Was Galileo threatened with torture by the Inquisiton?



He was threatened with imprisonment according the trial logs.


And wasn’t that imprisonment completed in his own villa under house arrest.

Well the imprisonment he was threatened with by the inquisition was in their own prison, and that is what he was originally assigned, but apparently he was moved to house arrest the very next day for whatever reason. He actually produced his best works under house arrest too, which is especially impressive considering he was 70 years old when assigned that judgement. Not too common to see a 70+ year old writing science books and developing formulas that are still used to this day.

Absolutely not.

All court and justice systems at that time used torture. The church Inquisitions used it less than any contemporary secular system did, in fact they later became the first court/judicial systems in the history of the world to abolish the use of torture.

The Church’s Inquisitions never imposed torture as a punishment (hence npobody would be threatened with receiving torture as a punishment) , only to obtain information from those reluctant to give it. In Galileo’s case, all the relevant information was already in the public domain, Galileo was not hiding anything, so there would have been no point in torturing him.

Peter, never heard that before, I would love to have a source so I can pass this information along.


The story of Galileo gets more and more embellished as time goes on.

If you want to hear a superb 1-hour presentation on this topic, Dr. John Rao (a history professor at St. John’s College) is your man:


Galileo was questioned as to his intention in publishing his scientific work. From a letter to Galileo (see here):
“And whereas it appeared to us that you had not stated the full truth with regard to your intention, we thought it necessary to subject you to a rigorous examination (examen rigorosum) at which (without prejudice however, to the matters confessed by you, and set forth as above with regard to your said intention) you answered like a good Catholic.”

I recommend Diane Moczar’s book “Seven Lies about Catholic History”. One of the focal points is this very issue.

Here is a good account from the Catholic Answers Library that puts the Galileo situation into perspective:



Sorry, I’m not clear on which one (or more) of the points I made you would like a source for (if this has not already been answered by the refs others have subsequently linked to).

Hmm, :o I am primarily referring to the religious courts being the first to abolish the use of torture, and secondarily curious about the selective use of torture for “information purposes only” and not as punishment.


Here’s another article, “The Galileo Affair” by George Sim Johnston:

Better question: why hasn’t the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared him venerable yet?

I love how everyone loves to minimize the the injustice against Galileo… And it turns out he was more than right…


I don’t think people are really trying to minimize it. I think the core of these discussions is an effort to combat the all-too-common myths about the Galileo affair that are thrown in Catholics’ faces by those who claim that religion in general and the Church in particular are anti-science.

What most people don’t understand is that Galileo didn’t get in trouble for what he taught but how he went about it. He really shouldn’t have portrayed the Pope as feeble minded.

As for the Inquisitions, The Church limited the type of torture that could be used, i.e. they couldn’t draw blood, etc… The horror stories of torture was exercised by the state, not the Church. Both of these events were blown all out of proportion by the reformers later in history.

In the end, Galileo recanted his heliocentric teachings, but it was not—as is commonly supposed—under torture nor after a harsh imprison- ment. Galileo was, in fact, treated surprisingly well.

As historian Giorgio de Santillana, who is not overly fond of the Catholic Church, noted, “We must, if anything, admire the cautiousness and legal scruples of the Roman authorities.” Galileo was offered every convenience possible to make his imprisonment in his home bearable.

Galileo’s friend Nicolini, Tuscan ambassador to the Vatican, sent regular reports to the court regarding affairs in Rome. Many of his letters dealt with the ongoing controversy surrounding Galileo.

Nicolini revealed the circumstances surrounding Galileo’s “imprisonment” when he reported to the Tuscan king: “The pope told me that he had shown Galileo a favor never accorded to another” (letter dated Feb. 13, 1633); " . . . he has a servant and every convenience" (letter, April 16); and “*n regard to the person of Galileo, he ought to be imprisoned for some time because he disobeyed the orders of 1616, but the pope says that after the publication of the sentence he will consider with me as to what can be done to afflict him as little as possible” (letter, June 18).

