal he addressed to his judges at the end of his written defense: "It remains for me to urge one final consideration, viz., the pitiable state of bodily indisposition to which I have been reduced by incessant mental agony during ten whole months, together with the hardships of a long and toilsome journey, in the most inclement weather, at the age of threescore years and nine. . . . I confide in the mercy and goodness of the most eminent seigniors who are my judges, and I hope that if, in the integrity of their justice, they think that so great sufferings lack anything to make them equal to the punishment that my offenses deserve, they will be pleased, at my entreaty, to remit the difference in consideration of the failing strength of my old age, which I humbly commend to them."

Among the hitherto unpublished documents contained in Berti's work there is one that is of the highest importance. This is a summary of the case, giving an enumeration not only of what was decreed but also of what was done. After reading a text so clear and so unambiguous on all points save one, while on that one it agrees perfectly with other authentic documents, we no longer find ground for supposing it was only on paper that Galileo was threatened with the torture, and forced to make abjuration. A decree of the pope, dated June 16th, ordains that instead of a simple "examination as to intention," such as the commissary of the Holy Office had expected, an interrogatory[4] should be had with the threat of torture, if the accused could stand it; he is ordered to make abjuration, and condemned to imprisonment according to the good pleasure of the congregation. This decree was not, as has been supposed, a simple declaration designed to sustain the reputation of the tribunal for severity, while the culprit was treated leniently; on the contrary, it was executed literally, as is shown by the agreement of the documents concerning this portion of the trial.

On being interrogated for the last time on the 21st of June, Galileo was ordered to state whether he then held or ever had held the opinion that the sun is the centre of the world and that the earth moves. He humbly replied that ever since the decree of the Congregation of the Index, in 1616, he had always held and still did hold the opinion of Ptolemy to be "most true and unquestionable." This reply not appearing to be satisfactory, the father commissary insisted on knowing the truth, and wound up by declaring that, if the whole truth were not stated, recourse would be had to torture. "I am here in order to obey," replied Galileo, with some show of terror. The text of the sentence shows that he was treated more rigorously yet. "Inasmuch as it appears to us that you have not told the whole truth as touching your intention, we have deemed it necessary to resort to the examen rigorosum." Now, in the language of the Inquisition, examen rigorosum means just the torture and that alone: it is the law-term approved by jurists and regularly employed in sentences which condemn the accused to the cruel punishment of the strappado. "In case the accused," say the treatises on inquisitorial law, "does not clear himself of the charges, recourse is to be had to the examen rigorosum, torture having been devised to supply the want of witnesses." In two manuscripts of the first half of the seventeenth century, both of them relating to the forms of procedure of the Holy Office, the expression examen rigorosum is pointed out as the formula to be employed by judges in ordering the application of torture.

From the text of the sentence, from the pontifical decree already quoted, and from the summary of the acts of the trial, we might infer that Galileo was actually subjected to torture, if among the documents we found the official record (procès-verbal) of the examen rigorosum, as we find the official record of the previous examinations. The rule of the Inquisition was ever the same: the notary or registrar of the Holy Office was present at all interrogatories, and took down carefully the words of the sufferer; all the details of the examen rigorosum were recorded in a register, from the first intimation to the accused that he was to be taken to the place of punishment, down to the moment when he was released from the torture. On looking over the records of these dread sessions, we find all the words spoken by the sufferer while his clothes are being taken off and while he is being tied to the instrument of torture; all the replies he makes to his judges, all his pleas; every movement he makes is noted with cold precision, nay, even his sighs, his groans, while under the torture. "He was hoisted by the rope," calmly writes the notary, "and while suspended he would cry out in a loud voice, 'O Lord God, have pity! O Our Lady, help me!' repeating these words again and again. Then he was silent, and having for a little while thus held his peace, he began again to cry out, 'O God, O God!'"

If Galileo had been subjected to this mode of trial, the procès-verbal of the proceedings would certainly have been preserved along with the other records of the case. But, then, might not the examen rigorosum have taken place in the absence of the registrar; or might not the registrar, though he was present, have omitted to make a record? Both of these suppositions appear to be equally inadmissible, for they are in flat contradiction to all the precedents and all the rules of the tribunal. Neither can we suppose that the agent of the Holy Office suppressed the procès-verbal of the torture in order that both he and his principals might escape the indignation of posterity. This were gratuitously to transform an obscure, an irresponsible personage into an humanitarian philosopher who is ages ahead of the thought of his time and who purposely destroys a sorrowful page of history. The most probable account of what took place would be this: According to all the treatises on inquisitorial law, the commissary was authorized not to inflict torture on aged men, or on persons suffering from disease, who might die under the punishment. The advanced age of Galileo, and his infirmities, aggravated as they were by so much mental suffering, naturally placed him in the category of culprits who were not subjected to torture. If he was spared that dreadful infliction, Berti gives all the credit to the humanity of the father commissary; he even appears to think that, but for the kindly intervention of Father Macolano, the sovereign pontiff and the Congregation of the Holy Office would have given over Galileo to the executioner.

