The Church, the Inquisition, and Galileo


Galileo's Finger

Yes, the middle finger of Galileo's right hand is permanently gesturing to the Church and all who oppose the advance of human knowledge. Galileo's finger is on display at the Museo di Storia del Scienza in Italy.1


The Bible is the inerrant . . . word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc. (Jerry Falwell, Finding Peace and Inner Strength, 1982)

[In contrast to this ridiculous claim, contemplate this visual depiction of the numerous contradictions in the Bible.]

The Earth is firmly fixed; it shall not be moved. (Psalms, 104:5)

As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible. Even if some unknown landmass is there, and not just ocean, there was only one pair of original ancestors, and it is inconceivable that such distant regions should have been peopled by Adam's descendants. ("Saint" Augustine)

This fool [Copernicus] wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth. (Martin Luther)

[Those who assert that] the earth moves and turns ... [are motivated by] a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding; [possessed by the devil, they aimed] to pervert the order of nature. (John Calvin)

To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin. (Cardinal Bellarmine, during the trial of Galileo, 1615)

His Holiness decreed that the said Galileo is to be interrogated with regard to his intention, even with the threat of torture, and, if he sustains [i.e., answers satisfactorily], he is to abjure de vehementi [i.e., renounce a vehement suspicion of heresy] in a plenary assembly of the Congregation of the Holy Office, then is to be condemned to imprisonment as the Holy Congregation thinks best, and ordered not to treat further, in any way at all, either verbally or in writing, of the mobility of the earth and the stability of the sun; otherwise he will incur the penalties for relapse. The book entitled Dialogo de Galileo Galilei is to be prohibited. Furthermore, that these things may be known by all, he ordered that copies of the sentence be sent to all Apostolic Nuncios, to all Inquisitors against heretical pravity, and especially the Inquisitor in Florence, who shall read publicly the sentence in the presence of as many as possible of those who profess the mathematical art. (Papal decision entered into the record of the Holy Office, 1633)

The doctrine that the earth is neither the center of the universe nor immovable, but moves even with a daily rotation, is absurd, and both philosophically and theologically false, and at the least an error of faith. (Roman Catholic Church, in the Holy Inquisition's decision against Galileo)

I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei of Florence, being 70 years old . . . swear that I have always believed, believe now and, with God's help, will in the future believe all that the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church doth hold, preach and teach. But since, after having been admonished by this Holy Office entirely to abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the Universe and immovable, and that the Earth is not the center of the same and that it moves, and that I was neither to hold, defend, nor teach in any manner whatsoever, either orally or in writing, the said false doctrine; and after having received a notification that the said doctrine is contrary to Holy Writ, I wrote and published a book in which I treat this condemned doctrine and bring forward very persuasive arguments in its favor without answering them: I have been judged vehemently suspected of heresy, that is of having held and believed that the Sun is at the center of the Universe and immovable, and that the Earth is not at the center and that it moves. Therefore, wishing to remove from the minds of your Eminences and all faithful Christians this vehement suspicion reasonably conceived against me, I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith these errors and heresies, and I curse and detest them as well as any other error, heresy or sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church. And I swear that for the future I shall neither say nor assert orally or in writing such things as may bring upon me similar suspicions; and if I know any heretic, or one suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor or Ordinary of the place in which I may be. (Galileo, recanting his scientific beliefs before the Inquistion, 1633)

One Galileo in two thousand years is enough. (Pope Pius XII)

Inquisition was a mistake but legally justified, claims Vatican official

By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 30/01/2006)

The Vatican is preparing for fresh controversy over the Inquisition after allowing an official to appear in a television documentary to offer a defence of the "Holy Terror."

The Rev Joseph Di Noia, the Under-secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, admits in a television series starting tonight that the use of torture and public burnings were "mistakes."

Fr Di Noia's gloss on history is significant because the Congregation is the successor body to the Inquisition and, until last year, it was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

The late Pope John Paul II apologised for the Inquisition in 2002.

He said the Church should show penitence for "accepting methods of intolerance or even violence in the service of truth."

The Inquisition was established by Pope Gregory in 1233 as a special court to help curb the influence of beliefs deemed to deviate from official Church doctrine.

Interviewed in the documentary, The Secret Files of the Inquisition, Fr Di Noia says: "It was a mistake to torture people.

"However, torture was regarded as a perfectly justified, legitimate way of producing evidence and it was therefore legally justified."


1Galileo's middle finger was detached from his body by Anton Francesco Gori (Florence, 1691-1757) on 12 March 1737 when Galileo's remains were transferred from a small closet next to the chapel of Saints Cosmas and Damian to the main body of the church of Santa Croce where a mausoleum had been built by Vincenzo Viviani. Subsequently the finger was acquired by Angelo M. Bandini, the librarian of the Biblioteca Laurenziana and was exhibited for a long period in this library. Then, in 1841, it was brought to the Tribuna di Galileo, which had just been opened in the Museo di Fisica e Storia Naturale on the via Romana. Along with the instruments of the Medici and Lorraine dynasties, it eventually became the property of the Museo di Storia del la Scienza.