Galileo: A Man on a Mission
In 1632, Galileo Galilei published his book “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” As innocent as this may seem, the implications that were associated with the publishing of the book were soon evident. In the time prior to the publishing of the book, Galileo had been warned several times not to publish it by the Catholic Church. The book was a fictitious dialogue between three men, whose purpose was to discuss two theories of Planetary Motion. The theory that Galileo was advocating was considered by the Church to be heretical, and he was told several times that publishing the book would have dire consequences. His pride, his impulsive nature, his arrogance, and his love for science influenced Galileo’s decision. Galileo was a scientific genius, but he was also a human. He was too proud to compromise his beliefs under any circumstances.
Before we can analyze this decision, we must understand exactly what the book contained. The idea behind the book was to demonstrate the superiority and validity of the Copernican model of the Solar System versus the Ptolemaic model of the Solar System. The Ptolemaic System was a model of the Solar System in which the planets, the sun, and all other objects in the universe revolve around the Earth. This system was supported by Aristotle and coincided with Holy Scripture, and therefore, was supported by the Church. On the other hand, the Copernican model of the Solar system was the basis for the system we use today. It stated that all objects in the universe, including the Earth, revolve around the sun. This idea was what caused problems with the Church. The theory that the Earth was not the center of the universe directly contradicted Holy Scripture. This was the foundation on which the Church based its threats against Galileo.
Before we can truly understand the magnitude of this decision, we must also first comprehend the climate of the times in which his book was published. Europe was in the midst of a break from the old method of thinking to a new, increasingly scientific method of viewing the world and society. Until this time, Europe had been in what we call the “Age of Faith.” This time period was characterized by a strong belief in the Church and religion. Although still a major force in the lives of the people, religion and philosophy were on a steady decline since the start of the Renaissance when the “Age of Exploration” began. People began to draw conclusions on their own; more so than they had before. People tried to use their senses to explain phenomena that they before accepted as “just being.” Faith was used only when the scientific method failed. This separation from faith would ultimately play a major role in Galileo’s decision.
The threats that the Church gave to Galileo were numerous, but were generally ineffective because of Galileo’s ignorance and pride. One warning that Galileo received came in April of 1615 from Cardinal Bellarmine in the form of a letter. The letter from the Cardinal was “unofficially but clearly expressing” the Church’s discordance with Galileo on the subject of the Copernican model. In the letter, Bellarmine stated that the Copernican System should be regarded only as “a mathematical hypothesis.” This is significant because Cardinal Bellarmine was one of the most well respected officials in all of the Church during that time. Later on, Galileo received another letter. This one was from “an official panel of theologians pronounced against Copernican views.” Unlike the letter from Cardinal Bellarmine, this was an official letter. However, the gist of this letter was the same as that of Cardinal Bellarmine. This letter officially told Galileo to desert his belief in the Cop!
ernican system. Also, Galileo was told by Father Vincenzo Maculano de Fiorenzuola, Commissary General of the Inquisition, that he was risking a charge of High Heresy because of his theory of matter. Although Galileo did not heed any of these warnings, the knowledge that what he was doing was not approved by the Church weighed a heavy burden on his life and his decision.
The main reason that Galileo ignored these warnings and published the