Let us be more fair. It would be a libel on Urban VIII. to represent him as thirsting for the blood and pleased with the sufferings of his old friend. The pontifical decree of June 16th has this important proviso regarding the employment of torture, that it should not be used unless the accused could endure it. When he expressed himself thus, the sovereign pontiff was perfectly well aware that Galileo could not stand such a trial, and he consented beforehand, without needing to be entreated by the commissary, to the omission of the torture. What, indeed, would have been the use of such extreme rigor? Urban did not desire the death of the culprit; he wanted to make certain that Galileo would never more speak or write about the question of the earth's motion; and it was in order to so strike him with terror as to insure his silence that of all the agonies of the trial he saved him only from the last—the only one that would have been of no use. The pope was not so cruel as Berti thinks, but neither did he give any sign of that compassion and indulgence toward the accused with which he is too often credited. This point is worth repeating, inasmuch as it is the clearest result of Berti's publication: the various phases of the trial of Galileo were not arranged with a view to theatrical effect, and to make an outward show of great severity, so as to intimidate the adherents of Galileo's doctrine, while, behind the scenes, the culprit was treated with kindness. The threat of torture, the abjuration, the sequestration, were realities, and not, as has been supposed, simply monitions addressed to overbold men of science. At first, the court of Rome did not concern itself so much about impressing the imagination of the public as about striking Galileo. Here was a rebellious subject who had once before been treated with the greatest lenience, but who repaid the indulgence of the Holy Office with the transparent irony of his "Dialogues;" who had set snares for the person appointed to examine his manuscript; who, at his first interrogatory, had made sport of his judges, nay, perhaps of the sovereign pontiff himself: he must now be reduced to silence for good and all, by conducting him, through a series of moral tortures, to the uttermost limits of terror.

At the same time the solemn form of his abjuration was calculated to prevent him from ever again inclining toward the Copernican doctrine. How could he embrace that doctrine again after he had openly pronounced it heretical, and promised, as he was compelled to do, to inform upon all persons suspected of this heresy? His judges, however, were not yet satisfied; he was feared even after his abjuration. He was confined at first in the palace of the Archbishop Piccolomini, at Siena, then at his own villa of Arcetri, near Florence, with leave to receive a few visits of relatives and friends, but on condition that several persons should never meet there to hold conversation. It was particularly feared that he would communicate with learned men abroad and in Italy. Father Castelli, his old pupil, in vain begged leave to see him, though he promised not to talk with him about the earth's motion. In order to protect all other Catholic countries against the contagion of his ideas, the pope dispatched to all apostolic nuncios and to all inquisitors copies of the sentence pronounced on Galileo, and of his act of abjuration. At Florence his chief disciples and friends, especially the professors of mathematics, were summoned by name to listen to the reading of these two documents.

In shutting the mouth of a writer so gifted, so full of resources, so admired by the public, it was hoped that an end was made of the doctrine of Copernicus—that dangerous doctrine which alarmed the theologians by displacing the centre of the universe, ousting the earth from its primacy and substituting the sun, and opening the way for hypotheses of the plurality of worlds and the end of creation. But the effort was vain. The theory of the earth's motion has survived all condemnations. It was not Galileo, as tradition would have it, that uttered the famous saying, "Eppur si muove" but the general voice of mankind who, after his death, thus proclaimed the undying truth of his belief.

Here we will stop. We would not weaken, by any comments of ours, the importance of the documents we have been examining. It is a fixed historical fact that in the beginning of the seventeenth century the Roman congregations, assuming to represent the Church, and not disavowed by her, made themselves the judges of a scientific question, and decided it in a way contrary to the conclusions of science. The splendor of Galileo's genius and the commiseration inspired by his sufferings impress upon this discussion a tragical and popular character; but the emotion produced by his cruel fate must not blind us to the gravity of the problem. The great question was whether, in countries that were then Catholic and destined so to remain, Science could free herself from the dominion of Faith. The trial of Galileo, so far from retarding this conclusion, as is commonly supposed, on the contrary made it inevitable and urgent. So soon as the court of Rome saw how unwisely she had acted in deciding a question beyond her competence, thus laying herself open to the danger of being the next day convicted of error, it became her interest, no less than the interest of Science, to distinguish clearly between the two domains, Science and Faith. If, nowadays, she avoids entering into scientific controversies, it is because she has been taught by experience that a decision might compromise her. Her authority could hardly stand after a second edition of the sentence in which she once forbade the sun to stand still and the earth to revolve.

  1. Translated from the Revue des Deux Mondes by J. Fitzgerald, A. M.
  2. "Il Processo Originale di Galileo Galilei, pubblicato per la prima volta," Roma, 1876.
  3. In a work entitled "Galileo Galilei und die Römische Curie" (Stuttgart, 1876), Herr von Gebler disputes the authenticity of the document which states these facts. Berti makes a victorious reply to him.
  4. Author's Note.—We interpret three obscure words in the pontifical decree, ac si sustinuerit, in the sense given to them by Berti. Th. Henri Martin gives a different translation, not without good reasons. The matter is one that will bear discussion. It is still undecided, even after the publication of the documents.