Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/June 1905/Galileo IV

GALILEO.
By EDWARD S. HOLDEN, ScD., LL.D.

U. S. MILITARY ACADEMY.

IV.

WHEN the master of the palace examined the published book he discovered that Galileo had not obeyed the orders and injunctions given to him by the Holy Office on February 26, 1616, sixteen years previously. Therefore the imprimatur for Rome was wrongly attached. Galileo did not inform the Inquisitor at Florence of the aforesaid injunctions and orders. Therefore the imprimatur for Florence was obtained by a ‘ruse.’ Such was substantially the theory held by Galileo's judges at Rome. It was, in strictness, true. The command of the Holy Office (February 26, 1616) not to hold, teach or defend the Copernican opinion had been violated in the Dialogues (as indeed it had been violated less flagrantly in Il Saggiatore and in the letter on the tides). The orders of Riccardi were obeyed in form but not in substance. If the text of the Dialogues had been submitted at Rome, the Roman imprimatur would never have been given.

Finally, the general prohibition of March 5, 1616, not to teach the Copernican opinion had been disobeyed in the Dialogues, as in the two preceding publications. That no proceedings had been taken regarding the two last-named books did not in their eyes excuse the issuance of the former.

If Galileo had merely desired to promulgate the Copernican truths it would have been perfectly easy and safe for him to have printed his book in Germany, with or without his name. But he wished for an Italian triumph even more than for the spreading of a doctrine that he knew to be true.

The Dialogues were received on all hands with the greatest interest. Galileo's friends were delighted as they before had been with Il Saggiatore. They expected a similar reception for his new book, and Galileo beyond a doubt shared their expectations. Castelli—who was in favor with the Pope, and in Rome—wrote that he should read nothing else but the Dialogues and his Breviary. The enemies of Galileo were for the moment paralyzed with anxiety and rage. The arguments of the Dialogues were more dangerous than those of Il Saggiatore even. Its attack on Aristotelianism and orthodoxy was even more insidious and vigorous. The upper classes of Italy have always keenly relished irony and sarcasm. They were now laughing openly at the overthrow of the scholastics. The universities, the Jesuits and many of the clergy, on the other hand, were solidly arrayed against Galileo. The Jesuits were especially inimical. In a juncture like this everything depended upon the Pope. Galileo confidently expected his support, but he had misread the Pope's mind from the very first. The Pope was surrounded by Galileo's enemies. Every point that would tell was made against the book and its author. The dangers that lurked in the Copernican doctrine were exposed; Galileo's former interpretations of Holy Writ were set forth as monstrous, coming, as they did, from the pen of a layman; their obvious weaknesses were pointed out; he was denounced as a rebel to church authority, which had forbidden any one to teach the Copernican doctrine (March 5, 1616); the Pope was convinced that Galileo had intended to portray him in the character of Simplicius.

It is absolutely certain that Galileo had no such intention. Under the circumstances it would have been madness for him to alienate his powerful friend and patron. Exactly why he closed his Dialogues with the quotation of the Pope's own words (spoken to Galileo in 1624) it is impossible to say. To us, in the light of events, the quotation seems an inconceivable blunder. But Galileo was very far from a blunderer. He was skilled in fine logic and with his pen. The closing words of the Dialogues (containing the quotation) can be read so as to express a humble submission to authority. It was beyond a doubt, Galileo's intention that they should be so read; it is equally certain that the submission was only perfunctory; the reckless irony of all that preceded them made the quoted words appear as mere foolishness in the mouth of the foolish Simplicius. The very name—Simplicius—was offensive to the Pope. It was not until after July, 1636, that he expressed himself as convinced that Galileo had intended no disrespect. It was then too late. On July 26, 1636, Galileo writes: “I hear from Rome that his Eminence Cardinal Antonio Barberini and the French ambassador (de Noailles) have seen his Holiness and tried to convince him that I never had the least idea of perpetrating so sacrilegious an act as to make game of his Holiness, as my malicious foes have persuaded him, which has been the prime cause of all my troubles.” The prime cause was Urban's conviction that Galileo had brought scandal into the church by teaching a doctrine which was, as yet, unproved.

The storm was about to break. From now onward the story is fully told in the official documents of the inquisition. The further sale of the Dialogues was prohibited. Galileo's conduct was referred to a special commission of theologians and men versed in science to investigate. That it was not directly sent to the Holy Office was a signal mark of favor. A letter, drawn up by Galileo, was despatched by the Grand Duke to the angry Pope. On September 4, 1632, the Pope said to the Tuscan ambassador, Niccolini—Galileo's faithful friend: ‘Your Galileo has ventured to meddle with things that he ought not, and with the most important and dangerous subjects.’ He added that Galileo's book had been printed by a ruse. As to the objections to the book ‘Galileo knows well enough what the objections are . . . because we have talked to him about them, and he has heard them all from us.’ The Pope had acted, he said ‘with the greatest consideration for Galileo,’ and added that his own conduct towards Galileo had been far better than Galileo's to him, for Galileo had deceived him. The Pope was firmly convinced that religion had been imperiled.

