On April 12th 1633, the inquisition of physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei began, under the auspices of chief inquisitor Father Vincenzo Maculano da Firenzuola, appointed by Pope Urban VIII. Galileo was ordered to turn himself in to the Holy Office to begin trial for holding the belief that the Earth revolves around the Sun, which was deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. Standard practice demanded that the accused be imprisoned and secluded during the trial.
Galileo Galilei was born February 15th 1564 in Pisa, Italy, the first of six children. He learnt scepticism for authority at an early age from his father, along with the value of quantified experimentation, and the benefits of combining mathematics and experiment. As a young man, he seriously considered the priesthood, but instead, on his father’s advice, he began studying medicine at the University of Pisa.
However, during his studies, commencing in 1581, his interest turned to mathematics, physics and astronomy, for which he became renowned. He played a major role in the Scientific Revolution, and his achievements included improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of science”, and “the Father of Modern Science”.
This was the second time that Galileo was in trouble for refusing to accept Church orthodoxy that the Earth was the immovable centre of the universe: In 1616, he had been forbidden from holding or defending his beliefs. In the 1633 interrogation, Galileo denied that he “held” belief in the Copernican view but continued to write about the issue and evidence as a means of “discussion” rather than belief. The Church had decided the idea that the Sun moved around the Earth was an absolute fact of scripture that could not be disputed, despite the fact that scientists had known for centuries that the Earth was not the centre of the universe.
This time, Galileo’s technical argument didn’t win the day. On June 22nd 1633, the Church handed down the following order: “We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the centre of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the centre of the world.”
Along with the order came the following penalty: “We order that by a public edict the book of Dialogues of Galileo Galilei be prohibited, and We condemn thee to the prison of this Holy Office during Our will and pleasure; and as a salutary penance We enjoin on thee that for the space of three years thou shalt recite once a week the Seven Penitential Psalms.”
Galileo agreed not to teach the heresy anymore and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It took more than 300 years for the Church to admit that Galileo was right and to clear his name of heresy. He died on January 8th 1642, after suffering fever and heart palpitations.