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Some of our readers have called our attention to a lecture delivered at Penang to the members of the Rotary Club by Dr. N. K. Menon and reproduced in the Straits Echo & Times of Malaya of October 20. The incriminating passage of this otherwise interesting lecture concerns the Copernican or heliocentric system and Galileo its most earnest and bungling apostle. Dr. Menon has served his audience the common anti-popish stuff about the obscurantism of the Catholic Clergy, the Papal infallibility and the victimization of the stale trash which is conspicuounal of the Inquisition, that is all Galileo Galilei by the bloody tribusly found in the learned works of biggot writers, such as H. G. Wells, one of the major stars of the constellation.
We don't, of course, question the bona fides of Dr. Menon. Our object in writing is to show that he was terribly unlucky in the choice of his information.
In his address to the members of the Rotary Club in Penang, Dr. Menon said that "this theory (the sun and all other heavenly bodies revolved round the earth) has received the papal seal of infallibility" that "the teachings of Copernicus were received with general hostility by the learned ecclesiastics and were regarded as impious because his discoveries seemed to degrade the earth- The Church forbade him to teach this theory. His book was published in 1543 (and) remained on the Index of forbidden books for three centuries later.
In his book 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' Nicholas Copernicus expounded the heliocentric system according to which the sun, instead oi revolving round the earth, as it was universally believed to his time, stood fixed in the heavens with the earth revolving round it. Copernicus was a priest. He had held a professor's chair in Rome under the very eye of Pope Leo X., and delivered lectures there on his new theory to crowds that flocked to hear him, sometimes to the number of 2,000. He had also been called to the Lateran Council by the Pope with the injunction to study the motions of the planet so that he might help in the correction of the calendar. His book 'De Revolutionibus' was published at the request of Cardinal Schomberg and the Bishop of Culm, and dedicated to Pope Paul III. The Copernican system met with no opposition either from the Popes or the Roman Congregations, but was condemned in unmeasured terms by Luther and Melanehton.
We must say, however, that the publication of the works of Copernicus was suspended only till they were corrected; and one of the Cardinals immediately set about this task, carefully changing into a merely hypothetical statement every dogmatic assertion of the two propositions (that the sun was the centre and the earth was revolving around it), or any conclusion from them.
The Catholic Church, which has the guardianship of the Holy Scriptures, stood up for the Geocentric system (or the system of Ptolemy which held that the sun was revolving round the earth). She refused therefore to acknowledge the Copernican theory as being in express contradiction not only with many passages of the Scriptures, its words and meanings, but also with the common interpretation and explanations as given by the Church Fathers and theologians.
The theory, of Ptolemy however, never did, as advanced by Dr. Menon, receive the papal seal of Infallibility,' no more than was the Copernican theory ever anathematized by the Pope ex cathedra. It cannot be said that either Pope Paul V or Urban VIII imposed the theory of geocentricism upon the Church as an article of faith though both pontiffs considered the Copernican system to be unscriptural and desired its suppression.
The decree of 1616, issued by the Congregation of the Index against Galileo and the Copernican theory can raise no difficulty with regard to the papal Infallibility as this tribunal was absolutely incompetent to make a dogmatic decree. "Nor is the case altered by the fact that the Pope approved the Congregation's decision in forma communi, that is to say, to the extent needful for the purpose intended, namely to prohibit the circulation of writings which were judged harmful. The Pope and his assessors may have been wrong in such a judgment, but this does not convert it into a decree ex-cathedra, that is a sentence pronounced by the Pope speaking as Infallible Doctor of the Faith.
The Copernican system was accepted by ecclesiastical authority only as an hypothesis, not as an established fact. We should not forget that the proofs brought in by Galileo in its support were far from conclusive and failed to convince scientists such as Tycho-Brahe and Lord Bacon who considered the new teaching as radically false and unscientific. After examining the case of Galileo, Professor Huxley had to admit that, in his opinion, the opponents of Galileo "had rather the best of it."
Moreover, Galileo was a fierce controversialist; he was rather bent upon confounding than refuting his adversaries and his very able pen had the unfortunate gift of exasperating his opponents by turning them into ridicule. No wonder if he found himself in dire trouble during the latter part of his life. Galileo, also, made the mistake of his life when he set to work to clear up, in his own way, those scriptural difficulties which he found to be the chief obstacle to the acceptance of his theories and wished the Pope and the Inquisition to declare that they were founded on the Bible, and in this way he became the real cause of all the mischief that followed. If, according to his own words: "Holy Writ is intended to teach men to go to heaven, not how the heavens go," why was Galileo so anxious to reconcile heliocentrism with Holy Scripture?
