Chapter Five
- I -

Dangerous Concept, Dangerous Times - Galileo, Kepler and the Church - The Drawn Line

"Let me not seem to have lived in vain"
   - Tycho's Last Words to Kepler

Galileo had drawn a line of sorts, and seemed more thanPortrait of Galileo on Trial willing, in the end, to take a stance to defend it. And defend it he should for his discoveries, controversies aside, were absolute, many incontrovertible fact. But it was a very light line, erased more than once and redrawn, to be crossed almost capriciously, especially during the years 1619-1633 when confonting the church. This is evidenced in many texts of the period and even in Galileo's own writings. Be that it as it may, this is certainly no distraction from his great achievements; during this era many famous personages were not always as they had spoken or wished themselves to be, fluctuating in and out of the ideas, beliefs and enforcement of canon or church laws; cartering to their own desires, ideals or to the powers that be, whether they truly believed in their benefactors ideas or not.

On the other side of that same coin was the Church, and they too had drawn a line; one that was very apparent, one that was discernable to all, having been pointed to with extreme clarity to the one person they left in no doubt as to it's existence - K. Pinkela The Age of Galileo, 2009

◊I◊ Subjective Writings, Objective History [ fn.1 ]

We are always in the age-long, paradoxical battle of writing objective histories, hoping that the subjective does not creep into the things written, and in all fairness, many have accomplished this successfully to one degree or another. But I was surprised to find that, after reading mountains of historical works, the line between Galileo and the Church is still very much present, even four hundred plus years after the fact. No matter; in presenting the historically viewed character of Galileo, I shall endeavour to write what is factually known, the written "words" as set to paper by the Church, Galileo, his contemporaries and modern writers from all disciplines in order to see if we cannot find the very character of the great man himself.

◊II◊ Finding the Character of Galileo

In his diary Kepler wrote,

"I confess that when Tycho died, I quickly took advantage of the absence, or lack of circumspection, of the heirs, by taking the observations under my care, or perhaps usurping them." [ ref.1 ]

An attack of conscience perhaps? If it was to be at least Tycho's work ended up in the right hands and the rest is history, as they say. Of course, this would seem to indicate that Kepler was cut of a somewhat different cloth than most. As for Galileo? Writes Robert A. Sungenis, M.A., Ph.D.,

"...whereas Kepler was more reserved, the unconverted Galileo was the quintessential know-it-all, always and everywhere trying to outshine everyone who crossed his path. As Koestler puts it: "Galileo had a rare gift of provoking enmity; not the affection alternating with rage which Tycho aroused, but the cold, unrelenting hostility which genius plus arrogance minus humility creates among mediocrities" (The Sleepwalkers, p. 373)." [ ref.2 ]
Dr. Sungenis continues,

"Among his other braggadocios, Galileo claimed to have invented the telescope, but Kepler and his colleagues knew it was available twenty years earlier from one of Galileo's countrymen, Giovanni Della Porta. Records also show that spectacle-maker Johann Lippershey possessed a license to make telescopes by the mid-1580s." [ Ibid ]
Still further he writes,

"To one of his other rivals Galileo stated: "You cannot help it, Mr. Sarsi, that it was granted to me alone to discover all the new phenomena in the sky and nothing to anybody else. This is the truth which neither malice nor envy can suppress" (Taken from Galileo's 1623 book titled Il Saggiatore (The Assayer). The book starts with a tirade against all who tried to rob Galileo "of the glory of his discoveries.". His self-appointed monopoly on the sky is probably why Galileo also claimed to be the first to discover sunspots, but it was well known that the Jesuits Johannes Farricius and Fr. Scheiner and his assistant Cysat had found the spots earlier, both of whom had published their findings." [Ibid]

Galileo's claim of inventing the telescope is based on the fact that he not only wished to do so but did produce an example, many in fact. From Padua he wrote,

"About 10 month's ago a report reached my ears that a certain Fleming had constructed a spyglass by means of which visible objects, though very distant from the eye of the observer, were distinctly seen as if nearby...[this] caused me to apply myself wholeheartedly to investigate means by which I might arrive at the invention of a similar instrument." [ ref.3 ]

Thereafter, Galileo set out and built a telescope, not the first, but certainly one of "his" own invention. Taking these two historical writings, one can easily place either out of historical context and thereby, out of historical fact, showing that either Galileo was indeed attemptng to "outshine everyone" or, on the other hand, felt it an injustice at not having been given his rightful cudo's for his own invention's creativity and obvious success, perhaps.