The special commission reported after about a month that Galileo has transgressed orders in deviating from hypothetical treatment of the Copernican opinion and by decidedly maintaining it he has erroneously ascribed the phenomena of the tides to the stability of the sun and the motion of the earth, which do not exist; he has been deceitfully silent about the command laid upon him by the Holy Office in 1616, to relinquish the Copernican doctrine ‘nor henceforth to hold, teach or defend it in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing, etc.,’ ‘which injunction Galileo acquiesced in and promised to obey.’ Furthermore, Galileo printed the imprimatur of Rome on the title page of the Dialogues without authority; he put the saving clause of the book in the mouth of a simpleton, etc. (A full account of this report is given in Gebler's ‘Galileo,’ English edition, pp. 172-3. It is only incidentally of importance to us here.)

On the fifteenth of September, 1632, the Pope notified Niccolini that Galileo's affair was to be transferred to the inquisition. This was astounding news to the ambassador, who had all along believed that no proceedings would be taken against the astronomer and that the very worst to be feared was perhaps a command to alter certain phrases of the book. In the interview the Pope said ‘Galileo was still his friend’—but that the Copernican opinion had been condemned sixteen years previously. At a meeting of the Congregation of the Holy Office held on September 23, it was pronounced that Galileo had disobeyed the command of February 26, 1616, and had concealed the prohibition then received by him from the censor at the time he applied for the imprimatur for his book; the inquisitor at Florence was, on the same day, by command of the Pope, directed to summon Galileo to appear before the commissary-general of the Holy Office in Room, ‘as soon as possible, in the course of the month of October.’ On October 1, Galileo, in writing, acknowledged the receipt of the summons and promised to present himself during October, as directed.

The correspondence of Galileo shows that the summons came as a complete surprise to him, and he could not have received it without grave apprehension. He had risked everything in the belief that the Pope's favor and friendship would continue; but it is plain that this order would never have been despatched unless that favor had been withdrawn; his enemies had triumphed; he was at the mercy of men who would show no mercy to him personally—as in times past he had shown no mercy to them; even his friends among the Roman notabilities were powerless in the face of the Pope's anger; and his most influential supporter—Prince Cesi—was dead. There can have been no moments in all of Galileo's long life so bitter as these. The whole fabric he had built up in his imagination crumbled in an instant. Numberless incidents that he had formerly interpreted in one way must have arisen in his mind demanding new and more veracious interpretations that could be reconciled with the present bewildering reversal of all his hopes and beliefs. The Holy Office would have no difficulty in proving him culpable of disobedience to its orders; the general prohibition binding on all catholics he had openly disobeyed, as well as the prohibitions special to his case.

A letter written on October 13 to one of the cardinals, Barberini,[1] shows Galileo's consternation and astonishment. He curses the time, he says, devoted to his studies. He begs the cardinal to intercede with the wise fathers in Rome, not to release him from giving an account of himself, which he is ready and anxious to do—but to make it easiest for him to obey. He can give his account in two ways; he can write a full history of his whole connection with the Copernican controversy which will prove to any one free from party malice that he has all along acted piously and as a good catholic; or he can give it verbally to the officers of the Inquisition in Florence. If, however, no dispensation or delay can be granted he will make the journey to Rome in spite of his great age and many bodily infirmities. The Tuscan ambassador at Rome interested himself in the matter, and throughout the whole of Galileo's process was devoted, prudent, wise and unwearied. No son could have been more faithful, nor more delicate. The letter was delivered, but the Pope would not permit delay. Galileo must come to Rome to answer. Niccolini then appealed directly to the Pope, begging for delay on account of Galileo's infirmities. The answer was that he must come—slowly, if necessary—with every comfort—but he must be tried in person, ‘for having been so deluded as to involve himself in these difficulties, from which we had relieved him when we were cardinal.’ On the ninth of December orders were sent to Florence to compel Galileo to set out. A medical certificate of the seventeenth by Galileo's physicians pronounced him unfit to travel. The certificate was not believed in Rome, and Niccolini reported on the thirtieth that it was intended to send a physician from Rome with a commissioner who would, if he were fit to travel, bring him to Rome in chains.