Cardinal Bellarmine, who was considered as the most bigotted adversary of the philosopher, told one of his friends that if Galileo spoke with circumspection and "only as a mathematician, he would be put to no further trouble." The same friend wrote to Galileo: "I have been this morning with Monsignor Dini to the Cardinal del Monte who told us he had lately a long conversation with Cardinal Bellarmine on the subject was that by confining himself to the system and its demonstration, without interfering with the Scripture, the interpretation of which they wish to have confined to theological professors approved and authorised for the purpose, Galileo would be secure against any contradiction: but that otherwise, explanation of Scripture, however ingenious, will be admitted with difficulty, when they depart from the common opinion of the Fathers." The same advice was given by Cardinal Barberini, afterwards Pope Urban VIII:
“Galileo ought not to travel out of the limits of physics and mathematics; he should confine himself to such reasonings as Ptolemy and Copernicus used; declaring views of Scripture, theologians maintain to be their own particular province." Copernicus, who also had been conscious of the same scriptural difficulties, behaved himself more wisely than Galileo, and left them to theologians without attempting, himself, to give any explanation.
In the dedication of his book 'De Revolutionibus' to Leo X he said: "If perchance there shall be any vain babblers who, though ignorant of all mathematical science, yet assume a right to pronounce upon it; and on the strength of some text of Scripture, distorted to support their views, blame or abuse my work, I let them do so; but I also will j take leave to despise their judgments as | rash Mathematics are written for j mathematicians who will, I think, agree ( that my labours are of some use to the - ecclesiastical commonwealth of which your Holiness is now the head."
Foscarini, a Carmelite monk and friend of Galileo, excited the alarm of the Congregation of the Index by publishing works on the Copernican system in the vernacular, thus spreading this new doctrine, which was still but an hypothesis among the common people who were incapable of forming any sound judgment about it. The Copernican system was even for the learned a startling theory. We have said already that Tycho-Brahe and Lord Bacon considered it as radically false and unscientilc.
What was objected to was the assertion that it was in fact true, "which appears to contradict Scripture." Galileo himself in writing to a friend a few days after his first condemnation tells him "that the doctrine of Copernicus has not been declared heretical, but only as not consonant to the Holy Scriptures." In consequence, he was called upon only to promise that he would abstain from publicly teaching and defending it though it seems that he would have been allowed even this, provided he did not teach it as a certain and demonstrated truth, but only as a mere hypothesis.
Anyhow, Galileo promised. He could not, alas! be as good as his word and, in 1632, he published the "Dialogo di Galileo Galilei," a book which revived and aggravated all former animosities, "referring in the preface to the decree of 1616 by name, and in tone of such irony and bitter sarcasm as rendered it impossible that any tribunal pretending to public respect, should tamely submit to it. Some allusions to "a most learned and elevated personage," who was treated in anything but a complimentary manner: and it was said to the Pope that this personage was none than himself. Angry with Galileo, the Pope (then Urban VIII) sent the case to the Inquisition. Galileo was arraigned on the charge of having violated the order imposed upon him in 1616. and being found guilty, condemned." (Anon, C.T.S. pamphlet).
Mr. Menon tells us that the discoveries of Galileo, especially of the spots on the sun "annoyed the orthodox philosophers (Mr. Menon means the Catholic theologians, of course) of this time since they had taught that heavenly bodies were free from all defects, and a great contrast to the earth."
Here is a translation of the sentence pronounced against Galileo by the Inquisition which gives the whereas of his condemnation: "We pronounce, judge and declare that you, Galileo, have made yourself vehemently open to suspicion of heresy, to this Holy Office, as having believed and held a doctrine false and in opposition to the Holy Scriptures, namely that the sun is the centre of the Universe, that it is not moving from the Orient to the Occident, that the earth moves, and is not the centre of the world and that one can hold and i uphold an opinion as probable, after it has been declared and decreed in opposition to the Holy Writ."
By declaring false and heretical the Copernican system it is undeniable that the tribunal of the Inquisition committed a grave and deplorable error, and sanctioned an altogether false principle as to the proper use of Scriptures, namely, holding the Scripture as authoritative in matters of physics and biology. Yet we must not forget that' in these times they were considered as such throughout the whole Christian world. Hence the suspicion and the dislike which the new theory raised amongst the ecclesiastical authorities of the XVII cent.