I think the truth is easier to discern; there is no doubting that he invented a telescopic device of his own making--one should also remember that he did not have a working model in hand--that he did point his invention towards the sky and thereafter, wrote of his many discoveries. It is this which he rightly laid claim to having done, emphatically perhaps and with a hint of the arrogance that was Galileo the Florentine; outgoing, ambitious, fiery, and impatient of opposition. There is, however, little doubt that Galileo made some rather remarkable discoveries with his telescope. As Dr. Noel M. Swerdlow notes,

"In about two months, December and January [1610], he made more discoveries that changed the world than anyone has before or since." [ ref.4 ] & [ ref.5 ]

With hardly any difficulty, as to whether Galileo is claiming the telescope invention all to himself, lock, stock and barrel or rather, claiming the one he invented, the evidence can be taken to support either view. What is undeniable is the fact that he did create or invent a telescope of his own and then recorded some remarkable sights and observations, all of which were evidenced and set down in writing by his hand as well as others; the Dutch mathematician-astronomer Christian Huygens discovered a satellite of Saturn and clarified Galileo's earlier observation of the peculiar configuration of that planet by announcing the presence of its surrounding ring.

It has also been said that Galileo's telescope was so small and clumsy it would have been hard to see Jupiter itself, let alone its moons (his telescopes never reached a magnification power higher than x33). Yet again, it is a fact that Galileo himself wrote of his discovery of the four major moons of Jupiter in The Sideral Messenger in April 1610. In fact, the news of this soon reached Kepler in Germany, who was an instant and enthusiastic supporter of Galileo's findings (unlike many others, especially since several people who had tried to verify Galileo's findings had been unable to see the new moons).

To all this must be added another fact, Galileo was beginning to make errors critical to his theories and these have led to many of the arguments challenging the validity of his discoveries. This may have been due, in part, to a health issue that has recently been brought to light once again. Italian scientists are trying to get Galileo's DNA in order to figure out how the astronomer forged groundbreaking theories on the universe while gradually becoming blind,

"The Italian astronomer -- who built on the work of predecessor Nicolaus Copernicus to develop modern astronomy with the sun as the centre of the universe -- had a degenerative eye disease that eventually left him blind." [ ref.6 ]

So, did Galileo really see what he claimed? Did someone else see the moons before he? Could his telescope have really been powerful enough to view them in the first place? Put into context, the issue of Galileo's sight is central to these questions and another pro or con item for the writer, seeking to set the record stright, to watch and see what may pass. For us, there is more and most of that will come from Galileo himself, in his own words, from his own writings between 1600-1612. However, before we delve further, let us now look at "the other side of the coin" and to the major institution central to this writing - the Church.

◊III◊ The Church

Historically, much had happenend by the year 1610 and a good deal of that had seen the involvement of the ever present eye of moral and, in many respects, legal authority - the Church.

It's base of power rested in Italy and at it's apex sat the Pope, who's seat of power was, and still is, the Vatican. Yet, by 1600 the power of the Church has started to wane as the countries of Europe began to, or already had, recognized their own national identities, giving loyalty to their own choosen, inherited or self-appointed heads of state. Still, religion remained a powerful motivator and tool; one did not go against it's authority lightly, Giordano Bruno and the inquistions giving their own testimony to that fact. Yet, this was of small consolation in the light of events spanning the one hundred years that began with the 16th century. [ ref.7 ]

◊IV◊ Retaining Power in the 16th & 17th Century

By the 16th century, indeed, earlier than this, the church felt it's power slowly draining away.

The idea of crusading was, by the 14th century, an antiquated and all but dead papal idea as nations began to look inward. Earlier in the 16th century, a rising voice throughout Christendom felt very strongly that the Catholic Church had become corrupt. Yet, what really began the spectacular, and symbolical challenge to church authority occured in October of 1517, when Martin Luther, a German theolgian fed up with the wealth and corruption of the papacy tacked his 95 theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg.

"Not for centuries had there been any defiance so far-reaching--and with the encouragement and protection of the state" [ ref.8 ]

This was an act of defiance that alone sent a shudder throughout Christendom and would eventually lead to a split in the church, the birth of the Protestant church and to a lengthy and devastating war.