On January 11, 1633, the Grand Duke wrote to Galileo advising him to set out, offering him one of the Court litters to travel in, and the hospitality of the ambassador's palace in Rome. On the twentieth of January Galileo left Florence on his last journey to Rome, arriving there, after a tedious quarantine, on February 13. Galileo, though technically a prisoner, was permitted to reside at the ambassador's palace. He writes to the Tuscan secretary of state that his treatment indicates 'mild and kindly treatment very different from the threatening words, chains and dungeons.' He was allowed to drive out, the shades of the carriage being half-drawn. His letters show that he was full of hope. It was now more than four months since he had been cited to appear, and in this time he must have considered what form the charges were to take and what defense he should make. Niccolini's despatch of February 27, 1633, says:

The main difficulty consists in this—that these gentlemen maintain that in 1616 he [Galileo] was ordered neither to discuss the question [the Copernican opinion] nor to converse about it. He says, on the contrary, that these were not the terms of the injunction which were that that doctrine was not to be held or defended. He considers that he has the means of justifying himself, because it does not at all appear from his book that he does hold or defend the doctrine nor that he regards it as a settled question, as he merely adduces the reasons, hinc hinde. The other points appear to be of less importance and easier to get over.

From this despatch of Galileo's friend it appears that his defense was settled upon. The certificate of Cardinal Bellarmine was to be submitted to his judges; and it was to be proved from his book that he had obeyed the orders of the cardinal. Nothing was left undone by Niccolini, Castelli, or by the Grand Duke, to forward Galileo's interests. The Duke wrote letters of recommendation to the ten cardinals who made up the Holy Office, and some of the cardinals read the Dialogues and discussed them with Castelli. On April 12 Galileo was cited to appear at the Palace of the Inquisition. He acknowledged the Dialogues to be his own work. He was then asked to recount the proceedings of 1616 and replied that Cardinal Bellarmine had then told him 'that the aforesaid opinion of Copernicus might be held as a conjecture, as it had been held by Copernicus, and his eminence was aware that, like Copernicus, I only held that opinion as a conjecture,' which is evident from a letter (dated April 12, 1615) from the cardinal to Foscarini, in which he says: "It appears to me that your Reverence and Signor Galileo act wisely in contenting yourselves with speaking ex suppositione and not with certainty."

"In the month of February, 1616, Signor Cardinal Bellarmine told me that as the opinion of Copernicus, if adopted absolutely, was contrary to Holy Scripture, it must neither be held or defended, but that it might be held hypothetically and written about in this sense." Here Galileo presented a copy of the certificate which declares that the doctrine of Copernicus 'is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and therefore can not be defended or held.' The Inquisition then asked if any other command was communicated to him and if he would remember it, if what was then said was read aloud to him. Galileo replied: "I do not remember that anything else was said or enjoined upon me, nor do I know that I should remember what was said to me, even if it were read to me. I say freely what I do remember, because I do not think that I have in any way disobeyed the injunction, that is, have not by any means held or defended the said opinion that the earth moves and the sun is stationary." The Inquisition now remind Galileo that a command was issued to him, before witnesses, enjoining "that he must neither hold, defend nor teach that opinion in any way whatsoever.' The annotation commands Galileo to 'relinquish altogether' the Copernican opinion, and forbids him 'henceforth to hold, teach or defend it in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing; otherwise proceedings would be taken against him in the Holy Office; which injunction the said Galileo acquiesced in and promised to obey."

The Inquisition asks if Galileo remembers how and by whom the words first quoted were intimated to him. He replies: "I do not remember that the command was intimated to me by anybody but by the cardinal verbally; and I remember that the command was 'not to hold or defend.' It may be that 'and not to teach' was also there. I do not remember it, neither the definition 'in any way whatsoever,' but it may be that it was, for I thought no more about it, nor took any pains to impress the words on my memory, as a few months later I received the certificate now produced of the said Signor Cardinal Bellarmine, of twenty-sixth May, in which the injunction 'not to hold or defend' that opinion is expressly to be found. The two other definitions of the said injunction that have just been made known to me, namely, 'not to teach,' and 'in any way,' I have not retained in my memory, I suppose, because they are not mentioned in the said certificate on which I rely and which I have kept as a reminder."

Emphasis is laid by Gebler in his Galileo on the difference between an injunction 'not to teach' and one 'not to hold or defend.' I can see no essential difference between forbidding a citizen of Russia, let us say, from holding or defending anarchistic opinions and forbidding him from holding, teaching or defending such opinions in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing. The latter prohibition is more formal. It is not more absolute. The annotation of February 26, 1616, is received throughout the process by the Inquisitors as exact in all particulars. It is not denied by Galileo; he says merely that he does not recall certain parts of it. It does not formally appear that the witnesses to it were called to testify. If they had been called their recorded testimony would have settled certain points that must now be settled from the text of the annotation itself. I can see no reason to doubt that the words of the text mean precisely what they say.