Yet the Church, in Galileo's case was bound, for the safeguard of the multitude, to interfere and,—without pronouncing dogmatically as to whether the theory may not afterwards come out as a physical and scientific truth (which would exceed the limits of her authority)— to declare that it was at present rash, dangerous, false, and heretical theologically, as tending to subvert the authority of Scripture in the minds of men. Galileo himself confessed that a new theory like that of Copernicus might easily help to spread abroad insinuations against the authority of the Church, and of Holy Scripture. However confident Galileo might feel as to the truth of that theory, he knew that after all it was not yet capable of demonstration.
Again, Galileo was bound in Christian charity to his weaker and more ignorant brethren not to propagate a theory which could but foster in their minds distrust for, and even disrespect of, the Holy Scripture.
In all this affair, the only one to strike the true note was Cardinal Bellarmine when he wrote to Foscarini, Galileo's friend: "I say that if a real proof be found that the sun is fixed "and does not revolve round the earth but the earth round the sunthen it will be necessary, very carefully, to proceed to the explanation of the passages of the Scriptures which appear to be contrary, and we should rather say that we have misunderstood these than pronounce that to be false which is demonstrated."
Yet, Bellarmine, great a theologian though he was, was not a scientist and found nothing better to say to prove the truth of the Ptolemaic system than the following words: "After all, is not the proof afforded by our eyes a sufficient guaranty of the truth ? Everybody knows by experience that the earth stands still, and that the eye does not deceive one when he feels that the sun moves, no more than he can deceive us I when it feels that the moon and the stars move; and that is quite enough for the time being."
The theologians and the tribunal of the Inquisition cannot be considered as simple dolts for not recognising the truth of the Copernican theory which now is self-evident. Up to Galileo's time, the balance of proof was positively in favour of the old system. Even, down to the days of Sir Isaac Newton, there was nothing to make heliocentrism more plausible than geocentrism and it is universally acknowledged that the principal, arguments afforded by Galileo to prof) up his system were utterly fallacious and false.
From the sentence delivered by the Inquisition, it appears, then, that the famous teaching of the Catholic theologians, alluded to by Dr. Menon,—that heavenly bodies were free from all defects,— had not much to do in the condemnation of Galileo.
The discovery by Galileo, with his telescope, of the spots on the sun was received with enthusiasm by all learned people and, when he went to Rome, all the Papal Court and the many scholars of the Roman universities were unanimous in paying him a just and well deserved tribute of admiration: "gardens and palaces were flung open for his use, and prelates and Cardinals were his admiring attendants."
Later, a few years after his first condemnation (1616), Cardinal Barberini being Pope under the name of Urban VIII, Galileo revisited the eternal city, had a cordial interview with the Pontiff, was loaded with honours and received a pension for himself and his son. Many of his friends had been placed by the Pope Himself in various posts of honour, or in some of the colleges and universities of the Pontifical States where Copernican theories were taught in the lectures of the Roman college, that is the Jesuit college in Rome, in the Sapienza, the Pope's own university, in the university of Pisa, and elsewhere. These lectures, of course, had to be stopped for the very reasons we have previously exposed.
“In spite of his old age and infirmities, he (Galileo) was summoned before the Inquisition, and sentenced to an indefinite term of imprisonment. Pope Urban later commuted the sentence into permission to live in Florence." (Dr. Menon).
The old age of Galileo could not be pleaded, any more than the infirmities inherent to old age, as a sufficient excuse for not obeying the Pope's order. Though he tried to temporise, he finally had to go to Rome. Like all accused, be they Prelates or Bishops, he should have been confined in one of the cells of the Holy Office; he was, instead, graciously allowed to take his residence at the palace of the ambassador Niccolini where he was treated like a member of the family and, during his trial before the Holy Office, instead of being sent to prison, he was given the use of the apartments of the Fiscal of the Inquisition. Galileo remained there from April 12 to June 22 and never had to complain of ill health.
order imposed upon him, in 1616, Galileo was condemned to "the formal prison of the Holy Office, for a period determinable at our pleasure; and by the way of salutary penance, we order you, during the next three years, to recite opce a week the seven penitential psalms", reserving to ourselves the power of moderating, commuting, or taking off the whole part of the said punishment and penance."