Had Galileo been tortured, Nicolini would have reported it to his king. While instruments of torture may have been present during Galileo’s recantation (this was the custom of the legal system in Europe at that time), they definitely were not used.

The records demonstrate that Galileo could not be tortured because of regulations laid down in The Directory for Inquisitors (Nicholas Eymeric, 1595). This was the official guide of the Holy Office, the Church office charged with dealing with such matters, and was followed to the letter.

As noted scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead remarked, in an age that saw a large number of “witches” subjected to torture and execution by Protestants in New England, “the worst that happened to the men of science was that Galileo suffered an honorable detention and a mild reproof.” Even so, the Catholic Church today acknowledges that Galileo’s condemnation was wrong. The Vatican has even issued two stamps of Galileo as an expression of regret for his mistreatment.


Because although he was a fervently believing and practising Catholic, he was’t very saintly or a good role model. Among his faults were his tendency to sarcastically and uncharitably ridicule and mock those who disagreed with or doubted his assertions (this was basically what got him into trouble with other scientists and consequently with the church tribunal), and the fact that he never actually offically married his lifelong mistress (apparently for social reasons - she was from a lower social class than he) although they kept it discreet (they never lived together and the Church did not officially know about it) there is no evidence he ever had sexual relations with any other person, their two daughters both became nuns and the Church “legitimised” their son so that he could inherit Galileo’s estate and gain the other civil advantages of such.

*"How did these medieval courts function?
The medieval inquisition courts functioned like circuit courts. Sermons would be preached on the dangers of heresy and the accused was allowed a period of grace for confession and repentance. Those who refused to recant were tried. Those found guilty and still refusing to recant would be excommunicated and turned over to the secular authorities for punishment. For the most part, these courts functioned similarly to secular courts, but their sentences and penances were usually far less harsh.

Did medieval inquisition courts employ torture?
Common to judicial practice going back to Roman times, torture was used at times to obtain proof of accusations. But, again, the goal was not conviction of heretics but the salvation of their souls. Very often, the general laity simply wanted the heretic destroyed, while secular authorities wanted to punish. The courts of the inquisition hoped to bring the heretic back into the fold, and guidelines were strict against using torture as punishment. Numerous works of popular art notwithstanding, no priest or religious was allowed to take an active role in torture.

Although no such action can be justified today, it is important to note that the courts of the medieval inquisition were actually modifying and limiting a practice common to secular judicial proceedings of the time. The use of torture in inquisition courts was much less extensive, and far less violent, than the norms of secular courts." *

“Torture was sanctioned … not aspunishment but to elecit the truth. It was to be used only once and with the consent of the local Bishop. It was not to “cause loss of limb or imperil life””

  • Robert Haddad, Defend the Faith! Christ the Teacher series Volume IV, Lumen Verum Apologetics, , Mount Lewis 2200 (Australia)

*"The modern historiography of the Inquisition, most of it by non-Catholic historians, has resulted in a careful, relatively precise, and on the whole rather moderate image of the institution, some of the most important works being: Edward Peters, Inquisition; Paul F. Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press; John Tedeschi, The Prosecution of Heresy; and Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition.

Some of their conclusions are:
The inquisitors tended to be professional legists and bureaucrats who adhered closely to rules and procedures rather than to whatever personal feelings they may have had on the subject.
Those rules and procedures were not in themselves unjust. They required that evidence be presented, allowed the accused to defend themselves, and discarded dubious evidence.
Thus in most cases the verdict was a “just” one in that it seemed to follow from the evidence.
A number of cases were dismissed, or the proceedings terminated at some point, when the inquisitors became convinced that the evidence was not reliable.

Torture was only used in a small minority of cases and was allowed only when there was strong evidence that the defendant was lying. In some instances (for example, Carlo Ginzburg’s study of the Italian district of Friulia) there is no evidence of the use of torture at all. "* Inquisition, Catholic Dossier, Professor James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University

“All three Aragonese tribunals {the Spanish Inquisition] progressively discontinued the use of torture throughout the seventennth century” Christian Berco, Sexual Hierarchies, Public Status, University of Toronto Press 2007.

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