This is perhaps the place to say that the documents of Galileo's process have been examined again and again and that each examination has proved that the papers have not been tampered with in any manner and that they represent the case as it was understood by the Holy Office with minute accuracy. The hearing for the first day was closed with further questions and answers. Galileo was asked whether after the aforesaid command was issued to him he received permission to write the Dialogues. He replied: “After receiving the command aforesaid I did not ask permission to write the book. . . because I did not consider that in writing it I was acting contrary to, far less disobeying, the command not to hold, defend, or teach, the said opinion.” The next questions relate to the printing of the book and Galileo is asked if he had informed the censor of the command aforesaid. He replies: “I did not say anything about the command to the master of the palace. . . for I have neither maintained nor defended the opinion that the earth moves and the sun is stationary in that book, but have rather demonstrated the opposite of the Copernican opinion and shown that the arguments of Copernicus are weak and not conclusive.” Galileo's defense is here outlined. It is to be that he did not ‘hold’ the Copernican opinion after 1616. Not holding it, he did not defend it, nor teach it. Hence he had disobeyed no command, he maintains, although it is obvious to all that the Dialogues, like his other writings, are a brilliant defense of the system of Copernicus.

An apartment of ‘three large and comfortable rooms’ was assigned to Galileo in the Palace of the Holy Office, as he was their prisoner. His servants stayed with him. His meals were sent in by the devoted Niccolini, to whom he wrote every day with perfect freedom. His own account of the proceedings of the first day of his examination is as follows:

I arrived in Rome on the tenth of February and I was placed in the clement charge of the Inquisition and of the Sovereign pontiff, Urban VIII., who esteemed me although I could not rhyme epigrams and little love-sonnets. I was placed in arrest in the delicious palace of . . . the Ambassador of Tuscany. The next day I received the visit of P. Lancio, Commissary of the Holy Office, who took me with him in his carriage. On the way he questioned me, showing a great desire that I should repair the scandal I had raised throughout all Italy by maintaining the opinion of the motion of the earth. To all the mathematical reasons that I could bring forward he answered one thing only. Terra autem in æternum stabit, quia terra in æternum stat, as the Scripture saith. Thus discoursing, we arrived at the palace of the Holy Office. I was presented, by the commissary, to the assessor with whom I found two Dominican monks. They notified me, with civility, that I should be permitted to explain my reasons to the congregation, and that, subsequently, my excuses would be heard if I were judged culpable. The following Sunday I appeared, in fact, before the congregation and proceeded to set forth my proofs. To my ill-fortune they were not satisfying; no matter what pains I took I could not succeed in making myself understood. My arguments were interrupted by their zeal, they spoke only of the scandal I had caused, always bringing up the passage of Scripture referring to the miracle of Joshua, as the unanswerable portion of the matter. This reminded me of another passage in which the language of the Bible is entirely conformable to popular notions—(The heavens are solid and polished like a mirror of brass). This example seemed to me to be opposite to prove that the words of Joshua could be so interpreted and the conclusion seemed to me to be entirely just. But they gave it no weight and I was answered only by shrugging of shoulders.

Galileo's own account of the proceedings gives a different impression from that of the official record. He was argumentative about texts of Scripture, and when his explanation of Joshua's miracle was not found satisfactory, he suddenly recalls another text which will convince the Inquisitors, he thinks, that Scripture is not to be interpreted literally. They answered by shrugging their shoulders and by again referring to the scandal he has created in the Church. Galileo does not seem to have, even yet, realized the situation. A letter from the commissary-general of the Inquisition to Cardinal Francesco Barberini (dated April 28, 1633) explains the events of the next weeks. The letter states that the commissary has informed the cardinals of the Holy Office regarding Galileo's case, and that they "took into consideration various difficulties with regard to the manner of pursuing the case and of bringing it to an end. More especially as Galileo has in his examination denied what is plainly evident from the book written by him; since in consequence of this denial there would result the necessity for greater rigor of procedure and less regard to other considerations belonging to this business. Finally I suggested a course, namely, that the Holy Congregation should grant me permission to treat extra-judicially with Galileo, in order to render him sensible of his error, and to bring him, if he recognizes it, to a confession of the same . . . permission was granted me. That no time might be lost, I entered into discourse with Galileo yesterday afternoon, and after many arguments and rejoinders had passed between us, by God's grace I attained my object, for I brought him into a full sense of his error. . . . The affair is being brought to such a point that it may soon be settled without difficulty. The court will maintain its reputation; it will be possible to deal leniently with the culprit. . . .”