The first place of imprisonment assigned to Galileo was the Dominican Monastery of the Minerva where the principal officers of the Inquisition had their dwelling. "Here he spent a week, occupying the rooms of one of his own friends, attended by his own servant, having the range of the whole house and gardens, and receiving without let or hindrance as many visitors as chose to come to him." From the Minerva, the prisoner went to the palace of Guicciardini, the Tuscan ambassador in Rome, his great friend and protector. "I have for prison" wrote Galileo, "the delightful palace of Trinita di Monte." He remained there for four or five months and, then, was told that he need not stay in Rome any longer. As the plague was raging in Florence "they sent me to my best friend, the Archbishop of Siena, and I have always enjoyed the most delightful tranquillity. Now I am in Ancetra, my native country," in his own villa near Florence, where he was allowed to reside on the condition that he would not receive any visitors, except his friends, and where he died some nine or ten years afterwards.
Dr. Menon, as a conclusion to what he had to tell about Galileo, makes the following quotation from Sir Oliver Lodge" He was made to recant under the threat of torture and to perjure himself by denying the Copernican principles although he knew them to be true—an awful catastrophe for a scientific man, blaspheming against the whole spirit of science.
All these are rather big words. Unbiassed history, in fact, does not show us Galileo as a martyr of Science (with a capital), as he had not at all the generosity and abnegation required to play such a role.
Prior to his discoveries, Galileo had already adhered to the heliocentric theory of Copernicus; yet in a letter to Kepler, in 1597, he confessed that he had refrained from making himself its advocate, lest like Copernicus he should be overwhelmed with ridicule. In 1616, after the" first condemnation of the Copernican system, Galileo wrote to Monsignor Dini, 16th February: I am quite ready to tear my own eye to avoid scandal, rather than resist against my superiors and do wrong to my-own soul, by maintaining against them what actually seems to me evident and which I believe to be actually palpable.
On the 21st June 1633, the tribunal of the Index asked him "if be held as true, and since how long, that the sun was the centre of the world and the earth was not the centre q£ the world, or even that it was moving in the diurnal motion." —: "Before the decision of the Holy Congregation of the Index," Galileo answered, "and before I was given orders on this subject, I did not care and I thought that the opinions of Ptolemy and Copernicus were both reasonable, that the one or the other could exist in nature. But, after this decision, of the wisdom of my superiors, all hesitation was removed from my mind, and I have held and still hold, as absolutely true and beyond doubt, the opinion of Ptolemy on the stability of the earth and the motion of the sun." This was but a barefaced untruth as he had published his famous "Dialogo Galileo Galilei" only the precedent year. The judges who could not bear to be fooled in this way threatened him: "Tell the truth, otherwise we shall resort to torture."—" I am here to obey," answered the old man, "I have never held that opinion (Copernicus ) ; I told that to you already." As nothing more could be got from Galileo, he was sent baek to his place after he had signed his evidence. How, then, can Sir Oliver Lodge dare to write that Galileo "was made to recant under the threat of torture and to perjure himself by denying the Copernican principles?" "Awful catastrophe!" "blaspheming against the whole spirit of science!" Nonsense! When, humbly on his knees with his hand on the Gospel, Galileo read the abjuration form, when he signed "I. Galileo Galilei, have recanted as above," he did it of his own free will and not under the threat of torture.
Galileo's remains were transferred, in 1734, in the church of Santa Croce- in Rome. On his cenotaph is engraved the following landative inscription: "Galileo Galilei, the greatest restorer of geometry, astronomy and philosophy, unequalled by any other of his age."
Now, for the information of Dr. Menon and a few others whom it may interest, we will record as briefly as possible what happened to another well known scientist, of the same time as Galileo.
In 1596, Kepler, a German Protestant, wrote a book in which he undertook to demonstrate argumentatively the truth of the heliocentric system; Before his book could be printed He had to lay it before the Academical Senate of Tubingen, and the unanimous decision of the Protestant divines "composing this senate was that the book contained a damnable heresy because it contradicted the teaching of the Bible. He offered an interpretation of the particular passages of the Bible that were quoted against him, by which interpretation, he said, his astronomical theory could be perfectly reconciled with Holy Writ. Though the foundation of Protestant system is the right of private judgment, the Tubingen divines maintained their sentence, so that it became necessary for the Duke of Wurtemberg. who was personally attached to Kepler, to interpose in his behalf. Kepler's clerical opponents, however, eventually drove him from Wurtembere as he had to take refuge in a Catholic country.
If, therefore, the condemnation of Galileo proves the hostility of the Catholic Church to secular and scientific knowledge, the condemnation of Kepler proves just the same against the Protestants.
- Malaya Catholic Leader, Saturday, 4th November, 1939 (1939.pdf pp404)