Galileo Galilei

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The case was not, in fact, as simple as Maculano and Francesco Barberini had hoped. The attempts to send Galileo home with a friendly warning and a symbolic punishment, a certain number of penitential prayers, for instance, met with resistance. Certain people were not satisfied with

Galileo's explanations to the court. We do not know who they were - it may have been Jesuits in the Inquisition or the Pope himself. At all events, the legal interrogations of Galileo were augmented by a detailed indictment, Contro Galileo Galilei, put together at the offices of the Inquisition.

This document commenced with an uncritical repetition of the old accusations from Florence, those that stemmed from the Dominican fathers, Lorini and Caccini. It was especially the latter's loose claims and rumours that helped put Galileo in a very poor light. In Caccini's completely distorted version, the objective account in Letters on Sunspots was turned into a wholly pro-Copernican treatise.

Next, the document moved on to Bellarmine's warning, but even here its rendition was imprecise - it mixed up Bellarmine's oral exhortation with the unsigned, written minute which must have come from Cardinal Segizzi. Bellarmine's written affidavit - Galileo's most important weapon - was, in contrast, swept aside in a couple of lines.

Put in this context, Galileo's work could be viewed as fifteen to twenty years of rebellious, and more or less heretical, activity. As for the praise Maf-feo Barberini had given him in his time as a cardinal, or the encouragement he was still receiving during the Pope's first years on the Holy throne, not a word was mentioned.

Was this document to form the basis of the treatment of the case, or should one look to Galileo's explanation before Maculano, possibly taking into account his age, state of health and connection to the Grand Duke?

The Holy Office was in principle an independent assembly which came to its own conclusions. But it is obvious that in this particular case, in which Pope Urban VIII was heavily involved, the Pope's judgement would be decisive.

And the Pope was inflexible. Galileo had put forward a clearly heretical assertion, which "contravened the Holy Scripture dictated by the mouth of God", and must be imprisoned because his action had been directly contrary to the order of 1616.

And so, in reality, the cardinals had little choice.

During the meeting of the Holy Office on 16 June, the outlines of the final interrogation were planned. The document of indictment was produced, approved without dissent and given the following endorsement:

"Sanctissimus [the Pope] decrevit [decreed] that the said Galileo is to be interrogated on his intention, even with the threat of torture, and, si sustin-

uerit [once having undergone this examination of intention], he is to abjure de vehementi [under vehement suspicion of heresy] in a plenary assembly of the Congregation of the Holy Office, then is to be condemned to imprisonment at the pleasure of the Holy Congregation, and ordered not to treat further, in whatever manner, either in words or writing, on the mobility of the Earth and the stability of the Sun; otherwise he will incur the penalties of relapse. The book entitled Dialogue of Galileo Galilei the Lyncean is to be prohibited."97

The Ambassador had learnt about most of this, but true to his custom he had kept the worst from Galileo, saying only that the Dialogue was likely to be banned. It was therefore a somewhat unprepared Galileo who appeared at the interrogation on 21 June.

Maculano first asked if the defendant had any more to say. Galileo replied that he did not have anything of importance to add. The Commissary then went straight to the heart of the matter. Did Galileo, now or previously (and in which case, when), hold that the Sun was the centre of the world and that the Earth was not, but was in motion, and also had a diurnal rotation?

Long ago, before the decision of the Congregation of the Index and before the warning, said Galileo, he had been neutral and had viewed both models, the Ptolemaic and the Copernican, as feasible, that one or the other might accord with reality. But after the decision, all doubts were gone, because he was convinced of the wisdom of the Church. Therefore he believed fully and unreservedly in Ptolemy's model: the Earth stood still and the Sun was in motion. The Dialogue was written to present the different possibilities and emphasise that truth must be found in "higher thought".

Maculano said that his book did not give that impression. There it appeared that Galileo still believed Copernicus, or had at least done so when he wrote it. Therefore - if he did not decide to tell the truth, the court must have recourse to the "appropriate remedies".

Perhaps it was only at this point, that the gravity of his situation hit the old man.

But now, with quiet dignity, he held to his own line. He was finished with making excuses by posing as a misunderstood anti-Copernican. He replied:

"I do not hold and have not held this opinion of Copernicus since the command was intimated to me that I must abandon it; for the rest, I am here in your hands - do with me what you please."98

Father Maculano repeated his warning, and this time completely bereft of euphemisms: Galileo must speak the truth, alias devenietur ad torturam - or "they will otherwise have recourse to torture". Galileo answered:

"I am here to submit (far l'obbedienza); and I have not held this opinion after the determination was made, as I have said."99

Here the interrogation ended. Galileo signed with trembling hand, and was sent to the "prisoner's room" in the Holy Office where he had resided before. He had not been allowed back to the Embassy.

