Can someone please explain the Catholic Church’s current teaching regarding the Galileo affair?
Sure. Here are the important points: [LIST]
*] Several Catholic officials forbid Galileo to teach or hold the heliocentric viewpoint, and put him under house arrest
*] The Church teaches that they shouldn’t have done that
*] They were not acting infallibly and many faithful theologians at the time noted that heliocentrism could be held without necessarily violating Catholic teaching; those who punished Galileo simply didn’t agree
Also, it wasn’t heliocentrism itself that was problematic - Copernicus, who theorized it, was a priest, after all. It was when Galileo inserted his own theology to “correct” what he perceived as errors in the Bible regarding astronomy and cosmology.
It didn’t help any that Galileo’s work Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Worlds had a character named Simplicio (a pun on the Italian word for “simpleton” or “simple minded”), who was a ardent defender of the Ptolemaic system of the universe (geocentrism), using logic that the Pope had used to defend his personal opinion.
The most important thing to understand is : The Church Was Wrong. Even the Church says so.
The other important thing to understand is Galileo’s theory was not at the time accepted by science. Such shining lights as Tycho flatly disagreed. The observational proof needed to make Galileo’s model work was stellar parallax and that was not observed for a very long time afterward. Other ideas by Galilleo at the time included the notion the tides were caused by the earth’s motion making the oceans slosh around. Previous knowledge also said that was wrong, for example St. Bede in AD800’s explained it was related to the moon and gave some rather detailed formula for calculating tides based on lunar phases, years, and such.
The point in the above is that, while its framed as “knuckle draggin neanderthal Church” versus Science it was actually the Church listening to prevailing science which was flat wrong.
The other part to understand is that Galileo really wandered into trouble when he began to expound his novel ideas on scriptural interpretation and patristics. For the longest time I thought folks talking about this were grasping at straws. Read this letter of Gallileo to see just how far he went into theology and patristics.
It is also interesting to me to note that its called “The Catholic Church” when the Protestant Reformers were even harder on Galileo rhetorically.
The letter above was not available in English until very recently, and when it came out was responded to/rebutted in University of Illinois ( or Chicago I can’t recall ) publication. Which made a number of humorous errors and selective quotations. The majority of the responses you will find online are ultimately just rephrases of this original response.
Heliocentric Cosmology in the West
Nicolai Copernick (9 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was ordained to minor orders in the church. It is doubtful that he was ever ordained a priest. He was a canon of Warmia (1497) and published De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium in 1543. This was the first published heliocentric theory of the solar system. It was originally outlined in Nicolai Copernici de hypothesibus motuum coelestium a se constitutis commentariolus*, the “Commentariolus,” and circulated his notes only among close friends in 1514. He completed “De Revolutionibus” around 1532 but delayed its publication until 1543, shortly before his death. The famous introduction describing the theory as a mathematical convenience was actually written by the publisher.*
Tycho Brahe (14 December 1546 – 24 October 1601) produced the most accurate observations of planets and stars using the naked eye. He used instruments designed and built by himself which were extremely large and gave more accurate readings than similar instruments in common use. His prodigious personal wealth made this possible. Observations were made and compiled over his lifetime. He began these systematic observations in 1572 and began publishing his results in 1574.
Johannes Kepler (December 27, 1571 – November 15, 1630) was an assistant to Brahe who had hired Kepler, a mathematician, to work on analysis of his observations. Kepler posited elliptical orbits based on Brahe’s observations. His great work on Laws of Planetary Motion, Epitome astronomia Copernicanae was published in a series: Books I – III 1617, Book IV 1620, Books V – VIII 1621. Today we use Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion in doing celestial mechanics.
Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642) made some of the earliest recorded observations using a telescope around 1610. His instrument allowed observation of the phases of Mercury and Venus which could be explained by heliocentrism but not by geocentrism. His views were investigated by the Holy Office in 1615 and it was concluded that his views could be accepted as a possibility, but that they were not an established fact. His defense of his work, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” was sufficiently abrasive in tone to alienate both the pope and the Jesuits who had supported him. The Inquisition found him “vehemently suspect of heresy” and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Note that Galileo’s difficulty with the Inquisition occurred prior to the publication of Kepler’s magnum opus.
Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1726) wrote Principia Mathematica, published in 1687. In it he derived elliptical planetary motion from his theory of universal gravitation thus verifying Kepler’s laws.
In short it took 144 years from the publication of the first heliocentric theory of the solar system to a complete mathematically coherent exposition of heliocentrism including the explanation of elliptical orbits. The use of optical aids to astronomy begins approximately half way through this development and serves to support the Copernican cosmology.