Who can say what the arguments of the commissary of the inquisitor were? They were effective. Galileo's attitude was utterly and instantly changed. On the thirtieth of April he again appeared before the Holy Office and read the following confession:

In the course of some days continuous and attentive reflection. . . it occurred to me to reperuse my printed dialogue, which for three years I had not seen, in order carefully to note whether, contrary to my most sincere intention, there had, by inadvertence, fallen from my pen anything from which a reader or the authorities might infer not only some taint of disobedience on my part but also. . . that I had contravened the orders of the Holy Church. . . . I freely confess that in several places it seemed to me set forth in such a form that a reader ignorant of my real purpose might have had reason to suppose that the arguments adduced on the false side, which it was my intention to confute, were so expressed as to be calculated rather to compel conviction by their cogency than to be easy of solution.

Two arguments there are in particular—one taken from the solar spots, the other from the ebb and flow of the tide—which in truth, come to the ear of the reader with far greater show of force and power than ought to have been imparted to them by one who regarded them as inconclusive, and who intended to refute them, as I truly and sincerely held and do hold them to be inconclusive and admitting of refutation.

And, as excuse to myself for having fallen into an error so foreign to my intention, not contenting myself entirely with saying that when a man recites the arguments of the opposite side with the object of refuting them, he should, especially if writing in the form of dialogue, state these in their strictest form, and should not cloak them to the disadvantage of his opponents—not contenting myself, I say, with this excuse—I resorted to that of the natural complacency which every man feels with regard to his own subtleties and in showing himself more skilful than the generality of men, in devising them, even in favor of false propositions, ingenious and plausible arguments. With all this, although with Cicero's ‘avidior gloriæ quam satis est’ if I had now to set forth the same reasonings, without doubt I should so weaken them that they should not be able to make an apparent show of that force of which they are really and essentially devoid. My error, then, has been—and I confess it—one of vainglorious ambition, and of pure ignorance and inadvertence.

This is what it occurs to me to say with reference to this particular, and which suggested itself to me during the reperusal of my book.

This confused and almost incoherent confession is totally unlike the precise and elegant phrases of Galileo's writings. It is a complete reversal of his former position. Parts of it are evidently mere reminiscences of his conversation with the commissary-general (‘vainglorious ambition,’ for instance, is a phrase that he must have accepted, not one originating with himself). The whole is a weak abandonment of a position proudly held and is as different as possible from the manly attitude of Cremonini—an attitude, be it remarked, which he successfully maintained in the face of the Inquisitors. No one can read it without pity. It can be interpreted in many differing ways. My own interpretation is that Galileo was persuaded to make the confession by representations that the case was very serious indeed and that a general admission of the sort would satisfy the Pope and cardinals; and that after the confession was obtained it was not very difficult for his judges to proceed to the abjuration; while if the abjuration had been first proposed Galileo might have desperately refused to make it, thus precipitating a crisis most unwelcome to the Holy Office. This is mere conjecture and is perhaps not worth recording. Certain it is that, the confession once extorted, all the dignity of Galileo's attitude was lost. By a slight increase of pressure one who had already yielded so much could be made to yield more, and finally to yield all. It seems to be clear that the pressure was gradually applied.

The confession was received by the congregation. Galileo withdrew; but almost immediately returned to offer to write a continuation of his Dialogues which should most effectually confute the arguments of the earlier portions. This offer is interpreted by Gebler as ‘weakness and insincere obsequiousness.’ It appears to me to be simply an attempt on his part to prevent the condemnation and prohibition of his book; and to show that he was, even yet, far from realizing the grimness of the situation. Immediately ofter the hearing, Galileo, still a prisoner of the Inquisition, was permitted to return to the palace of the Tuscan ambassador. He wrote letters (which are not extant) to friends. Their answers show that he ‘entertained the most confident hopes of a successful and speedy termination of his trial.’ One of them writes (May 12) from Florence: “I have for a long time had no such consolatory news as that which your letter of the seventh brought me. It gives me well-founded hopes that the calumnies and snares of your enemies will be in vain. . . since you have gained far more than you have lost by the calamity that has fallen upon you. My pleasure is still more enhanced by the news that you expect to be able to report the end of the affair in your next letter.”

On May 10, Galileo was again summoned and was informed that eight days would be allowed him to prepare a defense. He, however, had already prepared it and at once submitted the following:

When asked if I had signified to the R. P. the Master of the Palace the injunction privately laid upon me, about sixteen years ago, by orders of the Holy Office, not to hold, defend or ‘in any way’ teach the doctrine of the motion of the earth and the stability of the sun, I answered that I had not done so. And not being questioned as to the reason why I had not intimated it, I had no opportunity to add anything further. It now appears to me to be necessary to state the reason in order to demonstrate the purity of my intention, ever foreign to the employment of simulation or deceit in any operation I may engage in. I say, then, that as at that time reports were spread abroad by evil-disposed persons, to the effect that I had been summoned by the Lord Cardinal Bellarmine to abjure certain of my opinions and doctrines, and that I had consented to abjure them, and also to submit to punishment for them, I was thus constrained to apply to his Eminence, and to solicit him to furnish me with a certificate, explaining the cause for which I had been summoned before him; which certificate I obtained, in his own handwriting and it is the same that I now produce with the present document.