There he sat, all that afternoon, evening and night. During the course of the long, lonely hours all his optimism evaporated - now it was merely a question of just how total his defeat would be. He had plenty of time to think through the unambiguous threat of torture: was it just a formal part of the legal process of the trial - or was there a real chance of him being taken down to the Inquisition's cellars at daybreak?

His defence was that he had not literally believed in the teachings of Copernicus since 1616. But would he get away with that? Many people had heard him argue vociferously in favour of the theory that the Earth had motion - not least His Holiness Urban VIII Barberini. And what punishment might he expect? Even though he probably still clung to the assurance of his age, fame and status, the thought of Bruno's fate and the grotesque, posthumous "punishment" of de Dominis only nine years previously, must have been in Galileo's mind.

Or perhaps his thoughts turned to Dante, his greatest compatriot, whose work he knew inside out. In the eighth circle of Hell the wanderer comes across cheats of various kinds, amongst whom is a certain Master Adamo, a forger who was executed in Florence in Dante's time. In one intense scene the sinner tells how he experiences eternity, mutilated and rooted to the spot, with a burning thirst and an unceasing longing for a single drop of water, a punishment for his "thirst" for wealth which led him to his offence.

Master Adamo was publicly burnt at the stake. It was no coincidence that the punishment for counterfeiting and heresy were the same. Both crimes represented attacks on the very foundations of society: the state's monopoly on fixing the worldly standard of value, and the Church's corresponding spiritual one.

When morning eventually arrived it was a weary old man that the guards came to fetch. They had with them a white gown which they put on him - the penitent's traditional garb.

Then Galileo was led out of the Inquisition's prison to a waiting cart. He was to make a public journey through the centre of Rome. The itinerary led him across the Tiber, through the narrow streets around Piazza Navona and ended close to the Pantheon, only a few paces from the very first place he had visited in Rome, 46 years earlier, the Jesuits' Collegio Romano.

Butitwas notatthe Jesuits' that theoldmaninhis whiteattiredescended, but at their neighbours', the Dominicans. His journey ended in the small piazza in front of the austere, brownish-yellow brick facade of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Galileo knew the church well, for it was closely associated with his home town. A statue of Christ by Michelangelo stood next to the choir, and the great Florentine painter Brother Angelico was buried there. But he was not led into the nave of the church with its wonderful sky-blue vaulting. He was taken through a side-door to the left, into the Dominicans' sober convent hall.

There, his judges awaited him: the heads of the Holy Office, the Council of Cardinals. But the Council was not complete. If Galileo had raised his eyes - his sight was no longer very good - to seek a glimpse of friendship or encouragement from Cardinal Francesco Barberini, it would have been in vain. The Pope's nephew was not there, and two other cardinals were missing as well.

Galileo was ordered on to his knees. Then the reasoning, judgement and sentence were read out.

The long sentences in flowing Latin that echoed under the hall's ceiling frescoes, were based on the most rigorous interpretation of the chain of events and the warning of 1616. True, the court did accept that Galileo might have forgotten the notorious words teach and in any way whatsoever, but thought that Bellarmine's written resume, which Galileo had produced, far from served in his defence. Even if it did not contain the words teach or in any way whatsoever, it clearly stated that Copernicus' ideas were contrary to Holy Scripture.

In short, the publication of the Dialogue was "an open transgression of the said prohibition" (aperte transgressio praedicti praecepti). Galileo was thus clearly guilty, and unanimous judgement was passed "in the most holy name of Our Lord Jesus Christ" and also "that of the most glorious Holy Mother and everlasting Virgin Mary's". Galileo was found to be "vehemently suspected" of heresy and his Dialogue was banned.

From the opinion given, the sentence was actually quite lenient. Galileo's probable heresy would be forgiven provided he gave an immediate and public abjuration. To prevent any relapse and to emphasise the seriousness of the case he was further given a prison sentence "during our pleasure", and to read the seven penitential psalms once a week for three years.

Nothing was mentioned of the consequences of Galileo refusing to abjure. There were good reasons for supposing that such an eventuality would not arise. The ceremony continued as Galileo, still kneeling, was handed a document to read and sign. It began:

"I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, Florentine, aged seventy years, arraigned personally before this tribunal and kneeling before you Most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals (...), having before my eyes and touching with my hands the Holy Gospels, swear that I have always believed, do believe, and by God's help will in the future believe all that is held, preached and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

There followed a recapitulation of his offences, and then the abjuration itself: "I abjure, curse, detest the aforesaid errors and heresies and generally every other error, heresy and sect whatsoever contrary to the Holy Church." This was repeated in slightly different words twice more. The final part Galileo himself had to add to the document and sign:

"I, Galileo Galilei, have abjured as above with my own hand."100

After this the ceremony was concluded, and Galileo was taken back to the Inquisition's rooms, which were now to be regarded as his prison.


