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The following is an extract from "The Vatican's reaction to Galileo Galilei" by Mary Bellis, Guide

For Galileo Galilei, saying that the Earth went around the Sun changed everything since he was contradicting the teachings of the Church. While some of the Church's mathematicians wrote that his observations were clearly correct, many members of the Church believed that he must be wrong.

In December of 1613, one of the scientist's friends told him how a powerful member of the nobility said that she could not see how his observations could be true, since they would contradict the Bible. The lady quoted a passage in Joshua where God causes the Sun to stand still and lengthen the day. How could this mean anything other than that the Sun went around the Earth?

Galileo Galilei - Heresy Charges

Galileo Galilei Galileo Galilei was a religious man, and he agreed that the Bible could never be wrong. However, he said, the interpreters of the Bible could make mistakes, and it was a mistake to assume that the Bible had to be taken literally.

This might have been one of Galileo's major mistakes. At that time, only Church priests were allowed to interpret the Bible, or to define God's intentions. It was absolutely unthinkable for a mere member of the public to do so.

And some of the Church clergy started responding, accusing him of heresy. Some credits went to the Inquisition, the Church court that investigated charges of heresy, and formally accused Galileo Galilei. This was a very serious matter. In 1600, a man named Giordano Bruno was convicted of being a heretic for believing that the earth moved about the Sun, and that there were many planets throughout the universe where life - living creations of God - existed. Bruno was burnt to death.

However, Galileo was found innocent of all charges, and cautioned not to teach the Copernican system. 16 years later, all that would change.

The Final Trial

The following years saw Galileo move on to work on other projects. With his telescope he watched the movements of Jupiter's moons, wrote them up as a list, and then came up with a way to use these measurements as a navigation tool. There was even a contraption that would allow a ship captain to navigate with his hands on the wheel. That is, assuming the captain didn't mind wearing what looked like a horned helmet!

As another amusement, Galileo started writing about ocean tides. Instead of writing his arguments as a scientific paper, he found that it was much more interesting to have an imaginary conversation, or dialogue, between three fictional characters. One character, who would support Galileo's side of the argument, was brilliant. Another character would be open to either side of the argument. The final character, named Simplicio, was dogmatic and foolish, representing all of Galileo's enemies who ignored any evidence that Galileo was right. Soon, he wrote up a similar dialogue called "Dialogue on the Two Great Systems of the World". This book talked about the Copernican system.

"Dialogue" was an immediate hit with the public, but not, of course, with the Church. The Pope suspected that he was the model for Simplicio. He ordered the book banned, and also ordered the scientist to appear before the Inquisition in Rome for the crime of teaching the Copernican theory after being ordered not to do so.

Galileo Galilei was 68 years old and sick. Threatened with torture, he publicly confessed that he had been wrong to have said that the Earth moves around the Sun. Legend then has it that after his confession, Galileo quietly whispered "And yet, it moves".

Unlike many less famous prisoners, he was allowed to live under house arrest in his house outside of Florence. He was near one of his daughters, a nun. Until his death in 1642, he continued to investigate other areas of science. Amazingly, he even published a book on force and motion although he had been blinded by an eye infection.

The Story Continues...

The Church eventually lifted the ban on Galileo's Dialogue in 1822 - by that time, it was common knowledge that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe. Still later, there were statements by the Vatican Council in the early 1960s and in 1979 that implied that Galileo was pardoned, and that he had suffered at the hands of the Church. Finally, in 1992, three years after Galileo Galilei's namesake had been launched on its way to Jupiter, the Vatican formally and publicly cleared Galileo of any wrongdoing.