Chapter 3 - Astronomy
Victory of the Church over Galileo
While news of triumphant attacks upon him and upon the truth he had
established were coming in from all parts of Europe, Galileo
prepared a careful treatise in the form of a dialogue, exhibiting
the arguments for and against the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems,
and offered to submit to any conditions that the Church tribunals
might impose, if they would allow it to be printed. At last, after
discussions which extended through eight years, they consented,
imposing a humiliating condition - a preface written in accordance
with the ideas of Father Ricciardi, Master of the Sacred Palace,
and signed by Galileo, in which the Copernican theory was virtually
exhibited as a play of the imagination, and not at all as opposed
to the Ptolemaic doctrine reasserted in 1616 by the Inquisition
under the direction of Pope Paul V.
"The Scripture always represents the earth as at rest, and the sun and moon as in motion; or, if these latter bodies are ever represented as at rest, Scripture represents this as the result of a great miracle....
Speaking of Galileo's book, Polacco says that it "smacked of Copernicanism," and that, "when this was shown to the Inquisition, Galileo was thrown into prison and was compelled to utterly abjure the baseness of this erroneous dogma."
As to the authority of the cardinals in their decree, Polacco asserts that, since they are the "Pope's Council" and his "brothers," their work is one, except that the Pope is favoured with special divine enlightenment.
Having shown that the authority of the Scriptures, of popes, and of cardinals is against the new astronomy, he gives a refutation based on physics. He asks: "If we concede the motion of the earth, why is it that an arrow shot into the air falls back to the same spot, while the earth and all things on it have in the meantime moved very rapidly toward the east? Who does not see that great confusion would result from this motion?"
Next he argues from metaphysics, as follows: "The Copernican theory of the earth's motion is against the nature of the earth itself, because the earth is not only cold but contains in itself the principle of cold; but cold is opposed to motion, and even destroys it - as is evident in animals, which become motionless when they become cold."
Finally, he clinches all with a piece of theological reasoning, as follows: "Since it can certainly be gathered from Scripture that the heavens move above the earth, and since a circular motion requires something immovable around which to move,... the earth is at the centre of the universe."
But any sketch of the warfare between theology and science in this field would be incomplete without some reference to the treatment of Galileo after his death. He had begged to be buried in his family tomb in Santa Croce; this request was denied. His friends wished to erect a monument over him; this, too, was refused. Pope Urban said to the ambassador Niccolini that "it would be an evil example for the world if such honours were rendered to a man who had been brought before the Roman Inquisition for an opinion so false and erroneous; who had communicated it to many others, and who had given so great a scandal to Christendom." In accordance, therefore, with the wish of the Pope and the orders of the Inquisition, Galileo was buried ignobly, apart from his family, without fitting ceremony, without monument, without epitaph. Not until forty years after did Pierrozzi dare write an inscription to be placed above his bones; not until a hundred years after did Nelli dare transfer his remains to a suitable position in Santa Croce, and erect a monument above them. Even then the old conscientious hostility burst forth: the Inquisition was besought to prevent such honours to "a man condemned for notorious errors"; and that tribunal refused to allow any epitaph to be placed above him which had not been submitted to its censorship. Nor has that old conscientious consistency in hatred yet fully relented: hardly a generation since has not seen some ecclesiastic, like Marini or De Bonald or Rallaye or De Gabriac, suppressing evidence, or torturing expressions, or inventing theories to blacken the memory of Galileo and save the reputation of the Church. Nay, more: there are school histories, widely used, which, in the supposed interest of the Church, misrepresent in the grossest manner all these transactions in which Galileo was concerned. Sancta simplicitas! The Church has no worse enemies than those who devise and teach these perversions. They are simply rooting out, in the long run, from the minds of the more thoughtful scholars, respect for the great organization which such writings are supposed to serve.
The Protestant Church was hardly less energetic against this new astronomy than the mother Church. The sacred science of the first Lutheran Reformers was transmitted as a precious legacy, and in the next century was made much of by Calovius. His great learning and determined orthodoxy gave him the Lutheran leadership. Utterly refusing to look at ascertained facts, he cited the turning back of the shadow upon King Hezekiah's dial and the standing still of the sun for Joshua, denied the movement of the earth, and denounced the whole new view as clearly opposed to Scripture. To this day his arguments are repeated by sundry orthodox leaders of American Lutheranism.
As to the other branches of the Reformed Church, we have already seen how Calvinists, Anglicans, and, indeed, Protestant sectarians generally, opposed the new truth. In England, among the strict churchmen, the great Dr. South denounced the Royal Society as "irreligious," and among the Puritans the eminent John Owen declared that Newton's discoveries were "built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary presumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture." Even Milton seems to have hesitated between the two systems. At the beginning of the eighth book of Paradise Lost he makes Adam state the difficulties of the Ptolemaic system, and then brings forward an angel to make the usual orthodox answers. Later, Milton seems to lean toward the Copernican theory, for, referring to the earth, he says:
"Or she from west her silent course advance
With inoffensive pace, that spinning sleeps
On her soft axle, while she faces even
And bears thee soft with the smooth air along."