Galileo’s greatest problem was his stubbornness.
To the OP:
Most the Bishops are educated in theology and not the physical and life sciences. That’s important because they were likely wrong for their treatment of Galileo or intervening in questions of the physical movements of celestial bodies, and they may be wrong now for siding with any prevailing views in science.
One problem is that the pedagogy of science from grades 1 through 16 is based on unquestioned indoctrination. And only the heroes of science are taught–not the vast amount of “losers” with incorrect views. Usually you don’t engage in scientific research until you enter grad school. Even then you’ll investigate the world or problems playing by the rules you were taught. It’s often those that disregard one or more rules, becoming rule breakers, that usually end up the heroes discovering something. Then science immediately embraces them as if they had always held them close to their breast through all their wacky ideas.
With that in mind I’d like to rebel and submit to you that from a purely philosophical perspective I see nothing wrong with having a geocentric or earth-centric conception of “the world” or the universe. Primarily, because the earth in many ways is fundamentally unique–with all its abundant, diverse life on earth.
I heard one person say before that the worst thing another person could do to another is to make them question their identity. Whether or not that is true, it strikes me that a marvelous and intelligent trick Satan could play on mankind is to convince mankind to question its very identity. To think it was but mud, bacteria, or apes, or perhaps nothing at all.
But more importantly to your question, it has been noted that Tyco Brahe looked at the same sun rising and setting and concluded something much different than Copernicus. So, so far as I can tell, and I’m mathematically and scientifically challenged, the sun revolves around a stationary earth. And I can paint houses and earn a living believing this.
But I have an easier time imagining or attempting to understand the earth revolving around the sun than I do all the feet in Manhattan in contradictory steps moving planet earth away from each foot at the same time or the concept of potential energy in a stationary rock.
The geocentric model offered explanations and predictions not so unlike the concept of the earth moving away from your feet as you walk (never mind the earth is near-round and has feet stepping on it in all directions at the same time all around the earth), or like the potential energy in your rump being planted in a seat. So, it was good science and not something reasonable people would necessarily have typically disagreed with.
The Church listened to persons in the applied sciences (medicine, psychiatry, psychology) about priests with problems of pedophilia being cured or recovered too. That was good [applied] science then too. And science offers explanations. And we all want explanations.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of disinformation on the topic of geocentrism seen on Catholic forums, not to mention secular (and often atheistic) ones.
A truly solid background on the topic can be seen at the excellent Catholic apologist John Salza’s site: scripturecatholic.com/geocentrism.html.
Much of the work on geocentrism seen at the above site has come from the prodigious efforts of fellow and long time Catholic apologist Dr. Robert Sungenis found in his extraordinary and massive nearlyl 1100 page large size two volume set Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right. The first and larger volume of this set treats of the scientific evidence for geocentrism while at the same time refuting all the standard arguments put forth for heliocentrism such as stellar parallax, Foucault Pendulum, retrograde motion of Mars, etc. Indeed, this volume alone is believed to be the most comprehensive and detailed scientific treatise on the issue of heliocentric versus geocentric cosmology ever offered to the public.
Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right can be found at galileowaswrong.com as well as galileowaswrong.blogspot.com. The latter link discusses the book in greater detail while at the same time clearly and thoroughly refuting those who have tried to discredit geocentrism. Dr. Sungenis courageously takes on any and all reputable challenges to the traditional Catholic doctrine on geocentrism, a doctrine which unfortunately due to much ill informed education on the subject from their younger years onward, many Catholics clearly feel embarrassed to stand up for. (Contrary to much falsely spread information on the subject John Paul II did in no way overturn the traditional Catholic doctrine on geocentrism nor did he “apologize” for the Church’s action in upholding the doctrine of geocentrism. This was all false, and frankly and most unfortunately quite typical, reporting by the anti-Catholic mainstream media just as they had years earlier, for example, spread the false notion that the carbon 14 dating [which was seriously defective in following basic standards of scientific protocol] of the Shroud of Turin"proved" that the holy relic of the Church was a fraud/hoax.
What is ultimately at stake in the question of geocentrism versus heliocentrism and why the modern and largely atheistic/agnostic and anti-Catholic scientific establishment fights againt geocentrism with all their might is the issue of the authority of the Church and Sacred Scripture which both firmly support geocentrism “since [and quoting form Dr. Sungenis’ work on the subject] it is from these sources alone that the teaching of a motionless Earth originated.” At all cost, the modern scientific establishment does not wish to admit that it has been terribly wrong on such a basic notion of geocentrism for all these centuries. Indeed, it would have to admit, albeit with much chagrin, that Galileo was indeed wrong and that the Church (that is to say the Roman Catholic Church!) was right.
