The Heresy of Galileo

THE HERESY OF GALILEO Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition, not for his own brilliant theories, but because he stood up for his belief in Copernicus’s theory that the earth was not, as the Church insisted, the center of the universe, but that rather, the universe is heliocentric. Galileo was a man of tremendous intellect and imagination living in a era dominated by the Catholic Church, which attempted to control the people by dictating their own version of “reality.” Any person who publicly questioned Church doctrine ran the chance of condemnation and punishment. If man could think, man could question, and the Church could lose its authority over the masses. This could not be tolerated in the 17th century, when the Church had the power to dictate “reality.” Copernicus probably avoided a similar fate by confining his opinions to his students and the university milieu, and in fact his theories were not published until the time of his death. To be tried by the Inquisition was something that nobody could take lightly. Although in Galileo’s time the Inquisition was becoming more and more lenient, it was known to have used torture in the past and to have sent many heretics to burn at the stake. As late as 1600, this fate had befallen the Italian thinker Giordano Bruno, a one-time Dominican friar who had adopted a pantheistic philosophy of nature. From the summer of 1605, Galileo was private tutor of mathematics to young Prince Cosimo de’ Medici, son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Teacher and pupil became sincerely attached to each other by mutual affection and deference, and this bond lasted to the end of Galileo’s life. Galileo remained a good friend of the Grand Duke as well. In the summer of 1611, the Grand Duke invited Galileo to a dinner party at his court. The Duke liked to gather great scholars around him, especially when he had illustrious guests, to hear them tal…

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