From this it clearly appears that it was merely announced to me that the doctrine attributed to Copernicus of the motion of the earth and the stability of the sun must not be held or defended and (here the original MS. is defaced). . . beyond this general announcement affecting every one, any other injunction in particular was intimated to me, no trace thereof appears there. Having, then, as a reminder, this authentic certificate in the handwriting of the very person who intimated the command to me, I made no further application of thought or memory with regard to the words employed in announcing to me the said order not to hold or defend the doctrine in question; so that the two articles of the order—in addition to the injunction not to ‘hold’ or ‘defend’ it—to wit the words ‘nor to teach it’ ‘in any way whatsoever—which I heard are contained in the order intimated to me, and registered—struck me as quite novel and as if I had not heard them before; and I do not think I ought to be disbelieved when I urge that in the course of fourteen or sixteen years I had lost all recollection of them. . . whence it appears to me that I have a reasonable excuse for not having notified to the Master of the Sacred Palace the command privately imposed upon me. . .’ [then follows a paragraph declaring that the faults scattered through this book ‘have not been artfully introduced’ but are inadvertent, owing to a vainglorious ambition and complacency. . . which fault he is ready to correct.]

Lastly, it remains for me to pray you to take into consideration my pitiable state of bodily indisposition to which, at the age of seventy years, I have been reduced by ten months of constant mental anxiety. . .; [and he hopes that his judges may remit (his punishment) and may defend his honor and reputation against the calumnies of ill-wishers].

No one can read this confession and defence without a feeling of deep pity. This is even intensified if we find in it a lack of entire candor as it is hard not to do—‘mistrust in the truthfulness of the accused’—is Gebler's phrase. Galileo returned to his palace feeling that his confession had served him well and that his trial was to come to a favorable issue. His confession had, however, put him in the power of his judges. They believed that now was the time to make a signal example. It was decided by the congregation (June, 1633) to bring Galileo to trial ‘as to his intention and under threat of torture.’

On the morning of June 21 Galileo appeared before the Holy Office, and after being sworn was questioned. His first answer was:

A long time ago, that is before the decision of the Holy Congregation of the Index. . . I was indifferent and regarded both opinions, namely that of Ptolemy and that of Copernicus, as open to discussion, inasmuch as either one might be true to nature; but after the said decision, assured of the wisdom of the authorities, I ceased to have any doubt; and I held and still hold, as most true and indisputable, the opinion of Ptolemy, that is to say, the stability of the earth and the motion of the sun.

Questioned upon the publication of his Dialogues, he answers in accordance with his previous utterances. 'I am here to obey,' he says, 'and I have not held this opinion since the decision was pronounced.' The protocol of his trial concludes with the words: (Galileo's) 'signature was obtained to his deposition and he was sent back to his place.' This place was not the palace of the Tuscan ambassador. Galileo was detained at the building of the Holy Office till June 24. It is the opinion of the best judges that Galileo was not confined in the dungeons of the Inquisition.

There is not in the Vatican manuscript of the protocol, or in any other place, any evidence or any hint that Galileo was put to the torture at this or at any time. That he was threatened with the torture is equally certain. If he had boldly professed the Copernican opinion the proceedings would have taken a course that had been prescribed in advance (June 16). As he was disposed to abjure this opinion the course was different.

On the twenty-second of June, 1633, Galileo was brought into the presence of his judges, where his sentence was pronounced. The sentence of Galileo is a long document. The following extracts contain the points of especial importance.

We the undersigned (the names are given), by the Mercy of God, Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, Inquisitors-general throughout all the Christian Republic, deputed by the Holy Seat against heretical perversity:

Whereas, you, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, Florentine, aged 70 years, were denounced, in 1615, to this Holy Office, for holding as true a false doctrine proposed by several authors, that is to say, that the sun is immovable . . .; and moreover for having had certain disciples to whom you taught the same doctrine; for having corresponded on this subject with certain mathematicians of Germany; for having made public certain letters on the subject of spots upon the Sun in which you expounded the said doctrine as true; and whereas you answered, when objections were made to you citing to you passages of Scripture, by explaining the said Scripture in your own manner; and whereas a copy of a letter was shown to you, said to have been written by you to one of your former disciples (Castelli), in which you, still maintaining the hypotheses of Copernicus, interpreted several propositions contrary to the meaning and the authority of Holy Writ:

This Holy Tribunal being therefore desirous of proceeding against the disorder and mischief thence resulting . . . the two propositions of the stability of the Sun and the motion of the earth were . . . qualified as follows:

The proposition that the sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically, and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to the Holy Scripture.