The most persistent myth regarding Galileo is that he rose from his kneeling position in the Dominican's hall and muttered obstinately: "Eppur si muove" - "it moves all the same."

The kernel of the bizarre ceremony that Galileo had just been subjected to, was the abjuration. The word "heresy" (haeresia) was in fact used by the Inquisition to mean two slightly different things: one was the pure denial of doctrinal truths, as when Lutherans regarded the Eucharist as a "symbolic" meal in which Jesus' body and blood were not literally present; the other was the transgression of Church commands or ordinances.

The teachings of Copernicus are not directly referred to as heretical in the judgement (only "contrary to Holy Scripture"), so it was the flaunting of the warning of 1616 - the "the clear transgression of the said prohibition" - that was Galileo's heretical act.

For sentencing purposes however, the difference was not material. Whatever kind of heresy was suspected, the only lifeline was to abjure. Anyone who refused to do this would, by definition, be confirming their heresy, and the only solution left was the stake. But in order to be given the opportunity to save oneself by rescinding, the court had to be satisfied that the defendant, with his entire body and soul, wished to make good his errors. Torture was often used for this purpose, to get at the real truth of motives and attitudes. The abjuration then provided legally binding "proof" that the repentance was genuine.

But this also gave the ceremony another legal function. If the sinner was again taken for heresy in the future, there would be no way back. He would then have broken the binding oath that the abjuration represented, and death by burning at the stake was inevitable. The Inquisition had stopped Galileo's mouth - and his pen - for ever.

It is quite certain that that deep down he still believed in the theories of Copernicus. But just as certain is the fact that from then on he refrained from the least expression of it.

The judgement against Galileo was not only relatively mild, but in the narrow legal sense, totally unimpeachable. He had overstepped the decrees of 1616, no matter how they were interpreted, because he had presented the teachings of Copernicus as overwhelmingly probable in his Dialogue. No matter which way he put the case himself, it required no more than common literacy to see that.

Even so, there is no doubt that Galileo came out of the process a deeply disappointed and broken man. Alone amongst those present in the convent hall, he knew that the judgement was as monumentally foolish as it was legally correct. It locked the Catholic Church into a hopeless intellectual position as the deaf and blind denier of an ever more obvious physical fact, a position that would turn into one of the most painful problems in the long history of the Church.

For Galileo personally it was probably even worse in that the very foundations of the case resembled moral treachery from a man he had counted as his friend, Pope Urban VIII Barberini. After all, in happier times Maffeo Barberini had penned a eulogy to the mathematician and signed it come fratello - "like a brother". His attitude now was anything but fraternal.

What Galileo did not see was that he himself, with his self-assertiveness, impatience and provocative style, had made many enemies and thoroughly contributed to souring the atmosphere in Rome.

Perhaps another of the actors involved saw that the judgement was intellectually and morally bankrupt too, but he was not present in Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The Pope's own nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, did not put his name to the judgement. This may have been accidental. The duty of attending plenary meetings was not taken all that seriously by cardinals, and two others were also absent. But Francesco had been a member of the Lyncean Academy, he understood the arguments in favour of the Coper-nican theories and knew they could not be magicked away by references to Holy Scripture and tradition. Furthermore, although he undoubtedly had a great deal to thank his uncle for, he had also witnessed at first hand the disconcerting alteration which had turned an open, intellectually inquisitive Maffeo Barberini into the suspicious, pompous and self-important Urban VIII.

Of all the people involved with the case, it was only Francesco who had known both Galileo and Urban VIII for many years.

What Urban's innermost thoughts were, nobody knows. But possibly he was more concerned with another, imminent occasion. Six days after the judgement was pronounced he consecrated Bernini's bronze baldachin in St. Peter's, a huge construction that was half sculpture and half architecture. Here, only the pope was - and is - allowed to conduct mass.

On the marble foundation of this definitive centre of the Catholic world were carved the Barberini bees.

The judgement in Santa Maria sopra Minerva was not just aimed at Galileo personally, it was also to put an end to the spread of Copernican ideas as a whole. To this end it was immediately copied and sent to the Inquisition's other offices around Italy and in the rest of Europe. Accompanying it was an instruction to local inquisitors to make the judgement commonly known, especially amongst mathematicians and philosophers. Soon acknowledgements began to arrive from all corners that the order had been followed.

The Inquisitor at Padua for example assured them that, not only had he made the judgement and revocation known to the professors of philosophy and mathematics at the university, but he had also included "other public lecturers", the priesthood, various scholars, "our writers" - and had a copy displayed in every booksellers.