Then there was Henry VIII who simply made himself "Supreme Head of the Church in England", dissolved the Catholic monasteries, confiscated their property and distributed it to English gentry in return for their support, declaring a new church of England which worked based on a "top-down" system. When later, on February 25, 1570 Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England because of her persecution of Roman Catholics in England, the excommunication hardly made an impression, eventually failing in it's intended results. How ineffectual a tool it had become was shown when Elizabeth, a determined Protestant, defeated the Spanish Armada and sent it packing. This was the last time any pope dared to rendered such judgment against a reigning monarch. [ ref.9 ]

Meanwhile, Pope Clement VIII was forced to the reconciliation with Henry IV of France, despite the Edict of Nantes (1598) which had recognized the right of French Protestants, due to Spains perceived attempts at controlling the Pope. And later, when James I became King of England and Scotland, he effectively repressed the efforts of Catholics and Puritans to reform the Church of England, the results of which made the throne of England more powerful than the Pope. Lastly, the age of colonialism had dawned yet it did not require, as the crusades had, any help from the Pope in order to spread throughout the world or enjoy success. By the late 17th and early 18th centuries the church truly found itself in chains, no longer the power house it has once been or aspired to.

◊V◊ At the heart of the Matter
In an audience before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 31 October 1992 John Paul II officially closed the work of the commission ( a gathering to remedy the Galileo controversy ), after having received in that same audience a report from Cardinal Paul Poupard on the work of the commission, with the words:

"From the Galileo case we can draw a lesson which is applicable today in analogous cases which arise in our times and which may arise in the future. ... It often happens that, beyond two partial points of view which are in contrast, there exists a wider view of things which embraces both and integrates them." [ ref.10 ]

What was at the heart of the dispute between the Church and Galileo, the battle that esstential came down to a conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith?

"In 1616, the Copernican view was declared heretical because it refuted a strict biblical interpreation of the Creation that "God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever." But Galileo obtained the permission of Pope Urban VIII, a Barberini and a friend, to continue research into both the Ptolemaic and the Copernican views of the world, provided that his findings drew no definitive conclusions and acknowledged divine omnipotence." [ ref.11 ]

The contest between the two divergent theories began with the publication in 1543 by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus of his theory regarding a heliocentric solar system. However, the contest remained on theoretic and theological grounds until Galileo made the first observations of the four largest moons of Jupiter, their very discovery dicounting the Ptolemaic notion that all heavenly bodies must orbit the Earth.

"And in brief, if it is impossible for a conclusion to be declared heretical while we remain in doubt as to its truth, then these men are wasting their time clamoring for condemnation of the motion of the earth and stability of the sun, which they have not yet demonstrated to be impossible or false..." — from Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615 [ ref.12 ]

As previously mentioned, the Copernican view was declared heretical yet, Galileo obtained the permission of Pope Urban VIII to continue his research into both the Ptolemaic and the Copernican views of the world, provided he, Galileo abide by the following:

First, that his findings "drew no definitive conclusions" and secondly that his work "acknowledged divine omnipotence".

Here was the line, clearly shown to him by Pope and friend, however, Galileo would succeed outstandingly, in the first instance, of doing just the opposite and the church would, in it's turn, succeed greatly into forcing Galileo to do the second. Over the next sixteen years, stubborn arrogance would first abrasively clash, then finally threaten the dogmatic doctrines of both the powers that be--and those powers were in no mood to see any further erosion of their empire--and his own supporters. In the end, both would stand for the "right" of their cause yet seemingly for the wrong reasons.

Chapter Five, Section II
Galileo, Kepler and the Church: Sixteen Years to Indictment - Closing in on the man Galileo.

Reference Sources of Interest —
Kean University
James A. Connor Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother

The Sleepwalkers
KOESTLER, Arthur (1979) The Sleepwalkers London: Penguin
An historical writing that includes the Copernican revolution in the sixteenth century; an account of changing scientific paradigms. ISBN 0-14-019246-8

Noel M. Swerdlow
The Cambridge Companion to Galileo
7 Galileo's discoveries with the telescope and their evidence for the Copernican theory by Noel M. Swerdlow

Robert A. Sungenis
The Personal Lives and Philosophies of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Einstein
By Robert A. Sungenis, M.A., Ph.D. (cd) at Catholic Apologetics International website.