English orthodoxy continued to assert itself. In 1724 John Hutchinson, professor at Cambridge, published his Moses' Principia, a system of philosophy in which he sought to build up a complete physical system of the universe from the Bible. In this he assaulted the Newtonian theory as "atheistic," and led the way for similar attacks by such Church teachers as Horne, Duncan Forbes, and Jones of Nayland. But one far greater than these involved himself in this view. That same limitation of his reason by the simple statements of Scripture which led John Wesley to declare that, "unless witchcraft is true, nothing in the Bible is true," led him, while giving up the Ptolemaic theory and accepting in a general way the Copernican, to suspect the demonstrations of Newton. Happily, his inborn nobility of character lifted him above any bitterness or persecuting spirit, or any imposition of doctrinal tests which could prevent those who came after him from finding their way to the truth.
But in the midst of this vast expanse of theologic error signs of right reason began to appear, both in England and America. Noteworthy is it that Cotton Mather, bitter as was his orthodoxy regarding witchcraft, accepted, in 1721, the modern astronomy fully, with all its consequences.
In the following year came an even more striking evidence that the new scientific ideas were making their way in England. In 1722 Thomas Burnet published the sixth edition of his Sacred Theory of the Earth. In this he argues, as usual, to establish the scriptural doctrine of the earth's stability; but in his preface he sounds a remarkable warning. He mentions the great mistake into which St. Augustine led the Church regarding the doctrine of the antipodes, and says, "If within a few years or in the next generation it should prove as certain and demonstrable that the earth is moved, as it is now that there are antipodes, those that have been zealous against it, and engaged the Scripture in the controversy, would have the same reason to repent of their forwardness that St. Augustine would now, if he were still alive."
Fortunately, too, Protestantism had no such power to oppose the development of the Copernican ideas as the older Church had enjoyed. Yet there were some things in its warfare against science even more indefensible. In 1772 the famous English expedition for scientific discovery sailed from England under Captain Cook. Greatest by far of all the scientific authorities chosen to accompany it was Dr. Priestley. Sir Joseph Banks had especially invited him. But the clergy of Oxford and Cambridge interfered. Priestley was considered unsound in his views of the Trinity; it was evidently suspected that this might vitiate his astronomical observations; he was rejected, and the expedition crippled.
The orthodox view of astronomy lingered on in other branches of the Protestant Church. In Germany even Leibnitz attacked the Newtonian theory of gravitation on theological grounds, though he found some little consolation in thinking that it might be used to support the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation.
In Holland the Calvinistic Church was at first strenuous against the whole new system, but we possess a comical proof that Calvinism even in its strongholds was powerless against it; for in 1642 Blaer published at Amsterdam his book on the use of globes, and, in order to be on the safe side, devoted one part of his work to the Ptolemaic and the other to the Copernican scheme, leaving the benevolent reader to take his choice.
Nor have efforts to renew the battle in the Protestant Church been wanting in these latter days. The attempt in the Church of England, in 1864, to fetter science, which was brought to ridicule by Herschel, Bowring, and De Morgan; the assemblage of Lutheran clergy at Berlin, in 1868, to protest against "science falsely so called," are examples of these. Fortunately, to the latter came Pastor Knak, and his denunciations of the Copernican theory as absolutely incompatible with a belief in the Bible, dissolved the whole assemblage in ridicule.
In its recent dealings with modern astronomy the wisdom of the Catholic Church in the more civilized countries has prevented its yielding to some astounding errors into which one part of the Protestant Church has fallen heedlessly.
Though various leaders in the older Church have committed the absurd error of allowing a text-book and sundry review articles to appear which grossly misstate the Galileo episode, with the certainty of ultimately undermining confidence in her teachings among her more thoughtful young men, she has kept clear of the folly of continuing to tie her instruction, and the acceptance of our sacred books, to an adoption of the Ptolemaic theory.
Not so with American Lutheranism. In 1873 was published in St. Louis, at the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, a work entitled Astromomische Unterredung, the author being well known as a late president of a Lutheran Teachers' Seminary.
No attack on the whole modern system of astronomy could be more bitter. On the first page of the introduction the author, after stating the two theories, asks, "Which is right?" and says: "It would be very simple to me which is right, if it were only a question of human import. But the wise and truthful God has expressed himself on this matter in the Bible. The entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the earth is the principal body (Hauptkorper) of the universe, that it stands fixed, and that sun and moon only serve to light it."
The author then goes on to show from Scripture the folly, not only of Copernicus and Newton, but of a long line of great astronomers in more recent times. He declares: "Let no one understand me as inquiring first where truth is to be found - in the Bible or with the astronomers. No; I know that beforehand - that my God never lies, never makes a mistake; out of his mouth comes only truth, when he speaks of the structure of the universe, of the earth, sun, moon, and stars....
"Because the truth of the Holy Scripture is involved in this, therefore the above question is of the highest importance to me.... Scientists and others lean upon the miserable reed (Rohrstab) that God teaches only the order of salvation, but not the order of the universe."
Very noteworthy is the fact that this late survival of an ancient belief based upon text-worship is found, not in the teachings of any zealous priest of the mother Church, but in those of an eminent professor in that branch of Protestantism which claims special enlightenment.
Nor has the warfare against the dead champions of science been carried on by the older Church alone.
On the 10th of May, 1859, Alexander von Humboldt was buried. His labours had been among the glories of the century, and his funeral was one of the most imposing that Berlin had ever seen. Among those who honoured themselves by their presence was the prince regent, afterward the Emperor William I; but of the clergy it was observed that none were present save the officiating clergyman and a few regarded as unorthodox.
|Raven's Bookshelf at www.corax.com|