On the other hand, he had not had much luck regarding the second part of the judgement: the banning of the Dialogue. The Inquisitor had only had one copy handed in, from a philosopher who clearly was too frightened to keep it any longer but, despite using his "very best efforts", he had not succeeded in getting hold of others. This was hardly strange: the book had immediately become a much sought after black market item, which was changing hands for twelve times its original price.

Galileo only served one night on the Inquisition's premises. The next day he was told that, for the moment, his incarceration could be transferred to the Embassy in the Villa Medici. It is likely that this was the work of Francesco Barberini.

But the Villa Medici was not intended to house prisoners indefinitely, nor did the Ambassador want to take responsibility for the shaken and despondent Galileo. An official request to the Pope that Galileo be allowed to return to Florence to serve his sentence there was, however, immediately turned down.

The solution was found in an unexpected quarter. The Archbishop of Siena, Asciano Piccolomini, belonged to a Tuscan family of considerable standing, which had produced both scholars and leading churchmen - the most famous of which was the Renaissance Pope, Pius II. If the august Archbishop's respect for the upstart Urban VIII was less than enthusiastic, his admiration for the Tuscan Galileo was all the more genuine. Piccolomini had read the Dialogue and had realised that Copernicus was probably right, and that the book would get its author into very hot water.

Now he offered to assume responsibility for this celebrated prisoner and hold him in house arrest at his palace. It was a suggestion nobody could object to. It got the problem of Galileo away from Rome and closer to his home territory, all the while reassuringly keeping him under clerical supervision. The Archbishop immediately despatched his own carriage, and on 6 July Galileo left the Villa Medici. For the sixth and last time in his life he bade farewell to Rome.

Archbishop Asciano of Siena was a wise as well as a learned man, and he understood human nature. He welcomed Galileo and reported back to Rome the very next day in an unusually reserved letter:

"... yesterday Signore Galileo Galilei arrived at my house, to serve what has been ordered of him by the Holy Congregation, whose commands will be strictly obeyed by me, in this as in all other things. I am required to answer your Eminences in this way, and I humbly comply."101

After this very nominal obeisance on paper, the Archbishop forgot about all humility towards the Holy Office, and energetically put Galileo to the only thing that could set the broken down and sleepless old man on his feet once more: work.

The Archbishop's palace lay cheek by jowl with Siena's monumental cathedral, a piece of architectural artwork in light and dark green marble, that had once been intended to demonstrate to the main rival, Florence, the extent of the power and wealth the Sienese had at their disposal. But Piccolomini was now bishop of a tranquil provincial town, where only the great Palio horse race in the city square harked back to days of former glory and festivity.

In these peaceful surroundings the Archbishop exhorted his guest and "prisoner" to think about mechanics. Any sort of work on cosmological or astronomical problems was obviously completely out of the question. Galileo had to get on a new track or, more accurately, to return to the questions that had exercised him for fifty years: motion, fall, speed, acceleration -everything he had worked on so intensively, but had as yet written nothing about.

The judgement had not only limited Galileo's physical everyday life, through exile and imprisonment; most serious of all for the proud Tuscan was that the ruling from the Holy Office affected his honour and standing. To live in retreat as a "private person" had no meaning for a man of Galileo's background and ambition - his identity was linked to the social and public position he had attained. He wrote to his daughter Maria Celeste at the convent, saying that he felt as if he had been "struck from the rolls of the living".

There were just two things that might to some extent rehabilitate him in this position. The first was being allowed to return to Florence where he could have some contact with the court. His friends immediately began to work for this. But the more important was to write another book that would astonish the learned circles of Europe.

The Archbishop encouraged him all he could. Though the house arrest was formally maintained, his ecclesiastical gaoler ensured that interesting people were invited to his palace, so that Galileo might have discussions with them. Nor was Asciano Piccolomini particularly concerned to hide his true thoughts on the wisdom of the Holy Office's decisions. He expressed himself so openly and let Galileo have such a free rein that representatives of the more junior clerics of the diocese were soon sending an anonymous letter of complaint to Rome. In it, Galileo was accused of spreading "un-Catholic ideas" in the town, and of saying he could prove his philosophical hypotheses with "invincible mathematical reasonings". The Archbishop was personally accused of claiming that his prisoner was "the greatest man in the world", and that all progressive thinkers agreed with him.

In this atmosphere, some of Galileo's irrepressible optimism returned. He was still badly affected by rheumatism during the autumn, but more or less got over his insomnia and some uncontrollable spasms in his limbs which had begun after his humiliation in Rome. And so he decided to make the effort: Sagredo, Salviati and Simplicio were to meet again.

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