As a final note it should be stated that the scientific reason for the Earth (which should for what should be obvious reasons never be referred to as a planet!) being motionless has to do with the very fact that it is indeed at the very center of the Universe.
klasg4ever – know, love, and serve God forever!
The scientific issues about geocentrism is a discussion in itself.
Historically, there is no traditional Catholic doctrine on geocentrism. There is confusion over the Ecumenical Church Council protocol used by the Catholic Church at the time of Galileo.
ummm…are you guys saying that geocentrism is true? i hope this is a joke…
a Good book to get about this and other misconceptions on Science and what really happened is
The Catholic Church And Science: Answering The Questions, Exposing The Myths
I just read this book and it directly address the question you have.
Oh, my yes. It comes as quite a shock to many to learn that every argument advanced against geocentrism by Galileo, Newton, Foucault, et al, has been scientifically falsified, as a direct consequence and necessity of the adoption of the theories of Relativity.
Historically, there is no traditional Catholic doctrine on geocentrism.
A moment’s reflection seems in order. If the above sentence were true, someone certainly forgot to tell Galileo.
But the above sentence is not true.
From the papal sentence against Galileo, 1633:
We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, the said Galileo, by reason of the matters adduced in trial, and by you confessed as above, have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine—which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures—that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that an opinion may be held and defended as probably after it has been declared and defined to be contrary to the Holy Scripture; and that consequently you have incurred all the censures and penalties imposed and promulgated in the sacred canons and other constitutions, general and particular, against such delinquents.
There is confusion over the Ecumenical Church Council protocol used by the Catholic Church at the time of Galileo.
There certainly was not the slightest bit of such alleged confusion at the time
Are you saying that the first verse of Scripture is a joke?
Are you saying that the unanimous consensus of the fathers concerning the meaning of Scripture is a joke?
Are you saying the papal sentence against Galileo is a joke?
Are you saying St. Robert Bellarmine is a joke?
Because if you aren’t, then you need to have scientific disproof of geocentrism, and I would be willing to toss my hat into the ring on the proposition that you don’t.
Everything the universe is in motion, where is the center? Just pick a spot, it doesn’t really matter. Might as well pick Earth.
Geocentrism is a scientific theory that has be disproven.
Valid scientific theories are not in conflict with properly interpreted Scripture.
There can only be one true center. That true center is Earth. It does matter because the truth matters!
Unfortunately, Ben Wiker, the author of this book is putting out some serious errors to the public. These errors are well documented and can be seen at galileowaswrong.com/galileowaswrong/features/Letter%20to%20Ben%20Wiker,%20Mariani%20March%202011.pdf If that link does not work for you just go to galileowaswrong.blogspot.com and once there scroll down until you see Open Letter to Benjamin Wiker and Relevant Radio by Robert Sungenis.
It is absolutely not true that Geocentrism has been disproven. People simply believe it has been disproven because the proponents of heliocentrism have been rather successful in promoting this false belief for the longest time, just as many still believe in the frog to prince evolution fairytale.
Every one of the so called major disproofs of Geocentrism are thoroughly refuted in the pages of the massive and completely documented work Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right seen at galileowaswrong.com and galileowaswrong.blogspot.com
Catholics should not be ashamed of going against the grain in asserting the truth of geocentrism. Unfortunately, it is unknown to many that geocentrism is long held Catholic Doctrine! Another excellent site worth visiting is that of Catholic Apologist John Salza: scripturecatholic.com/geocentrism.html
For what faith or moral position is geocentrism needed?
The phyical arrangement of the the heavenly bodies and their dynamic relationships are the appropiate subjects of the physical sciences, not theology. What faith or moral truth is dependent on this arrangement and relationship?
This is a philosophical pre-assumption, not a matter of scientific demonstration.
As we have seen, the Holy Office formally condemned Galileo for insisting upon this proposition.
where is the center?
Centrality is not the subject of the condemnation. Mobility is. However, it does turn out to be the case that the Earth appears to be at or near the center of galaxy distributions out at least a billion light years:
A natural interpretation is that concentric spherical shells of higher galaxy number densities surround us, with their individual centers situated at our location.–“Observational Tests for Oscillating Expansion Rate of the Universe”, Hirano/Komiya, Phys Rev D, 2010
Just pick a spot, it doesn’t really matter. Might as well pick Earth.
Since the Copernican Revolution is predicated upon the impossibility of the Earth being at the center, and modern physics is predicated on the assumption that it can be, we are left with the simple truth that Galileo was wrong, and the Church was right, as a matter of theology as well as of science.