Galileo Galilei, convicted by the Holy Inquisition in 1633 and pardoned and vindicated by Pope John Paul II in 1992

Galileo before the Holy Office, by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury

Post-truth has its main foundation in the relativization of truth. Those who proclaim it reinforce their prejudices through the fraudulent manipulation of the facts, highlighting the uselessness of empirical data. One of the great paradoxes of the knowledge society in which we live today is periodically finding out about situations of censorship and disqualification without any basis (digital inquisition) of professors and academics from numerous internationally prestigious universities.

Social networks are flooded with lies and half-truths that ignore the basic tenets of rational progress. The host of digital sophists who reject the negative consequences of climate change and defend the never-proven ideas of flat earthism are a clear example of all this. In this sense, the Spanish philosopher Daniel Innerarity points out that knowing is knowing how precarious knowledge is, how dispersed it is, its easy access, its vulnerability to criticism and its weakness to combat the stubbornness of common sense.

As part of the celebration of the centenary of Albert Einstein held on November 10, 1979, the Pope Juan Pablo II gave a historic speech at the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences before sixty cardinals and all the representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. Two of the most notable physicists of the 20th century also participated in it, the British Paul Dirac (1933 Nobel Prize) and the Austrian Victor Weisskopf.

Juan Pablo II
Juan Pablo II

The discoverer of the Theory of Relativity had argued that Galileo Galilei He was the father of modern physical science. The Supreme Pontiff fought for the harmonious development between science and faith, expressing that in the same way that religion demands religious freedom, science legitimately claims freedom of research.

For his part, the American physicist and theologian Ian Harbour (1923-2013) points out in his main work “Religion and Science” that there are four different ways of understanding this relationship: conflict, independence, dialogue and integration.

Carol Jozef Wojtyla, then 59 years old, had become the head of the Catholic Church in October 1978. In the Vatican’s Sala Regia (designed by Pope Paul III around 1540 and finally inaugurated by Gregory XIII in 1573), he expressed the “I wish that theologians, scientists and historians, animated by a spirit of sincere collaboration, delve into the examination of the Galileo case and, loyally acknowledging the mistakes, wherever they come from, do away with the distrust that this case still arouses in many spirits in order to achieve a fruitful concord between science and faith, Church and world. I give all my support to this task, which will be able to honor the truth of faith and science, and open the door to future collaborations”.

Two years after these words, a commission was formed led by Cardinal Paul Poupard, a bishop of Paris whom John Paul II had appointed as head of the Executive Committee of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The working group was divided into four study areas: Culture, Science, History and Law. The conclusions were presented on October 31, 1992 within the framework of a plenary meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of Galileo’s death.

What was affirmed in the conclave transcends the trial against Galileo, becoming a leading case on the centenary debate between religion and science. “At this historical-cultural juncture, far removed from our time, the judges of Galileo, unable to dissociate faith and a millenary cosmology, believed, quite mistakenly, that the adoption of the Copernican revolution, which otherwise had not been definitively proven , was of such a nature that it would break Catholic tradition, and that it was their duty to forbid its teaching. This subjective error of judgement, so clear to us today, led them to a disciplinary measure for which Galileo must have suffered greatly. These mistakes must be loyally recognized, just as You, Your Holiness, have requested.”

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an outstanding humanist whose academic interests encompassed medicine, astronomy, physics, engineering, philosophy, painting, and music. In 1609, at the request of a former student who told him about a strange device designed in Holland that allowed distant objects to be seen up close, Galileo built his first telescope and perfected it shortly after to begin observing and analyzing different stars and planets.

Aristotle first and Ptolemy later, claimed that the Earth was the center of the universe. This theory defended by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries was called geocentric, as opposed to the heliocentric initially conceptualized by Aristarchus of Samos (310-230 BC), and developed long after by Nicholas Copernicus, who He believed that the Earth was the one that revolved around the Sun.

Copernicus (1473-1543) was the author of the book “On the revolutions of the celestial spheres” (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium), considered a fundamental text in the history of astronomy. The essay was published a few months after his death for fear of reprisals from the then Catholic hierarchy, which finally decided to include it in its Index of Prohibited Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum et Expurgatorum). “Foolish, absurd and hieratic for contradicting the maxims of Holy Scripture”, such was the qualification of the court of the Holy Inquisition.

According to the British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Withehead (1861-1947), Galileo maintained that “the earth moves and the sun is immobile; the inquisition affirmed that the earth is at rest and the sun moves; Newtonian astronomers, adopting an absolute theory of space, claimed that both the sun and the earth move. Today we say that all three statements are equally true, provided that the meaning of immobility and movement is clarified.

At the beginning of the year 1632 Galileo published in the city of Florence the book that would change his life forever. Entitled “Dialogues on the two highest systems in the world”, the work addresses an imaginary debate between Salviati, a defender of heliocentrism, and a geocentrist named Simplicio, to whom Galileo attributes few intellectual virtues. The test was a quick success in the main cities of Italy, a fact that motivated the reaction of the main authorities of the Vatican.

Galileo’s first inquisitor was the Jesuit Bishop Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Professor of Astronomy at the University of Leuven, this high Catholic prelate was one of the most outstanding protagonists of the so-called Counter-Reformation. In 1598 he took charge of the conviction and burning at the stake against Giordano Bruno for contradicting ecclesiastical beliefs about the universe.

In April 1633 Galileo, on the verge of 70 years, appeared before the Holy Office of the Inquisition, a body that had been created by Pope Paul III in 1542. in the midst of the dispute between Catholicism and Protestantism. Its central objective was to persecute individuals and social organizations contrary to the dogma of the Church. He was also in charge of censoring the texts that in his opinion offended the Catholic faith and doctrine.

A month later Galileo was forced by Pope Urban VIII to abjure on his knees his defense of the heliocentric theory. The head of the Vatican maintained a long friendship with the scientist and ordered that Galileo continue to be released while the inquisitorial process against him was carried out. Theologians close to the Pope wanted Galileo, whom they considered a heretic, to publicly affirm that the system he upheld up to that very moment was nothing more than a set of mathematical hypotheses devoid of scientific confirmation.

On June 22, 1633 Galileo heard the reading of the sentence signed by 7 of the 10 Cardinals of the Holy Office that sentenced him to prison. At the end of it, he abjured his opinion about the movement of the Earth. The text of his repentance included phrases of the tenor, “I curse and detest the mentioned errors and heresies.” A few days later, his prison sentence was commuted by papal decision, being transferred first to a residence in the Roman Villa Medici; and then to the palace of his friend, the Archbishop of Siena.

The sentence was served in his house on the outskirts of Florence, where he lived and worked until his death in January 1642, in the company of his son Vincenzo, and his disciples. Vincenzo Viviani and Evangelista Torricelli, the inventor of the barometer. Due to those coincidences (or causalities) of history, Stephen Hawking He was born on January 8, 1942, the same day that marked the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo, one of his idols. In January 1643 he was born Isaac Newton, creator of the law of universal gravitation.


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