GALILEO – Mitch Stokes (2011)

“On February 19, 1616, at the behest of the pope, the Holy Office of the Inquisition asked a panel of eleven1595550313_l theologians to judge the following Copernican theses.”  The thesis was stated as follows:

The sun is the center of the world and hence immovable of local motion.  

The earth is not the center of the world, nor immovable but moves according to the whole of itself, also with a diurnal motion.

The papal lynch mob responded in kind by suggesting that the immobility of the sun, was “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical, inasmuch as it expressly contradicts the doctrine of the Holy Scripture in many passages, both in their literal meaning and according to the general interpretation of the Fathers and Doctors.”

The second thesis was judged in similar fashion:

“… To receive the same censure in philosophy and, as regards theological truth, to be at least erroneous in faith.”

These are the matters before the Roman Catholic Church in the early 17th century, just over 100 years after the thunderbolt that struck when Luther hammered his 95 thesis on the castle door for public dispute.  Luther’s action was considered treasonous and heretical and was consequently labeled as a heretic and labeled by the Pope Leo XV as a “wild boar in the vineyard.”  As a result, Luther is hunted for the remainder of his days.  Evidently, bad habits die hard because Rome is still on the hunt in the 17th century – only this time, their target is the brilliant scientist, Galileo.

Galileo by Mitch Stokes is a fascinating account of a man who sought to reconcile the universals and the particulars.  He was not only a sharp scientist (some consider him to be the most influential in the history of western thought), he also had a keen philosophical mind and a heart for the Scriptures.

Stokes guides readers on a fairly comprehensive tour of the Italian genius.  He chronicles his days as a boy and discusses the influence of his father, his life as a university student, and ultimately his career as a university professor.  But the most interesting part of the tale has to do with Galileo’s defense of Copernicus, the German astronomer who set forth a heliocentric vision of the universe.  This vision bravely displaced the earth from the center and moved the sun to “center” stage.

Initially, Rome was content to simply put up with the heliocentric model, (even though the church essentially prohibited the promotion of Copernicanism in a 1616 edict), so long as it was presented as mere “mathematical tool.”  Galileo was not content was this clever arrangement – even as his friend made his ascent to the papal throne – Pope Urban VIII.

The publication of Galileo’s book, Dialogue prompted a firestorm that led the Pope to order a special Commission to investigate the contents of the book.  The controversy eventually escalated which resulted in “an outburst of rage” from the Pope who remarked that Galileo had “entered the most dangerous ground there was.”  Ultimately, Pope Urban accused Galileo of betraying his trust.  As a result, he refused to allow Galileo to speak to him personally.  Evidently, Galileo forgot that the Pope speaks ex cathedra!  

On October, 2, 1632 the Pope ordered Galileo to stand before a Tribunal in Rome (think Luther at the Diet of Worms – here we go again!).  When the cardinals weighed in and convicted Galileo, three of the ten refused to sign the verdict which was rendered as “vehemently suspected of heresy.”    While he managed to walk away rather than endure the fiery pyre, Galileo was basically placed under house arrest, where he would live out the remainder of his days.

The author is to be commended for writing such an illuminating biography that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.  One astonishing feature is Rome’s passion for supposedly upholding the authority of Scripture (even though they clearly landed on the wrong side of this issue in their refusal to recognize Copernicanism) but their refusal to embrace the Sola Scriptura principle which led to a host of heretical views including the doctrine of purgatory, the assumption of Mary, and the Mass – to name a few.

Galileo is a real inspiration and a quality educational tool – a welcome addition to the Christian Encounters Series.

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