The Hammer of the Heretics

The Jesuit and cardinal, Robert Bellarmine had dedicated his life to the fight against heresy in all its forms. Physically, he was a small figure. But this did not prevent him from radiating personal authority and he could make the most powerful of men shrink when he gave them one of his penetrating stares. His admiring co-religionists called him "the hammer of the heretics". On his grave in the Jesuit mother-church of Il Gesu was this telling inscription: "By force have I subdued the thoughts of the strong."38 Over three centuries later he was canonised as San Roberto after one of the most controversial processes in the Church's history.

The problem of Galileo had not finally been laid to rest by the Inquisition's resolution. But now there were formal grounds for halting his crusade in the name of Copernicus, but it ought to be done quickly - and preferably as discreetly as possible. From a political point of view it would be unfortunate if Galileo lost face and was publicly humiliated. Grand Duke Cosimo was hardly likely to take it kindly, and that could mean quite an unnecessary worsening in the relations between the Papal States and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany

But Bellarmine had ways and means. He suggested a plan of action to the Pope that was sanctioned by a plenum of the Inquisition the following day. Galileo would be given a clear, but private, warning. If he refused to take notice of it, the warning would be made official in the name of the Inquisition. In the unlikely event that this did no good either, the mathematician would be put in gaol, whether he was the Grand Duke's man or no.

The next day Galileo was called in to Bellarmine's official residence, the Paradise Rooms in the Vatican Palace. Segizzi, another cardinal from the Inquisition was also present.

Bellarmine was the one who did the talking. He used his authority to issue a warning, couched in firm but friendly phrases: the decision of the Inquisition had to be respected. It entailed that the Copernican system should not be portrayed as a factual picture of physical reality. Under no circumstances was it permitted to maintain that the Sun actually stood still, or that the Earth moved round it.

But Galileo was not a man to give in just like that, not even to the combined authority of Bellarmine and the Inquisition. He had to protest. Not only was the prohibition a personal injustice and a terrible setback for the work he had done over the past few years, it was monumentally stupid and erroneous. He had the proof himself, the tides! It was impossible to hold back: Galileo began to argue with Bellarmine.

At this, Cardinal Segizzi cut in. A friendly warning about who was making the decisions was obviously not getting through. Presumably, he thought Bellarmine's attitude was far too mild. With the entire weight of the Inqui sition behind him, he gave Galileo orders not to teach, defend or discuss the prohibited assertions.

This ended the meeting. But the powerful Bellarmine was offended by Segizzi's brusque intervention. He felt quite able to manage the affair according to his own plan, especially as he had the Pope's express authority to proceed cautiously. So he refused to sign the account of the meeting that Segizzi's notary had prepared. At the next plenary session of the Holy Office he gave a brief resume of how he had settled the matter using his own subtle diplomacy.

Bewildered and broken, Galileo returned to his lodgings in the Villa Medici after his confrontation with the two Cardinals. Still, he was not completely crushed. As he had understood Bellarmine, the warning only applied to direct propaganda in favour of Copernicus. Therefore it should still be possible to work quietly on the thing and, above all, use the heliocentric system as a mathematical hypothesis, something indeed that Bellarmine had always been prepared to accept. Bellarmine had smoothed over Cardinal Segizzi's outburst.

But Segizzi's account of the meeting found its way into the archives of the Holy Office.39

The Inquisition could only do half the work of removing the Copernican aberration. The rest was up to the Congregation of the Index. Bellarmine also had a place on that. As early as 5 March there was a public decree temporarily prohibiting Copernicus' De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium - a book that had been legal reading for seventy years - in anticipation of necessary alterations. Father Foscarini's new book, however, with its theological defence of Copernicus, was totally banned: it was "altogether prohibited and condemned".40

In the course of just a fortnight, everything the Tuscan Ambassador had feared had come to pass. Galileo's burning enthusiasm had led to the exact opposite of what he had hoped for when he set out from Florence. Now the Ambassador begged the Grand Duke and his Secretary of State to recall Galileo as soon as possible, before something even worse happened.

For Galileo, who in the course of that harrowing February had celebrated his fifty-second birthday, was certainly not a broken man. Copernicus' book had not been prohibited for ever. It had to be "corrected", something which could surely be effected with an assurance that it described a hypothetical model and not the physical reality. It was also reassuring that he was called in to an audience with Pope Paul V just one week after the Index decree. The Pope's tone was amiable, he assured Galileo that the Church respected him both personally and as a scientist, and was disinclined to listen to gossip about him - provided he kept to the guidelines that had clearly been laid down.

Even so, rumours began to circulate in Rome. It was said that Galileo had been to see Bellarmine, where he had officially been required to renounce his Copernican beliefs after which he was given a heavy penance. Resolute as always in matters of honour and hearsay, Galileo requested a written denial of this, which Bellarmine willingly supplied. He wrote a letter in which he denied that there was ever any question of repudiation or penance41. The only thing that had happened was that he - Bellarmine - had informed Galileo of the decision reached by the Holy Office.

Segizzi's tactless intervention was not mentioned.

Galileo took the letter and travelled home to Florence, as he had by now received courteous, but firm orders to return. The Ambassador in Rome was more than happy to see the back of his troublesome guest:

"... he is not at all in a good position for a place like this, and he might get himself and others into serious trouble."42

One name is largely missing from the accounts of Galileo's long stay in Rome in 1615-16, that of his friend and admirer, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini. He was an opponent of the interdicts but was powerless to do anything in the prevailing atmosphere. He had certainly become an influential cardinal but, against an alliance of the Pope and Bellarmine, he was impotent. Behind the scenes he worked to minimise the damage of the assault on the new cosmology. Maffeo Barberini was a member of the Congregation of the Index, and it was he who, together with a colleague, managed to avert a definitive ban on Copernicus' book.

One lone Italian stood up for Galileo, indeed Tommaso Campanella actually wrote a pamphlet called "In Defence of Galileo", Apologia pro Galileo. But this was assistance that Galileo could well have done without.

Campanella, like Giordano Bruno, was a Dominican from the Kingdom of Naples. He had studied at Padua for a year and knew Galileo from there. Then he was arrested and sent to Rome, just like Bruno, but released through the efforts of influential friends. He returned to southern Italy where, together with other Dominicans, he attempted to organise a veritable revolt against Spanish hegemony. The rebellion was easily quelled, and Campanella imprisoned in Naples where, oddly enough, he escaped the death sentence. He was eventually allowed a certain freedom to correspond from his cell, and he wrote repeated letters of admiration to Galileo:

"All philosophers in the world now hang on your pen, for in truth one cannot philosophise without a true and certain system for how the planets are constructed."43

Galileo tried to keep his distance from this enthusiast, who almost seemed to be begging for friendship and scientific contact from his prison cell. Even though Campanella did not lack connections all the way up to the CollegeofCardinals, itwas notenthusiasticsupport from asuspected heretic and convicted rebel that Galileo needed most. Campanella's defence was smuggled out of the Italian region and printed a few years later in Frankfurt, in 1622. No sooner had the first copies reached Rome, than the book was banned.

Campanella was himself no convinced Copernican. His defence - "an action that displays a most uncommon intellectual courage,"44 as one Italian historian puts it - was ultimately a contribution in support of freedom of thought. He argued that the need to investigate how the world was created was a gift from God, and that it was therefore deeply un-Christian to place barriers in the way of such studies.

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