Modern History Sourcebook
Modern History Sourcebook: The Crime of Galileo: Indictment and Abjuration of 1633

fn.1 No doubt that my own views will form a part of this writing. That aside, I have found repeated, amonst many writers both for and against, certain character traits of Galileo: he was very contemptuous of many whether they deserved it or not--his dispute with Jesuit mathematician-astronomer Horatio Grassi over comets; he certainly had a penchant for alienation--his friend and benefactor Pope Urban VIII his greatest feat (or self-defeat perhaps) in this respect; vanity--obvious in many of his own writings; his caustic tongue and acid pen made him many a life-long enemy and even converted supportive colleagues into vindictive foes--his battle with Christopher Scheiner over who discovered sunspots, pointless in light of the earlier writings & dicovery by Johann Fabricius of Wittenberg; a stubborn adherence to theories that even his own principles of dynamics proved wrong, as when rejecting Kepler's correct notion that the moon causes the alternation of the tides. Galileo claimed they were due to the earth's motion, a case of pride & vanity perhaps. It is, however, a trait left to last that has probably been the root cause of much damage, as any other, to the character of Galileo: the accusations of hypocrisy. Galileo, for fear of being ridiculed, kept his convictions (he embraced the heliocentric system in his twenties) to himself until he was nearly fifty. During the interim, he defended the geocentric model of Ptolemy in his lectures, repudiating the earth's motion by means of the traditional arguments. All these will be discussed in Chapter Five, Section Two of this writing. [ ref.* ]
Return to Above Paragraph

Various Images

1) Johannes Kepler Links


2) Tycho's Observatory Uraniborg

Named for the Muse of astronomy

3) Tycho's Supernova

The Remnants of SN 1572

4) Galileo before the Holy Office

Paiting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury

5) Ptolemy's "Handy Tables,"

edited by Theon of Alexandria in the fourth century A.D.

6) 2009 Designated the Year of Astronomy

The Year of Astronomy

Image Credits For Above

1) From Stadt Regensburg - Impressum und Datenschutzerkl�rung website. Museum in Germany with links to several Kepler web sites. Nicley done front page.

2) From University of Oregon Glossary of Terms

3) Image from the Rosat satellite. See The ROSAT Mission Science Mission Directorate Universe Division

4) From Wikipedia the "Galileo affair".

5) From Ptolemy's Geography Vatican exhibition online

6) From The International Year of Astronomy website

Future Bytes

euclid copernicus descartes newton locke hertzsprung Nicole Oresme

Cited Reference Sources
[ 1 ] Fowler, Michael 1996 "Johannes Kepler", University of Virgina Physics
[ 2 ] Sungenis, Robert A., M.A., Ph.D. (cd) "The Personal Lives and Philosophies of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Einstein"
[ 3 ] "Galileo's Anagrams and the Moons of Mars" (site author unknown)
[ 4 ] Swerdlow, Noel M. Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and the College. Ph.D., Yale University, 1968 California Institute of Technology, MC 101-40, Pasadena, CA 91125
[ 5 ] The Cambridge Companion to Galileo 7, Galileo's discoveries with the telescope and their evidence for the Copernican theory, Cambridge Collection
[ 6 ] Paul, Dr. Ron "Scientists to solve astronomical riddle using Galileo DNA", news article from the Daily Paul General Forum
[ 7 ] Bruno, Giordano at Wikipedia, current (confirmed) revision 2009-02-19 edited by user Reywas92 [This user has had his/her work published in an academic journal.]
[ 8 ] Hexham and Newcastle, Catholic Diocese of, "THE CHURCH IN CRISIS: A History of the General Councils: 325-1870. CHAPTER 19. The General Council of Trent, 545-63"
[ 9 ] Dissolution of the Monasteries, Wikipedia, current revision of March 2009 edited by Tom Hennell
[ 10 ] Coyne S.J., George V. "Recent History of the Vatican and the Galileo Case" from the Vatican Observatory
[ 11 ] COWELL, Alan "After 350 Years, Vatican Says Galileo Was Right: It Moves" Published: October 31, 1992, The New York Times
[ 12 ] Halsall, Paul "Modern History Sourcebook: Galileo Galilei: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615" Copyright Aug 1997