ASTRONOMY April 05, 2012
Vatican's secret archives. Photo: Daniele Fregonese
When Galileo, like Copernicus, dared to suggest Earth wasn't at the centre of the universe, he made a powerful enemy.
ACCORDING to the Monty Python crew, nobody expects the Inquisition. Galileo should have, however, because he had already been warned in a previous brush with the Roman Inquisition. He didn't heed the warning, and this week marks the anniversary of the start of the trial of Galileo in 1633. He was sentenced to indefinite arrest, required to say specific prayers every week for three years and to renounce support for the Copernican view of the universe. In the eyes of the Church, he wasn't the messiah - he was a very naughty boy.
What was this fuss all about? It appears the main issue centred on just exactly what was in the centre. Biblical references in Psalms, Chronicles and Ecclesiastes were interpreted by the Catholic Church to mean the Earth did not move and the sun went around the Earth, implying Earth was the centre of the universe and everything was in orbit around it. This was seen to have ''scientific'' support from the Ptolemaic system, which preached that the sun, moon and planets all revolved around the Earth.
Into this dogma Copernicus cast his book in 1543. Ironically, a clergyman himself, he proclaimed the sun the centre of the universe and Earth, along with the known planets, were in orbit around it. When Galileo first turned a telescope to Jupiter in 1610, he could see four moons in orbit around the giant planet. He realised Copernicus was right; right there was emphatic evidence that Earth was not the centre of everything. He wrote about this view of the universe and taught it to his students.
The Pope, who began as a supporter of Galileo, expected him to write about the Copernican view hypothetically and to also include the Pope's contrary belief. The book was published in 1632 but Galileo was not sympathetic to the Pope's ideas, ridiculing as a simpleton a character thought to represent the Pope. This did not endear Galileo to the Holy Father; furthermore, the Pope was under attack himself by the Spanish Inquisition for being soft on Italian heretics.
It all culminated in Galileo feeling the wrath of the Roman Inquisition, and it wasn't until 1992 that the Church officially pardoned him.
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