The proposition that the earth is not the center of the world and immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically, and theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith.

But whereas at the same time it was our pleasure to proceed against you with benignity, it was decided in the Holy Congregation . . . February 25, 1616, that the Very Eminent Cardinal Bellarmine should enjoin you to quit entirely the said false doctrine, not to teach it to others, not to defend it, never to treat it, under penalty that, if you failed to agree to this precept you would be thrown into a prison, and for the execution of this decree, on the following day, in the Palace, in presence of the said Cardinal Bellarmine, after having been benignly admonished by him, you received from the Commissary of the Holy Office, in the presence of a notary and of witnesses the injunction to desist entirely from the said opinion and for the future it was forbidden to you to defend it, or to teach it in any way, whether by word of mouth or by writing; and having promised obedience, you were dismissed . . . and, whereas, there appeared last year, at Florence, a book whose title named you as the author . . . in which was found a manifest transgression of the aforesaid ordinance intimated to you, and as in that book you defended the opinion that had been condemned, although, in the book, by various devices, you endeavored to persuade that you left that opinion undecided and expressly probable, which is in itself a very grave error, since an opinion cannot be probable when it has been declared and defined to be contrary to Holy Writ:

It is for this reason that, by our order, you have been called to this Holy Office, where, examined upon oath, you, admitted that the said book was written and published by you; you confessed that it was commenced about twelve years ago, after having received the injunction above-named, and that you asked permission to publish it without signifying to those who were empowered to grant permission, that you had been enjoined from holding, defending or teaching such doctrine in any manner whatsoever.

You also confessed that the said book in several places is so written that the arguments in favor of a false opinion may appear to be of a nature to force agreement, rather than such as to be easily refutable; you excused yourself for falling into an error foreign to your intention on account of the dialogue form and because of one's natural inclination to show oneself more acute and more subtle than the generality of men. . . .

And whereas delay had been granted you to prepare your defense you produced a letter from Cardinal Bellarmine, that you had obtained from him in order to defend yourself from the calumnies of your enemies who had spread abroad that you had abjured and that you had been punished by the Holy Office. This letter declares that you did not abjure nor were you punished; that you had only been notified of the declaration . . . that the doctrine of the motion of the earth . . . is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and that it can not be held or defended; and that as no mention was made in it of the prohibition of teaching in any manner whatever, it is to be believed that in the course of fourteen or sixteen years, this especial thing escaped your memory, and that this is the reason you said nothing of it when asking permission to print, and that in so speaking, you do not wish to excuse your error which should be imputed to a vainglorious ambition rather than to ill intention. But even this certificate, produced in your defense, only makes your cause worse, since it is there said that the said opinion is contrary to Holy Writ, and nevertheless you have dared to treat and defend it, etc., and the permission (to print) that you obtained by ruse cannot help you. . . .

And as it appeared to us that you did not speak the whole truth concerning your intentions, we judged it necessary to proceed to a rigorous examination at which. . . you answered like a good Catholic. . . . Therefore, having considered the merits of your case, with your confessions and excuses, and all that ought justly to be seen and considered, we have arrived at the underwritten final sentence against you. . . we say that you, the said Galileo . . . have rendered yourself. . . vehemently suspect of heresy. . . and that consequently you have incurred all the censures and penalties imposed. . . against such delinquents. From which we are content that you be absolved, provided that first. . . you abjure, curse and detest the aforesaid errors (and) heresies. . . in the form to be prescribed by us, . . . and we ordain that the book of the Dialogues. . . be prohibited by public edict.

We condemn you to the formal prison of this Holy Office during our pleasure, and by way of salutary penance, we enjoin that for three years you repeat the seven penitential psalms once weekly, reserving to ourselves full liberty to moderate. . . the aforesaid penalties. . . [signatures of seven cardinals—three not being present or not signing.]

The abjuration of Galileo is the last document of the pitiable history:

I, Galileo Galilei, . . . aged seventy years, arraigned personally before this tribunal and kneeling before you. . . swear that I have always believed, do now believe and by God's help will for the future believe, all that is. . . taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church. But whereas—after an injunction had been judicially intimated to me. . . that I must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center of the world, and moves, and that I must not hold, defend or teach in any way whatever, verbally or in writing, the said doctrine and after it had been notified to me that the said doctrine was contrary to Holy Writ—I wrote and printed a book in which I . . . adduce arguments of great cogency in its favor. . . and for this cause I have been pronounced by the Holy Office to be vehemently suspected of heresy. . . therefore desiring to remove. . . this strong suspicion, reasonably conceived against me, with sincere heart and unfeigned faith I abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid errors and heresies. . . and I swear that in future I will never again say or assert verbally or in writing, anything that might furnish occasion for a similar suspicion regarding myself; but that should I known any heretic. . . I will denounce him. . . . I the said Galileo have abjured, sworn, promised and bound myself as above. . . this twenty-second day of June, 1633.

