Controversy over heliocentrism
- At the time of Galileo's conflict with the Church, the majority of educated people subscribed to the Aristotelian geocentric view that the Earth is the centre of the Universe and the orbit of all heavenly bodies, or Tycho Brahe's new system blending geocentrism with heliocentrism. Opposition to heliocentrism and Galileo's writings on it combined religious and scientific objections. Religious opposition to heliocentrism arose from biblical passages implying the fixed nature of the Earth. Scientific opposition came from Brahe, who argued that if heliocentrism were true, an annual stellar parallax should be observed, though none was at the time. Aristarchus and Copernicus had correctly postulated that parallax was negligible because the stars were so distant. However, Tycho countered that since stars appear to have measurable angular size, if the stars were that distant and their apparent size is due to their physical size, they would be far larger than the Sun. In fact, it is not possible to observe the physical size of distant stars without modern telescopes. Galileo defended heliocentrism based on his astronomical observations of 1609. In December 1613, the Grand Duchess Christina of Florence confronted one of Galileo's friends and followers, Benedetto Castelli, with biblical objections to the motion of the Earth. Prompted by this incident, Galileo wrote a letter to Castelli in which he argued that heliocentrism was actually not contrary to biblical texts and that the Bible was an authority on faith and morals, not science. This letter was not published but circulated widely. Two years later, Galileo wrote a letter to Christina that expanded his arguments previously made in eight pages to forty pages. Part of which said:
- “I hold that the Sun is located at the centre of the revolutions of the heavenly orbs and does not change place and that the Earth rotates on itself and moves around it. Moreover … I confirm this view not only by refuting Ptolemy’s and Aristotle’s arguments, but also by producing many for the other side, especially some pertaining to physical effects whose causes perhaps cannot be determined in any other way, and other astronomical discoveries; these discoveries clearly confute the Ptolemaic system, and they agree admirably with this other position and confirm it."
- By 1615, Galileo's writings on heliocentrism had been submitted to the Roman Inquisition by Father Niccolò Lorini, who claimed that Galileo and his followers were attempting to reinterpret the Bible, which was seen as a violation of the Council of Trent and looked dangerously like Protestantism. Lorini specifically cited Galileo's letter to Castelli. Galileo went to Rome to defend himself and his ideas. At the start of 1616, Monsignor Francesco Ingoli initiated a debate with Galileo, sending him an essay disputing the Copernican system. Galileo later stated that he believed this essay to have been instrumental in the action against Copernicanism that followed. Ingoli may have been commissioned by the Inquisition to write an expert opinion on the controversy, with the essay providing the basis for the Inquisition's actions. The essay focused on eighteen physical and mathematical arguments against heliocentrism. It borrowed primarily from Tycho Brahe's arguments, notably that heliocentrism would require the stars as they appeared to be much larger than the Sun. The essay also included four theological arguments, but Ingoli suggested Galileo focus on the physical and mathematical arguments, and he did not mention Galileo's biblical ideas. In February 1616, an Inquisitorial commission declared heliocentrism to be "foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture". The Inquisition found that the idea of the Earth's movement "receives the same judgement in philosophy and ... in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith". Pope Paul V instructed Cardinal Bellarmine to deliver this finding to Galileo and to order him to abandon heliocentrism. On 26 February, Galileo was called to Bellarmine's residence and ordered "to abandon completely ... the opinion that the sun stands still at the centre of the world and the Earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.” The decree of the Congregation of the Index banned Copernicus's De Revolutionibus and other heliocentric works until correction. For the next decade, Galileo stayed well away from the controversy. He revived his project of writing a book on the subject, encouraged by the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini as Pope Urban VIII in 1623. Barberini was a friend and admirer of Galileo and had opposed the admonition of Galileo in 1616. In 1631, Galileo moved to the Villa Il Gioiello to be closer to his daughters. The villa was set on a hill south of Arcetri. Galileo's resulting book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was published in 1632, with formal authorization from the Inquisition and papal permission. Earlier, Pope Urban VIII had personally asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism in the book and to be careful not to advocate heliocentrism. Whether unknowingly or deliberately, Simplicio, the defender of the Aristotelian geocentric view in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was often caught in his own errors and sometimes came across as a fool. Indeed, although Galileo states in the preface of his book that the character is named after a famous Aristotelian philosopher (Simplicius in Latin, "Simplicio" in Italian), the name "Simplicio" in Italian also has the connotation of "simpleton". This portrayal of Simplicio made Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems appear as an advocacy book: an attack on Aristotelian geocentrism and defence of the Copernican theory. Most historians agree Galileo did not act out of malice and felt blindsided by the reaction to his book. However, the Pope did not take the suspected public ridicule lightly, nor the Copernican advocacy.