And Yet It Moves

“Galileo Galilei, in supporting the idea that the sun sits motionless at the universe’s center, and the Earth not at its center moves, you have been found guilty of vehement heresy, by holding an idea as probable after it has been declared contrary to the Holy Scripture.

You must abjure, curse, and detest these ideas, and are sentenced to imprisonment at the pleasure of the inquisition. Your offending Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems is now banned, and any of your other published works and works to come will come under immense scrutiny.” Having been called the Tuscan Archimedes, and the father of modern physics, Galileo is considered one of the greatest minds in history. However, it was not always this way. The sky gazer came under great scrutiny because of his ideas on heliocentrism.

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Waging war with the Catholic Church is no small feat, particularly for a former novice who grew up in the Church. Galileo denied his Church, but he did not condemn it; he believed his ideas did not contradict his religion, but he also believed that the church was wrong. Galileo was raised in the Church; in fact he was a novice (monk in training), and though he did openly oppose the Church’s ideas on the state of the universe, he still believed in the Christian faith. When Copernicus’s ideas were at their peak, Galileo went to Rome to convince the Church that these ideas were not sacrilegious. He was however unsuccessful in his endeavor, and prevailed only in angering the current Pope.

Galileo was ridiculed, and heliocentrism was considered unbiblical. He would, however get a second chance when supporters would rise to power. Barberni, a friend and supporter of Galileo became Pope. Galileo became empowered to continue his work on heliocentrism, now that he had allies in the church he figured that he could carry on his work. The thoughts of Augustine fueled Galileo’s philosophy.

He held the idea that some scripture, particularly the poetry and psalms, were not intended to be taken literally, thus Galileo felt assured the he was not defying the Bible as he continued in his research. He held the idea that the writers of scripture were observing the sun from an earthly vantage point. As a result, they recorded that the sun moved, as it so appears to do. With this taken into account Galileo reasoned that science could coexist with scripture, since the Bible describes a different motion (International). He also studied the works of Archimedes; using similar mechanics for many of his experiments, he added a scientific angle to his research.

Drawing from both prominent members of the church and science, he was armed for his coming battle. Galileo strived to revolutionize physics. His desires were so evidenced by his acquiring of the position as a court mathematician in Florence. He also left his family behind and placed his two daughters in a convent. Galileo would stop at nothing to make history; his endeavors have even labeled him selfish, and prideful, seeking to be recognized as the pioneer of new ideas (Galileo).

This may in part be what drove him to fight his battle with Rome. Regardless of his motives, Galileo was an effective strategist in his war. Galileo was a logical man, and taught and wrote accordingly. His ideas were founded in science, and he was careful to avoid violating the Church’s decree. He published writings that were carefully worded as not to condone heliocentrism openly, and to give the appearance of weighing both sides.

Galileo lived for science and had a mind for it. This man spoke his mind: He was a passionate, powerful character who could dominate any room or discussion. His talent and wit won a variety of illustrious friends in university, court and church circles, … At the same time his biting sarcasm against those whose arguments were vulnerable to his scientific discoveries made him some formidable enemies. Galileo thrived on debate… His professional life was spent not only in observing and calculating but also in arguing and convincing. His goal was to promote as well as develop a new scientific worldview. (Henderson).

However, he tragically overstepped his bounds. Galileo’s most famous work, the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, referenced the ideas of Simplicio, who was considered a simpleton. These ideas were believed incompetent by a majority of the community. In Galileo’s Dialogue, he incidentally implies that the Pope, and his only ally in the church, held these beliefs. Barberni was already under pressure from the rest of the Church, and he could not stand for this insult. Galileo’s quest for glory had turned his only supporter into a powerful enemy.

He was ordered to Rome at once to support his theories. He had straddled the fence and fallen over. Galileo made his appearance, though the verdict was certain. The great astronomer would be branded a heretic, and all publication of his works, past or present, would be unofficially banned. He was placed under house arrest where he remained for the rest of his life.

He recanted his beliefs under orders for the Church, however it is reported that he then muttered “Eppur si muove,” or “And yet it moves” (Drake 356) after his renouncement, but this is unconfirmed. A similar instance occurs in the play Antigone. In this play, the character Antigone buries her fallen brother, who betrayed the city of Thebes, even though Creon, her uncle and the king of Thebes, has declared it treason to do so. Antigone believes that Creon is wrong and that she is doing the right thing, even though he was a traitor. Similarly, Galileo opposes the Church’s ruling by supporting his ideas. Just as Antigone’s king, who is also her family, has decreed what she believes is wrong, so the ruling power, the Church, which raised Galileo, condemns his ideas.

Both continue to support their “treasonous” ideas, and both are sentenced for it. After sending Antigone off to a tomb to die, Creon has a change of heart, and attempts to save her but it is too late. Though it would take 350 year, the Church too eventually acknowledged that they had wronged Galileo. Galileo believed in the Church, but they did not believe in him. He did everything he could to make them understand his views but was unsuccessful.

He tried far too long to pacify both sides, but it was impossible to do so. He eventually opposed the Church outright, and then just as quickly recanted his ideas, but he managed to smuggle his writings out and spread his ideas. He may have lost his battle with Rome, but he managed to help end the war. Now it is well know that the Earth seems stationary, “And yet it moves.”