Of the foregoing documents it is necessary to say that most have been translated from the French of Delambre, as the English translations of Gebler were not accessible at the time of writing. It is believed that the extracts given accurately represent the originals. Certain phrases have been printed in italics to emphasize the essential facts of the story.

It is also necessary to inquire whether the documents, as printed, correctly state the facts of the trial of Galileo, his explanations, confessions and abjurations. It was certainly within the power of the writers of them to state these facts falsely, or to place them in a false light. Every one has to make up his mind for himself whether the foregoing documents are to be taken as correct statements of the circumstances before and during the trial, or not. It is assumed in this paper that they are, in this respect, correct.

It seems impossible to make any thing more than a verbal distinction between an injunction 'not to teach' and one 'not to hold or defend.' An opinion that is held and defended to others is an opinion taught to them.

The words of Galileo's judges appear to mean precisely what they say. There was no need to distort them, for his confession of April 30 placed him completely at the mercy of his judges.

A discussion by Gebler (pp. 234-239) of the legality of the proceedings against Galileo and of the effect of the sentence against him brings out with complete demonstration the propositions that: 'the sentence of Galileo rests again and again, even on the principles of the ecclesiastical court itself, on an illegal foundation'; that 'Roman Catholic posterity can say to this day'—with truth—"that Paul V. and Urban VIII. were in error 'as men' about the Copernican system, but not 'as Popes' "; and that "the conditions which would have made the decree of the congregation, or the sentence against Galileo, of dogmatic importance were wholly wanting. Both Popes had been too cautious to endanger (the) highest privilege of the papacy, by involving their infallible authority in the decision of a scientific controversy."

There can be no doubt of the validity of these conclusions. The purpose of the prosecution was to check the spread of Copernican doctrines among the faithful and to utterly ruin the authority of Galileo. This purpose was fully attained when notice of his abjuration and punishment was sent to all vicars "so that it may come to the knowledge of all professors of philosophy and mathematics . . . that they may understand the gravity of the fault he has committed as well as the punishment they will have to undergo should they (likewise) fall into it." (July 2, 1633).

There is no need to trace the further history of Galileo's life in detail. He was permitted to return to the neighborhood of Florence and there he lived until his death in 1642—the year of Newton's birth.

His friend and pupil Castelli writes of his death:

The noblest eye which nature ever made is darkened; an eye so privileged, and gifted with such rare powers that it may truly be said to have seen more than the eyes of all that are gone, and to have opened the eyes of all that are to come.

The year 1638 was marked by the publication of his epoch-making book 'Discourses on two new Sciences appertaining to Mechanics and Motion.' This contained the foundation of the modern doctrine of mechanics and it is the crowning glory of Galileo's life. It attracted instant and universal attention, and at the age of seventy-four Galileo was again recognized by all Europe as a master of science—a founder of doctrine. The troubles of his later years grew light in the satisfaction of his legitimate pride.

Myths have grown up about the history of Galileo that it is not necessary to destroy. The whole distressing story has been told in authentic documents. He never suffered bodily torture; he was humiliated and discredited. He never even dared to whisper: E pur se muove. His history, though misinterpreted, has been of the deepest service to the world. It affords a symbol around which the rights of men to freedom of thought have clustered. Just as Benedict Arnold serves as the type of a traitor, so Galileo has been made to serve as a martyr of science. But he was no martyr. A true martyr does not abjure his opinions even in presence of the rack. While his recantation may be excused, it does not testify to moral greatness. We may add a paragraph from Gebler:

Party interests and passions have to a great extent and with few exceptions, guided the pens of those who have written on Galileo's life. The one side has lauded him as an admirable martyr of science, and ascribed more cruelty to the Inquisition than it really inflicted on him; the other has thought proper to enter the lists as defender of the Inquisition, and to wash it white at Galileo's expense. Historic truth contradicts both.

Galileo was a genius of the first order. His title to lasting fame rests principally on his investigations in mechanics and physics, on the theory of the pendulum, the law of falling bodies, the invention of the thermometer, and on the intelligence with which he employed his unique opportunity for telescopic discoveries. His popular reputation will, however, always be based upon his re-invention of the telescope, his advocacy and proof of the Copernican system, his sufferings from the Inquisition, his torture, his abjuration, his seclusion at Arcetri. He will remain preeminently the martyr for science.

  1. Cardinal Antonio Barberini senior was the brother, and Cardinal Antonio junior was the nephew, of the Pope.